"No woman on earth doesn’t give a fuck. No woman is that cool–she’s just hidden her fire. Likely, its burning her up."
- Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior
To be cool is the dream. We wear the shoes, get the haircut, laugh at the jokes, keep our wandering thoughts tied tight and smiles weak and absentminded. God forbid our voices venture too far beyond the rhetoric of the casual, calm, and the beautiful. The moment we dip our toes outside the crowd we become vulnerable–alone, unsure, stripped down–so we stick with the crew and stay small.
It doesn’t feel right, but it feels easier than the alternative. To step outside and to sit with ourselves long enough to discover what our individual voice sounds like is terrifying. It’s work to dig in to our heads and hearts in order to find what we desire to be; it’s easy to wear the costume and slide into the masses.
Until it isn’t anymore.
I was never cool by any stretch of the imagination. You wouldn’t find me thriving in the halls of high school. I wasn’t the star of the frat parties or the wife with the best casseroles. What I knew I could be, though, was cooled off–the closest I’d ever get to cool.
My feelings weren’t going to help me win any superlatives, so the only answer was to shut them down. I took my ideas, thoughts, questions, sensitivities, passions, and desires and cut them with cold until I became lukewarm–not icy, but by all means, not fired up.
The indifferent environment I built around myself was comfortable enough that anyone who sauntered into my world would not be off put by the harshness of being frosty or the intensity of being too impassioned. They’d be welcomed graciously by the tepid and uncomplicated face of a simple woman who appeared to be at peace.
My reactions to life’s punches became monotonous and habitual.
It’s no big deal.
I’m not worried about it.
I’m doing fine.
I don’t care.
On the outside I didn’t react to the world beyond what was necessary. I ignored the fire in my gut in the moments when I knew I was mistreated, because a cool girl doesn’t speak up. A cool girl doesn’t stand up at the conference table and point to the man who speaks down to her because she’s young and female. A cool girl doesn’t tell her partner that she deserves to be loyally supported, heard, and respected. A cool girl doesn’t raise her voice or fill a room with her ideas or speak her truth. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t hurt. She needs no help, has all the answers, and she smiles casually, while remaining perfectly kempt for the masses to see just how together she is.
I wore the mask every day, until I couldn’t anymore.
Historically, finding myself on the precipice of real, vulnerable, human behavior leaves me consumed by fear. I wring my sweaty hands and feel the feelings creep up the back of my throat. I dig my fingers into the back of my skull as I coax the cool girl out from behind my mess of thoughts. I need her to fight the fire in my belly and grab hold of my tongue. I need her to take control. She’s the spokeswoman for my head and heart and she’s cool. She’s the real deal
The problem is when I sit alone with myself and my ideas and thoughts and desires, and I feel the heat creep in, I see her for who she really is. She takes inventory the things inside of me and picks only the traits that look best on paper, crumpling and tossing the rest to the side. She feeds me reminders of how the world works and why we keep our cynicism close at hand–like a loaded shotgun under our pillow just in case something creeps in at night. She straps my heart into shackles and lets it beat just enough that it keeps my cheeks rosy for the cameras, but not enough to feel pain, or worse yet, love.
After years of living, linked arm in arm with her, I found myself once again standing at the edge. I watched the world that I carefully curated behind us–speckled with the appropriate cool-girl milestones, the short peaks and shallow valleys that a lukewarm life creates–and I decided to dismiss her. I didn’t reach for someone to grab my hand and show me how it should look to jump. I didn’t pause to question what they’d say when they gathered and mumbled whatever they thought they should mumble when you watch a grown woman leap off the edge of a comfortable cliff and let the wind ignite the fire she held tight in her chest for a lifetime.
I ripped off the mask and leapt, and I’ve been free-falling since. Some days my mask floats nearby and I claw at the sky, longing to feel the safety of hiding behind it as I let my spokeswoman fight my battles. On others I see it in the distance, recognizing its indefinite existence, knowing the distance between us is necessary for me to find the peace that we once coolly pretended we already had together.
Without the mask or my spokeswoman nearby, I feel it all with an intensity that knocks me off my feet over and over again. The decades I stuffed away released as if they were spring loaded deep in my gut since the beginning. They became tighter inside me with time and pain and my bullshit make believe, until the springs couldn’t compress any further and my body couldn’t hold it and my heart was ready to either stop beating altogether or break free from the chains and the lies and the attempts at doing, being, feeling so fucking cool.
When I find myself reaching for the mask, which I do, often,–feeling hurt from the past, feeling uncertainty for the future, resisting joy and love and happiness for fear that pain is on the other side–I always come back to one question.
Just what is it that I am actually afraid of happening?
In any moment that I call on my spokeswoman because I’m certain whatever is happening inside of me is too much, I am absolutely petrified by my fear that once the pain starts, it will never stop.
What I realize now is when I hold it tight to my chest, not only do I feel it, it also can’t escape. It has no place to go except inside of me. My fear of the feelings inspires me to clutch it closer, as if hiding it from the world will also hide it from me, and it burns me up until there’s nothing left to burn.
Despite my attempts at inspiring it away, casually leaned up against the wall in my cool-girl leather jacket and Ray Bans, the pain exists regardless of where it’s harbored.
Inside or outside.
When we are pulled together or falling apart.
When we sit at the popular table or stand alone.
With the trendy haircut or bed head.
It doesn’t fall for our bullshit and sees right past our cool costume.
And here’s the kicker:
When we drop the games, throw our mask into the wind wear our vulnerability on our sleeves, the healing can finally start.