This is the last set of rings I removed. With the exception of two brief intervals, from 1983 through 2009 there was a ring or set of rings on the second finger of my left hand. Given the twelve years that followed, it seems twenty-six shouldn't hold so much weight. But they do. This irritates me.
I tuck my thumb under the fourth and third fingers and touch the base of the second. I do this unconsciously. I am reaching for reassurance and I am startled by the unexpected nakedness. I shake off grief and sadness and something more. The refusal to look at the 'something more' is deliberate. I want no part of it. I am embarrassed by the action and humiliated by my response. I don't speak of it, not even to myself. When this happens, metaphorically, I look for ways to amputate the naked finger, as if that would change anything.
In the fall of 2008 I was standing on a platform waiting for the Danbury train to show up. I was cold and wet. Everyone was cold and wet. There was a beautiful woman ten feet to my right. Her body said, I am powerful and angry and better than you. I looked at her left hand and thought, at least my hand isn't bare. My loneliness and fear didn't register. I thought, I am safe and you are not, so don't look at me that way.
I wonder what she saw.
My value as a woman is defined by the word 'wife' and I am horrified. How is this possible after all these years carving out an identity that supersedes wife, or even mother? How is this possible given my own mother? My mother set her jaw, squared her shoulders, and walked through one forbidden wall after another. It shredded the bottoms of her feet and broke her bones, and yet, she persevered? I expect that word would piss her off.
Persevere, verb: 'continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.'
There is no course of action, no plan. There is only intention. 'In the face of difficulty' doesn't come close; it's not relevant. 'With little or no prospect of success'. When the running back rips up the field, ball tucked between his arm and his ribs, the word prospect is not in his lexicon. Should he stop to think about 'the prospect of success', or contemplate the smallness of it, he isn't going to get very far. Even a Hail Mary Pass is executed with the underlying belief of success. If not, that ball isn't going anywhere.
She set her jaw, squared her shoulders, tucked her chin to her chest, and pushed, and pushed, and pushed. When my father left, she broke. She spent a bit of time face down on the concrete floor of her mind, and then got up and got on with it. I don't know that she ever had a concrete plan. She had direction and purpose.
She told me once that she wanted to be a Lion Tamer at the zoo. I'm not sure it's ever occurred to her that she IS and always has been a Lion Tamer at the zoo. Prospect? Please. Don't blink.
When I was six, the lexicon of my world expanded with a bang. Before I was six, I understood the ghetto because I lived there, but didn't understand the significance of my color or gender. I understood academia. My parents were teachers at a college which was school for adults. I didn't know there was a difference between my mother and father's statuses as a teachers. One of them taught history and the other taught words. One of them taught reading at night at the school across the street. I didn't read yet and didn't consider the when of learning to read; I considered the fact of it. People read, reading is taught. People go to work.
When we left the ghetto and moved a mile or two south, I learned the relevance of color. I learned that some women worked and some women stayed home. Men always worked. My parents said: you are very bright, you can do anything you want when you grow up. I learned there were choices.
When I was six, I decided I was the luckiest person in the world. I was white and my parents had 'good' educations, therefore, I would have a 'good' education that would 'open doors'. I was a girl and could choose to work or to get married. If I wasn't any good at work, I had 'married' as a fallback. It couldn't get better than that, could it?
I have no idea when I discovered the third option: Work AND married.
I don't know why that revelation took so long, after all, my mother was doing it. But nobody else's mother appeared to be doing it. When we moved east from Michigan to Connecticut, I discovered the stain on my mother. To work and be married was OK, but surely temporary, and only out of financial need. To work and be married and have children was unacceptable. My mother was damned. My mother did not care, or did not agree, or she was too busy taming lions to notice.
I know why I chose to get married the first time. I was terrified, alone, and twenty, and he was sweet, nurturing, and confident. It didn't occur to me to be dependent, but survival was a very real issue for me. I was not ready to do it by myself.
I know why I chose to get married the second time. I wanted a partner. I liked being married. We wanted a baby and I wanted a wife. I did not want to stop or slow down what I was doing. I did not want to be on the mommy track and I had no trust that anyone would be able to catch me if I fell.
I know why I chose to get married the third time. I was fucking exhausted. I turned over my broad sword and attempted submission. Kate said it best of all: YOU GAVE HIM YOUR MOJO! WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?
I know why I stayed in my last relationship for more than four days. I stayed for nearly two and a half years because I was certain that my relationship problems stemmed from my need to control (hear enough feedback, and you'll buy anything). I used this relationship to practice the art of sitting still and shutting the hell up. I exited when I realized I was practicing the fine art of taking a beating. Don't blink.
Chattel Lake: the place we go without much thought because in the back of our minds, we will eventually fail. A woman's place is in the home; reinforced generation after generation, not so much by men, but by the choices and judgements made by other women. Nobody said it was easy, but nobody said it had to be this damn hard.