It’s true. I’m not but I’ve been attempting to play her for over twenty years.
Of all the March sisters Beth was brightest and best. She had no lessons to learn, no character flaws to fix. She was quite literally an angel.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a beautiful piece of fiction but perhaps it was introduced into my life at the wrong time. We never know quite how things will imprint on a child do we? Sitting quietly with my mother and sister while she read the book out to us is a fond memory, idyllic really. How cozy were we, in the living room with the wood stove burning while Yukon’s winter raged outside. I was learning to crochet around that time further adding to the feeling of living in that era.
In my first memories of childhood I was incredibly happy. I was wild, boisterous, and queen of my own ranch. We lived on a 300 acre ranch in the middle of no where. I had endless places to play and I quite literally ran amok. I had thought for a long time that moving to town had affected me so badly because I lost all that space.
No. I realized today that on the farm I was wild child but I was accepted. No one tried to make me anything different.
All that changed when we moved into town and I was exposed to people who had very strong opinions on how I should behave. Archaic, “children should be seen and not heard” views just to begin with. Suddenly I was surrounded by other children, judgmental meddling adults and a religious doctrine claiming that we were “called to walk into perfection.” All of these things together was a recipe for disaster. Children can be cruel and if the adults are worse then you really are stuck in a nightmare.
I had a problem and since as my father is fond of saying “we are not your average bears” I turned my mind to it full time. At church I heard over and over that it wasn’t enough to repent you had to also completely stop sinning and when a sin can be as small as an unkind thought, that’s a pretty tall order. However I took it as given that it could be done, after all these were adults talking.
My behavior at school and elsewhere was a constant source of issue. I was being bullied and always handled it “poorly”. A week into school I got tripped, so I slapped the jerk who stuck his foot out , I got detention. The boy got nothing. Through that and various other situations I learned eventually that my reaction to a situation would always outweigh whatever had happened to me in the first place. It’s a lesson I’ve learned so well I perpetuate in on myself without any help.
I decided that what I needed was a personality make over. All I needed to do was learn to be just like Beth. No one ever spoke sharply to Beth because she was so sweet that she never deserved it. I, of course, always brought these things on myself because I couldn’t be nice. Becoming Beth was possible. I was certain of it because this was my version of walking into perfection.
I took the wrong message away from that book because of my single minded pursuit of being the best version of myself that I could be even if it was not me at all. That part of my view of life never changed. All the while I rooted everything else from my child hood religion out, I held this one poisoned kernel nestled deep in my heart.
I worked at being perfect constantly like an athlete honing their skills and muscles I worked at holding my tongue, having patience, being kind. None of these goals are bad in and of themselves but if you believe that you can be perfect at any of them let alone all of them, you are quite deceived. I was. It’s taken me this long to realize it.
In some ways nothing has changed since child hood. Something happens, I “over react”, I’m devastated, I resolve even harder to be perfect. The fact that I’ve vastly improved over these years holds no comfort whatsoever. I’m not perfect and only perfection will do.
All I’ve learned is to internalize what everyone tried to punish into me, that I am not good enough as I am. That no matter what happens my reaction will always be wrong. I will always be wrong. It’s gotten so bad that I avoid people or situations where I can fail, or embarrass myself by being too loud and inappropriate. I leave even the best social situation with regrets strong enough to keep me up at night. I am reclusive and constantly afraid of doing the slightest thing wrong but tonight the light dawned.
No matter how hard I try, I will never be calm enough, kind enough, patient enough and quiet enough satisfy everyone or even myself. I just have to accept that. Also Beth was dying and I don’t want to live like I’m already dying.
Now, I guess, I get to learn to be me again and maybe I will be able to turn all of that mental energy to something more worthwhile.