The Khimaira (Chimera) who snorted raging fire, a beast great and terrible, and strong and swift-footed. Her heads were three: one was that of a glare-eyed lion, one of a goat, and the third of a snake, a powerful drakon ~ Hesiod, Theogony, 319ff (trans. Evelyn White).
For years, I lived life as a chimera with multiple heads, never sure which one I needed to survive. You won’t see them in any pictures, but they were there.
In The Iliad, the earliest written mention of the chimera, Homer describes her as a fire-breathing animal with a front like a lion, a midsection like a black goat, and hindquarters with a tale like a dragon or serpent. Each head grew out of the matching part to create a grotesque animal with no real front or back.
But what made the chimera so despised wasn’t only the way she terrorized the people of Lycia by scorching their fields and ravaging their herds. What made the chimera so despised was how she wasn’t a lion, or a goat, or a serpent.
What goat has scales like a snake? What lion has cloven hooves like a goat? What snake has a mane like a lion?
In trying to be all three, she failed to be any of them. She became nothing but a monster. Belonging nowhere.
Eventually, Greek hero Bellerophon rode Pegasus to find her and killed her with a block of lead. He shoved it down her throat, and her fiery breath melted it so the metal suffocated her.
In the medieval era, the term chimera was generalized to mean any creature made up of the body parts of various animals. By the time of Dante’s Inferno, chimerical creatures came to embody deception and hypocrisy.
And, much later, me.
Despite having a happy childhood overall, some of the memories I can’t seem to shake aren’t good ones. Like how, at ten, a mutual friend told me that my cousins, who I thought were my friends and who I had frequent sleepovers with, couldn’t stand me. Like how once we hit high school, another cousin refused to admit we were related. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong.
I so wanted to be loved and accepted that I started to change my personality to fit whoever I was with. You like hockey? Me too! You find math hard? Me too! Didn’t matter if it was true or not.
I kept at it all through high school and into university, and I was suffocating.
I’d sit with my university roommate, wondering why the latest guy had chosen some other girl over me. Hadn’t I proven how much we had in common? Why couldn’t I find someone who liked me for me? I think they could tell I had as many heads as a chimera, and they weren’t any surer of which one was real than I was.
I’d spent so much of my time trying to make everyone like me that I’d never stopped to figure out if I liked playing an instrument or if I only played because all my closest friends in high school were band geeks. Did I really enjoy competing in horse shows or was I still showing because a lot of my friends growing up were horse crazy?
A funny thing happens when you start to ask yourself whether you really like the things you’ve always thought you liked. You find out that, in a lot of cases, the answer is no.
By the time I met my husband, I wasn’t afraid to admit I loved science fiction and fantasy and hated sports. All of them. I wasn’t afraid to tell him I was great at math (even though he wasn’t and hated it).
I didn’t have to try to be everything anymore, and by just being me, I finally found a man who loved me for what I was, not for what I was trying to be.
It’s still a challenge, but now I focus on connecting with people on what we truly have in common. I’ve come to value fewer authentic relationships over more relationships built on smoke and chimeras. And I’m happier for it.
What have you done in the past to try to fit in? How did you finally figure out what was really you and what wasn’t?
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