“You are strong-willed,” my mother proclaimed at the reception, her eyes darting to a written, rehearsed speech in her hand. She struggled with the word, I could tell; her bearings hinting of equal praise, pride and ambivalence to what that infamous strong will had led to throughout my upbringing.
I latched onto that word and forgot the rest she used to describe me; her view of me.
Strong-willed. My bashful smile contorted as she continued. How utterly strange a word. A composite of strong and willed, as if both a core feature and demonstrative show of force. A more positive way to describe someone stubborn …
What was I to do with it? How was I suppose to feel about that? Were I to be proud that she saw me as that?
I guess so.
Yet, I couldn’t entirely align myself with the word. It left a bittersweet taste on the tongue. Like waking up after a night of overindulgence and one’s mouth feeling both furry and numb. You cannot deny nor accept that this is a naturality. Yet, it still feels so alien every time.
And as I shook myself from my musings, I realized that she had moved on to the next person in her life and that I, regrettably, had missed those other, brief adjectives she had used about me. Or had she even said anything else significant besides the usual, almost meaningless platitudes? She hadn’t concluded anything from my being strong-willed, had she? Was she hinting at something I was not? That, rather than strong-willed, I was simply stubborn? I certainly had been as a child.
But now … Had she just let that unfamiliar term hang in the air for me to pick up? How was I to do that?!
It was only later, after having pondered upon the word, that I silently asked myself: ‘But am I not too strong-willed? Too demonstrative for this world?’ and wondered what my mother’s answer would have been.
I couldn’t ask now. The moment had gone. It was too awkward to retract. And I couldn’t pry into her words about me when it had been her day. It seemed too selfish.
But who am I kidding? It must only be the truely self-absorbed ones that can get surprised by words applied to them, about them, by others, because they have either heard everything else or only had themselves to get praise from.
I do not know what to do with strong-willed.