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Watching her chopsticks position a delicious-looking chunk of fried food, something stirred inside me. I felt the familiar spice of jealousy triggering my heartburn. The Korean Vegan hooked me with her soft voice and analytical backstory. For a long moment, I wanted to be her. She was elegant, emotional, sweet, and subtle - all of which seemed to garner her support and admiration.
Letting the flavors develop further I realized this brand of jealousy didn’t require reconstitution of my traits, but there was an overpowering aroma of external expectations. Do I really wish I was soft-spoken like her? Maybe, at times, but I love being direct and bold because it’s just my natural disposition. Honestly, I love being dynamic. Wishing I was softer brought up stale feelings that weren’t even mine. They were my dad’s.
I never so much as saw a picture of him until I was 30ish, and I decided to meet him a couple of years ago. Getting to know him was bittersweet: I saw parts of him tempered in me, and so I understood why he stayed away. He is a prickly pear. Exquisite if you can deal with the pain of reaching him.
He wasn’t there growing up, but he had a lot to say about how I turned out. It took grit to cope with the mess he passed on to me. Growing up with his emotional dysfunction, dark features, and no reference wasn’t easy. Knowing this, he was very complimentary. He was impressed with the woman he read about online and even called me “sweet” despite my protestation.
“No one’s ever called me sweet. That’s not me,” I told him.
Soon he came to agree. I was too “aggressive” and “rough”. He said I was like a bowling ball without any holes drilled into it: he didn’t know how to hold me. He called me “Nate” because I was more like a man than a woman. I’d been through worse, so I didn’t let this break the skin. I accepted these things about myself and laughed it off.
Laughing at the ridiculous has always helped me heal fast, but what I’ve learned from him is that people who haven’t healed can’t joke about their scars. I’d built callouses, but he had just developed a thin crust over raw nerves. He wished I could be 'softer’ and ‘more feminine’ so I tried to take his advice, tenderizing myself where I thought it might serve me.
“You don’t need to be so tough anymore” he assured me, right before he sucker-punched me, again.
I can’t help that he didn’t appreciate my crisp quips or even that I’m a lot to digest. He bit into me and spit me out, but I will try to stay tender where it counts. Hell, I’ll always be a little calloused from those hard searings, and I’m definitely tangy. But I am sweet, too. I’m all of those flavors, in my own packaging.
As for that heartburn, the cure is just being zesty old me.