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Sheryl Crow’s song, The First Cut Is the Deepest is one of my favorite songs despite the fact that it takes me to this solemn reflective place. It makes me think about disposable love. It makes me think about actually being disposable. Have you ever felt that way?… Disposable? It’s a shitty space to be in emotionally, but perhaps we all need to feel it at least once to learn. That’s why I love the song so much, because it reminds me, it humbles me.
The fourth time I felt disposable was actually at a job. I was a young twenty something GED teacher at a small non-profit. My passion was my biggest flaw. I pushed for excellence in everything at the expense of being called inflexible. After almost two years of being referred to as “too frustrated” I found my job posted on Indeed. Apparently, they were searching too. Two months later I job hopped dodging the inevitable firing. At the new job I was a manager, surely I could make things better, I could realistically strive for excellence. I committed steadfast working ten hour days, bringing work home, coming in on Sundays, skipping lunches and neglecting any possibility of happiness or a life. The janitors warned me as they emptied my trash that I too was disposable. Middle management came and went. After my clerical team had revolved four times, I reconsidered the janitors words. Maybe I was disposable. I had been disposed of by a man, by my junior high crew, and almost in the workplace once before.
The first time I felt disposable I was 14. When I was eight my parents moved us from the all black South side of Chicago to the nearly all white South Suburbs. I was shy, introverted and black. My mother helped me make friends by giving me assignments to speak to girls on the playground and collect phone numbers. I hated doing this, but the results were great. She set up play dates and my house quickly became the cool place to be if you were a third-grade girl. Through elaborate art projects, dance competitions, theatre performances equip with costumes, and the best after school snacks, I developed a crew. By eighth grade I was more extroverted and confident, I even played team sports. Half way through my eighth-grade year, a jealous bully started a fight that I publicly lost. For this social crime I also lost my crew. They were too embarrassed to publicly speak to me, speak less defend me. Losing friends I’d thought were sisters created a distrust in me for everyone, new friends and old. Never again would I allow anyone to dispose of me so easily.
Two years later I met my first love. I had many associates, but few true friends, and I felt safer this way. We were high school sophomores when we met. He was the new kid that sat next to me in 3D Sculpture. He said he needed a job so I told him about my new job. I worked for a company that sponsored recreational events and outings for people with disabilities. The first event we worked together was a football game on a cold October night. We were junior chaperones. We sat shivering in the bleachers chatting with clients but mostly with each other. A college girl named Katie was the main supervisor of the outing and she made a special note to mention that we should continue our time together beyond the work event. After the event I drove my red ’91 Ford Tempo to the neighborhood Baker Square where we sat for another two hours. He told me it was his first winter in Chicago, a California boy. I’d never really known anyone from California. He was the oldest of three, but something about how he spoke of his siblings felt more parental. He was a drummer, but not in the same way we’d all excitedly become musicians for the 5th grade band. He was a real musician. He was curious, timid, and polite, but most of all he was intriguing and kind.
A year later we ate Pepe’s tacos in the back of his pick-up truck on a hot summer night. In the suburbs there was little to do as a teenager so we took pleasure in the simple things. To this day the simplicity of star gazing and people watching as we soaked up the summer night remains one of my favorite memories.
He knew of a pain I’d yet to understand or experience in life and his resulting wisdom from it made me feel safe. Trusting anyone was a big deal for me, and I trusted him insurmountably. The summer before college we vowed to defy the odds of high school romance by simply stopping. If we simply stopped dating or took no interest in anyone else, we’d make it.
Half way through freshmen year we broke up. The betrayal was mine. It wasn’t any one particular guy that caught my attention but rather an awareness of possibilities. All my life I’d been categorized, boxed and labeled as black, not black enough, Muslim not Christian, and etc. etc. In college, I could sit at the black table Monday, the art table Tuesday and with the international students on Wednesday. The intrigue of my California boy faded in the midst of these new possibilities. I grew restless of long distance phone calls. With little thought to the betrayal I was ensuing and no regard for the loyalty and friendship, I ended things. I gave no reason.
Eight years later he was married and he’d forgiven me despite the fact that I still hadn’t fully realized the extent of my tactless betrayal. I was 26, still black, still Muslim and still confused. I’d yet to discover any criteria for love speak less marriage and I was floundering with a reactive list of criteria. If interracial dating failed, my next attempt was strictly within my own race and culture. If a short guy had been awful it was surely due to Napoleon complex and so the next guy had to be super tall. Too old, too young, musicians and engineers, atheist and preachers’ kids, my strategies were if anything more than foolish, varied. Finally, I connected. I connected hard with a friend from the past. Common life struggles made it easy to confide and develop trust. The past made it easy to feel at home, especially after navigating and failing in the complexities of dating. It was so easy to talk to him, as easy as star gazing in the back of the pick-up had been. A year and a half or so later what had barely begun ended. This time, the betrayal wasn’t mine.
It took me years to process this betrayal. We had shared the details of secret aspirations, the fear of professional and personal failure. He was my crew, my friend, my person who wouldn’t confuse passion for inflexibility. He ended it without reason. I felt painfully disposed of. Was this how I’d made my high- school love feel? Disposed of without reason?
A lack of reason made me analyze what information I did have. I thought back to comments he’d made back when I perceived things to be good. Comments I’d ignored. I was clearly the wrong religion, not skinny enough, and my hair was too course to pass for a “mixed chick”. I didn’t look like any girl he’d ever dated. I was disposable.
For the next few years I floundered even worse in dating. The pain of a really hurtful breakup eventually faded, but the idea that I had been the cause of someone else feeling disposable plagued me for years. The greatest pain was self-inflicted. The first cut was my own.
Who was I? How was I any better than the crew that abandoned me at fourteen? How had I been so cold and abrupt to someone who loved and befriended me. And how had it taken me another eight years to realize how bad this shit can hurt? Trust was not a commodity sold at Walmart. That feeling star gazing in the back of the pick-up was not easily replaceable.
Guilt stricken, I convinced myself I was unworthy of good things, and thus I spiraled back into ridiculous ways. I wondered if that guy had found the girl who was better than me. What was she like?
For me the first cut was the deepest because the first cut was unknowingly self-inflicted. Nothing feels worse than the pain we inflict on ourselves, the forgiveness we don’t grant ourselves, the self-love we deny ourselves, and the beauty we fail to see in ourselves. There is no possibility of having a crew, a loyal job, or a lover if we don’t forgive our own mistakes and truly believe that we are the absolute opposite of disposable. We have to believe it in the deepest of our cores.