Wednesday, September 21, 2011
At my job I have a security badge. I look awful in the photo. My fear is that if I continue to work here, I will become more and more that person. Around the corner from my desk is a short hallway. For many, this is just a shortcut from the elevator to the restrooms. For me, it’s the corporate version of a death march. The hall is lined with The Women, the women I might become if I stay too long. The Women are all middle-aged, single, and making the most of it (or the best of it, depending). There are five of them, in five separate cubes. Five separate cubes that each has decided to make her own.
The cubes are stunning in the “dumb-struck” sense of the word: One gal has picket fencing attached to the front of her desk and a garden-ful of potted silk hydrangeas, faux Tiffany desk lamps (even the whimsical stained glass turtle), and a length of polyester damask swagged across one wall. Another has made collages of photos of her boss’s children – pasted to wood cut like hearts and clouds, and decoupaged with inspirational slogans and plastic flowers. A third gal has created an homage to our Lord Jesus Christ. There are portraits in elaborate gilt frames; casual poses in Lucite or ceramic; hand-crayoned pages from an evangelical coloring book; and a signed photo of Mel Gibson that reads, “Thanks for sharing my ‘Passion’!” I was raised born-again Christian and this offends me.
The most chilling, though, is the most minimalist. There are very few personal items, no home décor, no mini-fridge stocked with Weight Watcher’s desserts. What gives me chills, what causes me to look away as I pass, is a simple ceramic plaque that says, “Pets are God’s giggles.”
The hall makes me woozy with its invitation to consider this 6x8 space a sort of second home and feel free to cozy it up. I’m afraid that age, missed opportunities and a few failed relationships will have me thinking that a couple of dupioni cushions or an aromatherapy candle wouldn’t be out of place at the office. Is this how it starts?
It’s not just the cubes, it’s the gals themselves, with their Oprah and their Hondas and their condos. It’s their jewelry parties. I resent them for making me aware of jewelry parties and candle parties and holiday ornament making parties and recipe exchange parties.
Yet….they do seem happy with their lives. All are overweight which could mean suppressed rage and disappointment, but in every other respect, they seem….content. So which is better? To be the happy gal in Kohl’s separates with two pugs and a condo? Or the bitter town gal with the acerbic wit and edge? Is there another choice?I don’t know how to begin to answer that question.
Once upon a time there was a little girl who was the
complete opposite of everyone she knew.
She didn’t like loud music
She didn’t like driving with the windows open
She loved the winter
She loved the moon
Sunny days made her tired
No one knew what to do with her.
Her parents said no.
Her grandparents said no.
Her teachers said no.
The father of the boy up the street, who was so nice to everyone, when asked if he would be her father instead of the one she had, said no.
The only time she heard yes was when she asked if she was a princess. She thought she might be because in all the books she read, the princess was the one who was denied, imprisoned, cast out, or put to sleep – things the little girl felt she knew something about. She checked in with her mother who said, “Yes, you are my princess!”
The little girl walked down the stairs, through the kitchen, out the back door, over the wall, across the busy two-lane road, up the hill and into the tall grass, where she lay down to think princess thoughts.
“Hey you! Little girl!” Her thoughts were interrupted. “You, little girl in the grass! You can’t lie there! Get up and go home!”
She looked up at the big blue sky and said, “I am a princess in the House of No.”
She was the opposite of everyone she knew.
Her hair was curly
Her skin was white and didn’t take a tan
She couldn’t play tennis
She liked the library
She liked to be home
She looked in her mother’s mirror. She opened a drawer even though she knew she shouldn’t and took out the light blue plastic box that held 34 one-inch lipsticks and found her favorite, In A Panic. A dark, dark red her mother told her she couldn’t wear because of her skin. She looked at herself and wrote the word NO on her forehead, in big, bright, In A Panic letters.
Later she sat with her family and ate fried chicken. She looked at them and they looked at her but nobody said anything. No one said anything about her word. No one asked what it meant. No one even told her to go to her room and take it off.
In my head, it goes something like this: There’s a place. From the outside it looks as crumbling and rock strewn as everything around it.
On the inside, everything is soft and smooth. There are no sharp edges. The color is blue, the shimmery blue of sea glass and good spas. Tile floors are cool in summer, warm in winter.
Only women live here. And they spend their time singing, cooking, or making things out of bright cloth, colorful thread, and beads. Maybe they just sit. Maybe they put their feet in water.
The women who live here are done.
These women are among the hundreds of northern Afghan women who have set themselves on fire as their only means of escaping lives of misery, brutality, indentured servitude and hopelessness.
I think if you have reached the point where you douse yourself in cooking fuel, light a match, and survive, there’s nothing more to be asked of you. Breathe in, breathe out. Be safe. And never again feel rough, sharp, or hot against your skin.
I’m not naïve. I know this isn’t how it’s done. I also know I am one woman, in the west, who’s not wealthy, connected or political. But I’m also one woman, in the west, who has reached the point where I can no longer continue with this. This is where I stop: Too many things enrage me or defeat me.
At a loss for where to begin, I write a check.
Subscribing, reading, posting, listening, watching, the world on fire. So many women pushed to the ground, faces in the dirt, skirts around their waists. Dangerous daughters of Diana.
Women on fire, burning, itching, raging, clawing at the air like blind cats.
What’s the plan? Because there has to be one.