troublemakers

Warm Butter on the Journey to My True Self.

 

My father likes his butter warm. He eats a lot of it and leaves the covered butter dish out on the kitchen counter at home so that it is always in the creamy state he prefers.

But I live in Hawaii, so this month when he and my mother were visiting, I had to suffer my butter in an almost liquid state in my glass covered dish. Hawaii is warm, really warm and this August was downright hot. My butter dish was covered in the melted butter and made a yucky site on my tiny kitchen table for three weeks while they were staying with me. It made me crazy.

I grew up in the South. Atlanta to be precise. Image was very important.

I learned never to leave the house without wearing a bra under my clothes and a swipe of mascara on my dark lashes. I learned to set an elegant table with china and silver and cloth napkins when guests were invited for dinner. I would never allow a messy butter dish on my table!

During this three weeks, my parents helped do many projects around my newly purchased old plantation house (built in 1938). My dad hung the delicate little crystal chandelier in my daughter’s bedroom. My mother organized garden pots and planted iris. My Dad unclogged drains, extended ceiling fan pulls and moved a Camellia bush in the back yard. My mother and I refinished four kitchen chairs including the fabric seats.

It was good times that reminded me of growing up in the 1908 Victorian in Atlanta that my parents bought in 1973. The three of us renovated that house from heart pine floor to shingled roof and from studs to finish plaster.

One evening last week as I unpacked, I unwrapped a photo collage that I made in high school.

It is a framed piece 2’ by 3’ and includes dozens of photos of my childhood, my family, friends, pets and vacation locations. I showed it to my Dad and we reminisced.

One photo is an eight-year-old me in a brightly striped bathing suit holding up a chevron edged beach towel in front of a strip of South Carolina beach. It was 1979. My straight, brown hair falls below my waist. My cheeks are round and my arms are still pudgy. I am determined in my stare at the camera like I’m about to take on the world.

Now I look into those determined eyes of this former me and I want to advise her: have courage to be yourself. Don’t become afraid to expose your heart’s desires, your silly dreams and lasting attachments. Have courage. Keep hold of your passions for they are the truest possessions you will ever know. Have courage. Know yourself and have courage to be you.

But even now, I remember the cruel way that I started to be around this age… the way I devalued myself and started the long journey away from loving myself.

I am a soft little soul, like warmed butter. As I grew up, I had a hard time in the South knowing that no one ever really spoke their minds. I could feel when someone disliked me, but smiled and cooed anyway.

It’s a strange feeling that caused me to doubt myself. “Maybe she is really kind and just doesn’t realize that we’re both the same on the inside. Give in to this friendship that you need to fit in. Alter yourself just a tiny bit to please her,” I’d counsel myself as I shopped for clothes I couldn’t afford.

This idea of changing myself to please someone else, coupled with observations of other people whom I wanted to emulate, turned my internal dialog into a shaming taunt.

“Your hair is too long, cut it like in the teen magazines.” “You’re a ballet nerd that no one wants to be around.” “You don’t fit in, change.” “Show a happy face no matter what.”  “You don’t need him/her/them, be cool.” “Having a man by your side validates you in the world.” “Don’t give up that he may fulfill your needs one day.” “Be the sexy, cool girl he desires… so that he won’t leave.”

I went to college in New England, in part to escape the duplicitous culture of the South.

I thought here, in this institution of higher education, I would finally find my people: People who honored one another with smart minds and shared ideas. Boys I could fall in love with who would recognize my brilliance and love me for exactly who I was, a smart nerdy girl who loved dance and spirituality and was scared to death of intimacy.

I could finally expose my self. But my sexual awakening amidst drunken party boys and moody artists was hardly the self confidence boost I needed. No, I retreated further away from my self and hardened into an aloof young woman who didn’t need anyone’s help, but enjoyed a good fuck from time to time.

By the time I wanted to settle down and be married and have children, I was so well hidden from myself that I believed the always smiling, independent, capable, hard working woman I showed to the world was me. She was who I wanted to emulate and I did a good job being her for a couple of decades, but she lacked the details of me and my essence was muted. She pretended not to need anyone. She pretended to like Rice-a-Roni and sleeping alone and moving from city to city with the changing dreams of her wanderlusty husband.

After years of chilling my butter into this cool, hard state, I just felt sad.

Sad that I still didn’t feel the love I wanted. Sad that everyone eventually let me down (because I was actually letting myself down). Sad that I felt lost.

After my divorce, I promised myself that I would get back to that me that I knew when I was a kid. I would cook kale and spicy shrimp for dinner. I would drink wine instead of beer. I would read at night instead of watch Law and Order. I would eat a spoonful of peanut butter dipped in chocolate chips just because it made me feel good. I would get to know that childand remember what she wanted and needed from life, from love and from the world. And I would be her with courage!

The process has been difficult. Being courageous is like agreeing to be the warm butter; in a state of less than solid.

Fearing that much of who you thought you were may melt away. Courage is vulnerable and exposed and going for it anyway. Being courageous feels like the moment of leaping from the edge of a precipice naked; flying out into the air but fearing that the crowd of people below will snicker at your fleshy parts as you soar over their masked, upturned faces.

But one of the things I understand now is that no matter what the day brings, no matter how bad things seem to be, I can always count on myself. Not in the “I can do this alone” kind of way, but in the “I am a perfect soul, part of the whole of the universe and I am worthy” kind of way.

I know that I need to release my spirit and my gifts to the world… it’s what we were all mandated to do upon arrival. I know that something that feels good to me is my truth coming to the surface. But I find myself still falling into old patterns; afraid of what happens if I let go of image and ego and relationships.

So here I sit; 42 years old and anxious that my father lets the butter dish get so damned messy. I worry that all of my coupled friends will find me dangerously different as single. I worry that who I am is still not good enough for friendship or for love.

I finally ask my Dad, in consternation, why he insists on letting the butter sit out getting soft. He says with a shrug, “Because it tastes better.”

You know what? He’s right. Butter does taste better when it’s warm. I spread it on my bread. I close my eyes and feel the crunch of my teeth on toast. My tongue tastes the subtle flavors of cream and salt and fat. I melt a little as the butter slides down my throat and into my belly. I smile. My Dad is a wise man, I think, sitting here in my tiny kitchen.

Enjoying life is about finding the details that please you. It’s about exposing your softness with courage. It’s about the warm butter despite the mess.

Taste it every day, and give yourself permission to enjoy this tiny bliss because, as E.E. Cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

***

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Jessica Gauthier

Jessica Gauthier

Jessica Gauthieris gung ho, and though she may not embrace every adventure with lust, she goes for them all. Whether joining a fledgling non-profit Board of Directors, traveling to foreign countries with limited budget, renovating a 1930′s plantation cottage or moving step by step West across the world, Jessica knows no No. She says Yes to what makes her heart sing and she writes about it in hopes that you will too. It was her move to Hawaii in 2005 that catapulted her creative writing and also her awareness of her powers to create her life. Hawaii Island has a way of burning up everything in your life that you thought was essential and leaves you with what really is. With love and health and the Aloha Spirit, Jessica will continue to expose her heart through her stories and welcomes her readers into the world through her eyes. E Komo Mai!
Jessica Gauthier

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