On an August afternoon in the summer of 1986, just before fifth grade, I rode my bike to my best friend’s house. In my pocket was a note for my friend’s mom written by my own mom. I was instructed not to read it, but this was apparently before she realized she should seal envelopes she didn’t want me to open. The note explained there had been an incident and now there was a restraining order. My dad wasn’t allowed to come near me. If he did, my friend’s mom should call the police.

I started school that September armed with a similar note. Dad was not an emergency contact. I should never be released from school into his care. He was dangerous.

I felt like a spectacle. I felt like everyone knew things about me, about my family, that I didn’t want people to know. Every time they looked at me I could feel their thoughts weighing on me. Everyone knew, and now they were looking at me in a way only the neighbors previously had.

It took me years to figure out that this is why I’ve always been preoccupied with the notion of others thinking of me. Whether they liked me or not wasn’t really the issue. The more I thought about that, the more I realized I would just prefer people didn’t think of me at all. Thinking about me opened doors that felt better left closed.

It’s better to just stay below the radar. It’s safer over there.

The trouble is that I don’t have that kind of personality. I keep thrusting myself into spotlights, wondering how the hell I got there, then wondering what people are thinking. And even when I’m playing the wallflower, life happens. Hiding isn’t really easy for me, so I’ve had to work at being comfortable being seen. It takes practice, and effort, and intestinal fortitude.

I’m getting there, but maybe not really.


The past few weeks have been full of ups and downs. We had two wonderful family vacations. We also had a death in the family, a car accident, and summer colds. I’ve had to explain to people what’s been going on. Camp counselors needed to be made aware of all the things that could be contributing to my kid being out of sorts. I’ve had to explain to my job why I’m taking an early lunch or I need to leave 15 minutes early. I’ve made multiple calls to the insurance adjuster and texted a zillion questions to my friend whose husband is fixing my car. I’ve had to ask for help in my personal life based on so much schedule upheaval.

Mostly through no fault of my own, I’ve directed way too much attention toward myself lately.

I feel uneasy.

I feel like every point of contact I make, the other person is thinking, “Oh no. Not her again. What is it this time?”

I feel like I should hide for awhile, but I also know I probably can’t.

I know everyone has months like this where things are hectic. I know having a kid means constantly updating his various caregivers on our home life. I know this is not the same as what happened in 1986. I know it. But still somewhere, in the back of my mind…


I am a spectacle. I will always be a spectacle.

After a bit of a hiatus, and seemingly counter-intuitive to the above post, I’m joining my friends at yeah write. If you’re a writer who blogs or a blogger who writes, please join us by clicking on the badge above.

In an exciting turn of events, this post took home crowd favorite at the yeah write weekly writing challenge this week. Thanks to everyone who voted!

30 Responses to “Spectacle”

  1. Kir Piccini says:

    I read it in my email…with many other things on my mind and honestly I was just going to hit delete because my day/week/life is just chaotic right now.
    But I read it and clicked over to say I hate that there are parts of this I truly relate to, that I often wonder if people like me or feel like they “should” like me and I am always in a constant place of questioning.

    Hope things are settling down a bit for you.

    And for the record, spectacles light up the sky and sparkle too…I believe you are one in the best sense.

    • michellelongo says:

      Thanks for clicking over. I know that chaos feeling so well! I wish neither of us worried or thought about or cared what, if anything, anyone was thinking about either of us. Think of all the mental space we’d clear up. Thank you for your sweet comment!

  2. Candice says:

    I hate that part of parenting – having to explain why my kid might be out of sorts. I feel like it always reflects on me and choices I’ve made, even if it’s repercussions from choices made way before Nate was born. In the past five months I went back to work, we moved twice, lived with my in-laws, and one of our dogs died while they weren’t even living with us. Having to explain any of that, even vaguely, to my (new but amazingly understanding and generous) boss or Nate’s teachers/camp counselors has sucked. I can only imagine them thinking, “Really? You can’t provide more stability for him?” Sigh. Parenting. Not for wusses.

    • michellelongo says:

      That is a really rough 5 months. I hope things are settling down for you. I’m sorry about your dog. It seems to me that both our Nates are clever, funny, and well-cared for little boys, so I’m sure we’re both doing everything we can. Remind me I said that next time I say that I don’t think I’m doing it right. Not for wusses indeed.

  3. I find the empathy I would give to anyone else experiencing these challenges is also appropriate to give myself. Sometimes I think we give everyone else the benefit of the doubt that they need our support, but then fail to have faith that they will reciprocate. No one is an island. Hopefully, things will improve and you’ll be in a position to support, until then it’s ok to accept support. We each need it in our turn.

    • michellelongo says:

      It’s funny, it’s not even that I don’t expect people will support me (they almost always do), it’s that I don’t want to ask or burden or be thought of as needy. My drive for independence has always been a blessing and a curse.

      Thanks for reading and for your sweet comment!

