For most of my life I have felt like an outsider looking in. Not way outside, because I am pretty good at standing on the edge of the circle and looking like I belong. The problem is, I just never feel quite like I belong.
As a little girl, I was terribly shy and withdrawn. It drove my mother nuts. Once, when I was about 6, we were out shopping and saw a girl from my school. I just looked at her and did not say a thing. My mother was horrified and later said, “Why didn’t you go up to her and say,’Well hello, Delana!`” I remember saying, ‘Because then she will think that I am weird.’ Truth is, I always felt like everyone thought I was weird.
Growing up was tough. My parents were all about appearances. They both grew up in poverty, mainly due to each having a father whose drinking got in the way of steady employment. When I was in second grade we moved to an impressive 17-room house we could not really afford. My dad had borrowed the money for the down payment from his mom. Classmates who attended a slumber party said I lived in “a mansion.” I just thought of it as a really big house, with my own sun porch.
It was, in fact, the former President’s Mansion of Morris Harvey College before the college moved to Charleston. But the truth is, there were many times when I would come home from school, flip a switch and no lights came on. Or I would pick up the phone to find no dial tone. Or turn a faucet and no water would come out.
Sometimes, when my mom remembered that pay day was close to the due date we would race down to one of the utilities’ offices after dark to drop a post-dated check in the night deposit to avert cut-offs. Yet my mother had a standing weekly appointment at the hair salon; we went out to dinner on Sunday after services at the fancy Methodist Church downtown, and we paid someone to clean our house.
Aside from occasional sleepover, we did not let too many others inside our lives, for fear they might find out the truth: that we were frauds.
As such, I often felt excluded, so I would sit back and watch people, to see how I should behave.
Kids can be cruel. They pick up on someone who feels ‘less than’ and it makes for an easy target. We’ve all seen the ‘other’ get picked on, bullied, abused verbally, mentally, physically. And it doesn’t stop with kids. Often the ‘other’ is targeted by someone who fears being excluded herself. While boys can fight, punch and kick each other, dust off, then laugh and go play together, girls can be truly hateful and mean.
I think maybe it is because many of us were socialized to believe there is only room for a few successful women, so we must remove as many as possible in our path. Some women, never having worked through their own ‘absent father’ issues, unconsciously undermine their own daughters, failing to understand the poison their pathos perpetuates.
In my mother’s family, boys were held to a much lower standard. My brother could bring home a B or a C, with no questions asked. In fact, any achievement, no matter how meager, was loudly applauded by the family women. For me, it was different. I could bring home a 98% on a test and my mother would ask, “And who made the 100?” Talk about the other 2%? Nothing I did was ever good enough.
Growing up like that tends to have unfortunate outcomes. Some kids end up replicating the behavior because it seems normal. For others, like me, it means no matter what you achieve, be it education, knowledge, multiple college degrees or a huge circle of friends, there is always this nagging feeling that I’ll get found out. I don’t belong.
Combine feeling like a fraud and never being ‘good enough,’ and it is easy to take the path of least resistance: live a half-assed life. Choose jobs and relationships you are not truly vested in. Create art, poetry, prose that is sub par or half-finished. If it is never going to be good enough, and you finish it, then people will know what a fraud you are, right? So, sabotage your own success before someone else can do it for you.
It took me years and years of counseling to stop doing that. Or so I thought.
At the age of 50, I thought I had finally stopped letting my mother’s opinion of me determine how I saw myself.
At least, I thought I did.
But then she died.
There is a sordid, two-year saga about the time between my mother’s death and now. It is best not reduced to writing here. Suffice it to say that I did not have the necessary emotional space to grieve the loss of a hoped-for mother-daughter relationship for dealing with a load of bullshit that siblings should have gotten over years ago.
I came back from a late September harvest trip to Napa Valley refreshed, inspired and ready to move on. To reclaim the me I had become when we left for Italy in October 2012.
I started cleaning up my home office, used more for storage of artifacts from my life as a daughter than my work as a lawyer or writer. Bags and bags and bags of memories, junk, journals, trinkets. Each time I tossed an item associated with my parents I said to myself, “this is not Mom, this is not Dad…this is just junk I no longer need.” Because I knew if I did not get rid of it, I was apt to stay “stuck” in my limbo.
Yet, it seems there was still emotional work to be done. The administration of my mother’s estate finally closed this past October. On the second anniversary of my mother’s passing, I was tasked with going through her old papers. While visiting the Estate Administrator’s office, I unexpectedly ran into someone I would rather not, and confirmed my suspicions about the duplicity of a former colleague and supposed friend.
While I had steeled myself to be able to sort through the papers, I had not prepared myself to encounter the person I had hired to protect my interests in said estate working at the side of the estate administrator. It’s a pretty small office, so no “Chinese wall” would be thick enough to defeat a conflict of interest. Which explained a great deal.
Me, a lawyer had been duped by a couple other lawyers. Perhaps I had no business being one. Perhaps I did not belong.
Additionally, for years I have gone into a “funk” from Thanksgiving to Martin Luther King Day. Memories from a past Thanksgiving-weekend assault, my father’s death two days before Christmas 2004 followed my Dad’s birthday in early January – I just need to hibernate. Add to this the anniversary of my mother’s death and being smacked in the face with duplicity, I found I just could not write. Maybe I had no business writing. Maybe I had been found out, as a fraud.
I share this, not as an excuse, but as an explanation. I just could not put forth my best effort for the past couple years. My heart and passion has been missing from the blog since late 2012.
I think I owe an apology to a number of folks. First and foremost to our readers I’m sorry. To the winery representatives who send us samples and host us on winemaker lunches, dinners and trips, and all the lovely folks from California, Italy and France, I give my sincere regrets. To those in Napa who opened their vineyards, their homes, their bottles to us last Fall, I am truly sorry. I plan to make it up.
I have countless half-finished posts in the wings that I did not want to give to 2014, but to 2015.
It is a new year – look for stories about the fabulous people wonderful wines and stunning vineyards we visited — beginning this month.