Comedian Louis C.K. once said men are “the No. 1 threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the No. 1 cause of injury and mayhem to women. We’re the worst thing that ever happens to them.” You don’t have to convince a domestic violence survivor of that, but we still want to be loved. So like a lot of women who listened to their father beat and berate their mom, I entered the dating world with a couple of eating disorders and a short, pathetic list of parameters: My boyfriend would never hit me, call me names, or embarrass me in public.
Other than that, since it was the ’90s and I’d seen “Singles,” I resigned myself to settling for someone who blessed me when I sneezed and loved animals because, as Louis C.K. also said, some people are so ugly that no one ever kisses them or has sex with them.
“Nobody touches their genitals their entire life,” he said. “They just wash it and then they die.”
For years, I thought that would be me.
In the Beginning, There Was Abandonment
My parents couldn’t afford to send me to preschool, and my newly wed and new-to-Ohio mom was so lonely that they wouldn’t have sent me anyway, so for the first four years of my life, she served as my only friend and teacher. We played at the park, she taught me how to read and write, and I followed her around the house, filling the void my father left while he worked at Ford all night and slept all day.
After we moved to Lorain and her OB-GYN clamped my brother’s head too hard with forceps, causing brain damage, diabetes, and epilepsy, she peeled me from her leg, laced me into roller skates, set me on the sidewalk, and instructed me to go make friends.
Fortunately, Forest Lane was full of little girls who occupied my time while my mom cared for my brother, fielded long-distance calls from family members about her suicidal mother, and drank. Three became constant companions. When Emily and I weren’t tucking ourselves into aerodynamic peroxide-blond balls and coasting down the C-shaped slope at the end of the street with the wind hitting our teeth, Kay and I tended daffodils we’d planted in the front yard of a fire-ravaged house we’d explored. If Emily and Kay were grounded, which was often, Kelly and I walked her Irish setter or sat atop the sun-warmed transformer box in her yard and talked about important matters, such as the heart-shaped pins at Spencer’s that were emblazoned with every girl in the neighborhood’s name but mine.
The formerly shy child who’d adhered herself to her mom’s hip, forcing her to gimp through the grocery store, even became a Brownie when a black family bought the house behind our duplex and invited me to attend the Girl Scout meetings it held after “Good Times” reruns. But I needed more than camaraderie and the merit badge my father earned for selling the most cookies.
The Making of an ESFJ Personality
At school, I learned that I love attagirls, so I became even more of a people pleaser and rule follower than my mom had raised me to be. In exchange for my goodness, teachers put me in charge of the class when they left the room, and my third-grade teacher, Ms. Danicki, trusted me to fetch the gym closet keys from the principal each week, which made me feel special and valued.
I don’t know whether word spread after I told my kindergarten teacher that my mom shook me so hard that I fell and hurt my arm or if Ms. Danicki just sensed that I didn’t have anyone hanging my artwork on the refrigerator at home, but when seasons changed or holidays neared, she handed me a stack of construction paper and a stapler and let me redecorate her classroom. Likewise, I was too young to know about liver cancer, but I could tell from her yellow skin and the brown semicircles beneath her eyes that she was sick, so I helped her as much as I could. “A”-filled report cards praised my manners, imagination, and compassion for others — presumably compassion for her but regardless of what she meant, kindness soon became my downfall.
My Rapid Descent from Teacher’s Pet to Pariah
While I was getting what I needed from other people, my mom was fulfilling her needs with my father’s best friend. So the summer before fourth grade, when flashbacks of walking in on them apparently became unmanageable, my father uprooted my family from Forest Lane and dumped me in the Amherst school district, where compassion wasn’t part of the curriculum. Not only did administrators ship my brother via short bus to a poverty-stricken city 10 miles away because special ed teachers didn’t want to deal with all of his disabilities, but the all-white student body taught me that even though the fire whistle telling black people to get out of town still blew at 6 p.m., the people who lived there were not equal.
As I got older, I realized that I’d been demoted from popular new girl to outcast because I’d befriended the obese, greasy-haired girl with the lisp and the mothball-scented girl who wore cameo necklaces and cardigans. But when I was 9, I couldn’t understand why everyone else stopped talking to me. I was nice and anytime someone needed a pencil or sheet of paper, I was the first person to share.
Once my father started holding my mom off the floor by her throat and calling her a slut loud enough for neighbors to hear, I spent so much time curled up in the nurse’s station with a stomachache that ostracism didn’t matter as much. And eventually, being ignored became preferable to the alternative.
The Bullying Effect
After the mothball-scented girl moved, and I severed ties with the obese girl because her creepy older brother handcuffed me to a kitchen chair he’d carried to his bedroom to give me birthday spankings, my cats became my only friends. This would’ve been fine if they hadn’t died in quick succession while crossing the road—and if I hadn’t gone to school with Scott Foster who thought it was funny.
The umpteenth time I arrived at my desk unable to stop sobbing because the sound of a snow shovel scraping Puffy off the cement as I waited for the bus stayed stuck in my head like song lyrics, he stopped calling me Miranda Panda in favor of Miranda Miller Kitty-Cat Killer. Every time he said it from that day forward, I remembered the many friends my mom buried in our back yard and got teary.
But at least he and I had a history of chasing each other during recess. When Rebecca Russell broadsided me by yelling across our sixth-grade reading class, “Hey, Miranda, will you go with Mark?” and followed my answer with, “See? Even Miranda doesn’t want to be your girlfriend,” I spent the rest of the day wondering a) why she’d picked on me when we’d never spoken one word to each other and b) why unattractive people were automatically popular just because their parents could afford Forenza sweaters.
If anything good came out of how I grew up, it’s that I would never treat people the way I was treated. But by the time I graduated from high school and started working at Macy’s, I was so eager to talk to anyone who would listen that I immediately attracted the wrong men—and my loneliness, low self-esteem, and compassion compelled me to stay in relationships with them far too long.