On Friday, I went to work at the restaurant drained from the week and ready to give up. Forcing a smile on my face when costumers came in took all of my strength. Although I responded positively, inside my thoughts swirled into dangerous places. Would this week ever end? Could I just return to normalcy and purpose at school?
Noticing the soup of the day had not been changed since last week, I wandered back to the kitchen. The Egyptian co-owner who also cooks grinned at me as I peeked around the corner. When I inquired about the soup, his eyes lit up with excitement. Nudging the head cook, he waved the spoon in his hand.
“She is the only one who ever asks about this!” Through his heavy accent, he called out a Spanish phrase to the two Cuban kitchen employees. His face nearly glowed with joy as he turned back to me and clapped several times. “Very good, very good! You are our angel, the Angel of our restaurant.”
Many times in the past, people titled me an angel, saint, or perfect person. Although these compliments raised my self-esteem for a short time, I soon became anxious. What if they figured out the times I messed up? If anyone saw into my head, they would desert me instantly. Was I faking and being deceptive?
Aspergers tends to put things in two extremes. Everything is black and white; finding shades of gray exhausts me. Thus I had to be either perfect or corrupt. Anything between that just could not be possible. With others, I put all of my energy into maintaining my untarnished, naive image. Not only were swear words not allowed to be said, recognizing anything vulgar or “mature” did not fit my persona. If a friend made a comment even the least bit offensive, I stared blankly, perhaps tilting my head in confusion. When I did learn what inappropriate terms meant in my late teens, I punished myself daily. How could I be good like everyone expected when blackness tarnished my childlike mind?
Thus, as everyone labeled me an angel, I began to view myself as the opposite: a demon. At home, the strength to keep up my image crumbled. My poor, patient family put up with suicide threats, self-harm, meltdowns over the littlest things, and deep anger never expressed anywhere else. Afterward, I apologized, but deep down, I knew that the damage was done. A monster, a demon child, a mistake – that is all that I was.
The eating disorder took hold of this my freshman year of college. Hoping to be beautiful or kill myself (I am still unsure of which one), I restricted and deprived myself of the essentials of living. A demon child does not deserve to eat or live. If only I could look angelic on the outside, my inner thoughts and feelings would follow. Maybe I could finally become what everyone expected of me.
Now I am in a strange place. No longer do I view myself as a monster. Sometimes, those beliefs creep back in. For the most part, however, I see myself as human. Yet, part of me still yearns to be the beautiful angel who floats off the ground, lights up the room with a smile, and never hurts anyone. That is impossible, I know, but the fantasy remains.
Strangely enough, being called “the Angel” at the restaurant this weekend gave me confidence and joy rather than anxiety. Instead of pressuring myself to be perfect, I just smile brighter at each costumer. Instead of worrying how I look, my time at work is focused on loving people. Trying to trust that I bring something special to the restaurant has encouraged me to be myself, whoever that is.
I might not be an angel, despite what my new nickname is at the restaurant. However, that does not mean I do not have something unique and special about me. Although the idea frightens me, maybe everyone in the past saw a genuine part of me when they commented on my goodness. Instead of focusing on how awful I am or even on the parts of me that others admire, I am going to try to be the best version of myself. Perhaps through that process who I truly am will become clear.