I am dressed today as an overscheduled, slightly frazzled, middle-aged mom.
Tell me who YOU’RE being today!
If that’s still a thing.
Ain’t I cute?
I love the sass my niece is bringing in this picture, but my favorite thing is the flowers, despite the fact that I cannot stand marigolds.
The flower bed along our driveway extended out toward the road and then curved around and went along the frontage for a bit. Every year, my mother planted the entire expanse of flower beds in orange and yellow marigolds. I do not know why. I’m pretty sure even she didn’t like them. Maybe it was a habit. Maybe she thought she couldn’t grow anything else – I come by my dubious gardening skills honestly.
Whatever the reason, every spring I went out there with her, carrying endless flats of marigolds and a load of resentment. I hated planting the stupid marigolds, and so did she. It was not fun, even when she didn’t step on the business end of a rake, levering the heavy wooden handle right up into her face to give herself a fat lip. She loved explaining that one at church the next day.
This snapshot is dated on the back, in my mother’s cramped hand. It was August of 1993, the month I left for my freshman year of college. It was the last time everything felt the same, right before my world shifted off its axis.
My father was sick, and I had known this for a long time, but I didn’t know how sick. Maybe I didn’t want to know. Maybe I was too wrapped up in myself and my new adventure to pay enough attention. I’d been off at school only a couple of months before I got a phone call telling me to come home right away.
I called my cousin Gina, in her sophomore year at a school half an hour away, and she dropped everything to come and get me. She drove me home, two and a half hours away, listening alternately to my tears and my silence, and holding my hand. I was too inside myself at the time to notice, but I think now that it must have seemed as if her world were shifting, too. Ferrying around someone cast into the early stages of grief and denial is a job for a grownup, and she wasn’t much farther out of the nest than I was.
He didn’t die that weekend, and I went back to school Sunday night, confused and afraid, and pretending I was fine. I drove back by myself, in a stripped-down gray Toyota pickup that Dad had intended to drive to job sites someday. It hadn’t been pressed into service, and it was still nearly pristine, the vinyl seats untouched by concrete dust and fill dirt. There was money in my pocket for a freshman parking permit. I’d begged for weeks that summer to be allowed to take a car to school and been turned down flat every time. I’d won, but victory tasted acrid. The marigolds were gone by then, the November air too cold for even their hardy nature. It had been their last summer.
Dad held on until February. The next summer, Mom was buying a house that didn’t have a contracting business attached, and when I packed, there was a pile for school and a pile marked New House. The first time the little gray truck and I went home sophomore year, my belongings were stashed in a basement bedroom, and I had to ask where the stairs were when I was done eating supper.
I went back to the old house with my mother once that fall, but I left after a few minutes. The mirror that had hung on the wall behind the couches over the years was hanging over marks in the carpet, and the kitchen looked forlorn without the family table covered in the green and blue terry tablecloth. I was too inexperienced with grief to know how to talk to my ghosts, and so I abandoned them.
I cannot stand marigolds. I do not like the smell; I never have. And so when I see them now, I run my hand along the blooms, and hold my fingers to my nose. They smell awful, and familiar, and like home.
This post is going to be a bit of a departure for me. I have run into mothers who have told me that their young-ish kids read my posts, and this blog has been PG (and probably G, really) from the beginning, and I have no plans to change that. If you are a kid reading this post, go show this first paragraph to a parent, please, and have them read a bit before you go on.
Hi, parents. I’m not going to use crude language in this post or go into detail, but I am going to acknowledge the existence of sexual assault. Some of you may not want to have to talk to your kids about that, and I honestly don’t want to talk to mine about it just yet (In this context. I’ve talked to them – and am inspired to do so again – about reporting inappropriate touching to me or their father.) So, y’know, content warning.
And everybody, while we’re here, I have a favor to ask of you. While the topic of sexual assault is indisputably at the forefront of the national consciousness because of politics, this is not intended to be a political post. I think everyone should vote in a way that allows them to sleep at night, and people are going to arrive at that decision using different criteria. I am not going to tell you how to vote. I am not going to bring up presidential politics at all, except in this paragraph right here. In return, please extend the same courtesy to me and to my other readers.
