My grandmother used to repeat it often: Whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends. But I wanted to whistle, I wanted to whistle bad. My mother said you’ll get wrinkles around your mouth, and I noticed she already was beginning to have some. Had she wanted to whistle too, when she was a girl, and given in to the desire as I did when no one was listening?
Perhaps if it had just been whistling, I wouldn’t have gotten into such a mess, but whistling was only part of it. I wanted to be able to call boys when I felt like it, when I really liked them and they didn’t call me. I wanted to be able to dial their number, hear their voice and say, “Let’s be friends”. Girls don’t chase after boys was the reprimand from my mother the day she caught me talking to Freddy and the phone had not rung. And maybe, just maybe, if it had only been that, I wouldn’t have had so many problems. But I also wanted to be important and work, not housework which from the way my father left it all to my mother (whom everyone, even she herself, knew was dumb) and poo-pooed my grandmother’s complaints about how much she had worked (house-worked, obviously) was undeniably not important at all. So I didn’t want to do housework, I wanted to call boys and not wait around like a dummy for them to call me (How I hated the feeling of powerlessness!), and I loved to whistle. It was obvious I was headed in the wrong direction. But then, one has to consider that I didn’t even want to be a GIRL!
I was in for trouble. If I had known then what I know now, I would have realized it from the beginning. But, ahhh! Innocence! I really tried my best… to not be a girl, I mean. For years I wore blue jeans and tee shirts and refused to put on makeup, use creams or wear high heels. I cut my hair short, bit off all my fingernails to the quick and, at the age of 13, took up smoking because my father did it. Even my breasts cooperated and barely developed into an “A” cup. I really think I would have done fine if sex –as my grandmother put it- hadn’t raised its ugly head. But it did, and then I was really in for it.
By that time, I mean the time sex rolled in, I was so far behind in the get-a-boyfriend race that I didn’t even realize there had been one. I guess the good ones –boys, that is- had already been taken, but that didn’t matter to me because I preferred the shy, homely, scared ones that would let me be strong, powerful and dominant. It had already become a matter of character. Mousey I was not! Patient I was not either. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. And then something really weird began to happen.
Once I had gotten the boy (Johnny, Freddy, Jimmy, Mike, Alfred, you name him), I went all limp and wishy-washy and scared to death: everything that before had been determination, turned to need. I now was willing to do anything (well, almost anything because in those days “anything” in that sense was a big NO-NO, although everything before “anything” was practiced almost generally) to keep whatever tasty or tasteless morsel I had managed to cudgel into going steady with me. I was pathetic. Did it take makeup? I would wear as much as I could get away with without my mother finding out. Did it take going to the brink of all the way? I was brink prone. Did it take not calling and pretending I wasn’t interested? I’d bite my fingernails and tie my hands before picking up the receiver, and if he called, I’d bury my head in a book and say Tell him I’m too busy. If he wanted to see a dumb movie (way below my intellectual level) it was exactly the film I had been dying to see. I liked what he liked, ate what he ate, went where he went even if it was to a football game.
I learned to play spin-the-bottle endlessly, strip-poker down to my underwear, do French kissing without gagging, and let him touch my almost unfindable titties through my sweater. I stopped studying, stopped reading, stopped writing my grandmother letters, stopped obeying my parents and even snuck out of the house one night when I thought they had gone to the theater. I was over at my boyfriend’s necking and petting (that is what we called it then) when my father suddenly showed up at the door, dragged me home by my shirt sleeve and called me a slut.
Believe me it was a relief to be sent away to girl’s boarding school, where the other sex was safely out of the way and where I could continue with my fantasy of someday becoming a man, at least until prom night or inter-school dances. I had two years of respite and then I went to college. Although I went to a girl’s college, there was the male counterpart right across the avenue and frat parties, panty raids and nonstop drinking were the norm. By the time I had gotten through my first year at college I had lost my long withheld virginity to a young man who immediately insinuated that I actually was what my father had so blatantly called me a couple of years previously. That seemed to cinch it. Either I shaped up and accepted being a “decent” woman (which meant all those things I had previously rejected, such as, marriage, domesticity, makeup, card games, girlfriends, housekeeping, garden club, bridge, children-bearing and docility, above all docility) or I was going down the wrong road all the way.
I took the necessary action: I dropped out of college, went home, met a man and got married; I had two children, a nervous breakdown, did the psychoanalytic trip where I was told my problem was an unsolved Oedipus complex and a rebellion against femininity (like I needed to spend a fortune and three years of my life to be told what I knew damn well from way back when), finally went back to the University and got a degree at the same time as I was raising children, looked the other way when my husband had an affair that lasted three years, went back to psychoanalysis to push that back into my subconscious, threw care to the winds and took a wild trip to Spain while my husband cared for the children, and finally found the rocky road to divorce 30 years into the relationship after my own children had safely entered the sanctum sanctorum of matrimony.
Since then I have finally become the Hu-Man I always wanted to be. I am free. I travel where I please, have relationships (almost none) with whom I please and always on my terms; I am free to live where I want, with whom (or what, a dog for instance) I want; to see the movies I wish to see, eat where and what I want to eat, travel when I want to, alone or accompanied, where I want to. I am my own boss, master of my soul, and nobody, but absolutely nobody tells me what to do or when to do it (except maybe my doctor, and that is usually what NOT to do). That is the advantage of age, the advantage of solitude, the advantage of having done the “other” and finished. And, I might add, I still don’t whistle. Those damned wrinkles around the mouth…