Wonder, Woman

From ‘Hark! A Vagrant!’

By the genius Kate Beaton-

Every day, I’m trying not to think about taking sleeping pills and taping a plastic bag over my head afterwards. Or some other likely way to make myself die. It’s like a presence in my head that keeps nudging me and murmuring. Pain keeps surging up so high and it gets unbearable. I can’t control the ocean that’s carrying me away, and I have to ride it out, even though I may be out here the rest of my life. I don’t have anything left to fight it, and it feels like I don’t even have a reason to fight it anymore.

Her story, of being open-ocean-adrift on a tiny float for 3 and a half days, is compelling to say the least. In the midst of her misery she saw stunning, holy things, and managed to stay alive and carry her experience back with her.

Nobody ever saw me

They didn’t see that I was trapped in a ghost dimension

I saw Poltergeist when it came to early pay cable and never got tired of watching it, even though I couldn’t look at the part when Marty feels compelled to pick at the skin of his face in the bathroom mirror in the middle of the night, proceeding to tear glops of his face into the sink. I had to look away once the light over the mirror began radiating an unearthly glow, but you still have to listen to the music and the wet sound effects and the grunting and gasping as you hold your breath and shut your eyes, or stare at the leg of the coffee table, or into the fur of a beloved cat.

That movie always felt like a sibling.

It still does, the last time I checked; I. haven’t seen it in a few years now. Even though it’s in California, so much of it looks and feels like where I was at that time. Isolated out from town in a new late-70s/early 80s-style home development, but smaller, flatter, and Southern. JoBeth Williams in that movie feels like she’s playing my mother at her most stable self. Craig T Nelson has the mental distraction and emotional absence towards Carol Anne that my father had when he was at home, but Craig T isn’t scary. I never saw my dad carry my brother piggyback to calm his bedtime fears when my brother was the same age; instead, I would overhear Daddy both browbeating and physically beating him. The dear little boy playing the brother- his character struggles with fear and feeling unsafe often and with good reason, but he’s never scary. His fears aren’t ridiculed.

My mother reminded me yesterday of a time when I was a teenager and the neighbor who lived behind us began using a chainsaw to remove a small tree that was on our property. My towering Vietnam combat vet father quickly discovered what he was doing, and ran stretched out across the St. Augustine turf grass we all helped to plant, roaring in his huge booming voice to Drop That Chainsaw as he leaped the newly built eight-foot wooden fence in an instant. The tree stayed.

When I was little, I remember being afraid of ghosts at night. I confessed this to my mother as she tucked me into bed on one occasion. In the inimitably amused and archly sardonic manner that had served as an expression of affection in her family, she asked me why any ghost would have the nerve to enter our home with a man like my father in the house.

I remember feeling unsatisfied with her answer; understanding her point, yet still feeling so disquieted. No wonder- the ghosts had the luxury of being able to choose to stay away from such a fearsome person. We had to live there. Sometimes he could be so normal and laughing and generous. Mostly, when he was home, he was reserved and absorbed in an activity, simultaneously keeping tabs on and control over us in spoken and unspoken ways. There were other times when he didn’t feel safe to be around. And I was “too big” to be given affection by the time I was about 7 years old.

My parents were also both highly intelligent, extremely observant and critical people who didn’t miss a trick and didn’t express love to their children in the most important ways, because they couldn’t, because that’s all they grew up on. They couldn’t see me, though; yet at the same time, I was never ______ enough, or too _______. They were Emotionally Inconsistent AF. One of the only coping skills I was taught was humor, which is definitely a good one, but when it’s either that or pretend whatever-it-was didn’t happen, things can get problematic.

I wonder if I kept being drawn to Horror from such a young age because it made my life feel comparatively safer.

If you ever want an authentic representation of the internal mindset/narrative of a young intelligent woman with bad self esteem (besides The Bell Jar and a few others), I would recommend Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, one of my longstanding favorites. The plus of Rebecca as a story is the character arc of the nameless orphan narrator- the main character of the book.

