Self-Expression

me-lizards-and-rat-snake
Weener and me

This photo was taken in Michigan and the suntan is hiding the acne, which is actually improving, plus I’ve trimmed down. I am maybe seventeen. I’m pretty when I’m holding reptiles, even though I’m being a ham. Take away the reptiles and I start to look lost and afraid.

I just read this on my daily horoscope –I’m an Aquarius:

“The original version of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers did not chart on the UK Singles Chart until 2009, 38 years after its release. After certain disappointments you feel like no amount of time will resolve issues you have with your self-expression. Unfortunately, you might be right.

Still, there might be a possibility you were just set in the wrong crowd, and that you have given your heart and your creativity into all the wrong hands, bumping into everything but understanding on your way.”

OMG. It was one year ago that I went to Vermont College for the post-grad workshop and Martine Leavitt read my work. I remember whining to Martine, “Nobody understands lizards, nobody understands me.” She said, yes, that’s the story.

So I’m working on this bit (it’s rough, incomplete!) in the memoir, which now has a working title. Iguana’s Dance:

When Grandpa looked at me that summer his blue eyes and worried face reflected pitiful back to me and I knew how sad and disturbed he felt about what was happening to his sweet, pretty granddaughter –because that’s what I was once, sweet and pretty and it made me want to die, the way I’d become so disgusting and how I wore that feeling about myself all over my face along with the zits. Grandma’s expression was concerned and practical. She said, “I know it feels bad and it looks bad, too, but don’t pick, or it’ll get worse. Go lie in the sun.”

So I did, in my bikini with Weener. It had to be a bikini since my torso was so long that every one-piece I tried hiked up my butt crack, plus I had to have a top that tied around my neck and fastened securely around my ribs. Grandma fixed lunch while Grandpa sat inside the screened porch with his feet up, drinking his midday martini. Weener and I basked in the sun, stretched out on the cement ledge that went around the pool and when we needed to cool down we slipped into the water like a couple of crocodiles and climbed out on the other side to heat up again.

When Grandpa looked at Weener, he didn’t see her. I’m not so sure he saw me, either, once puberty got a hold of me. I tried to hide behind my lizard as though it wasn’t really happening. I’d dive down deep in the pool and transform into a lizard, powerful, armored. I reasoned that I must be part reptile since I was too hot in summer and too cold in winter. It’s so nuts how I tried to deny those immense mammalian things sprouting from my body right there practically under my nose.

Maybe I’d lost my prettiness, but what I still had in my favor with Grandpa was “scholarship and athletic prowess,” like on that bronze medal in his drawer. I was on the volleyball team and always getting Honors in my classes including Latin, which he’d studied. Sipping his martini, he would close his eyes and recite, “Sum, es, est. Sumus, estis, sunt.” Then his rumbly laugh warm with pride. I rode high on it.

In my memory I’ve conflated all the times adult friends and relatives asked how I was doing in school and then, “Still have those –what do you call them– iguanas?” I’d say, “Fine,” and “Yes.” There’d be a chuckle and shaking of the head. One time Grandma said, “Oh, she’ll trade the lizards in for boys soon enough.”

But I was quite clear, sitting very still and sober and solid when Grandma said this. Usually when an adult made a forecast about me, my stomach twisted in knots, believing it would happen because they said so. There wasn’t anything else I was ever sure of except that I would never “trade in” my lizards for anything, or anyone.

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