Tell Me I'm Pretty

August 10, 2020 / Marissa Rodriguez

We ate without you. If I’d known you weren’t coming, I wouldn’t have saved my nicest outfit for today. I would’ve worn it to school so everyone could see it. But honestly, I thought you’d come this time. I always believe you when you lie to me.

That day didn’t just change my life; it destroyed it. This man wasn’t even my dad. He was my step-dad. He literally signed up for the job and then said, “Never mind.” That meant something to me. Without much confidence to begin with, and very little stability elsewhere, his word had been my bible growing up. He would stay up late and tell me about movies and wars and life. He was well-traveled and well-educated, the smartest man I’d ever met. He lovingly believed in me, never failing to praise my accomplishments. He’d tell me how pretty I was, how I was perfect in every way. I’d never grieved such a loss until all that stopped.

I am growing up without you. I’ve never had to do that before. I miss you. I’m not very good at things without you. I wish you could tell me I was. Maybe I could make some friends or calm down about school if you were still with me.

I wasn’t old enough. Everyone who was in on my plight told me that’s why he refused to see me in the first place. He felt bad about leaving us and worse about leaving a child. On that day, I was 14 years old and prepping for the lunch that could bring him back. I spent way too long getting ready, and even longer convincing myself his presence meant something. I knew I wanted him back. Even more than that, I knew I wanted his approval. That everything I’d done in the months he was gone was good, that I was good, and that he thought I was doing good. That the man who raised me would want me again if only I could talk to him. So I’d wear my most studious attire, I’d throw about my academic achievements, braid my hair just the way I’d studied how. Appear happy but not crazy, I’d present my case for being grown. Basing a father’s love on a qualifier only set a standard for me to reach.

I spent forever straightening my hair, the frayed bits reaching up now. These are my best jeans, the kind with the little studs that hurt when you sit down. I’m sorry I didn’t wear much makeup; I really don’t know how to. I’m always sure I’ll do it wrong. Today, only a little black paints my lashes. It makes me feel grown. I was hoping you’d notice. I have to ask, Dad: Am I old enough to love now? Or only leave?

But he didn’t show up. I waited with my sister. Not even old enough to drive, I felt too old to be abandoned. I wasn’t a baby he could move on from; I was a 14-year-old who was old enough to say goodbye. A lousy text, and he walked out on me again. I didn’t need to know why. I was too young. Still the fresh face he couldn’t bear to own up to hurting. I had to face a lot of things whimpering in that Panera Bread. One, parents are never quite as adept at loving as we believe when we’re younger. Two, you can’t force somebody to appreciate your love. Three, a father’s validation cannot quantify your worth. And Four, I had to accept that I would spend the rest of my life trying and failing to convince myself of these affirmations.

I think I might be one of those girls who look for validation for the rest of her life. Asking the world to tell her she is just right and horrible all at once. What am I supposed to do with that? Stereotypes of being a father’s discard pile haunt me.

Fourteen years old, and I had no idea that my quest for validation would be intertwined with my identity permanently. Of course, I can’t pin all my insecurities on one person. I decided this was where my worth ended. I had no control when he left, even less when he abandoned me, and I’ve never found it again. I put my all into lunch that day. And by that, I mean every last hope I had at being an individual who was cared for. And you’re reading this because it didn’t fucking work.

Will I ever be someone who falls into an unconditional love? Am I destined to run this cycle forever? Over prepare. Get my hopes up. Feel alone. I feel I’m doomed to this fate living in your memories. You know, I think I’ll wait here forever.

It’s crazy I don’t hate him. Honestly, after all that has happened, I should be angry. I was abandoned. I was alone. I was too young for that responsibility. Yet, I grovel. I’m made a beggar and a fool to a liar. Every day since that lunch, I have learned more and more as to why he never deserved us in the first place. A pathological liar and a future convict — I shouldn’t crave his approval. He hasn’t owned up to his reality, but I can’t either. I can’t break my idol. I wish I could convince myself to look beyond him to my own worth. Nothing would end my suffering like seeing life for what it is. But I can’t. I will continue to see only the good in him and only the bad in myself. Until he says I can stop.

I hate myself because I’m not enough for you. I hate myself more not recognizing that this doesn’t make any sense. Everyone says they have dreams of punching you. They all want to make you pay. So why can’t I stop having nightmares of you coming home? I wake crying over a fictitious reunion filled with hugs and love. I’m never going to get it. I hate myself for that.

I’ve graduated high school, made it into college, won awards, made friends, yet it isn’t a tangible success until he tells me it is. This is the rest of my life. I wasn’t born with an exuding amount of confidence. All I can draw from is the time my father showed me I wasn’t worth it. I wish this had a better ending. I wish my childhood had a better ending. I don’t hate who I should, and nobody loved me who should have. Love is a thirst I quench from only one. One lunch, one man, and I’m on the hook for life.

Loving without feeling loved. I can’t peel my eyes from their stupor. I’m waiting for you. Tell me I’m pretty. Tell me you miss me. Even if you don’t mean it. Just one more time. ■

By: Marissa Rodriguez

Layout: Kelsey Jones & Maya Shaddock
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