This is a guest post by the lovely Pamela Hunt-Cloyd. If you haven’t read her Walking on My Hands, I hope you’ll click over and add it to your reader. Despite what she might say about it, her writing epitomizes what trust tending means to me. And while you’re at it, go read this that she posted at Lindsey’s A Design So Vast yesterday. Teared me up in the very best way.
I don’t remember the day I realized I was short. Short, small, petite, diminutive, wee, miniscule, cute. All of those names sound so sweet, don’t they? Our society loves its women small. In elementary school I had a friend, Amy, who was tall. There was always a look of surprise in the other mom’s eyes when they saw her. “Wow,” they would say, “I bet you’re as tall as the boys.” When they saw me, it was different. “Oh,” they would whisper to my mom, “She’s so tiny.”
But there are other memories too. Once, when I was in first grade, I was getting a drink from the water fountain during recess, and after I stood up, there was a big kid blocking my way. He was a foot and a half taller than me, fifty pounds heavier, and wearing a brown shirt. “Hurry up Firstie,” he said, and I remember the feeling of panic that came over me. That panic that only little kids have, that great fear of bodily harm, abandonment, and loss. I quickly ran away from him shaking, and I never wanted to go back to school again.
When I told my mom about it, she asked me what Firstie even meant. “It’s what they call first-graders,” I said and my mom laughed. “Well,” she said, “You are in first grade.” My mom was five feet tall when she was nine years old, and then she only grew about an inch after that. As a tall girl in her childhood, my mom didn’t really see things from my perspective. It was clear to me that this was a battle I had to fight on my own.
The same thing happened again a few years later. “Out of my way Firstie,” a burly kid said to me in the lunchroom. Only this time, I was in fourth grade, and I had on my favorite velour shirt: Izod, with the alligator prominently placed. I was outraged.
“What grade are you in?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips.
“Second,” he said, in a voice that also said, What’s it to you?
“Well I’m in fourth grade,” I said and his face showed surprise.
“Oh,” he said, quickly backing up, his eyes wide. “Sorry.”
I watched him hustle away with his lunch tray and felt victorious. There was power in being the underdog, I realized. You had surprise on your side. I sometimes wonder how that tiny, miniscule, early experience affected me. It’s possible that it made me into a certain kind of person.
There is a way you can be when other people discount you that you can’t be any other time. Dani Shapiro and Katrina Kenison have often talked about “writing in the dark.” Creating when no one knows what you are up to. Protecting the undeveloped image until it is ready for the light. Hiding the secret, creative self as long as you can until the work is finished.
For a time, that was what being short meant to me. It was a prolonged youth, a delayed adolescence. It was a chance to hide for a while and then pounce. Now, at thirty-eight I am not sure what short means to me. I think much more often about how much I weigh than about how tall I am. But really, isn’t it the same thing? Tiny, cute, diminutive, wee. Our society loves its women small.
As I have gotten older, I have noticed that sometimes I use my size as an excuse to play small. I find that I react rather than act, that I am still learning how to take responsibility for my own life. I have always been able to sneak in after the bell and hide behind the tall people. Even as a teenager, I could get away with paying the child’s price to get in. I never had to stand tall or stare out over a crowd. I never had to say this is who I am and you’re going to have to deal with it.
As it turns out, there is a cost to shirking the full price of admission. It’s interesting, what the body teaches us, isn’t it? That the container of our soul can have such an influence on what we decide about our lives, about what we conclude about our own worth. Being small, for me, is easy. It’s convenient and it’s safe. Sometimes I take my six-foot husband’s pants out of the dryer, hold them up, and marvel at how exhausting it must be to stand so tall every day.
But there is always a danger in too much comfort. There is a tipping point at which a dog hiding under the table ceases to be considered an underdog. For me it’s a constant struggle to remember that only my body is small, to realize that even if my five-year old son is almost at my shoulder, I am still the grown-up. Being short is no excuse for living small. Nothing is.