Monday, June 12, 2017

Be a nice girl

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I spent some quality time with my pals, Satish and Danta.  Both of them played in soccer tournaments, Danta in Columbus and Satish in Sylvania, so I helped out their mom with transportation.  While she took Danta back and forth to our state capital, I chauffeured Satish to his local games, spending the night in-between them. 
Alas, Satish had sprained one of his big toes a month ago, so he wasn’t sure if playing would be the best option.  Even though he’s consistently a starter, on Saturday he was on the field only for a few minutes before the coach noticed he was limping and pulled him to the sidelines where he assisted in coaching his team to 2-2 tie game.  Sunday saw him sitting on the bench, cheering his team to a 4-0 victory and a place in the semi-finals. 
Yet before that game had even started, Satish lamented, “I don’t think it’s a good idea if I play.  I’m not doing my best right now.”
“Does your foot hurt?” I asked
“Yeah,” he nodded.  “And my stamina is bad, too.  I haven’t been able to run for almost a month.”
As he’s always been a team player, I wasn’t surprised at all that Satish would let go of his inspiring desire to kick some grass, even with an injury.  Since he was little, I’ve known him to be aware of the bigger picture, even if his place within it has changed.  Still, his presence on the sidelines buoyed his teammates.  His encouragement gave them the will to keep going.  His suggestions to the coach were well-received and I’m certain made the difference between winning and losing, particularly in Sunday’s game. 
Through his choices, Satish continually teaches me that teamwork is something you do, even when you’re not in the spotlight.

In early May, my mother left a voicemail on my cell.  Mother’s Day was soon approaching and as I haven’t seen my family in more than seven years, this time of year is usually difficult for me.  So when I heard Mom’s message, I knew something was wrong.  When I returned the call, my sister answered the phone and told me that my father had a massive heart attack and died that afternoon.  When I asked if I could come over to Mom’s house to sit with her, my sister was hesitant to answer.  “I’ll text you,” she replied.
I didn’t hear back from her, so I called once more and this time, my mother answered the phone.  Again, I asked if I could come be with her and she answered me cautiously.  “Maybe later.”
In the interim, I had called my significant other and told Steve what had happened.  “I’m on my way home right now,” he said.  “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
By the time he arrived, I had picked a lily-of-the-valley and lilac bouquet from my garden in case Mom wanted to see me.  “That’s pretty, Kate,” he smiled, kissing my cheek.  “Those are my favorites.”
“Mine, too.”
We sat in my dining room talking for a couple of hours while I waited to hear back from my mother.  At one point, I said, “Honey, why don’t you go home and eat?  I’ll be okay.”
“Nope,” Steve said.  “I’m good.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded and held me close. 
Shortly afterward, Mom called and said I could come over for a little bit if I wanted to.  So I drove across town, unsure of what to say.  Unsure of what to feel.  Unsure of what would follow.
I didn’t stay long.
When I came home that night, I was in tears, yet for the first time in my life, I wasn’t alone.  Steve was there to listen.  To hold me.  To let me know that whatever I needed, he would be there for me.  In that moment, he once again showed me that love isn’t something you say...it’s something you do. 
My father was buried on the day before Mother’s Day, and while I went to the funeral, out of respect for my mother’s wishes, I didn’t sit with the family, nor did I attend the visitation.  Perhaps it would have been too uncomfortable for my mother and sisters.  Or maybe it was my consequence for choosing to separate myself from them.  After all, none of us had seen each other since the fall of 2009, and a lot of time has passed.
Even so, when Steve and I walked into the funeral home, we were met with the receiving line of my nuclear and extended families.  It was overwhelming, but before we had even entered the building, I had asked Steve to stay by my side, no matter what.
And through everything, he did. 
The next I emailed Mom and she responded, saying in part that Steve seemed like a nice guy and she hoped I was happy.
I wrote back, He’s a good man and I feel very blessed.

For a while now I’ve thought about what it means to be nice, something I was told to be throughout my childhood. 
“Be nice, Katie,” I was admonished whenever I wanted to scream or throw a tantrum.
“Be nice, Katie,” I was ordered when I squabbled with my older sister and she threw a particularly venomous insult my way.
“Be nice, Katie,” I was told whenever I was stood up or treated poorly by some guy.  “Kill him with kindness.”
But I don’t want to be nice anymore, at least not to my own detriment.
I can be open-minded.  I can be professional.  I can even be polite.  
But I’ve paid a high price for being a nice girl, which often resulted in being taken advantage of, being used, then being discarded when something or someone else came along. 
In the end, I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter how forgiving I am.  How much integrity I strive to live by.  How much I tell the truth.  It doesn’t matter what I know or what I say, or even what I believe.
It matters what I do.
In the past, being a nice girl meant choosing to step aside so that someone else could succeed.  Being nice meant choosing to circumvent my own feelings to placate someone else’s.  Being nice meant I chose to stuff what I wanted deep down inside because it was more often than not an unpopular choice.  Sure, I’ve lived life on my own terms for the past three decades, but when it comes to my relationships, I've learned the hard way the difference between being a nice girl and being a good woman. 
It’s not a surprise that, for the past seven years, I’ve been surrounded with people who’ve shown me how to be in healthy friendships.  Who accept me when I’m content and when I’m not.   When I'm miserable and when I’m joyful.  When I’m at peace and when I’m searching for the meaning behind unanswerable questions.  It’s not been easy, and the past seven months have challenged me all the more since Steve and I chose to be in a relationship.
Yet every day I keep choosing him, for his presence in my life buoys me more than I can say.
Every day I choose to love him as best as I can, because it’s through love that our relationship is made holy.
Every day I choose to tell him the truth, for it’s through being honest with each other that I have finally been able to let go of being a nice girl so that the good woman within me can bloom all the more.