Your post was really brave and honest. Honest in that way you can even feel, experience in its call to memory. I read it and those moments I’m always either pushing away or subjecting to re-telling after re-telling, trying to make the wound at the center of the story disappear, those moments swim back to me.
My experiences, as we’ve noted often, were very different from yours in some ways, and all too similar in others. This only drives home the likelihood that while there are different cultural manifestations of misogyny, some undoubtedly preferable to others in a lesser-of-two-evils kind of way, the fact of its impact on the bodies of women is undeniable. I’m surprised by how close to the surface some of my memories are, how vividly they come back, though whether their color is inflected by the meaning I discover there or the meaning I create, who can say.
I’ve worn the hell out of the story (which you’ve certainly heard before) about my experience driving the family van home from Minneapolis when I was 15. Well, here it is, one more time, in all its glory, and perhaps in greater detail: I’d been in Minneapolis with my sisters, my mother, and my grandmother. We drove down to visit my great-aunt, who lived in Rodgers at the time. Friday night we stayed at my aunt’s house (she lived, at the time, on a hobby-farm with her husband, who’d worked in some kind of engineering-related corporate-relations kind of job that had him travelling much of his life, spending a fair amount of time in Japan). I think it was that first night that we drove into Minneapolis (my aunt driving her high-end car very aggressively and very fast, at least according to the standards of out-state Minnesota). We ate at Jerusalem’s (which is blissfully rehabilitated in my mind as the place you and I had Christmas lunch this year), where we saw belly dancers. Pretty big stuff for small town girls. The next day we visited the Mall of America. Need I say more? I, a very mature fifteen, was allowed to shop on my own and meet up with the group later. In the course of my shopping (gawking, really), I met a man (probably 30 years old, though it’s hard to say, and African-American) who claimed to be a member of Prince’s band. I don’t know if he was or not, but he did later write to me and offer to fly me out to Philadelphia, where he lived. I was totally energized by the experience—I had no idea I had so much power! My mother, understandably (from my 34 year old vantage point), was less thrilled.
So, the stage is set for the fateful ride home. I am driving this god-awful champagne-colored van with wood-panel striping. I am wearing, I clearly remember, a red tank-top—boxy across the shoulders, in a way that flatters my adolescent frame—and those short-shorts with a wide belt that were in fashion briefly in the early nineties. (I think they came from “The Limited” or “Express.”) I’m nervous. I haven’t driven on the interstate before, haven’t driven this fast before, and have limited faith in my innate capabilities. (To this day, I’m not wild about driving.) A truck, hauling sod, pulls up alongside me in the passing lane. I don’t pay attention at first. But, about the time the continued presence of the truck has started to make me nervous, I notice that the two men in the truck, both, at least in memory, wearing baseball caps, were flirting with me. Here’s the thing: I’m flattered. I’m excited by the attention. But I’m also god-awful scared. I feel absolutely out-of-control. I can only deal with one thing at a time. And I start to slow down. My mother, seated next to me through all of this—and maybe more deeply fearing the consequences of this development on all kinds of levels—starts to get angry with me. She gets so frustrated, and so emotional, that my grandmother insists on sitting next to me, because my mother is freaking me out. I have a clear recollection of the enormous relief I felt when she replaced my mother in the passenger seat.
I think, probably, this is a different version of the story than I’ve ever told you, though I imagine you were always able to read between the lines. That’s the remarkable thing about really being in conversation with somebody. The point is, your post prompted me to think about all of this in a way I maybe haven’t before, at least not publicly and openly, and that makes me enormously grateful. Because despite all the stuff that’s happening there—despite my own uncomfortable imbrication in my objectification, despite the trauma which couldn’t be spoken between three generations of women—my conversations with you make me feel like something else, something new, is really possible. Love,
P.S. It still sucks.