Yes, there is a second part to the Cool saga, believe it or not. First off, thankyou for all your words of encouragement. I know, I already said thank you. I'll stop now. It's a problem. I know.
As I was saying, I feel like I've worn a sandwich board around myself for a long time, which broadcast to the world (and to myself) that I was f'd. And the sandwich board suddenly got really heavy and uncomfortable and Burning Man.
Despite the number one principle of Burning Man, radical inclusion (the idea that no one is a stranger in Black Rock City), I put myself in the outsider category. In my eyes, Burning Man is an event attended by very, very, very cool people. I looked around and I saw 50,000 people who were cooler than me, all of whom seemed to be having no problem fitting in. I, on the other hand, did NOT feel like I fit in. I was just frontin'.
On the third morning, I woke up grumpy. My body didn't feel like itself. My thighs ached from biking in soft sand all night, I was STILL covered in dust despite a baby-wipe "bath", and despite the fields of cool art we saw the previous night, I really hadn't enjoyed myself that much the night before -- the physical discomfort didn't seem worth it. Oh no, I thought, it's true. I really don't belong here. Even here, in this place where everyone is welcome... I'm still (everybody say it with me!) f*cked up.
And then something weird happened. I had breakfast, I tried interacting with folks, poor things, just as shell shocked as I was... and the next few moments are a blur. Something must have happened to trigger me, but in my memory, there's an abrupt jump cut from breakfast time, to me lying in my tent with tears silently streaming down my face. I once heard that silent tears are the most dangerous. I don't know if that's true. But I do know that I was crying from a place where I couldn't form words. Bren came to find me, asked me what was wrong, and I couldn't say anything. I don't know why. It's all still a mess to me.
I DO know that all I could think of was that moment in the classroom again. I felt like I was right back there. I could see the light streaming in the narrow rectangular windows, hear everyone running around and screaming outside, I felt the over-sized white uniform shirt around my shoulders... I could even feel the residue of a ham sandwich in my hands. And most of all, I could feel my insides caving in just as they did on that day. After Bren left the tent, I rolled over onto my tummy and starting crying so hard and loud that I had to bury my face in the pillow so that no one could hear me. It was a cathartic for sure, but the logical side of my brain was looking at me crying like this and thinking, holy crap, you are losing it girl.
But I ignored the sensible-Susan part of my brain and kept on crying. I kept thinking about that day, and the day after and the day after that... and how it has ruled my life ever since, always driving me to divide a room of people as the "cool" and the "uncool" (I of course believed myself to be standing in the latter).
Elizabeth already mentioned this story in her comment, but I'll recap in case you didn't read it. I remember a day during my freshman year in college, when sitting at the cafeteria table, I was overcome by how cool everyone sitting around the table was, and that they were friends with me! Woo-hoo! Maybe it was over! I gulped and said, "Guys! I'm so happy because I have never thought I was cool, and now I have all these friends and they are so cool, it's so awesome! Look at us!"
Sweet, sweet Elizabeth, always the dry, but truthful wit, said with a smile, "Darling, NONE of us have ever been cool, I assure you."
"Oh," I said.
A few months into dating Bren, I remember saying to him, "I just think you're so awesome, and you make me feel so good about myself, because you're the coolest person I know, and you are choosing to go out with me!". He smiled and didn't say much, but I'm sure he thought I was a weirdo.
I've had friends since then who I thought were too cool for me, and friends I thought were less cool than me. I know, HORRIBLE, right?
Finally, I wiped the snot from my nose (gorgeous, right?), sent up a little smoke signal to God. I asked for some help with this silly, Earthly problem I was having. I didn't want to feel isolated anymore, and I knew that I could fix it somehow, could He help? I picked up my journal, and started to write out my prayer (which I've been doing recently, and works so much better for me than sitting silently). I grabbed my little devotional booklet, turned it to that day's date, and lo and behold, there was a verse that looked like it had been written just for me:
"Do not dwell on the past... See, I am doing a new thing!".
I smiled. Here was cosmic comfort. Here was saw Someone much, much, much cooler than myself saying, I don't care what happened, I don't care what anyone has said to you. You're cool to Me. And I'm cool, so I should know.
I read it, took a deep breath, and felt... released. It's a hippy-dippy word for it, I know, but that's the best way I can describe it. I feel like a dumbell has been pulled out of my heart and thrown far, far away from me. The sandwich board has been banished to a closet. I'm walking lighter. I don't feel like I'm functioning from that lonely classroom anymore. That 11-year old girl has been given a big hug, had her head stroked, told that she's beautiful and wonderful, and put out to pasture in an all-you-can-eat ice-cream parlour (what, isn't that YOUR idea of heaven?). What's more, over the past few days, more and more subtle revelations have dawned on me, about how that time affected me. I am looking at it from a distance now, not from the middle of it.
Does that make sense? I know that's dramatic but it feels like a dramatic shift in my tummy. I can't promise I won't trip up again and whisper that dysfunctional mantra to myself again. But at least this time when I do it, I'll be able to remember how the coolest Guy around thinks I'm cool. And that's enough for me.
p.s. And yes, after that day and after another looooong conversation with Bren, I broke through that shell I had constructed around Burning Man, and finally started to have a good time! Now I want to go back next year to experience the festival with a fully unafraid heart!