Saturday, March 2, 2013

When Cinderella Went to the Ball

Sliding down the banister is no fun when there's a newel post at its end. I learned that the hard way when I was six years old. Bloodied mouth, black-spotted tooth: the legacy of misadventure. If risk-taking turns out well, its likelihood increases. If not...

Here, an offering: At around the same age I made a mess of my room. This took work. I was by nature a tidy child. I tossed some toys onto the floor, threw a few dolls off of my bed, and waited. I needed to know whether I would be accepted as a different kind of kid.

The answer came soon enough, and it was fiercely negative. I cleaned up the room and felt both better and worse than I had before. Why go against who I was? Why go against who my parent insisted that I be?

Neat, quiet, conscientious, docile. These were adjectives teachers showered on me. I made their lives easy. After all, it's what I was born to do.

But one time a teacher distributed books as Christmas gifts. She told us second-graders that she'd hand-picked them, that no child was receiving the same book. Eagerly I unwrapped my book. Its title: Cinderella.

Ouch. I was not a stupid child. I understood the teacher's message.

Was it any surprise that Mrs. Meier was let go at the end of that year?


When I was in ninth grade, my lovely best friend Elizabeth convinced me to cut off my waist-length hair. I'd worn my hair the same way for as long as I could remember. My mother was adamant about my hair's length; I can't say why, as she had been a tomboy child herself. This time I followed Elizabeth's, not my mother's, lead. I was enchanted by the results: my hair now fell to my shoulders. It was so light! I kept running hands through it and startling anew each time my fingers met air.

Back at home I pranced into the kitchen, where my mother sat at the table. I felt so pretty that for once I was unprepared for trouble. She took one long look at me and wailed, "What did you do?" And then, the habitual frown and icy words spoken through clamped jaw: "How. Could. You."

If I'd been older, I might have replied, sensibly, "It's my hair," or, "I didn't dye it pink or cut it punk."

Instead I burst into tears. And there we were, both of us crying, one shocked and saddened by an act of defiance, the other shocked and saddened to learn that going for a ten-dollar haircut could ever be construed as an act of defiance.


alejna said...

Oh, ouch.

But I loved the way you tied these vignettes together. Beautifully written, as always. I know that these images will stay with me.

Mary Gilmour said...

So many no-win situations. So beautifully told. Hugs!

V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

When I read about your teacher picking Cinderella for you, my immediate reaction was positive. I thought of it from the point of view that an ordinary or unhappy life could CHANGE, good things could come to those who have no reason to expect them. But clearly you, or child you, saw this as demeaning. I wonder why your teacher picked that book for you? Maybe something as innocent as thinking you'd like it? Or not...

I had the opposite issue with hair. My mother loved to keep it short. She used to tell people, "The more you cut it, the more it curls." I envied girls who had pigtails and hairclips and hair bows and the rest. When I was 12, I was finally permitted to grow my hair out and it made it down below my shoulders. And then I had it all cut off. My mother didn't yell at me, but she was so sad to see it go, even though she'd forced me to keep it short for years before that...I wore my hair long through high school and college (down to my waist), then went short again in my 20s. When I cut my hair then, a woman I went to church with came up to me with tears in her eyes. "Oh, oh, why did you cut your hair? I loved to sit behind you and watch the sun shine off of it." I was both touched and bewildered, this sense that other people felt ownership of my hair was so...strange. My husband never cared about my hair at all, but I once was dating someone who loved it, loved to put his hands in it. It was the most delicious thing--such a tender gesture and so seductive.

Sarah said...

That's a lovely meditation on hair, Veronica.

Christine said...

I know I've said this before, but I'd love to see all these stories about your young life put together in a book.

Magpie said...

Oh hair. You know, I didn't have my hair cut by anyone by my mother until I was about 40. What's that say?