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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Flight Attendants

Someone posted this on Facebook the other day and reading it, touched a nerve - many nerves. Where I can not relate to the eating disorder, being a woman I can relate to the pressure imposed on all of us to look good.

What really resonated with me was the inherited habit of silence. While sons are taught to speak up, daughters are taught to listen. The difference between a good daughter and a bad daughter determined by the quality of the silence; bad daughters have the unfortunate habit of speaking up from time to time. Good girls know how to say what others want to hear but no one teaches them to say what they want. Most girls are brought up to be like flight attendants, pleasant in conversation, mindful of other people's needs and easy on the eye.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot to say "sorry!"

      Shrinking Women

Across from me at the kitchen table, 
My mother smiles over red wine
That she drinks out of a measuring cup

She says that she doesn't deprive herself,
but I've learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork
In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate
I've realized that she only eats dinner when I suggest it
I wonder what she does when I am not there to do so

Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return; it's proportional
As she shrinks the space around her seems increasingly vast
She wanes while my father waxes
His stomach has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry
A new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager, but my dad reports that now she's "crazy about fruit"

It was the same with his parents;
as my grandmother became frail and angular her husband swelled
to red round cheeks, round stomach,
And I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking,
making space for the entrance of men into their lives,
Not knowing how to fill it back once they leave.

I was taught accommodation.
My brother never thinks before he speaks.
I have been taught to filter.
"How can anyone have a relationship with food?" he asks,
Laughing as I eat the black bean soup I chose for it's lack of carbs
I want to say: we come from difference, Jonas,
You have been taught to grow out,
I have been taught to grow in.
You learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll
Each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose
your voice every other week from shouting so much
I learned to absorb
I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself.
I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for oysters,
And I never meant to replicate her, but
Spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits
That's why women in my family have been shrinking for decades
Each generation taught the next how to knit,
Weaving silence in between the threads
Which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house,
Skin itching
Picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped like
Bits if crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again.
Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark
A fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled.
Deciding how many bites is too many.
How much space she deserves to occupy.
Watching her struggle I either mimic or hate her,
And I don't want to do either anymore,
But the burden of this house has followed me across the country.
I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the words "sorry".
I don't know the requirements for the sociology major because I
spent the entire meeting deciding if I could have another slice of pizza
A circular obsession I never wanted, but
Inheritance is accidental,
Still staring at me with wine-stained lips from across the kitchen table.

Lily Myers

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