Sunday, June 22, 2008

WOMANHOOD: MY ALLY OR MY ENEMY

"Women who have been traumatized often have a conflicted relationship with their body and their gender. For some it affects their intimacy, for others it is a source of embarrassment and confusion. They may associate their womanhood with the pain from the abuse. Qualities such as weakness, vulnerability, submissiveness, and dependency become connected to being a woman, and being a victim. The result can be avoiding intimate relationships, avoiding sexuality, and avoiding parenthood. It is important to remember that being a woman did NOT cause your abuse; your perpetrator caused your abuse, out of a desire for power over you."

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

35 Comments:

Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

I love you so much, BEAUTIFUL, IDENTIFIABLE, AMAZING, BRAVE, HEROIC WOMAN!!!!!

I need more than a pillowcase to soak up all my tears.

Thank you for digging to China. You are saving the other Suzy's out there.

love.

6:52 PM  
Blogger s@bd said...

oh - I have missed you!

7:56 PM  
Blogger La La said...

Ditto on Carrie's thoughts. You are SAVING ME right now in this very moment!

Brilliant writing. Really. I'm so sorry for all the shit that happened to you. I'm so proud of you for your willingness to share with us and to let me know that I am not alone.

I was handed a blue towel, told to roll it up and put it in my panties. I walked around with a wad between my legs not having any idea what the fuck was happening to me. I know it's not the exactly the same, but I resonate with the fear, the unknowing, the anxiety, the desperation you've described here.

That quote at the beginning really does capture my existence. Whoa!

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Frogdancer said...

Congratulations on your 100th post.

I haven't had anything like that happen to me, but I vividly remember having to teach a girl having her first period (at the swimming sports) how to use a tampon. Her mum had just flicked it at her and told her to work it out when she got to school.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Jerri said...

I have missed you so, Suzy.

100 posts. Each amazing. Each brave. Each a light in the darkness.

Love to you, my friend.

3:29 PM  
Blogger excavator said...

I've missed you, Suzy.

Congratulations on your hundredth post.

And thank you.

6:26 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

There you are. I've been checking in on occaision, seeing if you had written anything new.

As if having ones first period isn't hard enough without it being turned into what it was for you.

One of my girls is so close. oh so close. And in saying that, I cannot imagine what that must have been like for you.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

You are a miracle of womanhood. You are a miracle of life. Your writing is a reflection of the gift that is you.

Thank you for sharing TGD's quote at the beginning. The words, like yours, hover in my heart.

Much much love to you and your sad traumatized girls.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Douglas W said...

Thanks for coming back Suzy!

11:49 PM  
Blogger She's like the wind said...

As if you weren't scared enough. No explanation and a pillow case, how degrading for you. Congratulations on your 100th post you have taken a brave journey and we are here for you as always. xx

10:44 AM  
Blogger Casdok said...

The way you write really draws one in.

Big hug.

1:15 PM  
Blogger menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Yes you have been missed. Suzy your writing is astonishing, brilliant. You are clearly gifted and a survivor too. This story left me with my mouth open at the cruelty and crassness of your mother. The little girl in you must have been in so much pain and fear.

Just how did you survive your childhood?

1:55 PM  
Blogger Crystal Jigsaw said...

Beggars Belief.

You are inspirational.

CJ xx

3:15 PM  
Blogger Maggie May said...

You have a wonderful way of writing. Even about the most awful sad things.
I was wondering where you had got to.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Mercurious said...

Amazing writing Suzy. Glad I checked back to see if you'd returned.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous paul maurice martin said...

Glad you're back. A lot to process.

Seems like often maybe about the first half of making sense of our lives consists of deconstructing the non-sense that others made of our lives when we were very young.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Oh my God! I can't even imagine how you endured. And to come through all of this as a kind and caring person you are is astounding! Love you and miss you Suz!

5:22 PM  
Blogger Mid-lifer said...

Hey! Ditto everyone else. What an amazing post. How do you do it? I'm struggling for any words right now, yet you bring your experiences to life.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Absolutely amazing. Your posts always leave me speechless (and usually crying!), so it's hard to write a comment that will remotely express what I feel.

