Foreword: I have to take a second to acknowledge how hard this post has been to write. I’ve been kicking the idea around in my head for months. I’ve talked it out with several people. I’ve written multiple drafts. That’s how laden the shadow is. It’s a dragon. It’s a snag. It’s mine. And it’s yours.
Recently I’ve been dating a man who is reading Harry Potter for the first time. I started reading the Harry Potter series when I was in college because the guy I was dating was excited about the launch of book five (Hi, Jeremy, if you’re reading this :). He wanted me to hurry up and read books one through four before the fifth launched (which I think was only about a week away). I was a very dedicated girlfriend, but not that dedicated, so I read them out of order, but I fell in love with the story and the characters, starting with book five.
So this new guy I’m seeing, recommended I take a quiz at wizardingworld.com to determine which house I am in. I think you know where this is going. I took the quiz, which was surprisingly difficult to discern, even for someone who has read all the books. And literally my jaw dropped when I saw the result.
Slytherin. I am a Slytherin.
I felt very exposed in front of my new Hufflepuff love interest.
Over the next week, I set about having my friends and family take the test. My dad, so empathic, guessed that he was probably a Slytherin too. But no! Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor. All the houses represented and I am the lone Slytherin in my circle.
I actually created a new account under a separate email and retook the quiz (maybe I wasn’t careful enough the first time!?!) but I got the same result. And I knew it was accurate as I became annoyed with all the Gryffindor’s in my life (they think they’re so great, so smug, bullshit!!!).
So in defense of Slytherins, I want to point out that the chief quality among them is ambition (which in and of itself is NOT bad). Also, we don’t appreciate being stereotyped. Not ALL Slytherins are Death Eaters. And there are a few Slytherins who did some noble things (Snape being the foremost, but still, decidedly unlikeable, and all the others being too obscure to recall). I personally liked Bellatrix Lestrage’s character so I think I’m going to channel that (if you’re going to be evil, at least do it with some style and some crazy, right?!).
A few months back R became really interested in good guys and bad guys. He started talking about Germans and Russians and wars, and spy planes. It felt like it was coming at me really fast.
Wait, what??? No, not all Germans are bad… The Nazis? Yes, they are the bad guys.
Lots of complicated historical questions coming at me. And I realized how nuanced all of this good guy, bad guy stuff is. One morning after R made me be the bad guy race car AGAIN, I put Billie Eilish’s song on. With his eyes wide, R was like, “What’s this?!?” I danced around the kitchen with my race car and sang along, “I’m the bad guy…duh.”
He didn’t know what to think. Maybe because the idea clearly resonated with me. I’m the bad guy…duh.
When I was…hmmm…for most of my…let’s say ALL of my remembering life, I was concerned with reputation. I was one of the Whipple girls, which meant beautiful, handmade matching dresses on Sundays, with matching sister faces surrounded by sponge-roller curled hair (we WERE a sight to behold and my mom, who I have always loved so deeply, was a force for beauty in the world). We looked smart and put together. Our house was clean and we made good choices. I guess this was the family legacy.
When we entered our teenage years, I watched Melissa receive the iron fist of justice (as most oldest children do). I watched Megan model some overt, and very cool, rejection of the rules (Yeah, I was making out with my boyfriend, what about it?). I think it was by watching them and sensing my own power that I developed the belief that if no one knew about my misdeeds, then they weren’t real. And I carried on a very innocent but character contorting pattern of dishonesty with myself and those around me.
Here’s a story that still makes my gut churn. I had release time seminary my Junior and Senior years of high school. That meant, during study hall, the Mormon kids would drive up the hill to the church and have seminary taught by some really nice college students. During my junior year, I discovered that the attendance process had some loopholes (i.e. the attendance records didn’t get shared from seminary to the school) so we had an easy, consequence-free way to skip class. I did this occasionally when my friends wanted to. We would go to the park on a nice day or go to McDonald’s and eat French fries.
So it was an unpleasant surprise at the beginning of my senior year when I skipped my first seminary day and got a called to the vice principal’s office. I guess they closed that loophole. I lied to the vice principal, told him I was there and the attendance must be off. I did it boldly because it had always worked. He didn’t buy it.
I remember feeling so much shame, not about skipping class, but about the loss of my previously untarnished reputation. I had been through 11 years of school without any sort of discipline outside of a mild verbal reproach. He was going to call my parents. [Insert screaming emoji face.]
