The rules keep changing for women, too.
Someone said to me, “you want all the boys for yourself.” She was wrong, of course. I only wanted one boy. One boy for myself. The rest could go to hell. Except. I thought I needed all the boys to like me, or want me, or want to fuck me, or believe I was fuckable, or believe I was deserving. Before that one boy would choose me.
I grew up in a different world. In the world I was raised in, fat women kill themselves or fade away from public life, quietly, and disappear into god knows where until they can safely re-emerge as old ladies. A hole in the ground, that’s where.
In the world I was raised in, I disappeared. I ran away from my mother in department stores and then stayed very still hoping she would leave without me. Hoping she would care enough to find me, but mostly hoping she would love me enough to let me be. In the world I was raised in, I took 15-minute breaks from Hebrew School once it became clear the rabbi was not interested in answering my impertinent questions. I hid in the bathroom reading fantasy novels. The teacher asked intrusively whether I had a bladder infection. No, I thought, just pretending to be someone else.
I read my novels between the pages of the siddurim. My friends and I brought in feminist YA fantasies and traded them with each other during services, furtively. We became feminists because our community did not give us enough reason not to, maybe. The privilege of obedience was nothing compared with the momentary joy of being a real person for a minute or two. I was the ringleader of the rebellion but I never wanted to rebel, not really. I just wanted to a live a life I did not want to either run away from, or destroy completely.
I once got dressed for a middle school party. My father took one look at me and I decided not to go to the party. Doing things like that was not safe in my parents’ house. Things like having fun. Things like looking pretty.
In my family’s house, there were many rules. Men learn not to show emotion, and that crying is weak and girly, and that girls only want to fuck men who spend at least two nights a week at the gym, and have big dicks, and. I learned that to be safe I had to remain a child but to make men like me I had to pretend I had never been a child or vulnerable or lonely. The mortar and pestle of someone else’ life grind me down into something I never wanted to be. Something pathetic. Something scary.
Sometimes inside myself I am a child, the little girl I might have been, with different parents. In another life. Sometimes I want to run away to somewhere I am loved. I want the boy I (still, still) love to make me hot chocolate and pet my hair and tell me he will never leave me. But I know it is too late. I am too late for my own life. I am running impatient to meet him and drag him upstairs into my den of iniquity but he has already gone too sleep. The party of adolescence happened without me. The great events of my life came and passed while I kept my head in the sand and tried to survive. And now it is too late to become any of the things I was going to be.
When I was a child, disabled people were not viewed as disabled people. We were viewed as broken ugly things. I learned to let people call me depressed instead of recognizing me as the girl who could never breathe properly after the first (and second, and fifth) bout of pneumonia. I was horribly, endlessly sick to my stomach for four months but my parents did not take me to a doctor and eventually it went away, because I stopped eating. I landed on my head riding horses but nobody around me knew the word ‘concussion’ and so I got used to being sick in direct sunlight and forgetting names and faces and eventually having a minimal short-term memory. I say the wrong thing now and I know it is the wrong thing but I do not remember how to say what I really mean. I still let people think I’m crazy, sometimes. Instead of allowing them to realize I am a broken thing.
I have already lost most of my life to being disabled. To everything that being disabled meant, when I was growing up. And to the rules that governed my family. Never speak up. Never draw attention to your hunger or your appetite, you are a woman and no one wants to see that. If you are fat, never get naked and never step into the space of romance. If you want him back, don’t let him know it. He belongs to someone else, someone more deserving. If you love him, give him up. Give him up for his best chance.
I learned very early that no one cares about my best chance. Or my heart.
The things that happen to us tear us apart, sometimes. If you are a woman, they will call your torn-up flesh evidence that you were never whole to begin with. They will try to fix you by distracting you from how broken you are. Or bend your brain back into the shape it would have been in, had you lived a different life from the beginning.
I have done some very crazy things. I should not say otherwise. After the worst things happened to me. I stopped having any interest in being sane. All I could feel was all the terror I had been repressing all those years. All my body knew was horror. I really did forget which way was up. I was living in a reality shaped by truths everyone ‘knows’ are factual but no one is prepared to face. I turned into an alien, then a leper, and then a non-person. I have never forgiven the world for making me into a non-person. Just like I have never forgiven my G-D for giving me to my particular parents.
I lived by rules, and I don’t know which ones to believe. Is it okay to eat in front of a boy I like, or should I keep on running away? Should I let him pretend to himself that I’m thin so he’ll be less uncomfortable being attracted to me? Should I let him scowl and snarl at me because I can’t read his mind? Am I supposed to be able to read his mind? Will I always have to smile through the pain, while someone who says they care about me treats me with cruelty? Do I deserve better? How do I know?
These are the rules that kept me alive. But now I would like a life worth living. I just don’t know how to let my life-saving life-damning rules go.