I was worried. About vaginas? Well, no, actually. I haven’t worried about vaginas in ages. Not since Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues told me in the late 90’s that they come in every shape and size and color. Participating in V-Day for years has helped me to believe that someday we will live in a world that is not so rife with violence against women and girls. So, I wasn’t really worried, not about vaginas. Not yesterday.
I had plans to see UNC’s production of The Vagina Monologues with some friends. It was Natalie’s birthday. She had sent out an email to a bunch of girls “Let’s go see The Vagina Monologues for my birthday!” I cautiously suggested we see the matinee. Groups of girls don’t go out for drinks and birthday shenanigans at 2:30. But… I have this baby, see? I know, I know, she is more than 13 months old. But… bedtime. I can’t, I won’t be out at bedtime. I just… can’t. And they said “Sure.”
I had more than a month to think about it. I was excited.
The Vagina Monologues changed me. My first year in the OBX production I wore a black pants suit and a bra, no shirt, I was the Woman Who Liked to Make Vaginas Happy, the Moaner. I drank wine after the show and laughed with my new girlfriends. I hadn’t ever been a part of a big group of women. I have been lucky in life to have always had a best friend, a sidekick, a confidante. But a tribe of women? I’d never felt that way before. And it was fabulous.
In the years to come I would have different parts, I would wear pigtails and slouchy gaucho pants to mask my newly postpartum body. I would sport electric blue hair to distract you from my sunken eyes from lack of sleep. I would skip out on the wine because I feared the things I might say. I would mumble to no one really in the middle of a rehearsal “I don’t think I want to be married anymore.”
The Vagina Monologues, these stories of women, they inspired me. They moved me. They taught me that women are all the same. I had always felt like an odd duck. I was “one of the boys.” Standing on stage with a group of women I’d only known a short while I was one of a group. I was part of a tribe.
And then I had a baby. And I got stronger every day. A little over a year after Em was born I was in a rehearsal for The Vagina Monologues when I said out loud for the first time that I would be leaving my husband because it wasn’t working. No one pitied me. No one made the “I’m so sorry” face. One woman said “Good for you. There’s happiness out there for you” and I believed her. It was ten months before I moved out but I started getting ready to go that day.
She was right. Happiness. It was out there. I am Happy. Most of the time. Unless I am trying to get dressed. Unless I am leaving the house all alone without my kids for three hours. And then those old feelings of being the odd duck creep back in. And I am in tears in my closet, surrounded by clothes that don’t fit right. I was planning to meet my girlfriends to celebrate being a woman and I was sobbing because I am thirteen months post-partum and I still feel like I live in someone else’s body. We would be heading to UNC’s campus to surround ourselves with 20-somethings spreading a positive message and I was crying because my jeans are still too tight. I could see the irony. I just didn’t find it all that amusing.
I changed my jeans. I swore. I put on make-up and then washed it all off. I picked a zit, I picked a fight. I cried some more. I said I wasn’t going. I said I had to leave right now. And then I got in the car and I went. It was important.
I would paste my Pretty Kelly smile on my face and I would say “Happy Birthday, Natalie” and it would be fine. I would introduce myself to someone I didn’t know and I would try not to talk about my kids at all. I would just be me.
I opened Nat’s front door and steeled myself. Game face. I don’t know who I was expecting to see. But I know I wasn’t expecting to only see people that I knew. I made it exactly four steps in the front door before I burst in to tears. “I was afraid one of you would ask me why I was crying and I would have to be that crazy woman in front of someone I just met and say ‘Oh, because I get mad anxiety every time I leave my THIRTEEN MONTH old baby and I can’t get dressed and…'”
There they were. Four women. A friend I have known since high school, a friend with two small children, a friend who has seen me at my lowest and a newer friend that understands more than her fair share about body image bullshit. I spilled my big, bad ugly “I have my period and everyone hates me” guts and in moments it was over. We laughed about how I was afraid to be “that crazy woman” in front of strangers, you know, strangers not on the Internet.
The longer I stay at home the harder it is for me to go out. What will I say? Where will I park? What will I wear? What if someone asks me what I do? What if I start crying? Or I have a glass and a half of wine and am plastered because that’s all it takes?
Eve Ensler taught me that there are 8,000 nerve endings in the clitoris. Sadly, it isn’t any of those that are making me weep with confusion and joy and fear and excitement lately. I am not sure where exactly the nerve endings are that make you lose your shit in your closet while you get dressed. Or panic because you don’t know where you are supposed to park when you get where you are going. But I think I have at least 8,000 of those, too.
I will keep going, out of my house, away from my kids. I will go even when and especially when I don’t want to and think that I will not possibly survive the torture. Every time I leave the house there’s a good chance I will stand in front of a woman that has felt exactly like me, at least once. Because we are all the same, all of us, at least sometimes.