Living Free

Last night, I resurrected my abandoned Instagram account. I decided that, despite my best efforts, the people who I desperately want to keep out of my life and business are still finding information on me, so why continue trying to hide? Hiding isn’t doing me any favors; it isn’t offering me any protection. On top of that, I’m not someone who hides anymore. I’ve survived so much that I’m not really scared of anything anymore.

Then, this morning, I posted my favorite Gone with the Wind quote on Instagram.

This is the caption I added:

Last year, I read Gone with the Wind for the first time and was captivated by Rhett Butler. His statements are truthful, if occasionally colorful or unpleasant for Scarlett O’Hara to hear. This line in particular caught my attention.

A few years ago, someone sat me down to explain how much they valued their reputation. After listening, I said, “Okay, and that’s great for you, but I’ve just always put more stock by someone’s character than their reputation. I mean, who cares how people see you – who you really are matters so much more.”

They didn’t like that.

I didn’t care.

As someone who has had books and blogs written by family members about what an alleged piece of garbage I am, I’ve learned – painfully, at times – people will think whatever they want about me. About you. About all of us. It doesn’t matter if the proverbial “they” can live with you. Can you live with your choices? Are you at peace with the things you’ve said and done?

Shake off the shackles of what society says, what the neighbors might say. Lose that reputation and find yourself. Live free.

Ever since I saw Shrek (2001), I’ve been drawn to the notion of not giving “a damn ‘bout my bad reputation.” When Shrek arrives in Duloc to speak with Lord Farquad (say that slowly in a Scottish accent, by the way—“Lord Fahkwad”), he winds up engaged in a brawl while “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett plays. In my adolescent mind, I was watching an ogre do what needed done. What sort of “bad reputation” was to be found in that situation?

As I’ve grown older over the last two decades, I’ve kept asking that question. How can anyone have a “bad reputation” if they’re just doing the next right thing per their goals? Ah, that’s it. It’s when a person focuses on him-/herself, rather than what might be better for someone else.

And that was the foundation I had when I opened Gone with the Wind for the first time. Then, I read Rhett Butler’s thoughts on reputation, and I screamed, “Yes! Exactly!”

A reputation is a cumbersome thing, simply by nature—it’s something society tells you to uphold or work to change. Got a good reputation for helping others? Keep it up. Got a bad reputation from making the wrong decisions as a teen? Spend your twenties trying to undo the damage, then your thirties finally starting to live once you realize you can’t change peoples’ minds about you.

Like Rhett says, only once you’ve lost your reputation can you find true freedom.

And I suppose the natural question here is how I lost my reputation. That’s a long story that you can read more about in an upcoming memoir, just as soon as I write it. The short version, though, is that I lived in a very miserable situation and as long as I kept my mouth shut about the pain I was in, everyone else was happy. Then I decided I wanted to be happy, too, which pissed everyone else off, so I explained why I was doing what I was doing in short, simple terms with facts, screenshots, corroborative witnesses, and a small dose of my feelings and statements from my therapist. According to the “Them” in this situation, I was still wrong. But I knew my feelings couldn’t be wrong—my feelings were simply how I felt after a long train of abuses and usurpations of my autonomy.

I walked away. And not that many people chased after me. The ones who did gave up quickly, too. And I learned that they’d rather hold onto their idea of a happy and whole group, missing me and my nuclear family (my husband and our two kids). They told a story of how wayward I am, and for a time, it bothered me. “But that’s not what happened! That’s not what I said! That’s not who I am!” I fought it for a while, then I realized people believe what they want to believe, regardless of what any of us do. So why keep doing things to try to reverse their opinion? Ah, because I don’t want my reputation sullied. Wait, my reputation is already garbage. I am not garbage.

Fuck it.

For the sake of poetics, I wish I could say I had a more beautiful train of thought, but the truth is, those two words were the climax of that portion of my story. Or maybe they were the end of one story and the beginning of my life, the one I live for me and no one else. I’ll let my future biographer decide.

“Fuck it” manifested in giving up any designs I had on ever being the perfect anybody. Daughter. Step-daughter. Daughter-in-law. Sister. Sister-in-law. Christian. Wife. Mother. Friend. Person.

“Fuck it” taught me to love the beautiful mess that I am. “Fuck it” taught me that every day of my life is a gift, and I don’t intend on wasting any of them—my life is my party, and I will scream, cry, celebrate, sing in the car with the windows down while it rains, clean in my underwear, dance in my towel after a shower, eat eight cookies while I hide in my room from my kids, and write this blog post while I listen to old Britney Spears classics if that’s what I want to do (“Hit me baby one more time!”).

“Fuck it” gave me the freedom to be a human…you know, that creation I biologically am anyway, but the media (“Sex sells!”) and society (“Smile more, even if you’re dying inside—you can take a pill for that!”) try to force you not to be. I can be loud and take up space. I can be quiet and read a book from my ever-growing to-be-read stack. I can spend three hours on the phone with one of my best friends. I can admire P!NK for riding a lawn tractor while drinking a beer in the “So What” music video and fantasize about doing that myself one day, when one of my abusers dies and I refuse to go to the funeral even though it’s the “proper” thing to do.

“Fuck it” is my way of saying “Away with proprieties! Come hither, imperfection!”

Margaret Mitchell had more beautiful words. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara had a torrid romance, set against the tumultuous backdrop of the American War Between the States (I refuse to call it the “Civil War”—there is nothing civil about anything that happened). And yet, I think Rhett Butler would agree with the statements I’ve made here. So would Shrek, and Joan Jett.

If living for my sanity, rather than propriety, means I have a bad reputation, then at least it also means I am living free.

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