WOMANHOOD: MY ALLY OR MY ENEMY
From a mini lecture by Dr. Hadar Lubin, MD
I find a black and white faded photo of myself at the age of 12. I am standing in the bathroom on the 2nd floor of Rose Farrell’s apartment.
It is the three story building I live in at 139 Henry Street. Rose’s son Jimmy has just gotten a new camera has taken my photo.
This is what I see and feel.
I am standing next to a bathroom sink. The wallpaper is flowery, ugly and tasteless.
Although I am smiling, I am not a pretty girl. My hair is short like a boy’s, butchered by some barber with uneven patches sticking out every which way. There is no style, no rhyme or reason to this haircut.
I am wearing a boy’s plaid short sleeve shirt, buttoned all the way to the top and buttoned to the last button, making the shirt burst out at the bottom. I am clearly too big for the shirt. I am clearly too big.
I have boy’s pants on, zipper in the front. Everything about me says “boy” or “ugly girl”who looks like a boy.
I suddenly realize that this shirt I have on, is my brother’s. Frankie's. Not mine.
It’s a hand me down from my brother. No wonder it doesn’t fit. Frankie is skinny and I am getting fat.
It’s a toss up. what looks uglier or more tasteless, me or the wall paper.
My money's on the wallpaper being more attractive.
I look at myself today. Still fat, still wearing men’s shirts. My hair is better. That I seem able to control or at least identify. It certainly isn’t short or will ever be again.
No, Dr Lubin. No problem with my womanhood, then or now. It’s always been the same. Unidentifiable UFO – Unidentifiable Fat Object.
I am 8 years old and my mother has just explained to me that in a short matter of time, I will be getting what all women get. I am sitting at the kitchen formica table in one of the chrome and ugly plastic flowered chairs, just staring at her, wondering what she is saying.
“You’ll just bleed for a few days”, she says with the Pall Mall cigarette hanging from her mouth, her eyes squinting from the smoke wafting her way. She is bobby pinning her hair.
“You’ll bleed for a few days every month from down there,” as she points to my “private” parts “from where you pee. I’m not sure when, but just let me know. This is the time when you can get pregnant.”
Three years later I arrive home on a warm summer night, from babysitting around the corner. I go into the bathroom to put on my pajamas, it’s late and my mother is on her way to work.
I take down my underwear and gasp at the patch of blood I see. For a few minutes I think I might have hurt myself climbing the fence in the back that afternoon. I slowly remember the conversation of a few years ago. I run crying into my mother’s room. She is smearing her engine red lipstick all over her lips. I tell her that I think I got “that thing” she was talking about and I am bleeding.
Without looking at me and still putting on the lipstick, she doesn’t miss a beat and says, “get back into the bathroom and I’ll be right there.”
I sit and wait on the toilet afraid to do or touch anything. My mother walks in with a pillow case and two huge safety pins.
“Stand up” she says. She pulls down my underwear, takes the pillowcase and puts it between my legs and makes a big diaper out of it and then pins the sides with the safety pins.
“There, that should do it. Don’t move around too much or you’ll bleed more. Stay in bed for a few days until the bleeding lets up. You’ll be fine.”
“Can I put my pajamas on Ma”? “No,” she says, “you’ll stain them.
The pillowcase will work out fine. No baths and no getting your feet wet.”
With my t-shirt on and the pillow case diaper, I go straight to bed.
“What’s wrong with her”? my brother asks from the top bunk.
“Both of you be quiet and go to sleep.”
I live in fear for the next few days and nights, worried about moving too much. At one point, I stain through the pillow case and go through to the sheet on the bed. My mother is asleep and I ask Rose, the upstairs neighbor if she could help me find an extra pillow case. I guess my mother’s insanity was recognized even then.
Rose’s response is that I had better wait until my mother wakes up.
The pillowcase fix continued for the next couple of years until I discover that sanitary napkins exist. I ask for a box and the pillow case diapers end.
So many questions from Dr. Lubin. Did I know how mean and cruel this was? Did I know how abusive this was? Did I know how crazy my mother was?
Difficult to answer through the uncontrollable sobbing.
But I know now.
My 100th post