They tell you to be nice, the adults, and at first you think you understand what that means. It means you should be gentle. You should measure the impact of your words and your actions. It’s fair, and you see that because you know what it’s been like when people weren’t gentle with you. It doesn’t feel good.
But somehow, somewhere the meaning of niceness shifts. It means don’t contradict people, even when you know they’re wrong. It means always smile. Confusingly, it means there are certain things you just shouldn’t wear, and certain ideas you shouldn’t espouse. It means keep doing things for people even when you don’t want to. It means keep the peace at all cost. It means making yourself so small, so gray, so you can fit into your tiny little life.
At some point niceness becomes foot binding for the soul.
When I was a little girl, I used to jump out of the second story window of my brother’s bedroom. It didn’t occur to me that this was a bad idea, that I could land wrong and break an ankle. It was just another way to get out of the house. I favored it because it was slightly less boring than the stairs.
There was a pine tree in our back yard. After school, I would climb to the top with a paperback novel tucked in my pants. I would up there, looking down at the top of my house and reading Asimov and Ellison and Herbert, while the tree swayed back and forth in the breeze. Fear never entered my consciousness.
I couldn’t say exactly when all of that changed or how. But a little over a month ago, I woke up from surgery--a very nice woman with a very polite little job who had done precisely nothing she set out to do. What I had to show for all the compromises was ashes and dust in my mouth. I was sick of being so very nice, so very responsible, and I was done. Done giving my time to jackasses. Done being contented with whatever was left over. Done with all the compromises that are entailed in being a nice person.
A week ago I began the long, painful process of surgical rehab. There’s nothing quite so bracing to the ego as crapping out after 15 minutes of yoga and two mile runs when you’re used to being able to do a 15 mile run pretty much whenever. But each shitty yoga session and each sad little run is driving a coffin nail into the nice girl I was for all those years. The person who’s arising is fierce. She goes places and has adventures. She has no room in her life for fatuousness and safety. She is many things, but never, never make the mistake of thinking she’s a nice girl.