Still here? Okay then.
When I was 18 years old, I toddled off to college, with newly acquired extra-long sheets, a new roommate From The City, and the conviction that I was going to conquer the world, or at least get out of my small town forever. (Life is funny, innit?) Pretty early on, my new roommate and I joined some girls from our floor and went to a dance place. This was not remotely like some swank joint in Manhattan, but it was pretty out there for a sheltered girl from Wayne County. It catered to the under-21 crowd, and my recollection is that they were pretty strict about underage alcohol consumption. This is more likely because they’d been busted in the past than because they felt a strong sense of civic duty, but regardless, it’s what I remember. I wasn’t trying to get around the rules right then anyway.I’ve never been much of a dancer, so I was standing along the wall watching people have fun and wondering how I was going to fit in – a fair encapsulation of my middle school and high school years – and a man walked by and grabbed my crotch.
I was so stunned I think I stood there for a bit just blinking. When I collected myself, I grabbed a friend’s arm and hissed what had happened into her ear. She waved me off. I found out when we left that she hadn’t understood what I said, but at the time I was reeling. When we got out onto the sidewalk later and she could hear me, she was horrified, both at the thing itself and that she hadn’t heard me and responded right away.
I was not drunk. I was not using illegal drugs or impaired in any way other than being a cocky teenager. I was not dressed provocatively; I’m pretty sure I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I was not dancing suggestively. I’m telling you these things not so you know what a good little darling I was, but because it so clearly didn’t matter. Nothing about that moment had anything to do with me. I was a body. A body part, in fact. It didn’t matter what I was doing or what I was wearing or who I was. It mattered who HE was.
So can we stop?
Can we stop commenting on the way women who allege assault or rape look? Or what they were wearing, or doing? Because it doesn’t matter. You can do everything right and behave yourself all your life and obey all the rules and most of the mores, and some random dude will still think it’s okay to grab your privates as you’re standing along a wall minding your own business. You can talk about reducing risk all you want, but I can also tell you a story about a young girl in the 1940s in her own family’s farmhouse who was wrestled to the bed by her uncle. What exactly should she have done to reduce her risk? (She got away, in case you were wondering.)
When I hear about an allegation and the first things I hear in response are questions carefully crafted to not-quite-outright ask what she was doing to deserve it, I feel like a little bit of my soul dies.
I know it feels better, feels safer, to believe that these things only happen to people who were doing something or wearing something or ought to have expected it, but that is a fool’s paradise.
Newsfeed giving you agita? C’mon back here and look at happy as often as you need to.
These crazy kids are getting married tomorrow afternoon.
There’s lots of good stuff. Turn off the news for awhile and go look for it. That’s my plan, anyway.
Julie and I were walking around the Old North Church (the one where Paul Revere hung the lanterns) when she said, “Look at that!”
“That is really cool,” I said, looking the street piano sitting in the corner of the brick courtyard. I don’t know how it’s playable, sitting out in the weather like that, but it is.
“Play something,” Julie said.
In my response was a world of doubt. “Aaaahhhh … I’m not really a pianist.” I’m not. I can read music and I used to be passable when I practiced, twenty years ago. Lately I’ve been teaching myself to play from a chord chart while I sing, but Elton John I ain’t. So playing for a crowd of other tourists was not exactly on my list of things to do in Boston. We took a few more steps toward the stairs, and I remembered something.
I remembered I am tired of worrying about whether people will think I am weird, and I am tired of not doing anything until I am sure everyone will be very impressed with me. (FYI, this doesn’t work anyway.)
So I pulled up a chord chart on my phone, and I punched out a few chords to introduce myself to the piano, and then I sang a song.
I don’t have any idea what all the people were thinking or saying as they walked past, on their way back to the Freedom Trail.
I was too busy singing.