My roommate has a way of looking at me really intently. I squirm under her gaze. I’m used to being invisible, unseen, unnoticed. I’m quiet, and I’m not good at getting attention. Instead of asking for it in positive ways, I hang around awkwardly and lurk in people’s space, hoping attention will be bestowed upon me. When that doesn’t work, because why would it, I skulk away bitter and disappointed.
I’ve never been seen by someone the way that my roommate sees me. She’s like an older sister to me. She hunts me down with her questions and her looks and doesn’t tolerate my bullshit.
When I dream of being seen, I dream of being coddled and worshipped. That’s not how my roommate sees me. She challenges, scolds and provokes. Sometimes I don’t want that attention.
She sees right through me in uncomfortable ways and holds me accountable. It’s not fun. It’s painful. It’s necessary.
I’ve never been loved so aggressively before. I’ve never been cared for in a way that’s so inescapable. I’ve never felt someone cling to me even when I let go of them. It’s terrifying. It’s amazing.
I don’t love myself. I don’t even like myself. I don’t understand how my roommate can so fiercely love a person who I can barely tolerate.
I hate cooking. I absolutely hate it. I’m actually not that terrible at it, but the activity itself makes my anxiety levels go through the roof.
I was determined to cook radicchio. What’s radicchio, you ask? It’s a bitter leaf that’s kind of like cabbage. It’s super good for you. You can tell that it’s really good for you, because it tastes so nasty.
That’s not fair of me to say. The internet told me that radicchio is packed with nutrients that are hard to obtain due to a prohibitive lack of deliciousness. The internet also promised me that the recipe it was providing me with would make radicchio super yummy.
I’ll never know if that promise was true or not, because what I pulled out of my oven was a burnt pile of flakes that loosely resembled the shredded leaves that I put into the oven. Before you curse the internet for its lies, know that this disaster was entirely my fault. The recipe gave instructions for roasting entire heads of radicchio. I had shredded leaves. In my complete lack of common sense I was like, “Um, derp, yeah I guess I won’t reduce the cook time or temperature at all, it’ll totally be fine, probably, whatever.” God, I’m so stupid sometimes (read: most of the time).
Anyway, that shit came out of the oven burnt to a crisp. There was nothing left. The smoke alarm in our apartment even tried to warn me that the situation was beyond salvageable by going off. So, I did the only rational thing: I ate that pile of charred mess.
Okay, okay, before you judge me hear me out. I hate wasting food! Yo, motherfuckers are starving in Yemen and here my stupid ass is scorching up perfectly good nutrients. The least I could do was choke some down. Plus, I had actually been excited to see if the recipe would turn out delicious or not. Um, what’s that you say? The fact that I burnt the hell out of it meant that there was no possible way it could be delicious? Get out of here with your common sense!
Fast forward to the next morning when my roommate came home to find a pile of burnt leaves in the trash (I was smart enough not to eat the whole thing) and me in bed with an ice pack and a bucket next to me. I didn’t puke, though! It was just a precautionary measure after some rather unpleasant business on the other end. Despite all my reassurances that I was fine, she was deeply concerned.
But, I was fine. I was FIIIAAAAANNNN. Seriously, shortly after waking up, I got up and started puttering around, feeling much better than I had the night before. After being satisfied that I was not at death’s door, my roommate put her hands on my shoulders and looked deeply into my eyes.
“Why?” she asked me. “Why don’t you value yourself?”
Uncomfortable with being called out for my profound lack of self-worth, I tried to laugh the situation off, but my roommate held her ground.
“I pray for you that one day you will value yourself the way I value you and that you’ll be able to look at yourself with love.” Her face was so intense as she spoke, and it really hit me how much I had hurt her by hurting myself. That meant that she loved me. No one has ever loved me this way before. How can I be so precious to her when I constantly feel like a human trash pile? If there are things about me that make me lovable, why can’t I see them?
I wish I could say that this experience finally got through to me and I am filled with self-love, but that hasn’t happened. I still despise myself. I still go through life feeling constantly disappointed and disgusted by my very existence. I’m pretty used to it by now. Living any other way would feel weird.
If I fuck up a recipe, I think that I deserve to suffer through eating the burnt mess. If I fuck up in life, I’m tempted to draw the sharp edge of a box cutter across my skin as atonement, the way I used to in high school. If I find myself physically attracted to someone, I instantly remind myself that it would be rude of me to inflict my ugliness upon them. If someone hurts my feelings, I swallow my frustration and remind myself that I probably deserve it. If I start to think about my career goals, I think about how I’ll probably never actually accomplish my goals, because I’m lazy and weak. In every way, I look at myself as a non-entity, a failure, a dumpster fire of a human. It’s a shitty and counterproductive way to live, I know. I don’t really know how to fix it, though, and the idea of fixing it is kind of scary.
At least now what I do know is that I need to do better. I need to get better. Someone loves me. Someone sees value in me. I want to find out what they see.
Every day I constantly think of ways to add worth to the refuse heap that is me: I could lose weight, I could become fashionable, I could learn how to do my makeup, I could go to graduate school, I could publish a book, I could make more money, I could become a good cook, I could learn to dance, I could single-handedly destroy Donald Trump’s political career. The way I see it, I’m like one of those secured credit cards with a starting credit line of only $100: I’m virtually useless until value is earned and added. My roommate sees so much inherent worth in me, so much so that it baffles me. Why do you love me, I can’t even cook chicken properly?
I’m starting to warm up to the idea that maybe just existing makes me worthy of love and other good things. I’m definitely not in a healthy place, but you have to start somewhere. Maybe I’ll start by refraining from comparing myself to waste materials. Or at least, better waste materials. I could be like a pile of those air cushion things that you get in boxes from Amazon. Sometimes you pop and recycle them, but sometimes you save them for when you need to mail a figurine to your great-aunt. That’s a step up from hot garbage.
One day maybe I’ll be able to look myself in the mirror and say, “Hey, you pessimistic, pudgy, bearded, sloth-like lady with low earning potential, you deserve to love yourself and be loved.” I hope that day comes. I can’t promise that I’ll get there soon, easily or ever at all. I did, however, promise my roommate that I will never again punish and sicken myself by consuming a charred pile of ashes. I’m really grateful that I have someone around to love me, since I can’t yet seem to love myself.