A hundred years ago, when I started psychotherapy, my therapist gave me an assignment to purchase a book that she thought would help me with my co-dependency issues. Sitting in a cozy blue chair in her tranquil office, she held up the book. The title was scripted in large black letters, making it easy for any pedestrian crossing the street outside to see it. "Why Do I Feel I Am Nothing Without a Man?" it screamed off the page. From the moment I received my mission to go purchase it, I had a pit in my stomach.
What if I ran into someone I knew at the bookstore while I was buying it? What would the person at the register think of me? What if the people in line realized that I was only masquerading as an independent woman? I made several trips to Vroman’s, my "safe place" bookstore in Pasadena, nonchalantly loitering near the checkout and then finally losing my courage when there were too many people in line.
At least it was clear that I needed the book and it would be money well spent. I couldn’t even buy it without being filled with terror that I’d be discovered for the person filled with terror that I was. I told myself, I can do this, as I slinked around like a criminal in the poetry aisle waiting until the coast was clear up front. But the coast was never clear.
At the time, I was in my late 20s and living with my sister. Both of us were working hard in therapy and had plenty of self-help books in our house. "Women Who Love Too Much,""The Anger Dance," "Courage to Heal," "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" — we kept all of our “special” books locked away behind the tiny door that was in our gigantic wall unit. Open that door and you entered a magical '80s psychobabble heaven, full of theories, guidance and journal exercises. They were our little secret and we liked it that way.
On my daily sojourns to get my hands on my assigned book, I got to thinking about all the other little things that I had kept under wraps in order to keep up the facade of being cool. How I loved Kenny Loggins, Kathie Lee Gifford and Neil Sedaka; what a ravenous musical theater junkie I was (and still am.) If I didn’t divulge these passions freely and proudly, did that make me an impostor?
Take my former colleague, Rebecca. Years ago, we were driving in her car to get lunch when I noticed a stack of CDs sitting on her dash cubby and I cheerily browsed through them to see if I might find something nice to listen to.
“Don’t touch those!” she screamed. I quickly apologized, thinking she had an issue with people rifling through her stuff but she immediately blurted out, “I love N’Sync, okay?”
“I love Dan Fogelberg,” I said, hoping to match her shame and make her feel better.
“I listen to 94.7 The WAVE,” she said, one-upping me.
“I watch 'Jeopardy' and scream my mostly wrong answers at the television," I countered, "and the soundtrack to 'Camelot' gives me goosebumps."
It felt good to wave our freak flags and we laughed our asses off, thinking about all of the ridiculous secrets we keep. Who the hell cares? I thought, working myself up to make another run to Vroman’s.
That damn book. I eventually bought it. I was able to walk into the store, look around a little as if I were confidently browsing, snatch it from the self-help section, march up to the register and buy it. And you know what? It was just the ticket. It was the book that helped me turn the corner and leave the Nothing-Without-a-Man mindset behind me. It was also the beginning of the end to that tormented time in my life when I cared so deeply what other people thought of me and my preferred tastes.
One lovely benefit of aging has been that I no longer slink around bookstores, waiting for the coast to be clear. I've happily slinked into my own Christopher Cross-loving skin instead. Who cares what anyone thinks if I play “Sailing” full blast? I happen to think it’s a beautiful song.
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