As a child, I played baseball and war with the boys in the neighborhood and rode my bike all over the countryside. (we were so rural, we didn’t have a “neighborhood” for years). I disliked the local girls and their games of house, Barbies, school (eegad! Who plays school in the summer?!), and dress-up. While they longed to grow up and become mommies, I yearned to be Peter Pan.
Puberty widened the gulf between me and my peers. While those girls embraced fashion, hair design, and makeup, and admired the sleek look of their legs encased in pantyhose, I fought to keep my blue jeans and flannel shirts. I wore knee socks until my mother ridiculed me into stockings (ugh!). Hair was for pulling back out of my face so I could get down to real stuff like writing (Yes, even then I wrote) or swimming or playing with my dog, not for curling and primping. The idea of dating loomed in a semi-enticing/semi-frightening way, but I wasn’t about to paint and powder myself to get some boy’s attention. If he didn’t like me for who I was, I wasn’t going to become someone else just to make him happy. (I saved that for later years, when lonely desperation drove me to be other than true to my nature and landed me in a disastrous first marriage.)
Oh, there were times when I longed to be someone different, to catch the eye of a boy I liked (and I did have my share of crushes), but I had no clue how to proceed, no guidance from friends (who were also on the fringe – the popular clique would have nothing to do with me) and certainly not from my family. Really, the thought scared me. I didn’t want to grow up. The shadows in my childhood loomed even larger and darker for the adult-to-be. I did not want to walk that path.
(This is interesting . . . this blog isn’t turning into the memoir I meant it to be. I write on the fly, free association, go back and tidy and that’s about it. My writing prompt of today was to write about the color red. I was going to tell a memory of fresh garden tomatoes picked from the vine, their variegated shades from peach to orange to arterial red, their unique smell and texture (so amazingly wonderful and so different from their bland grocery store cousins); the heat of sun caught in the flesh; licking the skin, the bright tang of salt sprinkled on the wet patch, the taste-bud-exploding glory of biting into it, juice running down my chin. I was going to talk about how I loved to graze in the summer garden, salt shaker in hand, preferring the taste of fresh vegetables to that of candy or (can you imagine?) chocolate; how my Easter basket used to last until Halloween and my Halloween candy until Easter.)
But something darker peered at me from between the trees of the word forest. I can see it back there, hulked behind the slender bole of — what is that? A birch? A beech? The silhouette of the thing looks vaguely like something out of “Where the Wild Things Are?” (a book I didn’t read until I was an adult), but there’s no sense of lovable monster here. I can see its eyes shining in the dark.
“Who are you?”
No reply, but to draw back a bit, a foolish attempt to hide that much mass behind a willowy trunk. I know that shape, but I can’t give it a name here, for all the world to read. I can say it in my head, where only I can hear, and I do. I name it (to name your fears is the first step, isn’t it? The naming of things is powerful magic). I give it a name, strip the flesh down to its bare bones.
I didn’t anticipate this, the insidious way writing memoir has of opening levels, like a puzzle box. I realize at this moment that THIS — the thing behind the tree — is why I was afraid to grow up. Because of what happened in childhood, I could only assume my adult life would be worse. I was powerless, all ability to act in my own defense stripped from me one layer at a time. I bought into the lesson that I had no control over anything, and it has haunted me for years.
Until now, when as a middle-aged woman I realize there are choices to be made.