I see her in these animals that dance inside my head
I’ll follow you down baby, down into this valley
I’ll follow you down baby, but I won’t come up again
lyrics Counting Crows- Adam Duritz, from “I’m Not Sleeping”
When I was growing up, I ‘chose’ school clothes from a trash bag full of cast off goodies, given to me unselfishly by a woman my mother knew through the Girl Scouts. If I recall, she had something like 50 kids, ranging in age from 1 to 30. I’m jesting, it was more like 5 kids; all girls, and the whole gaggle of them shared clothes with each other and then with me too. The trash bag was my Nordstroms, Macys, JC Penney…I was a tall kid; taller than both my parents by the time I was ten so I could choose clothes handed down by much older girls. My Aunt liked to describe some girls as petite but she never used that adjective for me. I was 14 before I realized I had some possible value in other people’s eyes. Not that it mattered, I avoided mirrors. I was sitting around a table in a Plumbing shop my Freshman year, doing Theory work and Q & A at my trade school (we had to do two weeks each that first year of everything they had to offer including Plumbing, Automobile Painting, Nursing, Architectural Drafting, Electrical…you get the idea).
The Plumbing teacher was like a more slender Bill Clinton; but without the pouty lips and hand gestures. Also his hair was thinner and grayer. Of course I couldn’t have made the comparison then as I didn’t know of Clinton. The conversation the teacher had started fell along the lines of, “If any of you girls do decide to pursue Plumbing, there’s no reason you can’t…”
You get the idea, the gist of his rant– women can be whatever they want, yada yada… Well I didn’t know what I wanted to be but it wasn’t a Plumber. I knew I didn’t have the constitution for the smells I might encounter. Some girls piped up; exclaiming loudly that they didn’t want to be a Plumber, no offense. A few were going to be nurses, there were future hairdressers, architects, aspiring models and make-up artists in the bunch and a wanna be actress too. Since I hadn’t offered my input, the attention seemed to shift over to me. That’s when the teacher said something to the effect that job choices weren’t governed by gender and that with studies and perseverance a person could be what they really wanted to be and shouldn’t let anything hold them back. I was in a bad place then and wasn’t receptive to that speech. Quick as a sharp left turn he was looking right at me, “How tall are you?” he asked me. I answered 5, 7 1/2′, but no one heard me.
“She never talks!”
“I think she said 5′ 7 1/2.”
He then announced to the class that that was some cool bit of information. He went on to say that for many professions, height is an advantage. “Like modeling,” said the teacher and he looked very nonthreateningly toward me, hands in pockets, and asked, “Did you know that models are tall? Some are very tall.” He winked at me. I shook my head that I didn’t know that. I didn’t. Kids don’t know everything at 14, even if they think they do. I was smiling. The other kids were looking me over. It’s like they were re-assessing me in a new light.
A week later, I was in Sheet Metal shop trying to bend my corners because the assignment was that we were making little metal boxes. An Italian boy approached. I had never spoken to anyone in class, let alone him. He was a talkative type, not in a bad way, but he had ideas and no problem expressing them. I can imagine him as he must be today, a salesman, a real schmoozer, maybe even a politician. But back then he was just an incredibly good looking 14 year old…black wavy hair, dark brown eyes, a swagger. And did I say he had the gift of gab? The mere fact that he walked up to me and worked on his box alongside me was surprising. Were people overlooking my selective mutism? Looked that way. Because he asked me if I wanted him to help me. I sure did.
Then he asked, “Don’t you ever talk?”
For some reason, that infuriated me. My first and only phrase to this young man that I ever uttered; came out in a snap of anger: “Don’t you ever STOP talking?”
He put his hands up, palms toward me, and slowly backed off. He walked backward as if to say, “Whoa! Bye bye.”
I’ve had decades to think of that interaction and it stings a little to this day. I always wonder, what if? You see, I had a chip on my shoulder and only people who ignored my silence were let in. The silence was far from self imposed. It was a lump in the throat and words didn’t get by it.
All in all I have no regrets about my life thus far. But were there things I’d have done differently, given more time, more knowledge, more insight? Well, there was——-
I had a doctor appointment and it was a Friday. I had a couple kids by then, a little one and a big one and they were in the backseat. I was in my late twenties and battling a sinus infection that was painful. My doctor agreed to see me last minute and they were going to close the office in an hour. It took twenty minutes for my husband to drive me there and I really desperately wanted that antibiotic before the weekend set in.
There was a rural farming road on the way to the office that had a stunning view of sloping green pastures framed by old fashioned barbed wire fencing as far as the eye could see. The pasture came nearly right up to the road’s edge. In the distance, clouds seemed to touch the green horizon. There were haystacks, a traditional farmhouse over a hill, and a battered barn too. Cows of the white variety with mahogany brown splotches. roamed throughout. Except for one. It’s big wide-eyed head was twisted in the barbed wire, right at the edge of the road. The grass was longer there by the roadside and apparently this one cow had ascribed to the theory that the grass was better on the other side of the fence. Stuck head or not (and it was clearly twisted in the fence right good), this cow was pulling up long grass and chewing away. It also looked crazy-eyed with the knowing that it was trapped.
I almost yelled Stop the car!
Here’s why I didn’t: The doctor was nice enough to squeeze my impromptu appointment into his schedule.
The least I could do was be on time, and I could be charged if I missed the appt. Besides I wouldn’t get an appointment till Monday if I was a no-show.
I was in great pain and really wanted some relief from what did turn out to be a sinus infection that had spread to my ears as well.
On the way home from that appointment, I went home a different route so as to go to a drug store and fill my prescription…That happened a long time ago. But I still envision pulling up to the cow. Quietly calming it with soothing words and slow hand gestures to install trust. If I got bit or scratched in the process, well no matter. I still imagine untwisting the wire as gently as possible and then walking up the hill to alert the farmer or at least leave a note. But I did not free the cow. I still think about the cow. I know someone must have come along, it’s decades later after all, but it should’ve been me.
I reflect on how that one phrase from a teacher had put light in my day. Since then I have heard statements from men that they prefer blondes, or shorter women, etc. etc. I’m neither. While courting one particular grown man, later in life, I recall how his entire family made comments like, “She’s imposing! She’s so tall!” Is it a matter of men feeling threatened by women of height? I truly don’t care anymore. Sterotypes, misnomers and gender “roles” will always be a thriving past time. I know that I look within when assessing people. That’s why I can’t forget the cow.
I’ve made so many mistakes but cannot dwell on them. Remembering the cow and dwelling are quite different things. Mistakes certainly humble me and that’s a rejuvenating sensation, to feel humbled. I think that when a person is surrounded by pessimistic, quick to anger people, there’s a tendency to say If you can’t beat ’em join ’em. But like Adam’s quote above, if I climb down into that hole and join them, I’m not coming up again. Dark places have an almost tranquil pull.
So many times I have to remind myself to choose the light.