Just last week, my twelve-year old son asked what I wanted to be at his age. Honestly, I have no memory of wanting to be anything. Nursing, typing or teaching were the only options. Most houses in our neighbourhood had a stay-at-home mother on duty. And all the books I read back then had buxom women landing their Mister Right in a hundred pages.
Then I met Scarlett O’Hara. Not that I dared compare myself to her. I was tall and gawky. Too much arm and leg. My hair, mousy-blonde and straggly. My skin all patches of dry flakes and T-zones. Long bangs could hide half the blemishes and the others I attacked with Clearasil. But Scarlett told me to stand straight and proud. Could I do that? Dare I try? And she tossed her mane of dark hair and sashayed. I couldn’t put together a sashay to save my life. Meanwhile I continued praying my hair to shoulder length. I let Scarlett-on-the-page demonstrate sass and brashness with men, but opted out on boys myself, fearing I’d somehow manage to screw things up. Besides, happy endings weren’t written for girls like me. Were they?
Nonetheless, I began to wear a little makeup. Starting with that sheer pink Yardley City Slicker my mother bought me for my Grade 7 year-end party. Mom was a lipstick-before-you’re-out-the-door kind of woman. Seemed safe. But classmates played spin the bottle while I sat on the stone wall outside in the backyard wishing I was brave enough to join them cross-legged on the dingy carpet in Yvonne’s rec room.
As my skin slowly cleared, I laid on black mascara and pitch-black eyeliner. Too much? I rouged my cheeks and traded the demure silver studs for huge hoop-earrings. I backcombed my hair and pinned kiss-curls at my cheeks. The hairspray was toxic but it became my friend, transforming my fine hair into a virtual helmet. Perfect? Well, I could pretend.
Just as fake-it-til-you-make-it helped me feel more pulled together, the world of outward appearance began to relax. Or maybe I just learned to pretend better, wearing pantyhose instead of stockings and garters, middies instead of those dangerous mini-skirts, wearing my hair long and flowing instead of a spray-bombed nest. It gave me comfort swinging and swishing across my shoulders as I eased down the school hall clutching books to my chest. Was that a sashay? Before long I became more comfortable in my own body – in my own life. I smiled more once the braces came off.
I thought about law school and architecture. I sketched and wrote. Teaching never left my list, but I added so much more. I could be anything. Eventually my attention turned to boys and, although convinced no one would ever marry me, I was content not to be one of those moonie, dippety-do girls, trying out surnames in the margins of notebooks.
Maybe growing inside-out was better after all?
Barbara E. Hunt is the author of The Patternmaker’s Crumpled Plan (Piquant Press, 2011). Her work has been featured in literary journals, anthologies, magazines and newspapers across North America and on CBC Radio One. She has played a mentoring role in poetry for the Diaspora Dialogues in Toronto. Her work with Phanta Media, The Writers’ Community of Durham Region and the Ontario Writers’ Conference are her heart.