In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Day 4

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What I knew about me back then, at our separation, was that I was good with kids, a nurturer, and had ambitions.  Driven, determined, stubborn and tenacious, I was good at school. From my mother I learned that I needed to have the last word. I knew that I was an avid reader and got lost in books and fantasy, that I conquered books even as they slayed me. Dictionary in hand, I painfuly trudged through The Hobbit in sixth grade, just like the burglar himself wearily and anxiously trudged through Middle Earth. That same year, Edgar Allen Poe taught me that I loved stories and had a vivid imagination, thanks to my haughty pompous pet-procuring teacher who read the class Poe stories each day for a week.

I knew I loved words and writing and was a good speller. I knew that I had an eye for boys at a young age; a sixth grade kissing birthday party spinning the bottle and playing post office taught me so.  Stealing my first kiss on the soft lips of John Hoffner, a boy I mysteriously found attractively full lipped and soft cheeked, I was inducted into the secret rites of the heart as harp, strings, tones and eternal whisperings from the beginning of time. Who could articulate why some boy looked good in 6th grade? The world of boys and kissing was enrapturing.

I knew that I had a fighter feminist spirit. While I did not march or take up any banners, I grew up with an entitlement to equality branded on my will, an adopted militancy that girls should not be mere slaves to men the way my mother was to my father. At 12, I asked in earnest self-righteous anger, why my mother put up with his abuse: nasty, virulent words and waiting on him hand and foot. Her bemused response that I would understand when I was older did not assuage the anger.

I knew that I was loyal and believed in monogamy then. I also knew that I did not believe I owned “feminine,” me who spent high school in coveralls and construction boots, choosing my clothes as protest and comfort. I have been often labeled earthy, and I was with a man who adored chic.

When we met, I was carrying 15 pounds too many even for my 5 feet and 8 inches, which allowed me more leeway than my shorter sisters. However, most of that weight was lost by the time we separated, the result of over a decade of conscientious health and fitness. I gave up smoking and started working out, dancing in college, then aerobicizing when that came into vogue in the early 80s, after which I took up running, tennis and eventually soccer. I was active and hard bodied at the time of our separation–lean, firm and tall.

So when I first sat in a therapist’s chair and declared I had problems with my femininity–something I dreamed or believed at the time, not even knowing what that meant but suspecting it had some critical role in JM’s lack of desire for me—and the therapist, an older guy probably in his late 50’s (I was 28), said, “No you don’t. Just look at you. You’re wearing a skirt and a nice blouse…” I didn’t really hear the rest because I became incensed. How dare he tell me what I was or was not! I left and never returned.

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