"You're so ass backwards!" Then, my mother snatched the cup from my 13 year old hands and marched to the counter at the fast food chain and, after a moment, marched back with the refill I had been too scared to request.
At that time, I donned a very bad haircut--short hair that was just long enough to perm on top but digressed into unmanageable frizz within two weeks--and I had been overweight since 1st grade. My weight gain coincided with my front teeth coming in, for they grew in bucked and my bite very decidedly over the mark.
The teasing at school was relentless. Some kid in school often made fun of my teeth. Or my weight. Or my hair. I remember thinking, "But I didn't do anything to them." So, the teasing seemed spontaneous to me, and those I liked tremendously would often point and laugh. All I wanted was for them to like me as I was then. Despite being super friendly and nice to pretty much everyone, nothing stopped to ridicule.
Because of my experiences at school, I just knew that strangers would point and laugh at my appearance. I could not bear it. When my mother saw that I'd rather drink the water of melted ice over asking for my own refill, she'd snatch my cup and take care of it for me, fuming going to the counter and coming back.
I did not know what was worse--being ashamed I couldn't manage something so simple or being ashamed I had disappointed my mother. My mother who was always impeccably dressed when we went out, who always smelled of new clothes, who always walked with her head high, who championed braces for me until I got them, and never had a misstep in her life.
A little girl like me had no hope of filling such shoes.
This little girl apparently is the one I carried around with me all of my life, constantly looking for approval, desperate to be accepted, and needing validation from everyone else that she was nice, sweet, confident, amazing, and more.
This little girl firmly established, especially in her eventual marriage, that she could not handle stress and needed to live within the protected fold of someone stronger than she.
The woman I became due to holding onto this part of my life was a woman constantly apologizing for tone of voice, for not always being sweet, or for having her own opinions. The 13 year old ass-backwards kid had morphed into a crazy nag. A mouth breather, even.
The woman I became had to apologize for every wrong move or each time she upset, even just a little, people she cared for.
But then, I left my husband of 10 years, and the woman I really was began to emerge. I am actually strong, even when I'm afraid. I can manage things like securing new employment if I've reached as far as I can go in another. I can cry and be upset and know my world isn't ending--I just allow myself to cry and be upset until the tears are spent and the feelings are done with me.
I'm strong enough to be in my own company for days on end because I've grown so effing tired of apologizing for myself. That habit started when I was 13: I'm sorry I can't do it. I'm sorry for my tone. I'm sorry I didn't say that right. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
As this woman, I can't say I'm sorry anymore. I can't do it mainly because I don't feel sorry. I think it's silly if my tone of voice has the ability to ruin anyone's day. I think it's silly if my opinion is enough to get someone else in a twist. Other people are putting too much power upon me, that's for sure.
The big reason I find it silly is this: on the inside, my feeling is benign. I'm not saying or doing anything with any malicious intent.
Yet, I do speak my mind, especially if someone asks me a question. I do not mince words. I say what I mean and I mean what I say.
As a Southerner, this is not celebrated by other Southerners. The South, after all, is a land of cloak and daggers. It's fine to be mean as long as you do it with a voice dripping with honey and fake smile plastered on your face.
I ain't got time for that shit. Even my 13 year old self--as soon as she had a mouthful of braces--no longer had time for that, and boy, oh, boy, the trouble I've been in ever since.
It's not only being a Southerner that's the issue, but being a woman in the South compounds the issue. Being opinionated, feminist, and intelligent is seen as a threat. I jokingly call myself a bitch in front of my family, and no one disagrees with me! It's hilarious.
Because I'm not one.
I'm just not 13 any more.
I don't need to be rescued. I don't need permission to think or to emote. I don't need someone else to validate and give a stamp of approval that this feeling is okay but that one isn't. They are my feelings, and I allow them room.
I know in my heart of hearts that my intent is never to cause offense or hurt. Often, I get in trouble with other women and, in most of those cases, I get in trouble because I've answered a question honestly.
I have lost count of the "I can't believe you said that," or "You shouldn't say that," or "Carrah!"
And in more cases than not, I've been deeply sorry for whatever I said or how I said it.
That is no more.
While I will always feel regret and real sorrow for feelings I hurt, if those I love don't know my character by now, I'm done trying to insist on it. I'm done apologizing for my flaws (especially when my flaws to some are not even blips on the radar to everyone else).
I'm done feeling shame for doing something I was raised to do: be honest.
And I'm honestly done with feeling ashamed of myself. I'm done apologizing for speaking my mind. I'm done apologizing for having a mind. I'm done apologizing for being different.
I'm flawed. I've failed.
And I keep getting back up.
Because that what I've been taught to do. I credit my mother for that. I may not be ready when others feel I should be. I may be ass backwards still. I just may very well be a bitch and just be completely unaware of it.
But what I am not is sorry.