March 2010


Beth Bates is a blogger, living in the Indianapolis area. She says, “I wrote “Senior Photo” for the nonfiction workshop I’m currently taking at Butler University, in the MFA in Creative Writing. This personal essay was a rewrite of a larger work and is a snapshot of a moment in time when I was probably suffering from PTSD — a truth I would not grasp until about 20 years later.”

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Senior Photo

In a darkened studio on a seedy side of Indianapolis, swallowed by a purple blouse, I sat on a hard stool and posed for senior pictures. [Kids who missed the springtime shoot at my affluent suburban high school were penalized in this way.] Feeling twice my age, va-jay-jay aching, I contorted my face into expressions of purity and youthful optimism.

“How was your summer?” asked the photographer from behind a giant camera, clicking away. He didn’t necessarily want an answer, but I yearned to give him one. I felt wearier than a seventeen-year-old ought to, and alone.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said. He didn’t hear me, or pretended not to hear. He adjusted the umbrella to light my face, tilted my chin and stepped back behind the lens. No doubt he was immune to the attempts of teenagers to engage him in conversation that dipped too far into personal territory.

Something in me needed to talk about it, to bring it into the light. A tender place, a gnawing, two-week-old emptiness yawned, greedy to be tended, salved, and filled. I needed someone — anyone, even a stranger — who might help me apprehend this adult turmoil that had set up shop in my brain.

I didn’t feel grief, or at least did not recognize it as such. Mostly, I felt Odd. Old. Worn out. Thrust into adulthood with no adults with whom I could connect. To them, I looked like a kid. To kids, I was Different. The courageous girl. A cautionary tale. And relieved was what I was supposed to feel.

The emptiness was beginning to make itself at home in my heart, the void a fresh tattoo on my self. My appearance said “sweet young thing,” but beneath my size-three dance team girl exterior resided a dumpy, used up chain-smoker in a housecoat.

I was a baby, and two weeks earlier I had given away a baby. Per specific instructions intended to reduce emotional trauma, and to minimize proprietary attachment to the baby, masked people dressed in scrubs swooped my — whatever it was — away from my body and rushed it out of the room. For a moment, a sweet, strong cry filled the room, and then the doors swung shut.

Labor screams and infant song were replaced by the hushed, sober sounds of medical personnel repairing surgical slices. No happy tears; no shouts of “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!”

The blue-eyed Superman anesthesiologist who had stayed by my head through the delivery left to numb another patient. My mother and sister sat in a waiting room somewhere in the hospital smoking bummed cigarettes, maybe calling the prayer chain.

Chilled, I lay alone under blaring lights in the sterile room. I forced my mind to wander, to distract myself from the stinging needle in my lacerated young girl parts. “Purple,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll wear that silk purple top for my senior picture. I should fit in it by then.” But I did not fit, nor would I for many years. Not in the blouse, not in my own skin.

story by beth bates, all rights reserved

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Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leather crafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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Highway to Reality

Wow, what a weekend, surrounded by a bunch of gung ho young Christian types. OK, so they say “Joke!”  in situations where I would use a different four-letter word (beginning with the letter “f”). Still, not a bunch of dour faced puritans, or those fakey smile types that you see on TV with plastic hair. Fun people.

At the end of the conference, all the students from our campus took off together, a four car convoy rolling straight up I-35. First went a car full of young men, followed by Christine and me in my Pinto, the other cars with two or three young women in each behind us.

The scenery of southern Iowa on a rainy March day lost some of its appeal to the women at the end of the line after a while, and they suddenly came roaring past us in the blue Citation, holding a piece of notebook paper to the window on which was written, “TAG – You’re it!”

Chris immediately grabbed her notebook to scribble a similar note as the next car went flying by us as well. I laid on the gas and we raced up to catch the women in the Citation, making faces at them as we went by. The three of us leapfrogged like this, orange Pinto, blue Citation, red Toyota, for several miles, until I got one of my brilliant ideas while we were ahead of the other two.

Seeing the tan coupe that the men were driving in up ahead, I thought it only appropriate that they be included in the fun game we were playing.

“Let’s pass the guys! Get the sign ready!” My foot moved to the accelerator again.

“No,” said Christine in an odd, flat voice, “Let the men lead.”

My foot fell off the gas pedal and I turned my head to stare at her, mouth hanging open. What? What?

Confessing her own doubt, Chris talked a little about how she was learning that women should “submit” and men should be the leaders because that’s what God wanted. She shook her head, puzzled and confused.

I said nothing. That was absolutely insane.

Shortly after this, we all pulled into a truck stop to get gas. The rain had revealed the pathetic condition of my windshield wipers, so I jumped out and shouted to everyone, “I’m going to see if they have wiper blade refills that fit here!”

Immediately all of the guys clustered around my Pinto, flipping my wipers over, pulling off my blades while conversing about them to one another, all without reference to or consultation with me.

Now, I had been doing my own car maintenance since I was fifteen: changing my own oil, adding water to the battery, replacing spark plugs and distributor caps. My dad trained me well. Wipers were no big deal; done it dozens of times.

So I stood there, watching young men who probably didn’t know what a distributor cap was messing with my car, ignoring me, and generally behaving like I was some helpless know-nothing. Rage began to warm my face, and I clenched my fists to keep from shouting at them to leave my car alone.

Chris, knowing me pretty well, came up and said quietly, “Stay calm, Bobbie, they’re just trying to be helpful.”

Yeah, helpful. I spun around and went to get new blades. When I returned they took them from me without a word, and began to do the replacement. Apparently I was completely irrelevant. I’m surprised they didn’t see the smoke coming out of my ears as I watched them put the first blade on backwards.

As we drove on, Chris kept a strained silence, and I tried to calm myself down. Men should lead! Women should follow! Men know it all! Women know nothing! Gah!

By the time we got home I had relaxed some—I did realize they were just trying to be helpful—and enjoyed Chris’s company again. But eventually I shut my door, stood in the middle of my room, and gave God an earful.

“Is that what you think about women, God? Is that what you really think? Because if it is, then I tell you, I am outta here!”

A long dull silence followed my rant. Then a sense of God – nothing so clear as a voice, no – just a sense.

Wait. Hang in here with Me. Find out what I really think.

Hmph. All right. I would wait and see.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

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