Friday, May 15, 2009

Are you there God? It's me, Margaret

“I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” It almost feels like I first heard that from the boys who taunted me, shaking chest and pelvis in some kind of exaggerated femininity that I could never even aspire to. They were telling me I was worse than those girls repeating Judy Blume’s words over and over, because all I could do was want. I remember sitting in the hall with the girls like usual, and the biggest bully leaned over to insult us all and then afterwards we leaned together for our usual solidarity but all the girls agreed that wasn’t he hot?

Soon I learned to hide in the bathroom at recess, inhale the smell of urine but at least I didn’t have to hurt my face so much smiling and pretending I was okay. Like when Gabe asked if he could borrow my sweatshirt because he wanted to look trendy -- he was an outcast too but a different kind, I wanted to be his friend so it took me a moment too long to realize the insult: I handed him the Genera sweatshirt, he put it on with his pegged jeans and creepers, a look I would soon enough graduate to when I realized trendy didn’t work for me, but the bad kids hardly accepted me more than the good: in art class, when the trendies would play Madonna and the mods the Violent Femmes, I would sit in the middle, maybe better than Elizabeth eating glue in the corner or Jerry putting it on his face but much harder to maintain.

I was never allowed to read Judy Blume -- I read all the Agatha Christie’s and when there was no more mystery I moved on to the classics: War and Peace and then Crime and Punishment punctuated my sixth grade, but maybe that was before everyone read Judy Blume. Before the Violent Femmes, or after? Anyway my sixth grade teacher got worried that I was missing out on childhood, to her that meant my mother reading to me, something at my grade level and I didn’t want to do anything at my grade level but then it ended up being kind of comforting the sound of my mother’s voice at the dining room table and stories of lightning in the landscape not just striking me, which didn’t last long.

I remember when my sister read it, Are You There God, or maybe she was practicing the moves: all the girls did it, even if you didn’t believe. Like praying to God at night, into the pillow, before or during or after I would grind into the mattress into that dark place where I became captive to that man who was about to drop me in vats of boiling shit certain death I would become part of the factory don’t peer outside the covers around my head too many monsters in the closet under the bed in the hall or if I looked around me the walls would turn into eyes like an Egyptian sarcophagus huge eyes staring into me they could suck me in like if I reached out my hand it would be gone I wished I was dead I prayed to God to help me. Help me not to feel.

Eventually I read Judy Blume when no one was looking, it reminded me of both the life I was never allowed to leave and the life I would never be allowed to lead: I went back to the classics.


CaroleMcDonnell said...

Wow! Mattilda that is such great writing. Your heart and soul are in all your words. Reminds me of Stephen's Crane: Because it is bitter and because it is my heart.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thank you, Carole -- and I love that Stephen Crane quote!!!

Love --

Hilary Goldberg said...

Sixth grade, that book, those moments of outsider status, triggering but lovely to sit in solidarity with you.


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Yay for triggering but lovely!

Love --

man-of-snows said...

My father read me Watership Down as a bedtime story in the first grade.

And then I got kicked out of math class in the second grade for reading the Hobbit.

That explains a lot about me now. :)

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

I remember Watership Down, with all those rabbits I used to hope for them in the backyard!!!

And I can't believe they kicked you out for reading!

Love --