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The Eldest Daughter

a spoken word poem by Meghan Schrader, Senior English and Communications Major

Content Warning: Themes of Depression, Mention of Self-harm, Suicidal Thoughts


In a battle of suicidal thoughts and perfectionist complex, who wins?

She has spent a lifetime figuring it out.

Eldest-daughter Syndrome

Meets Perfectionist Complex

Meets Budding Narcissism

Meets Anything to Make Them Proud in her body,

And they fistfight like they’re at the only bar in town.

Body turned battlefield,

But no one sees the smoke.

As a child, she was told she was smart.

She was advanced.

She was talented.

She was reliable.

She was so mature for her age.

She realizes now this was just the unintentional way they began to stack up bricks atop her shoulders,

And tell her it made her strong.

Telling her she had to behave,

To set an example for the rambunctious boys,

Was just a means of excusing the ways

They would later assault their female classmates

In some way or another.

You told me I was strong,


You put a sword in my hand

And a pen in the other.

Did you think I would not cut them to pieces?

I am making an example.

Praised for her intelligence,

Condemned for thinking it entitled her to an opinion.

Praised for her work-ethic,

Condemned for seeking leadership positions.

Praised for her leadership skills,

Condemned for being ‘controlling.’

Have you forgotten that it was you who taught me I could rely on no one but myself?

Have you forgotten the way a young girl gazed at you with hopeful eyes,

And vowed to become everything?

You who set the expectations and told me I could exceed them.

Did you think that I would fail?

Did you think that I was not willing to die trying?

She is juggling a dozen projects without breaking a sweat,

Just a few bones,

Just her heart,

Just her back,

Just the little girl she keeps tucked beneath her ribcage.

At 16 years old,

She was mothering every person

Who came into her life;

Breaking off already broken pieces of herself

To build them back up.

No wonder she got thin.

She is empathetic.

She is caretaker.

She is ‘the mom friend.’

She is ‘the responsible one.’

She is the one boys seek out in the dim light of dawn

To pour their hearts and souls into the palms of her hands.

She holds their suffering as her own,

As she was trained to.

When I come home to visit,

My mother tells me every thought and feeling she has had since the last time I saw her,

As if she does not have anyone else to tell them to.

When we visit my grandmother,

She tells my mother every thought and feeling she has had since the last time she saw her.

She is accustomed to sacrifice,

To being used,

Or used up;

To ignoring her own needs and wants.

She is made to spare,

To tolerate,

To forgive,

To please.

When I learned that girls usually develop eating disorders as a means of control,

I didn’t understand.

I wasn’t lacking control.

I wasn’t being abused or manipulated.

I did everything I wanted to

And nothing I didn’t.

I had so much control,

Every detail of the day planned down to the second in my head.

What went wrong?

She did not know then

The way she was being built up into a pretty piece of armor,

A battlement;

Gold-plated girl.

She knows now.

Knowing does not make a difference.

The bricks are laid,

And everyone sees that she is shining.

If a heart breaks

And no one is there to hear the sound,

Do the tears that fall still count?

In a sea of broken hearts

And bending spines

And sleepless nights

And flashcards

And navy blue,

Do the raindrops of my struggle make a ripple?

Is it selfish to hurt when everyone else is hurting too?

Is it selfish to ask someone to notice?

She is girl,

On the pedestal of womanhood,

Preparation for the three-square feet of elevated platform Man will put her on

For the rest of her life.

They will elevate her,

They will praise her,

So long as she stays on her stage,

So long as she performs.

She is a contortionist.

How can I bend for you?

What shape shall I take today?

Do not worry about the cracks spider-webbing up my cheek bones;

Perfect Daughter does not break.

Do not worry about the scars at the corners of my mouth;

I was told to smile more.

Do not concern yourself with the steel wrapped around my spine;

I have always slouched too much.

Do not worry about the claws at the ends of my fingers;

I used to bite my nails to the quick.

I have been too sharp for them ever since.

Do not worry about the water lapping above my head;

I will be your life vest,

Because you asked me to.

Did you forget that you had asked me to?

She is control.

She is matriarch.

She is planner,

And reminder,

And never saying no to an opportunity.

Her worth meticulously detailed in a resume

That no one bothers calling her back for!

Did I not bend enough for you?

Am I not impressive enough for you?

Am I not enough for you?

Perhaps I broke off one too many pieces trying to make other people feel whole.

That’s what you asked for, wasn’t it?

Did you forget that you had asked?

That everything I am, you asked me to be.

As if it wasn’t you that told me to build up a resume until it was all that I am;

Until the story of my life could be easily navigated by double-spaced, 12-point font.

I am perfect, and so, they will love me.

She is straight-A college senior.

Do you think they have forgiven her for smoking weed in high school?

She has put on 10 pounds.

Do you think they have forgiven her for the eating disorder?

She turned her anxiety attacks into aggression,

Or into silence.

She has adopted more socially acceptable forms of self-harm.

Do you think they have forgiven her for the razor blades,

And for the blood staining the sink,

And for the smashed mirrors,

And for the outbursts,

And for the Lexipro script she stopped taking after 3 months?

Do you think I am enough now?

She is her mother’s emotional sponge.

She is the son her father never had.

She is therapist.

She is leader.

She is honor roll student.

She is president of The Club.

She is rebel.

She is substitute mother.

She is “the disappointment.”

She is “the successful one.”

She is contortionist.

She is caged lion.

She is control.

She is okay.

She is happy.

She is child.

She is the Eldest Daughter.

And perfectionists never die.

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