By Shawna Ervin
Around sixth grade, I entered the jump rope competition at my elementary school. The student who jumped the most times in 30 seconds would win. What is between winning and second place? What happens in that abyss between losing, but not being the best?
Failure had followed me into Bs and second places, taunted me. I heard the silences, watched as other kids were praised for winning, for perfection. Was imperfection failure? Was that why I was abused?
My childhood brain said it was my fault. That I had failed and earned physical and sexual abuse. If only I could achieve perfection, surely it would stop. Surely I could make it stop.
So, I practiced perfection. I practiced jumping rope in the basement on cold days, outside on warm days. That 30 seconds was my chance to redeem my previous failures, to prove I was valid and worth protection and care. I timed myself, begged others to time me, count my jumps. I got faster and faster. Would it be enough? How many was perfect?
Finally, the competition. I jumped as fast as I could, my Keds catching on the basketball circles etched in the carpet. I counted, whipped the rope around and around. I am not sure I breathed. So much depended on perfection, on winning. The timer went off. I won. Then, it was over. I went home to the same house, the same abuse, the same shame.
As I grew older I kept striving, kept reaching for that elusive perfection. Certainly being perfect was my ticket to freedom, my way past the memories, the guilt, the shame, the feeling like I wasn’t enough.
Imperfection was. Inside the rough edges of imperfection I found independence. In learning to be real, to let others see the raw and unraveled.
No matter what grades I earned, how many times I jumped over a jump rope, how I placed in anything or what awards I received, I would still have been abused. It was not about me, not about anything I could have or should have done. It was about me being a child, my abuser being an adult. Period. I did not fail. At all.
In facing my powerlessness as a child and weaknesses as an adult I have found independence to just be who I am. I don’t need to have all the answers, have a clean house all the time, be the best at anything. Even with limits and imperfections, I am enough. Enough.
Imperfection granted independence from all I thought I wasn’t. Instead I found who I am.