Then, one evening during dinner at my Dad's place, he asked me if I wanted to work with him at his store. I could clean the furniture in his three-story antique store and all of the stuff in his apartment at the top of his building. Plenty of work to fill a day with. That was when I saw my in. I knew that if I could show my dad what a hard and dedicated worker I was, that he would love me. He would see me as the shining beacon of a human that I was and shower me with love and attention.
So I worked. Every Saturday, I would clean his store. I would also work his auctions once a month, and the estate sales he did on odd weekends. I worked my ASS off, hoping that he would recognize my dedication to the stuff he cared about. This did result in me seeing my dad more often, which greatly helped, even if it meant I also had to see his new wife, but he didn't really show any more affection than he had previously. In fact, there were times when I suspected he barely knew I was there. But to be fair, there were plenty of times when I actually was barely there.
That is why he kept firing me. Cleaning furniture gets pretty boring after a while, especially if the goal you are working toward achieving is more love. So, I would spend a lot of time sitting in huge, comfortable old rockers. Sometimes I would lie on the wood floors under the old mahogany tables and stare at the amazingly intricate craftmanship of the legs and skirts. On more than one occasion, he caught me, told me I was fired, and sent me home.
A week or two later he would give me another chance. In total, he fired me five times in five years...before he sold his store and moved to Maine. But it didn't stop there.
When I was 21, I moved to Portland, Oregon to live with my older brother, Robert, who said I could live with him until I finished my degree. I did just that, moved away when I graduated, then returned to Portland when I was 26 to go to art school. During this time, I painted his house, inside and out, did yard work for him, house sat for his in-laws, and babysat my nephews. Unfortunately, when the work ran out, so did the reason for connection. I mean, I love my brother, and he loves me, but if he didn't have a reason to call me, like needing help with his house or his kids, he just didn't call. And I didn't call him. We see each other now maybe once every few years.
At 33, I got married. I married a man I was so in love with I felt like I could burst every time I was around him. He was a carpenter. We bought a house and he said he would fix it. But he didn't. In fact, he didn't really do much in that house except build a grow room for his pot and punch and kick holes in the walls when he got angry. Over the course of our relationship, he did less and less, and I did more and more, hoping that at some point he might feel bad, join in and help. Maybe at the very least, be grateful. But I came to a breaking point before that happened when my parents died and I left him. It felt like I had been carrying a two hundred pound man up a mountain. I had to put him down.
Recently, I have been helping my fella's mom with his dad and with stuff around her house. This last summer I spent a lot of time there, helping her with some heavy lifting as well as teaching art when I could get the gigs. I love his mom. She is hilarious, stylish, and an incredibly nurturing individual. But just today, I was able to look back and see this pattern I have created of trying to earn the love of the people around me. What triggered this realization? I think it started a few days ago, when my boyfriend was telling me how amazed he is at all the work I do around his house, and then he asked, looking at me intently, with his hands on my shoulders, "you know I would love you even if you didn't do any of this stuff don't you?" I don't really remember what I answered, but it was something along the lines of, "of course I do!"
I get it now, what I have been doing. What I have been thinking! How I have treated myself. How I have treated the people who love me! All of the ways I have been wrong. I was wrong about being unlovable, wrong about feeling like I had to earn the love of the people around me, wrong for creating relationships based on my physical labor, and wrong for feeling resentful when the work (and the connection) ended.
I put myself in a position of being less than, and in so doing, proving to myself over and over again that I am unlovable.
It is interesting how simultaneously painful and wonderful these realizations can be. I know I must stop this, this self-fulfilling prophecy behavior. I can't afford to build anymore relationships based on my physical labor, I am not strong enough, physically or emotionally, and I have a suspicion that relationships built on other kinds of connection, like love, trust, and respect might just be more gratifying.
Weirdly, I am not sure how. I mean...I have always believed that I had to work for love. I have worked my ass off for love, and now, I am just supposed to trust that people will love me just for being me? It seems like a huge leap of faith to me. It seems like a lot to just go cold turkey.
I mean...if I am not intently straining towards love, how can I be sure that it will come to me?
I can't, in fact, I can't be sure of anything, except that I have to stop treating myself as if I am unworthy of the love I say that I believe in.