Here’s the thing—being me, is hard.
People have described me as being;
“as mean as a snake,”
“as tough as nails,”
“not afraid of the devil himself,”
“angry all the time,”
All of those (plus some I am sure) and still, the one phrase that ‘gets me’
EVERY SINGLE TIME that I hear it is, “That’s just Kathryn.”
That phrase, is what I want to talk about.
I have learned just to smile when I hear it because, very few people—if any—know every single life-changing, personality altering, coping mechanism developing, event that has gone into making me into, “Just Kathryn.”
I will start with the early years. I was an only child, the first grandchild on both sides of my family, the first girl of my generation to be born on my dad’s paternal side of family (the Jelks’), the baby on my maternal grandmother’s side (the Boykins) and have always been known to them as ‘Baby Kathryn,’ my maternal grandfather’s side (the Toney’s)—mostly cousins (also boys) once or twice removed, but family all the same—with whom I spent most of time and, for the longest time even at my babysitter’s (Mrs. Ruthie’s), it was just me and then eventually Christopher. I was never a ‘girly-girl’ by any means (even though all of ‘the boys’ still looked out for and protected me) I thought that I was one of them. It didn’t matter what side of the family I was with, if I was at church or at school, I learned to hold my own and hang in with them. I can remember playing cowboys and Indians, trucks and dinosaurs, building forts in the woods, throwing footballs, riding four-wheelers and dirt-bikes, digging in the dirt, and climbing trees. I had babies and Barbie dolls, but I preferred Hot Wheels and Tonka Trucks. I hated anything pink (I don’t mind it now) and I despised trying on clothes or shopping (I still do). I was never “treated” like a girl. I won beauty pageants and played baseball, I wore frilly clothes and shot BB guns, I was never told that I couldn’t do something because “it was for boys” or made to do something else because “it was for girls.”
I could be, Me.
As I got older (6th grade stands out the most), I would ‘trade licks,’ arm wrestle (and win most to most), play quarters, and compete with the boys; I was friends with all of the girls, I was on the cheerleading squad and had a boyfriend but, still found myself being ‘one of the boys’ at certain times. One day, my cousin (on the Jelks side) and I were trading licks in the hallway on the way to P.E. and a teacher reprimanded him and said, “We don’t hit girls!” I will never forget the look of bewilderment on his face when he looked at her and said, “That’s not a girl Mrs. Kim, that’s just Kathryn.” That was the day I realized that to him (and many others) I wasn’t a girl or a classmate or ‘one of the boys,’ I was just, Kathryn. I was okay with that.
What I didn’t realize at the time was, that by embracing that role I would become a target for both sides of the isle and not ever belong to either one. I was ridiculed by the girls and picked on boys; I never truly belonged. The 6th grade was the first year that I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, I was ashamed of who I was, and embarrassed by how I looked. For the first time in my life, I felt alone. The friends that I did have, were fair weather at best; they would talk about me, call me names, reassure me that an outfit (that they picked or helped pick) was cute that I should totally wear it (when really, I looked a mess and they knew it) or one friend purposefully cut my bangs too short (on purpose–I heard her bragging) just so they could laugh behind my back or watch as other’s made fun of me.
I know what you must be thinking, “Why did you let them do that?”
Well, you see, the thing about being 13 (or close to it) is, that everything is new and scary, the girls are becoming meaner, the boys are becoming vulgar, the adults are less attentive, the consequences of mistakes are much more severe and all around, the stakes are higher. I wanted so badly to fit in–or at least not stand out; standing out meant being a target and if you were one person’s target, you became a target to everyone (everyone that wanted to fit in and not run the risk of becoming a target themselves that is.)
Very few people ever took up for or defended me; most of the time I was on my own. I began to adapt; I learned to hit back (metaphorically speaking—it was mainly verbal confrontation, though there were a couple physical altercations). It was slow going at first, I got my feelings hurt quite often and found myself being the butt of most jokes.
Eventually, my responses got faster, and my comebacks got meaner. It wasn’t until after my high school graduation that I stopped retaliating and began striking first. Even in college—I had no true friends; I was always the first to be thrown under the bus or even targeted in hopes that I would get in trouble because it “was funny” to them.
I can count on one hand (and have fingers to spare) the people that would have my back no matter what the circumstances were.
I have been ridiculed, bullied, stabbed in the back, betrayed, stolen from, abandoned, called names, cheated on, lied to, slapped in the face, taken advantage of, victimized, humiliated, and even raped. The worst part of this whole list isn’t the things that I listed or even the fact that I endured them all; the worst part of it is, each action was executed someone that I trusted—some that I even called friend.
