Living tiny seems to have begun to change me. Years ago, I wrote a poem called, “How To Go For A Walk In Loose Park”, in which I advised disabled people to “keep your head down / don’t make eye contact / then you won’t see the fear / or feel the shame”. But now I walk the quarter-mile loop around my side of the park every evening or every other evening. I know I still look as clumsy as ever but I no longer seem to mind.
Nobody here thinks I’m any odder than anyone else. Someone in Kansas City once told me that he described me as having “gimp in [my] get-along”, to warn another person before meeting me. I found that incredibly painful. If you were to make a list of the first three things that I would want someone to know about me, my funny walk would not even make the top fifty.
In fact, the only physical characteristic about which I alert people is my hair. It’s curly, wild, and virtually uncontrollable. I ironed it until I turned fifty. At that point, I looked in the mirror after a shower and studied the ringlets. “Oh what the hell,” I told my startled image. “You’re a curly girl. Get over yourself.” I threw away my flat iron or at the very least, tossed it in the back of the highest shelf of the bathroom cabinet.
Right now it’s probably in one of the boxes which my friend Katrina carefully labelled, “Bathroom 1′, “Bathroom 2”, and so forth. Those boxes made it as far as a storage unit. They hold all the girly stuff that I bought in a misguided attempt to look like other women. One of these trips, I’m busting open those boxes and giving all those bottles to homeless people. Unless they’ve been opened, of course. But I happen to know that a lot of those purchases sat unnoticed within hours of being taken out of CVS bags.
I spent 62 years trying to be the female of handsome men’s dreams. The mere thought of that makes me laugh derisively now. What part of “the American dream” ever involved the likes of me? Not one man on the face of this earth ever awakened and thought, “Damn, I want to marry a crippled girl with bad teeth and a wicked stubborn streak.” Somehow I thought if I got skinny enough (I did, down to a 00, and yes, that’s an actual size) and acted extraordinarily chipper, I’d fool somebody. I knew I was fighting against the current because when I was in eighth grade, my mother told me that I should go to college because I was not the kind of girl who would ever get a proposal.
My mother. MY MOTHER. She warned me. I think she meant well, and I’m here to explain, that I believed her for the next five decades. Even when I actually did get not one but three proposals, I still considered it a fluke, a product of my studied ability to appear to be something I wasn’t long enough to trick someone who wanted marriage badly enough.
What this process of going tiny has taught me is that my mother’s assertion fails because of its false premise. She assumed that getting a proposal was the standard by which my worth would be judged. I don’t blame her; she was raised in different times, and my generation came to its ascendancy as the last of that era.
I’m truly pleased for anyone who has made a success of their marriage; and I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made which contributed to the failure of mine. But what this last six months of cleansing and decluttering has given me is a new premise.
In this equation, my worth is judged not by who wants to be with me, but by my inner essence, the kernel of kindness, how I use that kindness in my dealings with others, and my capacity for joy. More than that: The measure of my value consists not in whether my legs wobble when I walk around the park, but whether my lips smile, whether I hold my head high to feel the evening breeze, and whether my heart rests lightly in my chest. It shows in the hand that I raise on the steering wheel when I come around the hairpin curve on Brannan Island Road and pass another vehicle. I prove myself every day by swinging those crippled legs onto the floor of Angel’s Haven and standing, against all odds, despite every setback, and whether or not I should, in all reality, be able to do so.
I might not be anybody else’s idea of marriage material, but I think I’m one fine person. And you can take that to the bank. Guaranteed growth potential.
It’s the third day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
This is the new screen door at Angel’s Haven. For a door stop, I’m using a rusty old bolt that I found at a thrift store in Rio Vista and bought for $3.00. The lady said, “What are you going to do with this thing?” When I explained, she cooed: “Oh that is so cool!” Indeed.