My Clothesline in a Snowstorm
One afternoon a few months ago I was wandering down the baking aisle while grocery shopping. Some guy was standing there examining the spices, and as I walked past him – behind him, mind you – I said, “Excuse me.” He looked at me, smiled, and said, “You know, you have as much of a right to be here as anyone else.” I nodded and laughed and moved on. But his words repeated themselves over and over in my head as I finished grocery shopping that day, as I wove in and out of aisles in front of and between and behind other shoppers, and those words have repeated over and over in my head ever since: You know, you have as much of a right to be here as anyone else. This guy was right, of course. I had as much of a right as anyone else to walk down that baking aisle, and I certainly didn’t need to say, “Excuse me” as I walked behind him. Why do I think that I don’t have the right to take up space? I’m forever apologizing for things I don’t need to apologize for. “I’m sorry” rolls too easily off my tongue. I try to take up as little space as possible. I try to make as little noise as possible. I never want to rock the boat or be seen as contrary or difficult. What happens, then, is that I end up apologizing a lot or slipping out of spaces where I don’t feel like I belong or remaining silent when I really want to speak. When I was in college I had an eating disorder. Of course there’s a tangled mess of reasons I became anorexic. On a surface level it was a diet that went too far, but its roots twist down much deeper than that. I knew I didn’t look good. I knew my head looked too big for my body. I knew my arms and fingers were skeletal. I was horrified when I looked behind me in a mirror and saw the bluish purple line down my back from a bony spine that had bruised my skin. What I remember thinking, though, is that I wanted my outside to look like I felt on the inside. I was the queen of acquiescence, and I wanted to rip off that crown and toss it in the trash. I was a good girl, though, so instead of drinking or drugs I chose what has been called “the good girl’s drug”: an eating disorder. I starved myself to try to disappear. Literally. Thankfully I am no longer anorexic, thankfully I no longer want to literally disappear, but that tendency to take up as little space as possible still remains. I’m tired of feeling this way. I certainly have no plans to plough through a grocery store and not say excuse me when I am pushing my cart in front of someone eyeing 16 different brands of diced tomatoes, and I have no desire to be anything but kind, but I am tired of apologizing for the space I take up and for the opinions I have. Writing is where I find and speak my voice. As I write, my words untangle jumbled-up thoughts and feelings. Those words are like my clothesline in a snowstorm. I remember reading in a Little House on the Prairie book about Ma running a clothesline from the house to the barn during a blizzard so that she could find her way back home. My words are like that clothesline. A swirl of everyone else’s opinions can be blinding me from what my own opinion might be and trying to drown out my voice, but if I just hang onto the clothesline of my words, I can make it to that place where I validate my own space and listen to my own voice, I can find my way back home.