My dad had the maturity of a toddler, but damn, was he fun and huggable. To him, life was rough and tumble without any safety gear. He always had love to spare, but his sense of responsibility was as absent as he was. My mother was the opposite. She was always there, but her affection only came out on special occasions. Usually, she was stuck on one setting: disappointed — in me, in my sister, in life, in everything.
There were no blacks or whites in my childhood. Only a gazillion shades of “what the fuck?” I can’t claim abuse but I can’t claim a healthy childhood either. There were smatterings of love and an equal measure of neglect.
I once got caught out trying to hide a report from my dad. I told him I didn’t want to disappoint him. He said, “You could never disappoint me because I love you.” That was one of the most revelatory moments of my life. It was the first time I saw what unconditional love looked like.
I’ve spent most of my adulthood trying to remember that he found me lovable no matter what. Sometimes I get it right, others not. The swaying back and forth between self-worth and self-doubt is a constant one that only my grandmother’s influence can rescue me from. She taught my cousins and me that the crazier you behaved, the better. She served Kentucky Fried Chicken by candlelight under the table, not on it. She taught us to speak gibberish in public, have watermelon wars, and talk to the flowers.
She showed me that life is not about who you are, but how you experience the world—a looking outward, rather than in. She taught me that everyone is flawed, but that that’s a good thing. As my dad always said, “Imagine how boring the world would be if everyone was like you.”
Self-esteem is self-awareness, so as long as you have it, you also have the ability to lose it. When you stop looking inward, though, you see how infinite the sky is, how exquisite this world is, and how immutable its love.