This piece of prose comes from Synchronicity.
Meditations on Womanhood
There are many days when I feel as though I have terribly much to say, but allow myself to say nothing. Sometimes I write stories in my head but they never come to fruition. Tonight is a night when I feel years settling onto my shoulders, the accumulation of little stories in the attic of my heart, when I find myself a little funny-looking when I stare into the mirror and I raise my eyebrows a little higher and makes a lot of faces out of fascination and have that tiny little sense that, perhaps, someone is watching me. If I could explain it any better, I would. I feel the urge to write, above all of this.
I told you in the car tonight that I would tell you a story about underarm hair, and that it wouldn't sound so strange when I wrote it out. I realize it will sound strange no matter how I write it or phrase it, but just as I continued to make my bizarre faces in the mirror despite my irrational feelings, I'll write this story to you. We'll let my affection for tonight and all the strange things that happened (the splitting of a certain cookie, for instance, or the surreal feeling as we drove slowly down the street with the halogen lights splashing in the snow) sit like an elephant on the table, because it's beautiful that way, and maybe someday I'll write all those stories, too, because I know the desire will overcome me just as it always does, but tonight it should be
about a summer's day when I was eleven years old. My mother had purchased a book that awkwardly detailed all the changes that my body would experience, giving it to me with enormous hesitation. I studied each page, feeling my heart racing a little and my face growing flush. The very next day, I had my feet hanging into a swimming pool, and was deeply engrossed in my thoughts. My dearest friend was outstretched on a lawn chair just a few feet away, soaking in the sun and discussing plans for a birthday party, but I listened with little involvement, if any at all.
I turned around to stare at her, wondering if - at that very moment - something was happening which I could not see... awed by this metamorphosis we would both undergo.
"Can you believe it?" I found myself telling her just moments later. "We're going to... going to get breasts, we're going to... get hairy, all over our legs, and, oh god! Under our arms."
I said this with a mixture of terror and delight, envisioning, strangely enough, the hair you might see under a man's arm, unruly and sometimes unsightly; despite my studies from the previous day, I was convinced this was my fate, and hers as well.
"I already have some hair," she said with a laugh.
She raised her arm, looking away and trying to hide her expression. And rising to meet her, looking -- despite that nagging feeling that I was violating her somehow -- I can remember no more than two, three hairs there. I had never seen something so simultaneously repulsive and yet beautiful, something I both wanted and feared. Somehow the embarrassment I felt rising in my belly, the heat coming to my face... it was marvelous to me. It was the same shameful curiosity I had when I could see a woman's bra through her shirt, wondered what it must feel like, and was absolutely amazed that I'd never noticed this fabric-contraption before.
And from the locker rooms in junior high, to the department stores and their strange garments, I was overcome by the fascination and plagued with this unshakable guilt. I became so mesmerized by hips and breasts and bleeding -- and the sensuality of it, amazed that something so powerful as a body could be sculpted into something beautiful and mature, without so much as our guidance or even awareness of it as it happened, and I couldn't help but gaze upon them all, as though I had never seen a woman before. Even as friends stood hunched over and grasping at their bellies, exasperated by these new pains and deeply frustrated (counting me "lucky" for having yet to feel what they felt), I still found myself so desirous of it.
What I found so striking was the aesthetic beauty of it, even in the blood -- that there was a flow, which seemed to my young mind like some sort of expression or welcoming, some kind of cycle that tied us to a greater spirit or nature of things. It was a holy union, body to earth, to open one's leaves and emerge from the seed as not a sapling, but a flowering tree. And mingling with my shame at staring so intently at other girls and other women was nothing one would dare call mere curiousness, but rather, a profound awe and appreciation, a kind of reverence.
And I can't recall ever being seized by this keen interest I was supposed to develop for the boys around me (if that ever truly struck me -- I came to simply love people as I came to love them), as the films depicted young girls with butterfly-ridden tummies and sweaty palms and daydreams. I didn't understand what was happening to boys, and I didn't care. What I saw was this immense, sacred, and beautiful thing happening to girls -- something that I wanted, something that amazed me. I wanted to be lovely in shape with gently sloping hips... to bleed and find my place amongst the web of all living things.
This deeply sexual (by nature), shameful (by culture), and remarkable (by all accounts) experience is something I return to in my thinking from time to time, when I gaze upon my hips or grasp at my own belly, ridden with the pains I had once craved so intensely. And I wonder if I've truly found this "place" I had sought, this holy communion that was to be brought about by my breasts, this reunion with the natural world. At times, my slender shape strikes me and I remember the great and terrible beauty of it.
From time to time, I marvel at it still.