I learned a long time ago how to hold my own and how to turn off my emotions when things began getting too bad. I taught myself how to get back up after being knocked down, I got used to the pain of being kicked while I was down, I allowed people to treat me terribly most of the time and held on to the few moments of kindness or affection that they so sparingly offered. I sat and watched while “my friends” flirted with my boyfriends and I always forgave them. I thought it was my fault; if I were prettier, or skinnier, or maybe if I put out that they would actually love me. I believed that other’s trespasses against me were due to faults within myself.
By 14 years old, I could go shot for shot with people twice my age. I thought that if I couldn’t be accepted by my age group, that I could rise above them and fit in with an older crowd. I never really looked my age, I always looked older than I was and carried myself like I was older still. Before 16, I could pass as a college sophomore and by 17, I could walk into bars without being questioned. I could confidentially pass for 24 on any given day. As a result, I, of course, drew the attention of guys older than me and some men looking to snag a younger woman. I accepted the terrible things that happened to me as being “part of the territory” and a small part of me questioned whether I “asked for it,” if I had in some way caused them to think it was okay. I have learned to live with what happened but, I promise, that I have not forgotten.
I would party way too hard and not remember large portions of my nights or even know how I got home. I realized that I liked not feeling anything, I liked having fun, and I liked being free from my own self-doubt of only for a little while. This began to happen more frequently and in larger quantities. After a while, alcohol wasn’t enough so I would take a few pills (someone always had pills) and continue drinking. I didn’t see an issue; I was just having fun. I began needing over the counter “energy pills” to shake the hangovers and those worked so well that I kept some on stand-by if I ever needed an extra “boost”. Again, no flags—they were sold at the gas station so, how bad could they really be? I did all of this while maintaining a 3.6 GPA and graduated with honors.
Since graduation and a short stint in junior college, I have lived with friends, began dating the man that i eventually married, went to Hawaii on an all expenses paid trip with a man that I soon convinced into helping get my boyfriend (now husband) back, I lived and worked on a ranch in Tombstone, AZ. I got married, lived on an Army base in California where my husband was stationed for 3 years, had a daughter, suffered miscarriages, my husband and I took over raising my stepson. I joined the Army and got out of the Army on a bum shoulder. I have over come suicidal ideations, battled addiction, learned the hard way who my friends were, and had a son on my Dad’s birthday (he turned1 in August). I have put my marriage through the ringer, my mental health is always an uphill battle, I am attempting to complete an English degree online, and I am happily a housewife/stay at home mom.
I have become extremely outspoken and opinionated in recent months (some thought that it couldn’t get worse–they were wrong.) I have no qualms about calling someone out if they need it and I have stopped sitting back while people are rude or ugly to me and my family.
By no means am I perfect nor do 3i blame my past for my shortcomings. Everything that I have done, I have chosen to do; I have never had a gun to head forcing me to do anything. There are plenty of situations that I could have handled with more grace but chose not to, I guess that makes me blunt; there have been confrontations that I could have walked away from but opted to stay and fight, I guess that makes me spiteful; there are words that I have said that served no other purpose than to be hurtful, I guess that makes me mean; and, there have been times that I knew that I was wrong and frankly, I didn’t care–I guess that means that I have no self control. I have my faults like everyone else (maybe even a few more than most). I am quick to anger and often impatient. I don’t do well with forgiving and forgetting, I can hold on to a grudge like it is my job, I guess that makes me vengeful. I have learned to detach myself from hurtful situations and from the people that continue to cause them, I guess that makes me cold-hearted; But, on the flip side of all of these flaws are good qualities that are often overlooked.
I have acquaintances, friends and even family members that think I am just a mouthy bitch with little to no self-control, that I am just mean for the hell of it, that I enjoy confrontation and drama, that I am just bi-polar and throw fits to get my way; they shrug it off, “oh, that’s just Kathryn.”
What doesn’t get talked about, are the times that I have defended those that wouldn’t do the same for me; the times when I have squared up to grown men to protect women that looked the other way when it was me that was being hurt; the fact that I have been loyal to those that were busy betraying me; I have carried crosses for people that helped to build mine. And still, I am constantly reminded that I am “just a bitch.” If I happen to raise hell about something that matters to me or if I lash out because I have finally had enough of something then, I’m just throwing a fit.
Maybe it IS just me being crazy; But, it has taken years of mistreatment and abuse for me to finally find the strength to speak out against what is wrong and to stand up for what is right.
I did not get this way yesterday; I made me into who I am.
I have barely survived the majority of my life.
Yet, instead of feeling accomplished about the battles that I have won, I am shamed for the person that I became.
I have to smile a little bit every time I hear the phrase,
“That’s just Kathryn.”
And to that, my response will always be,
“You bet your ass it’s me!”