Carrie said it pretty perfectly. Ms. Suzy, you are an incredible, beautiful, inspirational, courageous, heroic and very identifiable WOMAN. I cannot tell you how proud I am of you--for this post, for all of this inspiring work, for every word you have written and shared about your painful past and hopeful present.

Thank you for this post and for all 100 of them. I cannot wait to read 100, 200, 10,000 more!

I love you Suzy!!

1:27 PM  
Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

Suzy,

I am so sorry your mother was such a crazy mean mess. I don't know how you endured. I really don't.

You are a miracle.

Love.

6:16 PM  
Blogger kario said...

Suze, I am so proud of you for doing so much more than surviving and enduring. For discovering a way to make your way through the world and shine your light in the darkest corners. Your strength and honesty are incredible.

Love you so much!

1:20 AM  
Blogger inherwritemind1 said...

paul maurice martin said...

Seems like often maybe about the first half of making sense of our lives consists of deconstructing the non-sense that others made of our lives when we were very young.

Great observation.

Hi Suzy,

I loved this post, gut-wrenching as it is. What woman can forget that first sight of blood? My reaction was not to tell my mother.

I'm glad you're back posting.
Thanks for leaving a message on my dormant blog. I'm in revisions on my novel, which makes me a hermit. I'll continue to pop in on you once in a while.

Hugs,
Tena

8:15 AM  
Blogger menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

I have an award for you at my place.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Terry Whitaker said...

your honesty inspires...I'm so proud to know you.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Carnal Zen said...

Beautifully written in the way that makes my chest heave. We all have stories but you are a gifted story teller. Blessings~

10:25 AM  
Blogger Maddy said...

As usual I am completely floored.

Today I'm going out to search for the most discrete panty liners I can find for my youngest daughter [just in case she starts when she's at camp]

Her big sister will be a camp counsellor.

We [big daughter and I] talked about how I handled this discussion when she was that age, to see what improvements I could make.

Ooo I'm rambling now, my brain is on fire.
Best wishes

12:13 PM  
Blogger Maddy said...

As usual I am completely floored.

Today I'm going out to search for the most discrete panty liners I can find for my youngest daughter [just in case she starts when she's at camp]

Her big sister will be a camp counsellor.

We [big daughter and I] talked about how I handled this discussion when she was that age, to see what improvements I could make.

Ooo I'm rambling now, my brain is on fire.
Best wishes

12:13 PM  
Anonymous frogpondsrock said...

I didn't realize that I was holding my breath until I reached the end
and started to breathe again.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Go Mama said...

Wow, Suzy. Congratulations on your 100th post. I know I haven't checked in in a while, but I am so proud of all the hard work and self-discovery you are doing. You have so much courage. Your writing has completely blossomed. Such a pleasure to have witnessed the early steps of your journey and watch with amazement as you unfold onto the page.

Many blessings to you!

1:52 PM  
Blogger dgibbs said...

Congratz on 100!

Love you,
Dortha

1:14 PM  
Blogger serenity said...

I too add congratulations on your 100th post, a milestone in number, more poignantly a milestone in your own inner journey of discovery. Your writing, as always, reveals your heart and your generosity in sharing with others the tapestry of your spirit.

I hope you are well.

joanne

4:22 PM  
Blogger riversgrace said...

Suzy,

Wow. What an honor to revisit and be so confronted with 'the blossoming' of the truth, articulated so clearly, with that great balance of insight and willingness to be raw to the bone. Some call this the 'direct path', no middle to cushion, just name the truth.

You have unfolded your life with the wisdom of a woman who has made it across the harshest of territories.

Thank you, thank you for doing your work and allowing the medicine from that to benefit us.

My love and blessings...

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Frogdancer said...

Hey Suzy!!!
Thanks for your comment on Kim's blog on the thing I posted. I was stoked when I clicked on your name and realised who it was.
Hope things are going swimmingly.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Osh said...

oh Suzy, I read this last week when I found your blog, and I put it to the back of my mind, and it kept coming back to me in my dreams...I kept thinking, surely I am imagining this, this couldn't be...

my dream little girl self kept trying to find you...

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this site using [url=http://google.com]google.com[/url] And i want to thank you for your work. You have done really very good site. Great work, great site! Thank you!

Sorry for offtopic

1:44 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home