Calm, centered, diplomatic, sane — these are the things that I endeavor to be. Having made my share of mistakes in the previous three decades, and with my mild-mannered Canadian husband as a role model, I try to act reasonably. I really do. But every once in a while, something gets stuck in my craw. And that’s when Lizzie shows up. Lizzie is my outrageously truthful, but not so politically correct, alter-ego. She’s intense, passionate, and, brutally honest. When confronted, Lizzie does not take the high road. She tends to come out swinging. Case in point: The time in fifth grade when a girl called my mother a hooker. As I have mentioned, my mother was a nightclub singer who had the tendency to dress a little sexier than the other moms. By Kardashian standards, her wardrobe was practically nun-like. Back then, however, her tight sweaters and gabardine slacks evoked lascivious stares from the dads at school and eye rolls from their less curvaceous wives. My mom was a hottie. But a prostitute? Hardly. I looked at the girl and said, “Excuse me? Could you repeat that please?” The girl repeated, your mom is a hooker. Lizzie socked her in the face.
The first one to identify Lizzie was my fourth grade teacher at Francis W. Parker, the progressive private school I attended in Chicago. This was the kind of place where teachers handed out lengthy psych reports in lieu of grades. And I was ripe for analysis from the would-be Sigmund Freuds who taught there. According to Mrs. Bailey, there were two Lauries. Laurie #1 was a hard-working, creative, happy kid. Laurie #2 (her name for Lizzie) was a little angry. And a little rebellious. She did not always follow the rules or play well with others, especially when she saw an injustice being done. This made me somewhat of a social pariah in grade school, although I always managed to find one best friend who was equally unpopular. Misery loves company. I was happier in middle school. Hormones were making even the most bland, vanilla girls say and do crazy things. By comparison, Lizzie didn’t seem quite so outrageous. In seventh grade I bonded with BR, a popular girl who took her A-list status with a grain of salt. BR got a kick out of my outspoken evil twin, and we’re still tight to this day. My closest friends are the ones who appreciate the bullshit-free relationship they have with Lizzie.
When my mom got remarried, we moved to Virginia where I attended Madeira, a traditional all-girls’ boarding school. I was truly a fish out of water there, a liberal city girl from Chicago in a sea of Ronald Reagan conservatives. I’ll never forget one classmate, a Southern belle from Georgia, trying to explain to me the difference between Northern and Southern blacks and how “your blacks are practically like white people”. It was one of the few times Lizzie has been speechless. I knew that if I was going to survive at Madeira, I had to find ways to channel Lizzie’s rage. Debate forced Lizzie to organize her thoughts, and gave her legitimate grounds for an argument. Theater, especially the meaty character roles, allowed her to completely step out of herself. I tried diluting Lizzie with alcohol and drugs, but that didn’t always work. An intense person on controlled substances doesn’t become easygoing; she’s just intensely wasted.
The healthiest outlet for Lizzie is writing. Her rants always seem less crazy when filtered through my typing fingers onto the page. Translating her emotions into coherent sentences is like the first stage that waste goes through at the water treatment plant before it becomes drinkable. Lizzie’s message becomes less toxic simply by the act of writing it down. To be fair, Lizzie isn’t all pit bull. She’s got some golden retriever in there, too. She is warm and fun and loyal to a fault. She’s sentimental and loves a good cuddle. But when someone disappoints her, watch out. A tsunami of hurt, anger, and pain rises up that’s so powerful it could wipe out entire cities. I’ve learned to stem the tide with yoga, acupuncture, therapy and the occasional stiff vodka. Living in Southern California helps. And, of course, writing. Funny, vitriolic, sad, outrageous words on a page. That’s the best way to keep Lizzie safe where she belongs.