Everything Takes Forever: A Story of Waiting (Part 2)
[Continued from Part 1]
How does it feel to lose something you never knew you had?
I examine how I am suddenly grieving the loss of something I never even realized was in my keeping, and how it had all but escaped me. Would I get it back, or could I? I resolve that if I do, I’d guard it as the precious jewel that it is, cherish it tenderly and never let it slip away once more.
In the meantime, life goes on. At night, as I drift in and out of sleep between feeding my baby son, I’m filled with the inexplicable joy and awe of being mother to another human being. I want to nurture and equip him with all the tools he’ll need to grow up strong, loving, righteous, and kindhearted. Will he be holy and God-fearing and be an altar server at church? Will he be musical and sensitive and love Mozart? Will be be studious and intelligent and go to Harvard? Big, grand plans unfurl dramatically in my mind’s eye.
As the years pass and Etienne grows into a preschooler, the idea of giving him a sibling comes to the fore. Since I can remember, I’ve dreamed of having both a son and a daughter, and I feel those longing pangs inside me at the sight of baby girls and/or the ridiculously adorable dresses on shop window displays. But something always holds me back—the scene where I’m staring into the disapproving face of the office pantry lady and led to wonder why I haven’t snapped back into shape like the ladies from the Customer Service department. A tingle of fear runs through me. If having Etienne already caused me to be ‘fat,’ just think of how much ‘fatter’ I’m going to get with another pregnancy. My desire for a second child blurs with the distant destination of Slim Island, now disappearing even further into the horizon.
Then the thought comes. Hang on a second. If I dieted, and exercised, and got my weight even lower than before I had my son, wouldn’t that take care of it? If anything, it’d provide me an even wider allowance for weight gain during pregnancy and there’d be less weight to shift after birth. Doing the Math in my head, I feel strangely alive and empowered. The idea of both slimming down and having another baby is proving extremely attractive. But it’s going to take serious work and I know it.
But since I don’t wish to bore anyone with my newfound quest (wanting to slim down after a baby is hardly unusual), nobody thinks to tell me there are other options available. That there actually are wider realities beyond my black-and-white perceptions of ‘becoming thin’ or ‘remaining fat.’ Unbeknownst to me, there exists some sort of middle ground where I needn’t feel compelled to do ABC, just to be XYZ, in order to achieve 123. At 28 and ‘overweight,’ it’s inconceivable that I may have the freedom to decide not to be validated by a number on the weighing scale, baby or no baby.
Now, at almost 35, I think back to another time when I felt I wasn’t given much of a choice.
The year is 1995, I’m all of 15 and a student at an all-girls’ Catholic school. I’m minding my own business at the classroom corridor, lost in my own thoughts when an older girl walks up and accuses me of staring at her. (Let’s call her Xena, for her courage of a warrior princess.) Xena must have confused herself with ‘space’ because that was, in all honesty, what I was staring into. But that argument doesn’t fly and Xena presents me with three ways to appease her offended sensibilities: 1) take her on in a one-on-one fight; 2) let her rub chili in my eyes; or 3) have my head flushed down the toilet bowl.
I study my options. Xena wants me either bruised, blinded, or drowned. I’m aware there’s a fourth option that hasn’t been vocalized, and that is to tell someone, a teacher or my parents. But to my 15-year-old mind, a physical fight seems preferable to “running to Mommy” and being called a coward afterward. It’s fairly obvious I stand no chance against slightly built but ferocious Xena, but maybe she wouldn’t go as far as to kill me? In contrast, I don’t know how I’d handle the sting from chili in my eyes or the grossness of imbibing lavatory fluids.
The next day, I tell Xena my decision and she looks mildly impressed. She says she’ll set a time and date and I go away to make my own preparations. I even have an outfit picked out for the fray—jeans and an old T-shirt. My friend suggests that I grow my fingernails long to inflict maximum damage, and I want to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, but I take her advice to heart and don’t clip my fingernails for that week.
I don’t remember if I ever prayed for God to remove this Xena problem of mine, but I receive divine intervention that comes in the earthly form of my Math tutor.
I’m at Math tuition one evening and she’s chastising me for being listless. “What’s wrong?” she asks. “You’re not yourself. You’re going to flunk your test if you don’t start focusing!”
“What’s a test if I’m going to be dead before then?” I mumble.
I watch her eyes widen with alarm as she quickly runs through various possibilities in her head. Suicidal? Depressed? Plain crazy? “Dead? Why would you be dead?” she exclaims.
“No, nothing. I’ve done my corrections,” I quickly try to divert her attention back to my Math practice sheets but she won’t let the matter go.
It doesn’t take long before Math tutor wrestles the truth out of me and my intention to valiantly take on the school bully. She jumps to make a string of phonecalls to my mom and a teacher at my school, who’s also her personal friend. Mom will meet with the discipline mistress the next day and Xena and friends are going to be sorry. At least that’s the plan she’s hatched.
“Don’t have to be afraid of them, bullies are scum of the earth. SCUM OF THE EARTH!” she bellows indignantly as I leave my tuition session for home. I don’t stop to thank her for stepping in and helping me out of a difficult situation.
Things move quickly from there. The next morning, my mother shows up and speaks with my discipline mistress, who later smiles kindly at me for what feels like the first time ever. Mom doesn’t say much: she tells me everything’s being taken care of, and she’ll see me back home. While I’m at class, Xena and gang are hauled up for questioning, just like my Math tutor said they would be, but I feel no sense of relief. Nobody actually calls me a coward out loud, but my school life, as I know it from that point, just seems a lot darker and lonelier. In the following days, I act like the incident doesn’t bother me but my self-esteem is at an all-time low. Maybe Xena doesn’t get to kill me in that fight but I’ve practically committed social suicide.
Meanwhile, Xena is still itching to beat somebody, so some weeks later she picks on another girl—this time someone whose parents react way more strongly than mine. They will not tolerate it and my principal feels compelled to take more decisive action. Then in a strange twist of fate, Xena approaches me one afternoon at recess. She smiles and apologizes for everything she did. She wants us to be friends—and would I be so kind as to tell the principal I don’t wish to pursue the case, so maybe she wouldn’t be expelled? I agree to help her, but apparently it’s too late by then.
Xena gets expelled within the week.
[to be continued…]