By Ashley-Elizabeth Best
I am stuck in myself, indulging the constant loop of compare and contrast. Growing up poor and with a single mother of five I struggled to prove I was more, that I could be different than my family and transcend others’ assumptions about me. I’ve always been a self-improver and work tirelessly at my imperfections. There are many incidents from my childhood that have stayed with me and for a long time made me feel I could never be anything than what I was then—a tired and unhappy kid helping to raise her four younger siblings with her struggling mother.
Every Sunday we stuffed a stroller full of dirty laundry in garbage bags to push downtown to the laundry mat. To get to the laundry mat we had to pass a dental office a fellow classmate’s parents owned. Most Sundays he earned his allowance mowing the lawn in front of the practice. I’ll never forget the look on his face every time he saw us five kids and our mother pass by with our stroller, something between pity and a recognition—I know who you are and what you’ll be. So I performed the smart poor girl who has potential, but as one classmate said within my hearing once, she’s either going to get pregnant or go to university.
I measured ‘enough’ in all the wrong ways for years, for decades. I had terrible anxiety, agonized over everything I said to others—did they think what I said was stupid? Was I stupid? Can I post that on Facebook, is the grammar right, is the structure right? Was my performance making me good, making me enough? Mistakes terrified me—someone like me could not afford to make mistakes.
Everything up to my early twenties was done because of fear. When I moved away from my family to attend university, the constant fight for their survival and well being left me empty and lost. I started taking creative writing classes and slowly began to grow a feeling of possibility, that a life of my own was worth fighting for, and that maybe writing could help nurture my growing confidence and independence from my former dependents.
Years later, after school, working, serious medical problems, and constant little tragedies which have befallen my family, I am still poor, but now know I am worthy and that my life is meaningful. I have a poetry book coming out and am deeply at work on a novel. I have a life of my own despite and because of my family. I am enough for myself and my pen. It took me a long time to realize self-worth is something I could earn through self-compassion.
I do not dare to compare myself to others, I no longer look for evidence that I am inferior because of my past. I look forward knowing life is a sequence of feelings, some will last and most won’t. They are all a performance of singular parts acting as a whole in the absence of a frame. I am not a credit to my kind, I am a credit to myself. I am enough. I am.
Ashley-Elizabeth Best is from Cobourg, Canada. Her work has been published in Fjords, CV2, Berfrois, Grist and Ambit Magazine, among other publications. Recently she was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Her first collection of poems, Slow States of Collapse is forthcoming with ECW Press. She lives and writes in Kingston.