how I became a ‘good girl’

When I was a child, adults always told me how adult-like I was, how quiet and composed and calm. I’ve been grown my whole life. Together, orderly, good. I never had the luxury of messiness, of mistakes, of forgetfulness. My value rested on how well I could prove that I am indeed valuable and worthy, how well I could prove my case.

According to the statistics for girls like me (fatherless, raised by a single mother, low economic status, etc. etc. etc.,), I should have become a teenage mother nursing multiple addictions with an abusive boyfriend or husband (less likely since the expectation is that I wouldn’t get married in the first place). I would be poor, of course, and live through troubled, shaky teenage and young adult years. Getting in with the wrong crowd, dabbling in legal issues, and treading toward a bleak future.

That’s just a snippet of my projected path. I think I was always conscious of these “realities” waiting for me or maybe because I internalized the idea that these things were all I was good for, I ran fast in the opposite direction. I became, instead, a “good girl.” I was aware from an early age that people around me had the lowest expectations of me, even those who loved and cared about me. At best, maybe they were expectant or curious about where I’d end up. But I knew in my fiber that people overlooked, underestimated, and devalued me.

To be fair, there were also many people around me who were extremely encouraging, often reminding me of the great possibilities I can achieve if I work hard and remain focused. They imbued positive energy on me and wished for me the best things. But it was often tinged with the idea that because of my life circumstances, I couldn’t be like other kids. I couldn’t mess up like they did or afford to get more C’s than A’s and B’s on my report card or give my mom too much trouble because she wouldn’t be able to handle it. So even with their love and support, I still knew that was I was working toward was moreso survival, breaking barriers, improving my circumstances, instead of thriving, becoming, reaching my full potential, and succeeding for the sake of achieving whatever it is that God put me on this planet for.

And so the rest of my years were dedicated to fiercely proving wrong the low expectations set against me. Showing them that I was capable of staying out of trouble, of being pure and good, of achieving and performing. The good, stable, wholesome girl became a lot more comforting and promising than the promiscuous, imperfect, human one. Although when other girls became just that, it was thought of a matter of a phase, simply a matter of misguided decision, a redemptive circumstance. I knew those liberties did not apply to me and so I acted accordingly. I could do good – I became a pro at editing, erasing, compartmentalizing pieces of myself. It became easy. It became natural. It became me, like second skin.

My life is a series of buried traumas. And when those memories resurface, I’m left wondering how I survived. Burying and pretending to be normal were my survival mechanisms, that’s how. I had to create a semblance of goodness for myself.

But I am so ready to unlearn the baggage of a quarter of a century. Because otherwise? I’m terrified that I might just collapse under the weight of it all.

what my mama always knew about the dealings of grown men

When I was younger, a child, a preteen and into my teenage years, my mom would warn me about men – grown, adult men. She’d instruct me to never open the door for a man in her absence, even if we knew him, even if he was a neighbor, a friend, or an acquaintance. She even ran down the list of possible pleas they might make to get me to open the door: “your mom sent me,” “I have a package/delivery for you,” “could you help me study?” Never oblige, under any circumstance, she’d demand sternly. And I remember promising to follow her strict orders but laughing it off and thinking “there goes her paranoia again.” In fact, what I deemed to be her paranoia was often a source of laughter or embarrassment for me. I figured her to be overly careful, suspicious of dangers I couldn’t see or make sense of, unrealistic about people and situations.

Now, at 26, I get it. I get her, and her ‘paranoia,’ and her insistence that men, regardless of their marital status, relationship to us, or personality, are not to be trusted around young girls. She recognized the imbalance of power that exists between an adult man and a small girl. She foresaw the very real possibility of abuse, molestation, and the snatching of innocence. Especially in a culture like ours where our people are deafeningly silent on rape and sexual abuse. In a culture like ours where even if instances of rape and sex abuse are openly reported or acknowledged, it’s the girl child/woman that bears the brunt of blame. You probably seduced him. Why did you dress like that around him? Stop your lies, ekele _____ is a respectable man, he would never do such a thing. And just like that, the girl child/woman is handed her slut, fast, shame card and the male in question goes completely unquestioned and unconfronted. Our people protect our men like the fiber of the society depends on that protection. We make all kinds of excuses for them as if they are fragile china ready to break at any moment if we don’t coddle them. And worst of all, sometimes/often/too often it is women who maintain, perpetuate, and protect patriarchy to no ends.

I don’t know what my mom witnessed/experienced/knew about the secret, dark, inhumane things that happen between grown men and girl children in the unfortunate event that they’re left alone. She’s never talked to me about specific instances or examples for reference. But she didn’t have to. She knew, and for that knowledge, I’m grateful, even though it didn’t entirely prevent the possibility. But that’s for another time.

Disclaimer: I know not all men are pervs. Also, it’s not just/always girls who are victims and it’s not men who are just/always predators.