Bat Mitzvah-versary, or 20 things I wish I knew then
There were very few things I remember about my Bat Mitzvah day: The dress — soft pink lace that my mother picked me up from the Charlotte Russe at The Oaks mall. Foam drama masks covered in silver glitter that she made for the decorations for the temple social hall. My father handing me my talit, crying for his dead father who couldn’t see this moment. A bunch of us kids, including my then-eight year old cousin, Jacob, my sister, cousin Amy and me piling into my parents’ room to watch Nickelodeon that evening after the service was over.
It was supposed to be the ceremony that made me a woman in front of the Jewish people, but I didn’t feel like one. Sure, I was as tall as many adults at 12 (I was already 5’7) and Jewish custom stated that by being called to the Torah that I was a woman of the covenant. Yet I was still a girl — painting my nails bright blue with drugstore nail polish and getting mad whenever my mother yelled at me to clean my room. And I was unhappy, living in a town that I didn’t like and getting bullied by my classmates, having the teachers snap at me why I couldn’t be nice and quiet like my older sister was.
I look back at that girl and think of what her life would become. It sometimes was easier, but most of the time it wasn’t. She would never believe what happened in the years since: College graduate, divorcee, courageous traveler, abused and beaten down woman, journalist/editor, a woman who can’t keep her pants on, comedian on some of the biggest stages in greater Los Angeles, broken and hungry girl in line for food stamps, a writer finding her voice amongst the ruckus.
What could I say to a girl who was feeling so gangly and awkward standing amongst the crowd, who had just lost her last baby tooth months before? What would I tell her before she moves ahead?
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the day I supposedly became a woman, I thought of 20 things I’d say to her:
1) Be you, both on the outside and inside. Pay no attention to the fashion trends or the hip and hot. Your grandmother is going to squawk when she sees you wearing pea soup green nail polish. The girls will judge you for wearing matte red lipstick, peasant skirts and nerdy glasses about 10 years before they came back into style. And people will think you’re weird for carrying a poetry notebook around. But do it all; it’s worth it.
2) You’re going to cry, a lot. It’s a part of us being humans. But at the same time, don’t let the tears block your vision from seeing the good around you, or derail your strength. You’re much, much stronger than the world tells you.
3) You’re going to blame yourself for many things over the course of your life. They will range from issues at work to the death of a close friend in college. Nine times out of ten, the more you blame yourself for whatever happened, the more it’s not your fault. Please do not take on all the burdens of the world; you can handle a lot, but don’t handle the unnecessary.
4) Body image… yes, you are tall and you aren’t tiny. You hate it now, and trust me, you’ll hate it even more when you finally stop growing at 5’11, and it’ll be worse you have a massive weight gain at 16. You’re going to wish you were petite and skinny like all the other girls. You will be called fat by your college boyfriend, by your high school ex-boyfriend, even by an asshole at the gas station off of Topanga who’s yelling at everyone on some random Wednesday night. But face him and know there are worse things than being called fat.
5) Speaking of your body: It’s yours, always. That boy at 13 will have no right to grope you in the school hallway, nor will the boy in the temple parking lot at 31. At the same time, you should never be ashamed that you want to be touched or that you want sex all the time. These are natural impulses, and there will be plenty of people, both men and women, who will make you feel bad about it. It’s your body, the only one you’ve got. You know what you need. Don’t be afraid of it.
6) You are worthy of love. Real love, not what people tell you it is. They may say it’s the quantity of years spent together in marriage, the courtship gestures that society tells us are the way to express it or even having sex. You’ll know love, both from friends and potential lovers, because you’ll feel it: The ache of longing when they’re away, the warmth of knowing that they’re nearby, the unadulterated happiness when you’re even just talking on the phone. It’s not going to be kisses in the rain to Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee.” But it will still be pretty special.
7) That being said, you will be hurt, and badly. The people who do it will be myriad: People who are envious of you, people who are afraid of you, the people who hate you and even the people who love you the most on the planet. It’s not the hurt that matters, as it’s inevitable; it’s how you respond to it that will make you who you are.
8) Being brave is the hardest thing to do, and you’re not always going to be. It does not come without serious sacrifice and second-guessing, not to mention pissing a lot of people off (but that’s okay, life isn’t worth it unless you piss people off). You may not always do it, but when you do, you’ll do it where it counts. In the end, you will never regret the courage you had to upend your world in the attempts to change your life for the better.
