The #MeToo Thing

I have avoided posting the #MeToo meme, thinking I didn’t qualify because I had not been physically abused. But I “got to thinking,” as we say down here, about the whole spectrum of abuse and how destructive and demoralizing emotional abuse is. That, I can testify to. 

And then I had an encounter this morning while I was waiting in the dentist’s office.  Now understand, I am way past expecting a man to flirt with me. I have, as the actress Frances McDormand says in a recent article, become invisible to men. So I was stunned when this guy struck up a conversation. He was talkative, he was friendly–but in a way that made me instantly uncomfortable. We were the only people in the waiting room; none of the staff had come to the desk yet.

He was wearing his camo jacket and his cap, and he told me about the traffic driving in this morning, about how heavy it was, and there must have been a wreck but he never saw one. He told me what he does for a living (he paints houses), how his partner left the business years ago and then his brother left too but he’s still at it, he’s “only 69,” and “you got to eat, right?”

All the time he was talking, he was moving. He made jokes and laughed and touched my arm, my shoulder. Made jokes about age: “You’re like, 28, right? or maybe 25?”

I don’t remember what brought up President Trump, but this man said, “You’ve seen what the president has done, right?” His eyes bright with wonder. And I froze. I lost my courage to say, “Yeah, I’ve seen it, all right” and cut him off, I think because I didn’t believe it would. So I tried to ignore him, but he kept going on about what great things the president has accomplished, like getting rid of all that “green” stuff, and we should continue to drill for oil anywhere and everywhere, because oil comes from rock, and “Are we ever gonna run out of rock?” Laughing. Sure of his point. “If we don’t drill for it, it’ll just ooze right up out of the beaches and spoil them anyway.”

Finally, one of the staff came out and the guy started the same joke routine with her. I slunk away and sat down, praying he wouldn’t sit by me, and he didn’t. He announced he needed to go to the back and “use the little room.”

I had failed to stand up.

As I said, I haven’t had the horrible experiences other women have testified to in recent days. But how many times in my life have I been subjected to this kind of bullying disguised as a “friendly” male? Years ago, I was deep-kissed and touched on a dance floor by a drunk friend, and when I reported it to my then-husband, he called me a prude. I lived in an emotionally abusive situation for years because I was married to it, and for me, marriage was sacred. You could work anything out if you tried hard enough. Wrong.

So is it a matter of degree? Are these (and other instances I could relate) any less worthy of rebuke than if I had been physically attacked? 

It’s a mindset–to stay silent—that I hope is more typical of women “of a certain age” like me, who were schooled in a kind of male dominance that was the heart of the family. That would explain, I suppose, why I would excuse a man’s behavior as his “right.” Well, I’ve gotten older and wiser. I hope, for the sake of my granddaughters and the other young women I know, that the mindset is gone for good. I hope they’ll be braver than I was this morning. That they will speak their minds. That they will take care of themselves first.

March 23: A Memoir

Today is my mother’s birthday.

She should have been ninety-six years old today. She should have lived that long; she had the genes. Her mother, my grandmother, lived to be ninety-seven. Mother would have lived to see seven precious great-grandchildren, some of them now almost grown up themselves. But she didn’t live. She died of uterine cancer in 1985, when she was only sixty-five, so young by today’s standards. Had she gone to the doctor sooner, it’s possible that she might still be here, but she ignored the signs that something was wrong. She was too busy taking care of my grandmother, who had had a stroke that fall, to take care of herself. The way she’d neglected herself to look after my father.

In February 1982, my father had died of a heart attack and the bottom dropped out of my mother’s world. They were married forty-seven years. She was eighteen and he was thirty-two when they married–an unlikely pair, but they adored each other. A couple of months after his death, Mother hemorrhaged, and her cancer was diagnosed. She underwent horrible treatments: radium implants in her uterus that kept her in bed for a week in the hospital, unable to move, then surgery, then more radiation. And after, she suffered from various complaints, strange swellings and numbness, odd neurological symptoms nobody seemed to be able to explain, weight loss. But she persevered. I can see her now, doggedly walking the block of broken sidewalk in front of her house, back and forth, back and forth, to get in her “mile” for the day.

The thing is, she lost the will to live. I asked her once, when she seemed particularly down, “Why aren’t we enough?” By we, I meant me, and my sons; why weren’t we enough to make her want to live? She had no answer.

I read a piece this morning in The Washington Post about depression and suicide. I don’t believe my mother ever contemplated suicide. She would have believed that suicide was wrong, sinful. But I know she suffered from depression, and periodically, when she felt “low,” she would go to her local doctor for a B-12 shot to pick her up.

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Mother and me

When I look at photos of her now–her pretty blond hair, her blue eyes, her smile–I think about how those photos belie her real nature. She was often sad and insecure, even though she was smart and beautiful. When she was dying, the nurses in the hospital talked about how beautiful she still was. But she had a complicated and difficult relationship with her own mother, and much of her insecurity must have sprung from that. I remember one day when my grandmother made a cutting remark to Mother and stalked out of the room. My mother stood with her back to me, bracing her hands on the kitchen counter. She was already sick by then, but it wasn’t the sickness that spoke when she said, “Why is it that nothing I do is ever good enough?”

I don’t remember what I said to her. I was too furious with my grandmother and if I recall correctly, I followed her to her bedroom and told her so.

Today I’m remembering the complex dance of three generations of women, our lives bound together by blood and place. Long after my mother’s death, and my grandmother’s–she outlived my mother nine years–I  still feel my mother’s presence. Sometimes when I laugh, I’m startled because for a second, it’s my mother’s laugh I hear. Because she did laugh. She grew roses. She entertained her garden club. She was active in her church. And she loved my father and me and my sons so very much.

One last memory: when she was getting sicker and could no longer drive, she would get a friend to drive her to meet me half the distance between our towns so that my two younger boys could spend a few days with her. I wonder how they spent that time together. I’ve never asked them. They were old enough to understand that she was ill, but they went anyway, willingly. I think she was determined to spend time with them so they would remember her, and they do. They loved her.

As do I.

Friday Photo: Dodge, late 1940s

This old Dodge, circa 1946-48, is parked at a gas station on the grounds of the Mississippi Agriculture Museum. (An authentic building moved to the museum grounds, the gas station is 1940s-era, too, complete with original gas pumps.) The car is still pretty spiffy except for the bit of rust you can see if you look closely.

Can’t you imagine flying along some hilly back road with all the windows down?

Can’t you imagine two kids parking in this car with the one bench seat on a summer night in the moonlit shadows of kudzu vines, music filtering in over the radio?

The war over, their lives just beginning.

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