  4. I perfected blending in and hiding in junior high and high school. Now, to my aggravation and chagrin, I find that (despite also somehow being thrust into the spotlight) I am not noticed when I want to be. Sometimes it’s hard to turn off the camouflage. Sometimes it’s harder to manage to use it.

  5. Very powerful image of you on your bike with that note burning in your pocket. She must have known you would read it! So many interesting possibilities here and you did a fantastic job of staying on track with your storytelling in spite of the many available tangents. Will be thinking of this one for a while.

    • michellelongo says:

      Thank, Louise! You’re right, there were so many different instances of this throughout my life. This is a part of a larger essay/memoir section I’m working on and I could definitely go around and around on it. I’m glad it felt like I’d stayed on track. I appreciate the encouragement!

  6. Meg says:

    Your easy, self-confident writing style belies the anxiety behind feeling like a spectacle, Michelle. Beautifully done. I think it’s always amazing when we link our current feelings to things that happened when we were children — like discovering the answer to a puzzle. It can be freeing because we finally know why we feel uncomfortable. I can especially relate to thrusting yourself into the spotlight and then recoiling. I also felt like a spectacle as a kid, for different reasons but also related to the failures of my parents. Thanks so much for sharing this. It was comforting for me, though I know it was probably hard to write. Be well, my friend. You’re not alone!

    • michellelongo says:

      Thank you so much, Meg. Lately it seems like everything I do somehow comes back to things that happened when I was younger. It’s certainly an interesting process. I’m glad you enjoyed and found it comforting, and I appreciate knowing I’m not alone in this one. You be well, too.

  7. Jen says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your rough summer, Michelle! That note in 1986 must have been very hard to read. That age can be an emotional time anyway but mixed with what you went through, I can’t imagine.

    • michellelongo says:

      That summer was by far the most roller-coaster-y (totally a word) of my life. Very pivotal. Almost 30 years later I’m still sorting it out. Thanks for reading, Jen!

  8. Sam Merel says:

    I also constantly walk the line between wanting to hide out and wanting to be out there, so I get this. I so get it. I am so sorry for all of your upheaval these past few weeks, and that it has brought up some tough and uncomfortable stuff. Keep shining bright, friend.

  9. So moving and so real, Michelle. I am grateful that you shared this out with us.

  10. Stacie says:

    I hope you are headed into smoother waters soon, and my heart is breaking (once again) for young Michelle. I love your writing so much.

    • michellelongo says:

      Young Michelle appreciates it, as she always does :) I am hopeful things will start to settle down around here soon. Thanks for the kind words.

  11. I know that feeling of standing out when you’re trying to hide, I’ve done that most of my life. And not asking for help, or wanting to be a burden even when we’re not. I hope you are feeling better soon. Your writing is wonderful.

  12. MameZirro says:

    Wow, I also relate to thrusting myself into spotlights and then wondering how I got there…then lying awake at night wondering what I got wrong, who was offended, hoping no one is thinking about me at all…and really, they probably are not, because they have themselves to think about. =*)
    I’m sorry you had to read about your dad’s restraining order (and about yourself) in that letter, but so appreciate your willingness to share it. I feel less alone today.

    • michellelongo says:

      That’s the kicker right – being an adult and knowing people probably aren’t thinking about you and yet you can’t stop thinking they might be? You’d think knowing it would change something!

      I actually knew about the restraining order already, but my naive mind didn’t realize how many people needed to know and how many people my mother would tell. I thought we’d keep it to ourselves and that’s what shocked me so much.

  13. Robbie says:

    i wish I had some amazingly profound comments to add but I just don’t. I do know how difficult it is to ask for help and leaving early etc. I am the first to jump in and help someone else but asking for help is so damn hard.

    • michellelongo says:

      Yup, I’ll jump in and help just about anyone. I’m almost always a team player. But when I’m the one that needs the help, I figure everyone is resenting me. They probably aren’t and I should probably get over it. Seeing so many other people feel the same way is a comfort though.

  14. Natalie DeYoung says:

    I like how you connect what went on then with what is going on now. Isn’t it strange, how seemingly ancient history can come back in an instant?

  15. Aubrey Anne says:

    This is a good reminder to me that my son doesn’t need everyone knowing the details of his life. So many people need to know, it seems! They need to know WHY he struggles the way he does. But maybe they don’t need to know. Maybe I just want them to give him a break, but he doesn’t actually need that kind of extra attention? Maybe he just needs to be left alone to be a regular kid, not be a spectacle.

    • michellelongo says:

      Good to hear from you, Aubrey! In my case, I don’t think my mother could have avoided telling people. She had a genuine fear my father would come back to hurt one of us. Some things just have to be shared. At the time for me though, I didn’t understand those adult portions of the situations and really only thought about my feelings, which is a pretty normal thing for a ten year old. I think as a parent trying to protect a child, you have to weigh all of it and there’s no way to know how the kid is going to feel nearly 30 years down the line. I don’t think my mother did anything wrong, I think she did what she thought was best here. I’m sure you’re doing what you think is best too.

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