Rebecca, the Bell Jar, Lord of the Flies, Pet Sematary, The World According to Garp, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye were all my favorites when I was in 9th or 10th grade.

More recently, reading this book was like no other to me because it’s told from the point of view of a teenage girl in Charleston in the mid-80s, and the author represents a lot more of the area in the story than just postcard-Charleston. Exactly. She doesn’t live in my old neighborhood, but close e-fucking-nough.

When I was about to start 12th grade, I was the same dress size I’ve been for a couple years now, a 16 or 18 depending on the manufacturer. I don’t consider that obese, especially when the size of my huge skeleton is considered, but my parents consistently harped on my weight starting when I was in the 4th grade. In fact, the second memory I have of being ashamed of my body was during class in the 4th grade.* Sitting quietly at my desk, I looked down at my thighs, noticed how much wider they were when I was sitting down, and felt ‘I’m not supposed to be like this’. Several years later, the summer before 12th grade, my parents voluntold me to go on the then-trendy all-liquid-diet called Optifast, as it would take care of this problem of mine once and for all, they said. No more gaining weight back after every other diet they put me on. This one was supposed to be quite safe- and besides, my dad was moonlighting as one of the attending physicians for the program near us for a while.

I obediently consumed nothing but clear sugar free drinks and Optifast shakes for about 3 months, starting the same day as my senior year in August and ending on Thanksgiving Day with my first bites of solid food- it felt like a dollhouse plate of dinner. The photo of me in the black and white striped shirt and black skirt was taken that day, and the scraggly emptiness of the post-hurricane tree line behind the house is noticeable. Unless I cropped it out. At one point during the fast, I thought I could be losing more weight if I went on the 400 calories per day shakes instead of the 800 calories a day I was doing. Not 400/800 per shake- per day. On that, I got dizzy, and my mom told me to go back on the 800 calories a day and stop that foolishness.

I lost 45 pounds in 3 months and was a junior’s size 10. I experienced what they now call body dysmorphia- I couldn’t visually perceive my body as it really was in the mirror. I could only see the same large and problematic stomach, thighs, hips, and butt. I knew I looked different, but I couldn’t see it. I also noticed that strangers were generally much nicer to me when I was this thin. One boy asked me out that year, but going out with him didn’t feel like I thought it would, because of course he was gay and either didn’t know it and/or was trying to play the part, as I found out years later. In several ways, the first boyfriend I had in college was a controlling asshole and I didn’t realize I had the option of breaking up with him for a year and a half. A few months after I broke up with him, he died in a hit and run accident in Florida, and a friend of mine who was there with him called me that night frantically looking for my ex-boyfriend’s parents’ phone number.

At that point in time, after I did that all liquid diet, the FTC was going after the false unsubstantiated claims of various weight loss products and plans, including Optifast, with success. Of course my weight came back, with interest, over the next few years and beyond.

I got rid of it all again, but fuck, who cares now?

I know it’s all in the past. It’s been hard work making such huge changes, I’m exhausted, and no matter how hard I try I keep feeling like I’m living in an emotionally bombed out landscape. it’s hard not to want to make it all stop and leave me alone, to stop hurting

None of it means anything now

*the first incident was in either 2nd or 3rd grade, I don’t remember. I was the tallest person in the class, and the teacher was doing a unit on measuring or comparing or something. She asked if anyone wanted to tell her which person in the room belonged at the tallest end of the line, and a boy laughed, looked at me, and called out my name as if it was inherently funny. Laughter rippled around the room as others joined him. I hadn’t given my height much thought (yet), but I didn’t think it was bad or funny; however, there was no mistaking what was now being communicated. I remember realizing it, that it was apparently quite bad to be so big and/or tall- and be a girl. The next tallest kid was a boy, who was selected with no fanfare. I have no memory of the treatment the smallest person got, and I can’t remember if we had to all line up, but the teacher had confirmed he was right, and she wrote my name on the blackboard. I was instantly embarrassed about being the tallest, and felt ashamed of myself.



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