It started in junior high, as I recall:
But they're all wearing it, she said
(of flat shoes and jeans).
But I am not them.
Should I be?
In high school I was voted Prettiest Girl In School my first year,
and the one after,
and the one after.
Student council member.
I wore flowered mall shirts and black fingernails.
I chose the notorious new boy to be mine.
He liked my brains first.
This will work.
Not so, said Cheating and Indifference.
My parents hated him yet smiled
that first May and then the next
as they watched him pin my corsage for prom.
In my last school year I would be queen.
High hopes for a high-school royal.
Revolving zip codes.
Empty bank accounts.
Defiant, undefined dreams.
When will you ever?
When it feels right.
Why can't you ever?
It doesn't feel right.
At 21 I moved far away from home.
Palm trees and art deco and per-capita
You will not be safe, they said.
I never have been.
One, two, three: The number of times I moved
far away from West Virginia where it was safe.
By the time the hills reclaimed me, it was too late,
the good girl was long gone.
Did I mention Success? She and I exchanged glances
along the way.
Once she brought her bags to stay:
Self-sustaining freelance writer.
I made it.
Success ran off when the baby came. I was 35 and single.
A long labor. Then a short incision.
People with MD and RN after their names scolded me:
You will be in so much pain. Take the drugs.
My two best friends had scathing reviews
of my efforts to offer fatherhood to the man
with no guts. (Meanwhile, my guts had been
manhandled in a sterile room.)
You are a fool. We are sick of you. They said
I could hate their guts. Except I understand what they never will.
I should get a real job.
I should be against gay marriage and welfare.
I should submit to nature's intent of female subservience.
I should stop caring more about animals than unborn babies.
I should accept that my beliefs are wrong because yours are right.
I should realize that by expecting accountability from others, I am denying my own flaws.
This morning, at some early hour or another, I turned forty.
It's just as bewildering and comforting as yesterday, or all the other days I have
woken in my own skin.