Stories for Lent: #7 Jealousy

I think it’s fair to say that being a jealous person is unbecoming. Nay, it’s downright basic, if I try to be one of the kids for a second. And yet, lo and behold, people are starting to tell me that jealousy can be useful in determining what our true, real desires are.

Who am I supposed to believe here?

*

Growing up, I was jealous of everyone under the sun, and that was even before my “problems” started manifesting. We weren’t poor – not like people on the streets were, or the starving children we saw on TV (when the TV worked and we caught more than one channel) – but there was always a certain sense of urgency that the adults tried to keep between themselves. Perhaps it was left over from the old days, where electricity and food shortages were a real problem, and nobody could trust what anybody said. (They didn’t even tell them about Chernobyl, not immediately, anyway.) Whatever the reason, there were two things in my family that we did not tolerate: waste, and flashiness.

Boy, did it grate sometimes. It grated especially when I kept finding myself in the company of accomplished, beautiful girls, who always had prettier toys than me, and prettier clothes, and got to be ringleaders because they had the confidence to pull it off. Me, I was the artist who had to make friends with rich kids because they got prettier materials.

And it might not have been how it went down – maybe my parents just didn’t know what I wanted or I never asked for it, maybe we had money and I’m blowing up the times I was told ‘no’ way out of proportion – but it felt like I was constantly friends with people I was at least slightly jealous of. Coincidentally, none of these friendships ever made it after the separation, the move, or adolescence were done doing their work on us.

*

You’d think a big health diagnosis changes your perspective, but Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome is a) not exactly wide-known, and b) too complicated for a kid to understand. By the time I knew enough to fully grasp the full implications of having it, I’d lived with it for long enough to accept it as an everyday occurrence. It was, ironically, the only aspect of myself that I wasn’t comparing unfavourably to others. I just accepted that my legs are mismatched, just like my eyes are blue and I wouldn’t grow beyond a certain height. Buying jeans would be a pain in the arse, but nothing to cry home about. Hell, with something so rare, who am I to make a fuss about it?

No, the things that galled me were the things that I thought I could change. My looks (other than my bottom half). My manner. My attitude. But no matter what I did, I was never sweet enough, or pretty enough, or successful enough for my own standards. I compared myself to everyone around me and I always came up short. I was striving for perfect.

And then I fell so low, I couldn’t even get to good enough.

*

How do you know you’re about to break? I can never truly tell. It’s not a big cataclysm, rather, it’s like a huge, drawn-out agony.

What did it look like? Once, it was a doctor telling me to go on a diet to clear my skin. The next year was Hell in an organic handbasket, with me reprimanding myself for every “slip up”, every possible transgression, culminating in an 8-mile run in the blistering June heat, after which time I just couldn’t deny anymore that I needed help.

Another time, the crisis started during the holidays. I was getting ready to go back to uni, and I couldn’t stop crying. An hour before she was supposed to drive me to the airport, my mum was holding me on her bed, trying to stop me sobbing desperately. I didn’t want to go. I had a life, had friends, had a degree, and I hated the thought of going back to them. It wasn’t until I was past security that the pressure started to lift from my chest, and I could think again.

Memories come back, one volley after the other. Me, curled up in bed in my studio flat in Toulouse, thinking how I don’t want to be there, how I want to just disappear. Then sitting up, as though hit by a lightning bolt, and blubbering miserably as I google psychologists in the immediate area.

Another memory, of fingertips trailing along a hand – not my fingertips, not my hand – and jealousy choking me, followed by unbelievable sadness. It could have been me, I thought. I should have been me. And then I cycled home, a full mile up a steep hill, lungs and thighs burning with every revolution. Sweat poured down my back. I’m not entirely sure the sounds I made were human.

Some people self-medicate with drink and drugs. I punished myself with exercise and food rules. I was bullied more often than I care to admit, but nothing anybody ever said to me was as bad as the things I told myself. And I kept moving the ballpark, just as I thought I was reaching it, to new, unbeatable heights.

Until eventually, I couldn’t jump anymore.

*

Every cataclysm in my life shakes a few ties loose. Friends. Colleagues. Mentors. Eventually, I find myself so isolated there is nobody else to compare myself to, nobody to be jealous of, and even the people I aspire to be like hold no appeal to me. I’m sitting in the debris of my relationships, and there is nothing for me to go back to.

And when I’m tired of waiting, I get up, pick a direction, and walk.

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