So I called my seminary teacher and asked him to lie for me. To cover for me. I’m still amazed by my audacity. I’ll get the church guy to lie for me! AND HE DID. Bless his heart! I am sure he saw my skipping for what it was (pretty innocent) and he heard the fear in my voice at the thought of facing detention AND my parents.
But what I regret is the abandonment of myself. I AM irresponsible and rebellious at times AND THAT’S OKAY. Good grief, Michelle. You are 17 years old. Make a god-damned mistake (like writing god-damned in a blog post your mom is going to read). IT’S OKAY.
It was several months after my marriage separation when Rachel told me this story. She was sitting in Ikea eating some meatballs. She had recently broken off an engagement to a guy she considered abusive and unhealthy. She was indignant that many of his friends stood by him through the painful breakup. She wanted everyone to know who he actually was in her eyes. She wanted everyone to be on her side.
The Land Before Time was playing on the TV in the kid area of the Ikea restaurant. Rachel watched as the t-rex and Little Foot’s mother fought. Little Foot’s mother threw the t-rex into the Big Underground but not before she sustained a mortal wound, leaving Little Foot motherless on his journey.
I’m the t-rex, Rachel thought.
She explained, Some people are going to see me as the bad guy in this. Even if the t-rex was just another mother trying to feed her babies, some people will see her as the bad guy and that’s okay.
I was worried about what people would think of me for ending my marriage. My ex-inlaws, our shared friends. I couldn’t control all of the information going out about this rending life event. I was inevitably going to be viewed as the bad guy by some. And I think the truth is, there was some ugliness in me. There was resentment, jealousy, entitlement, self-righteousness. I was worried others might see it. But what if they did? Am I allowed to be human?
That story of the t-rex and Little Foot’s mom has stayed with me. The t-rex had a name actually. It was Sharp Tooth. I don’t imagine that any of the 14 (that’s right—I looked it up! FOURTEEN) Land Before Time movies go back and tell the story of Sharp Tooth…and I’m not going to check. But if they are looking for #15, let’s explore what motivated her?
My life is littered with lobbed accusations through the mouth of a four year old. “Daddy says…” repeated in my ear between one to ten times a day. Daddy says you make bad decisions. Daddy says you broke our family. Daddy says you need to buy a comb. Daddy says. Daddy says. Because I’m holding a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or wearing my shoes in the house.
As soon as R could talk, he started the Daddy says business. At first this was shocking and painful. I felt like he was being trained against me. I was afraid that he would grow up believing all the Daddy-says.
I acknowledged that my decision to end the marriage must have been extremely painful to his dad and that his dad needed his people to hear his version of the t-rex story. The one where he is Little Foot’s mom and I am Sharp Tooth.
I consulted my therapist about how to talk to R about this when he brings it, and other things like this, up. Her recommendation was simple, “Just try not to traumatize him.” But what’s hard about that is sorting through my own emotions before letting something come out of my mouth. It’s easy to be defensive.
Today it was, “Mommy, I love you even if you make bad decisions,” as I buckled him into his carseat. I found myself correcting him. Trying to communicate that his dad may think my decisions are bad but, for me, they are good, or at least they are MINE. And then, as I drove, I realized I was doing the same thing, trying to fill R with my ideas.
What I guess, what I’m banking on–what I hope to God is true–is that SAYS is less important than DOES. Because then, what I SAY in those moments is less important than how I LIVE each day.
I AM the bad guy in some ways. I DID chose to end the marriage. I did break our family from the traditional structure. I pictured something more beautiful for myself and my son, so I burned what existed. And burning feels like the word because it was hot and painful and in many ways it still feels like we are standing in the ashes. I DID THAT. And I would do it again, not because it was right or good, but because it was ME.
Part of that was selfish. Part of that was beautiful. Some Germans are good. Sometimes Germans do bad things. Maybe Sharp Tooth was in a rage or hungry or noble and brave. Me too. Me too.
“In myths the hero is the one who conquers the dragon, not the one who is devoured by it. And yet both have to deal with the same dragon. Also, he is no hero who never met the dragon, or who, if once he saw it, declared afterwards that he saw nothing.
Equally, only one who has risked the fight with the dragon and is not overcome by it wins the hoard, the “treasure hard to attain”. He alone has a genuine claim to self-confidence, for he has faced the dark ground of his self and thereby has gained himself.
This experience gives some faith and trust, the pistis in the ability of the self to sustain him, for everything that menaced him from inside he has made his own. He has acquired the right to believe that he will be able to overcome all future threats by the same means. He has arrived at an inner certainty which makes him capable of self-reliance.”Carl Jung