As a child, my parents owned me.
My mother poured lemon juice over my darkening hair because she couldn’t bear to have her white-golden-haired child become a run-of-the-mill ash blonde. She gave me pixie cuts because she loved them. Thought they were adorable. I hated them. She dressed me in frilly little dresses because I was her doll. Luckily, I liked the frilly dresses too. She told me to smile, to look pretty, to be nice, to stop bothering her, to go away, to come when called, to do the ironing, the cleaning, the vacuuming, the laundry, mowing, dusting, straightening, and window cleaning. I was hers to command and to do with as she wanted. I was supposed to make her life worth living, to fulfill her, to make everything good. For her. I was supposed to banish her depression, give her purpose, take away all difficulty, cause the negatives in her world to go away, and make her look successful. It was my job to fix her life. She screamed at me, slapped me, and dragged me by the hair when I didn’t live up to her expectations. Which was frequently.
My father was a different story. He owned me too, but in a much different, more horrible way. He wanted me to be his companion. His hunting companion, his bird dog, his little tomboy. That part wasn’t too bad. But the other companion, the sexual one, was a nightmare. He wanted me to be the fulfillment of every deviant sexual fantasy he had ever had or that he could dream up. He forced me to comply, overpowering me, threatening me, cajoling me, and shaming me. Using me. Taking my soul. I was also supposed to fulfill him and make him feel good about himself. To protect the family and make them look good. My actions reflected on him and his ability as a parent. I was supposed to make him look like a good parent. And he slapped me, hit me, yelled at me, and knocked me across the room when I didn’t live up to expectations. Which was frequently.
I was a major disappointment. I could never do enough nor do anything right enough. I couldn’t stay out of trouble. No matter how hard I tried, I was a huge disappointment. A failure.
When I graduated from high school and left home, I was owned by a husband. I was supposed to be his fun hippie-chick, always up-beat and happy. While doing the housework, cooking, and working a job outside the home, all with a smile on my face wherever we went. I certainly wasn’t supposed to have “issues” or “baggage.” I wasn’t supposed to be hurt or depressed or down or confused or wounded. And since I was all of those things, I wasn’t accepted or loved. In fact, I was rejected. He cheated on me from day one. Three and a half years later, we finally called it quits. I wasn’t even 20 years old at the time. Physically, anyway. Mentally, I was over 40.
For the first time in my life, I was on my own. I was still young enough to have hope and, in spite of my bad experiences, I still believed in love. I had courage. I thought I had a future and I was going to do everything in my power to make sure it was a good one. I made friends, did crazy, irresponsible things for once, going to parties, bars, camp-outs where the dope and alcohol flowed freely. I played. Acted almost like a “normal” person, staying high and ignoring the problems that still haunted me. I had almost 3 years of this. Doing what I wanted with my free time. Then, I met the living God and my world changed so abruptly and completely, I was undone.
I didn’t know the rules for being a Christian, but once again, I knew I was owned. By a big, powerful, demanding God who had lots of instructions and…expectations. My brief carefree days were over almost before they began. Once I became a Christian, everything was all about pleasing God. Doing the things He wanted me to do. Being who He wanted me to be. Saying what He wanted me to say. Making him look good. Sound familiar?
At first, I felt His love. But as time passed, the demands became heavier and harder to meet. I realized fairly quickly, I couldn’t win. Once again, just as I had with my parents and first husband, I found myself in a situation of never being able to be good enough. I could never do enough, nor do it well enough, to please. The whole concept of grace made no sense to me as it was far out of the realm of my experience. It didn’t seem relevant. Didn’t seem to apply to me. Because even though I was saved by grace, it seemed clear the only way I was going to stay in God’s good graces was if I was able to perform. And I wasn’t. Not for long.
I was quite familiar with the performance requirement. My parents had taught me well. But the problem with performance is, when you can’t be perfect enough, there comes a point where you give up. You stop trying because you know you’ll never achieve. You’ll never please. You’ll never make the grade. So why bother? You know you’re doomed to disappoint and to be rejected. I felt that rejection oozing from this new owner. This new Father. God the Father. Who demanded everything. Just as my biological father had demanded everything. And He too seemed to take what He wanted from me. No matter the cost to my heart.
When I was 25, I married again. A Christian man who believed we were meant to be together. I thought he was incredible…and far too good for someone like me. He was too cool. Too popular. Too cute. Too awesome. But he proposed and we began to plan our life together. Now, not only did a terrifyingly powerful and demanding God own me, I became the property of this new husband. A husband who, once again, never loved me and who demanded perfection. He wanted a pretty little skinny wife who loved to do the things he loved to do, who was smart and would make him look good, who would be easy to be with, who would work a job and make money so he wouldn’t have to work too hard, all while cleaning the house and cooking and being a good wife, a wife who stayed in shape and didn’t bother him too much. He wanted me to smile and be light and funny and happy. Me. The broken one. The depressed. The wounded. The haunted. The one who lived in darkness. Me, filled with pain and struggling to feel my way, trying to act normal, but never quite succeeding. He wanted me to be someone other than who I was; just as everyone who had ever been important to me had wanted me to be a completely different person. I didn’t see it coming, so I was wide open. The rejection. The judgment. The disdain. It hit hard and utterly destroyed me.
I dutifully remained his faithful wife until finally, after 22 years, he threw me to the curb when he fell in love with someone else. As a result, I tried to take my life about 3 years after the divorce. I was tired of trying to pick up the pieces of my soul. I wanted to let the chips fall where they may. But I couldn’t even succeed at killing myself.
I have been owned by someone other than myself for most of my life. I am still owned by God. A God I fear. A God I can’t please. My heart is dead and I have no idea who I really am. I’ve tried so hard to please everyone in my life by attempting with all my strength to be someone I wasn’t, someone they wanted me to be, I’ve lost track of who I am. I don’t know who I started out to be or who I might have been or what I really hoped for in life. I’ve tried to live up to everyone’s expectations and now, I don’t even know what I want…if I want anything. I’ve lost my dreams. I’ve run out of hope. I no longer have the ability to believe in tomorrow.
Sometimes I wonder. What if one of those people who was important to me had accepted me? Cherished me…just the way I was? What if, instead of rejecting me and demanding I be someone else entirely, they had supported, encouraged, loved, and helped me to find my way? Where might I be today? Who might I be? I might not mind being owned if the one who owned me lifted me up instead of discarding and destroying me.
I guess we are all owned by someone. I long for an owner who can love me without bounds. In spite of my flaws. Someone who can accept me and teach me how to fly. And then fly with me. Hand in hand.
More partner than owner.