Thursday, April 20, 2006

Why Feminism? (Part 5)

My Superpower was Invisibility

So I learned to check the window before I took a shower. I learned to look under the bed every morning and night. I obsessed about the crack between the sliding door and the doorframe.

I’d always been shy around strangers and quiet around everyone but close friends and family. That year I learned how to hide myself even when I was alone in my own bedroom.

Family life outside my bedroom became a constant war interspersed with temporary cease-fires. Everyone pretended, of course, that nothing had changed and that our new fights were no different than the fights we’d always had. Everyone pretended that I was vigilant about my privacy simply because I was a teenager, and that’s what teenagers do. I knew differently.

When we redecorated my old bedroom after my sister left for college, my windows were left without blinds for several weeks. I nearly had a panic attack – until my parents duct taped towels over the windows. I threw a minor tantrum when one came loose and I couldn’t fix it.

The two-minute rides to our grandparents’ house became pure hell. In a car with five seats, two parents and three kids meant one of the two youngest always sat in the middle back. When I was lucky enough to get the window I’d practically sit on the door. When I had to sit in the middle I’d make myself as small as possible and spend much of the ride either crowding my older brother or kicking my younger one. He would cry foul and I didn’t know what to do because he looked genuinely confused, as if he didn’t understand that I didn’t want to touch him, and why. Sometimes our parents would tell me to cut it out. Every time his arm brushed mine I felt ill; when it touched the sensitive sides of my breasts I thought I’d puke. I learned to squeeze my breasts together using my upper arms as shields.

I drew less and less because the most vivid images in my head were dark enough to prompt a visit to the psychiatrist. They were charcoal on gray paper and they were full of men and boys, of people I trusted, staring and laughing and looking at me with hate and contempt as I huddled naked on the ground.

My social studies teacher mentioned one day that such and such percentage of kids our age had already contemplated suicide. I had never seriously tried to figure out how to kill myself, but I had spent a not insignificant amount of time thinking things would be easier if I would. I wasn’t sure if that counted.

Somewhere in the middle of all this my parents got a fucking clue, and when they asked me if everything was ok, my instincts for self-preservation kicked in and I said no. We never got into details, and I’m pretty sure I downplayed how often it happened, but I told them it - he - had never really stopped.

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