Saturday, March 7, 2009


Sometimes I look out through my eyes, and I have a feeling that they do not belong to me. That is because it is not me doing the looking--it is the other me, the one who used to exist many years ago, the me who has been displaced against my will by time. The other one still lives in the years of youth, the juice-filled years. In these moments I feel I am walking in my body many years ago, and it is a coiled spring of energy and hope and possibility. It is the body that had curves (yes) and swagger, the one that leaned back into life watchfully, as if perusing the buffet. The body that my mother, in the passenger seat, would stare at and then bark, "Both hands on the wheel!" When I would silently persist, as it felt much better, right, to cock an elbow out the window, let my right hand hold all the power, she would sniff, "You drive like a dime-store cowboy."

And that is me, a dime-store cowboy who is every inch a gi
rl, walking down Fifth Avenue at lunchtime, aware that eyes were following. Sometimes the mouths below those eyes would open, and I hated it. I cringed, because those comments were supposed to rile me, rob me of my composure and thus of my integrity. And now I hate the fact that no one says anything anymore. Hypocrite.

Or else I might just be sad at what I can not control, and what I did not understand. This is a special sadness that belongs only to women. See, we were the girls who reveled, for the first time in this social history, in our ability to
wield our sexuality for our own devices, or so we thought; but now that we're old, we find we've lost the visibility that helped make us who we were. You'd think we'd feel free at last, now that no one wants to take us. We can walk where we want, unremarked. But it feels like a terrible loss anyway. We can't win.

American Girl in Rome by Ruth Orkin

Exactly thirty years ago, I walked down a street in Athens, Greece, with my new junior-year-abroad girlfriends, tight in the embrace of adventure. A car slowed to walking pace next to us. We kept our gazes steadfastly ahead. They razzed us continuously: "Beautiful! Oh, my god, gorgeous! Come with us. Let us buy you a coffee. Please! Just a coffee. Come on. Oh, beautiful!" We said the appropriate things, in our American-inflected Greek: No, sorry, we're busy. No, really, we can't. But they didn't stop. "Just one minute for us. You won't be sorry. Oh, gorgeous! We don't believe you." Each moment we had to up the arms race, the words more and more forceful: No, leave us alone. Still we walked (now looking for anywhere, an alley or a shop, into which to duck, but there were only apartment buildings, miles of them, nowhere to hide). Then we were yelling: Get the hell out of here! At last, Leila, a spirited Greek-American from Boston, threw a plastic bottle from the gutter into the window of their car. They asked for it. And suddenly, it was war. Full-out war. "Whores!" they screamed. We walked faster, and faster, and their car jumped the curb. They were driving behind us, and we were running. For our lives. Because if they couldn't have us, they would hurt us.

What is this impulse?

That kind of controlling assault by men--constant, from the minute you went outside--made my sojourn in Greece something I almost could not wait to escape. My experience there now, I suspect, would be that of an entirely different country. I might actually get to see it, instead of hiding behind ancient kore and dusty shrubs half the time.

So why is it that I fervently wish for, oh, I don't know, just five years to be erased from my log? I mean, is that so much to ask?

Ah, but it wouldn't really change anything, would it? Anyway, I have my small pleasures: prime among them the pastime of thinking, as I gaze upon some dewy-cheeked young beauty, "Know what? Some day you are going to be exactly as old as I am now. You too will look at pictures of your cohort when they were thirty years younger, and be stunned to realize you cannot even recognize them as the same human being."

But if hope is the province of the young, then I am suddenly a child, with a whole life spread out ahead of me, with surprise and greenness. Things are going to happen. I am not sure which eyes I will use to see them with.

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