9) You don’t have a lot of friends right now, but believe me, you will. You will have more friends than you know what to do with. But there are many types of friends, and they range from those who are around because you’re the top of the social totem pole to those who will ride or die with you through any storm. Never forget to recognize who the latter are, the people who see you drowning and are more than willing to throw you a rope when you need it. Love them, and tell them that regularly.
10) Yes, your family can be crazy difficult, obnoxious and in your face at all times. But they love you despite all the problems and everything else involved. In the years to come, some of them will become your most trusted advisors, greatest co-conspirators and the ones who hold your hand through the darkest hours. And when they are gone, you will miss them like crazy, so spend as much time as you can.
11) Keep being creative and passionate, and don’t be afraid of it. Your high school teachers will hate you for it — especially your English teacher where you turned in a five-paragraph essay on how ridiculous his essay topic was. Some of your college professors won’t be too happy, either. But a lot of people will be happy to follow you on your journey. Feel free to experiment and fail, to keep building up and breaking down. It’s the only way you will become who you are meant to be.
12) When he says to you, “You could never live without me,” you will believe it for a very long time. Don’t let anyone treat you as less than, and he will be one amongst the teachers, bosses, colleagues and even doctors who will. Your greatest enemies will be the no’s, the can’ts and the don’ts, as well as the flingers of such negativity. They will trap you in cages and let you not be who you were meant to become. Fight back, prove them wrong. When you finally have the strength to walk away, for every day after that day, never forget that every breath, every step, every movement is a rebellious scream against them.
12) Your life will not be easy. There will be days where your belly aches due to hunger and times where you wonder if the world is out to get you because you can’t seem to catch a break. You will move in and out of your parents’ house multiple times. There will be crazy bills and days where you can’t get out of bed because it hurts so bad. You will feel cut off from the world, so in turn you will cut yourself off. Don’t do this. Don’t give up. Remember your ambition, fuel it with your desire and it will get better, I promise.
14) There are problems that you think you can never fix. Like days where your computer will be acting funny and you’ll be screaming at it, wondering why it won’t work for you, because something has to because nothing else is. Then, all of a sudden, it’s fixed because you were working and fighting to save it the entire time, despite the yelling. So scream, kick, cry — but keep moving forward while doing it. And don’t be afraid to raise your arms and scream, “I am woman!” afterwards.
15) The universe tends to have a way of coming back around. There are things you will want desperately now, things you are craving more than anything. You’ll only get them when you can truly appreciate them, see them for all they’re worth and reap everything it will give you.
16) You will be emotionally so strong you’ll be able to support many of the people who will love you. But please, please, please, never forget that it’s okay to be weak too. That’s why the people who love you are there. They will help you pick up the slack. Please let them in. Don’t hide and be open with them — you will lose some of the most important people in your life because of this pride.
17) No matter how many ways you try to prevent it, you will lose people you love. Some will have run their course, while others will be stolen and gone way too soon. Some will go astray because they let anger win over love; others decide to forget where they came from, to their detriment. Some would never leave had death not stepped into their paths, while some were just victims to time and space distancing us from one another. Some come back, many don’t. But all of them shape the people who we become.
18) Being alone is a part of being sometimes. There are places that no one can go with you, obstacles that are yours and yours alone, and bliss that can’t be shared with anyone else. Solitude, and even silence, is okay every once in a while. But at the same time, there are times where you will be alone even when you shouldn’t be facing it by yourself. Knowing the difference is key.
19) Have fun. Take adventures. Sing until your throat is sore. Dance whenever you can. Drive down windy roads. Drink good wine. Eat delicious food. Make passionate love. Follow a different path, even if it means using more gas and possibly doing the unconventional and the not-society-accepted thing. It will lead you to amazing sights and excited exclamations about random things like the fact there is a Paris, Missouri. They bring stories that light up dark places. You will be given lots of opportunities. Take as many as possible.
20) There are going to be days where life is so awful you look up at the sky and wonder why G-d doesn’t put you out of your misery. There will be days you want to die. You will forget that he could have just as easily taken your life at 21 as at that very moment. Despite the odds stacked against you, you are still here. You are breathing. There is a reason. As far as you know, you have only one life, so use it, already!