There’s a bigshot intellectual at this party, some internet tech celeb I’m supposed to know. Everyone’s credentials are impressive here, or rather, I’m the least impressive person in the room. I stand up straighter and try looking smarter, like the kind of person who uses the word amalgam instead of mixed or combination.
There’s a cake in the kitchen, where the internet celeb is holding court. I excuse my way through the entire room, which I estimate is approximately 50 cakes wide, apologizing to every single person I touch — I guess to say sorry for touching them or wanting cake or being a moving person. I apologize for being in front of their faces, next to their faces, behind their faces, pretty much anywhere a face could look and I might inhabit. Sorry for existing, everyone! But I need that fucking life preserver — I mean chocolate cake.
Wherever I go, someone says hello and introduces me as such: “This is Marika, she’s the most [adjective-iest] person I know!” Hilarious, brilliant, creative, talented. Each compliment feels like I’m being doused in buckets of ice water. All I hear is “Marika is the most,” which is something I’m used to navigating. You are so extra, everything about you is just too much.
The bigshot joins a conversation I’m part of and eventually asks where I went to school. I can tell I’m supposed to say something other than the truth, which is everywhere and nowhere; my post-high school situation was more Animal House than The Social Network. I look around the room for a familiar face but it’s a sea of blurry Norwegians, just a living, breathing Pringles can of white people, which makes me think of my own skin color. I always stick out in a crowd of Pacific Northwesterners.
“Brown,” I say.
“Ah, good school,” he concedes.
Hooray, I passed this pointless test. If the bigshot had followed up with the question, “Now where is Brown University again?” I would not have known the answer, and thus been awkwardly exposed as a cake-eating sham. I still haven’t looked up where the school is located. I guess my punishment for lying is to never know the actual truth.
He turns and says something that makes the entire room laugh. Engineers, lawyers, doctors, professors, programmers, and journalists understand this inside joke. I laugh the loudest, throwing my head back a bit to show just how much I get it, but really, I couldn’t hear a word of what the guy said. To be honest, I’m way more into the cake. I sneak another piece, nonchalantly looking around to make sure nobody saw me. Sometimes I feel like the representative for all fat people everywhere, so it just makes sense to loudly devour salads in public where I can pretend people are judging me positively. “Glory be, she’s eating a salad, Tom! Maybe you’re right and she just has a thyroid problem.”
Still, I congratulate myself for looking like the type of person who’s in on the joke. I eat another piece of cake and wonder if I laughed too loud. Initially I thought my laughter announced “Hey, I’m one of you!” but my insides twist from too much sugar and reality. I am not like them, and I never have been. I’m just a girl who eats too much cake at parties, who pretend-laughs at everything you say to avoid looking stupid.
Imposter syndrome is real, y’all. Every word I write, every party I go to, every meeting I have, every person I encounter: it’s something I have to be aware of and push through every day. It’s exhausting when your brain is not on your side, and says stuff like “Everyone is probably wondering why you were even invited to that party” or “I’ll bet the host is going to bill you for those extra slices of cake.” That’s not how cake or parties or hosting works, but for a second, it seems real. It is a constant daily struggle to remind myself that I have every right to be here.