Tuesday, January 6, 2009

For real

My real-life name is Teresa, and that seems like a fair enough place to start.

Maybe eight months ago I started blogging about my kids and then, like the true mom blogger I am becoming, I realized I wanted to talk about myself or even some other random stuff. It all just kind of happened without any planning and the other day it occurred to me that, if you don’t know me outside of this blog (all four of you), your view of me is rather limited. These are the things you know: I’m a stay-at-home-mom with three sons. My hair is blonde, ish. I’m kind of chronically sleep-deprived, though that’s improving. I voted for Obama. And I drive a minivan.

This person I've just described? This pasty, nice, excruciatingly dull person who appears to have no personality whatsoever? This is not me. (Please God let this person not be me.)


So: my name is Teresa and I am not very good at self-disclosure and I haven't been completely forthcoming and there's something that I want to share. But the disclosure bit is hard for me. I’m shy. And, mostly, I cannot imagine that anyone would care about my life. It’s not unremarkable. But why would anyone care? I guess we’ll see.

Let’s start somewhere in the middle, and I’ll tell you the story of the Goldfish. I lived in Beijing, China sometime in the early 1990’s (and I’d have to think really hard to remember which year exactly). I went there chasing a dying relationship that had grown unpleasant but was at least proof that someone besides my parents could love me. I went there to fight demons and hate myself and run from ugliness and hide from beauty. I went there because I was sad and hurt and not at all the person I wanted to be. I went there because I didn’t want to stay here. But whatever. I didn’t know any of that at the time. I just went because I could.

I wandered around in a cacophonous city of car horns, bicycle bells, and a loud brassy language that I didn’t understand. I breathed in the pervasive odor of garlic and burning coal and rotting vegetables and human waste and incense and fried food and cigarette smoke and car exhaust and people and people and people. I turned away men who mistook me for a Russian prostitute (this I've never understood, but I probably could have made a fair bit of cash). I spent my nights getting blind drunk with a crazy group of expats who were convinced of their own glamour and who didn’t seem completely averse to self-destruction. It was lots of fun when it wasn’t crushing me.

Somewhere in the haze of hangovers and and homesickness and really good food, I started noticing the paintings of fish. You know, the koi. They mesmerized me. And, as with just about everything during those months, I completely misunderstood them. Turns out that in Chinese culture, the fish symbolizes wealth. (Whatever about that; I pay so little attention to money that it’s dangerous sometimes.) I didn’t get that at the time. I just knew that these paintings really resonated with something inside me.

I didn’t understand why.

I'll tell you more about this later, but since I had been eight years old, well-meaning people told me that it's what "below the surface" that counts. It’s a cliché, and people said it because they didn't know what else to say. They wanted to make me feel better. They wanted me to be happy. And it had always meant exactly nothing to me. It was a condescending platitude.

But then I tore myself out of the context of my self-pity. I went to Beijing. In a chaotic city that provided very little comfort to a sad, lonely, and angry Iowa girl, I started learning to see beauty beneath the turbulent surface. I found beauty in eating spicy noodles for breakfast. I found beauty in practicing my infantile and ugly Chinese on helpful cabbies. I found beauty in riding my bicycle past an abandoned and eerie Tiananmen Square at midnight.

And eventually I started learning where to find the beauty in myself.

I had never in my life seen beauty look back at me in the mirror. Lord knows I had spent countless hours looking. Hoping. Desperate. And hating.

But once I learned what had drawn me to the symbol of the Goldfish, I realized that I had been looking in the wrong place. The mirror wasn't going to show me what I wanted to see. Once I learned to dive deeper, I began to find peace. It didn't happen quickly or easily. And do not misunderstand: I am not all Pollyanna about this. I still have bad days and some days I cry and some days I rage and some days I wish pathetically that I were someone else. But those days are fewer now.

So, my real name is Teresa and that’s the story of the Goldfish. It's the middle-ish part of a much bigger story, which I'm not quite ready to share yet. (Soon, I promise.) In the meantime, the illustrated version will appear here on Wednesday. You might want to see where it all led….


  1. And, in an instant, I know you so much better and yet, you're an even bigger mystery.

    A hard thing to accomplish in one post!

    Totally great, can you write my post for me today?

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  3. A beautiful post written by the most beautiful person I know. There are very few people who can write this honestly and introspectively. Thank you for sharing. I didn't think it was possible to get to know my best friend even better over a blog. I was proven wrong. I love you.

  4. THAT was an excellent start, dude. We've got all the time in the world. Continue when you're ready.

  5. ...truly what beauty is all about...it shines through brightly...letting us all peek through the watery layer at what we know is below... You are not alone in your views and feelings concerning beauty...different reasons, same things reflecting back.
    thank you for letting us share in the beauty of 'Teresa'

  6. I think I read a couple posts ago thinking, "I wonder why she uses goldfish?" Thinking maybe you asked the kidlets for a name and that was what they came up. I like this story soooo much better. Thank you for sharing; I like getting to know you.

  7. Hi, I have been a blog lurker who happened upon you in someone else's comments and wondered where the tag goldfish came from. What a satisfying answer for me. And now I'll add you to my blogroll. Looking forward to getting to know you better.

  8. I care. It took me several readings of this post before I heard the question. I know that my readership is not the most consequential, but I wanted to let you know that I read and I care.


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