How to defer to men in solvable predicaments
A broken white fence separates your yard from the neighbor’s. You and the girl next door like to meet there every day after school. You’re five and she’s eight, and you talk about if Barbie really likes Ken, how mosquitos are vampire insects, how Carmen Sandiego was able to steal the Eiffel Tower.
The fence is your meeting place, but as you pour over maps in history class at the age of ten, you see the fence for what it is: a boundary. You start asking your mother to go play in the neighbor’s yard; testing your powers of manipulation.
“Ask your father,” she says.
You already know your father is going to say no.
How to mistrust the ones you supposedly love the most
Middle school brings friends that like to call you on the phone. One friend, Yvonne, likes to call you and talk about the girls’ swim team. She tells you how practice went. About how one girl complained that she couldn’t wear her bikini to practice, and the coach had some reaction that you blanked out on because your cat decided to jump into your lap at that exact moment with her claws out.
There’s a lull in the conversation when you hear a click on the other end. Someone picks up the extension to listen in on your call as Yvonne launches into a tirade about how bikinis aren’t made for sport swimming.
You verbally nod, wondering if that click you heard is your mom upstairs in her bedroom.
How to keep smiling when you’re thinking of killing yourself
Your parents are hosting the Fourth of July on the new deck that dad laid himself. He brought himself a new grill to replace the one that your brother trashed last year with his mountain bike. He’s off with friends from the neighborhood and your two cousins.
You’re alone in the kitchen. The girl from across the street has moved away, making room for a new family with a young baby. You miss her.
You’re putting chips in a wicker basket lined with napkins and thinking about a time when you weren’t just an extra set of hands in the kitchen. A time when these gatherings were actually fun.
Maybe they never were.
You hear your mother talking in the other room. Her voice is just above a whisper. She’s talking about her mother-in-law with one of your older cousins; actually, when you think about it, she might be your second cousin.
“She drives me fricken bananas!” she says. “If she tells me I should be using mayo in my potato salad one more time….just shoot me!”
The conversation isn’t new. You remember her sitting in the kitchen chair when you were growing up, twirling the phone coil around her hand. The hours she spent on the phone fascinated you, but it also let you in on all her secrets.
You finish piling the chips into the basket, and take it out to the picnic table. When you turn around to see your mother has joined you on the deck—smiling.
How to hate women when you’re supposed to be a feminist
In 10th grade you realize that Caroline isn’t your friend. It’s the third day your biology class has spent watching Lorenzo’s Oil, taking notes on what your teacher calls a “flick sheet.” You’re supposed to understand the protocol; the science behind the story.
Caroline is drawing flowers in the margins of her notebook, not really watching the movie.
After class, Caroline asks to borrow your notes. You say no, but fumble over the word saying you have to clean it up, your handwriting is a mess, and she wouldn’t understand the abbreviations you used when really how hard is it to understand that L stands for Lorenzo?
She scoffs with a half smile on her glossy lips, and asks you to email them instead. You say okay, but you don’t intend to.
That night you type up your notes, clean up your answers to the questions and place them in your book bag. You don’t email Caroline and lie awake wondering if you’ll regret this decision.
The next day, Caroline calls you a bitch.
How to feel worthless unless you’re serving or helping someone
Your mom has invited your brother and his girlfriend over for dinner. She has no idea what she’ll cook, but she’s leaning on you for that. She trots out old saying from your grandmother. “A daughter is a daughter for life, a son is a son until he takes a wife.” You think it’s crap but you don’t say anything.
You plan dinner. You do the shopping. You make the meal.
She takes the credit.
You’ll confront her about it later, but she’ll deny it.
This happens again the following weekend, and the next, and the next, until suddenly you’ve eaten a year in Sunday dinners and realized you have nothing to show for it.
Your brother and the girlfriend break up after another eight months.
The first Sunday you have free you go for a walk downtown and browse in a bookstore, and you can’t shake the nagging feeling you’re supposed to be somewhere else.