An Aunt gave me this mug when I was young, because she really didn’t like me.
The joke is on her, because I still love this mug.
Not because I’m evil. Nope. Not even. I love this mug, because it taught me a really important lesson about people, even the ones who are supposed to love and support you.
Some people will do their best to try to make you feel small, so they can feel superior. Sometimes it works, and when it does, they win. Your hurt feeds their desire to bring others down. They bury you with their own unhappiness and pettiness, because giving a 13-year-old a witch mug that implies she is evil is beyond childish and petty. (Unless, of course, the 13-year-old actually wanted that mug, admires that character, or identifies with being the kind of evil that makes the mug a fun, loving joke.)
It wasn’t a joke. I didn’t take an interest in this character or story (this was 21 years before the introduction of Maleficent as a fascinating, layered, and misunderstood villain), nor did I believe I was evil.
I did, however, stand up to people who were unkind to me and who tried to belittle me.
I also stood up for others who were unable to stand up for themselves, and this did not go over well with her, for an easy victim is a joy to those who treat people poorly. But a difficult victim, someone who refuses to be made to feel stupid or small, that’s a threat (and if you’re a threat, you might even have your own mug to show for it).
Anyway, here’s the thing about this mug. I’m clumsy.
Not just a little bit. I’m clumsy in the almost-bleeds-out-and-dies-before-the-ambulance-can-arrive-to-scrape-me-off-the-ground sort of clumsy. I shatter about 6-8 mugs per year in the most unbelievable sorts of ways. It’s a special talent. And this mug, it’s the only one that I still have left from my childhood. I didn’t even realize that, until I started writing this paragraph.
So as you’ve already guessed, this story has a moral…
Not because I’m choosing to write it that way, but because I chose to live it that way. At the time, I didn’t even begin to understand the impact of such a choice.
I could have taken this mug, cried my eyes out, smashed it to pieces, or sold it in a garage sale, but I didn’t.
Having taught middle school for six years, I think all of those would have been reasonable and valid choices for expressing my emotions, given the circumstances and my neurological development. I wouldn’t fault anyone for having done something similar, and at the time, I considered all of those options.
I could have taken the message
to heart and let it beat me down
and make me feel small,
but I didn’t.
I could have forgotten where this mug came from and who gave it to me, but I also didn’t.
Perhaps that would have been the ultimate victory? I don’t fixate on the mug. I rarely think about how it came to me at this point in my life, but it still stands as a quiet symbol of who I can be when I believe in myself and surround myself with the right kind of people.
When those I loved and trusted heaped unkindness on me, I found new people to love and trust and believe in.
That was not always easy.
There were times in life when I thought it actually might be easier to dislike and mistrust people. To keep them at an arms length, so they wouldn’t get close enough to hurt me.
I’m definitely not cuddly with newbies until I know where they stand and who they really are, and I have cut myself free from some unhealthy relationships, especially in friendships.
But I’m not alone, and the people in my corner love me, understand me, and accept me, even all of my faults and annoying habits.
I could have let a mug define me, but instead, I defined the mug.
I wake up every day, smile at a mug that was intended to make me feel small,
pour in my favorite drink,
and go about the business of being me, regardless of what other people think.
I surrounded myself with people who would never tear down my confidence in order to feel powerful.
Cause the truth is, that’s not power.
Even Maleficent had to learn that lesson.
The thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that I used to love that Aunt, back before I understood people and relationships well enough to grasp that she was toxic to others.
We spent a good amount of time with her when we were small, so many of my memories of childhood include her. Now, I haven’t seen her since I was a teenager, and I don’t miss her.
I’ll still hang on to those fun and funny memories of her, because they’re reminders to me of who she could have been if she had made different choices in her relationships with others. But I don’t feel sad that she’s not a part of my life, because I like my life.
I love my family, and I adore my friends, the true ones that don’t tear me down for being a neurotic, overthinking dreamer.
The ones that get that neurotic, overthinking dreamers can create wonderful things, be beautiful people, and enjoy happy, satisfying lives.
Maybe it just looks like a souvenir mug that was probably in a million households, but to me, it’s a souvenir of who I was 23 years ago (plus or minus a year, as I vividly remember receiving the gift but not the precise year in which I received it). It’s a souvenir of who I could have become, and a reminder of who I decided to be.
I like me. I like my mug. I’ve even grown to love and understand Maleficent, and at the end of my life, if this mug can hold up for that long, I hope it’s a symbol of a life well-lived.
Not an evil one.
Perhaps a misunderstood one.
Definitely a satisfying one.
So happy birthday, to my favorite mug, as we turn 24 and 37. May we both live to enjoy another 24 years of adventures.
PS: I confess that after writing this post, I stayed up until 2:00 AM rewatching Maleficent, which I do love. It just came 21 years after the mug. In the writing world, we call that accidental foreshadowing.
PS 2: Also, I was supposed to be drafting chapter four of my WIP when I started typing up my thoughts about this mug, and it’s all because I poured a cup of tea. Sometimes, you sit down prepared to do honest work, and instead, you get caught up by an honest emotion. Please don’t blame the tea. It’s an innocent bystander in this monologue.