By Amy Atwood / 05.28.2017
A doll-like childhood
Seven pounds, 11 ounces. Twenty-one inches long. She is born.
Strangers comment on her beauty as she grows. She’s told to smile, to say “thank you.” She finds this strange.
Her grandmother loves to take her shopping, to dress her up like a little doll, complete with patent leather shoes and ruffled socks. No one seems to care that she’d rather be digging in the dirt or that she feels like a fancy new handbag on parade.
“Children should be seen and not heard,” her Dad reminds her daily, teaching her to be obedient, to be a child who sits silently in restaurants with starched white linen tablecloths for hours on end as the adults talk and sip wine. To pass the time, she makes up stories about the people around her—a valuable practice of escaping into her mind and leaving her body behind. Let it suffer alone.
The church declares her a sinner. Unworthy. She is separate, dirty, in need of a saviour. Nightmares full of fiery hell and torture haunt her. Her innate right to exist starts to seem doubtful. She withers to take up less space, poisons her roots, becomes disconnected from her environment—disconnected from herself.
Puberty arrives. Her sweet little-girl look leaves. Boys and men glance her way and then stare, making her feel uncomfortable. She learns what to do: slump her shoulders, hide her curves.
Taught to always be polite, she finds it difficult when grown men tell her she’s beautiful, their eyes roaming up and down her body. She makes eye contact here, there, elsewhere. Walking into any room, at any time, is a terrifying act. When unwanted advances occur, her body freezes like a deer caught in headlights. When it thaws, she flees in defense.
She does her best to be invisible.
Everything feels like her fault.
The “good wife”
She marries at 23, both of them innocent. Virgins. (The church breathes a collective sigh of relief.) Awkward embraces. Unskilled hands. She tries to please him without knowing how to do so. There’s no concern for her own lack of pleasure. Curious, she wonders why there’s only a small drop of blood on the sheets in the morning. She hopes the sex will get better. It won’t.
She’s a good wife. Subservient. Honours and obeys her husband. Works all day, cooks dinner each night and cleans without help. She brushes her hair before he comes home. Stays silent when she doesn’t agree.
Then: migraines, jaw pain. They come to her consistently. Constantly. She doesn’t want to question why.
In public, she seems socially available and always engaged. A true actress. How else to satisfy her audience, to give them exactly what they want? She moves towards them for their own satisfaction, all the while stepping away from herself.
She takes pride in saying and doing all the right things. Lives her life completely for others. Resides almost entirely in her head, never realizing how numb she is—a zombie going through the motions. She plays her roles well, diminishes her concept of self. All those internal cries for help are ignored.
Crashing and awakening
Eventually, her world comes crashing down, forcing her to stop acting, to stop pretending that everything is perfect.
Her husband leaves right before her 28th birthday, telling her he never loved her. Now watch her shatter. Watch her break. Everyone knows she’s been discarded, a used towel slumped in a heap on the floor. She no longer has the luxury of pretending to be perfect. There isn’t a script; there are no rules to follow. No more linens to fold.
This becomes its own luxury.
The crack in her facade becomes her saviour. She’s surprised by its huge release. When was the last time she had a good cry? Now, she cries until she can cry no more. She learns that this is what it’s like to truly feel.
She begins to un-become.
Slowly, she peels herself off the floor. Looks into the mirror. Really looks. Eyes meeting eyes. A remembrance. She knows she’s in there, somewhere.
She digs. Sweet pain.
An exfoliation of selves occurs. Layer after layer is peeled. One mask removed after another. Perfect daughter. Perfect friend. Perfect Christian. Perfect fake. Gone, gone, gone, good riddance. This rock-bottom hurts, so she stands up and finds her footing. Finds herself. She begins to climb, amazed by her own strength.
The purge begins.
She sells her house, her furniture, her ties to the past. She feels freer, lighter. When she gives her notice at work, she realizes that she no longer has to ask permission to live her life. Before, she did what she was told to do. Now, she does what she wants.
With no script to read, she speaks her mind. Such freedom. Finally, she’s home.