At forty-five I am tougher than I ever was. On balance, this is no shame. For my survival it was essential that I develop skin, and so I have. Once I was no more than a raw, jangling nerve. If you'd brushed your hand by me, I would have felt for days the heat of contact, the hairs on my arm standing up at attention, bracing against unnamed threat.
As a toddler I punched a housekeeper in the stomach (an ample stomach, to be sure) because she had a habit of pinching my cheek hard and wriggling in one fat fist the skin of mine she'd collected.
If you imagine that for me the daily ritual of elementary school might have been akin to wrapping myself around a cactus, you imagine right.
The boys who pulled on the back of my dress, a blue woolen dress with a white Peter Pan collar and three daisies embroidered on the front, must have been flabbergasted to elicit such guttural howls from me. I never wore the dress again, after that day. I was not a child who made the same mistake twice.
The virtue of my youthful condition was that I was as exquisitely tuned to your pain as to my own. I cared for you when you were hurting, all of you outcasts as damaged as my own small self.
I was the kid who volunteered to sit with the unpopular girl on the ride to the hospital after our classmates, freshly arrived at a farm on a field trip and thinking themselves funny, had pushed her off of the barn's hay loft and broken her leg. Third grade. This choice of mine, to side so obviously with a victim, served only to make me unpopular, at least for a time, but I never did suffer fools lightly.
With no small effort I cultivated my shell, and now I am safe. It is about time, I know. But I sense the loss of some of my outsized empathy, for you, you, and you. Oh, I talk the talk. Yet in order to save myself I had to abandon you, didn't I?
Time stops for no man, I think they say. Over the years I collected the weak and weary, and I faithfully inscribed your particulars in my little book. It occurs to me that I have lost that book, and that somehow I never even took note of its absence.
Is this adulthood, then? I'll take it - I don't have a choice - but not without a passing glance at all the victims, all the snot-nosed children shoved out of the hay loft and landing limp, limbs akimbo -- so many Raggedy Annes and Andys. It may seem so, but I haven't really forgotten you, even if I've misplaced your names and addresses.
What else is it that they say? This: Takes one to know one. And so I do, yes I do.