One day when I was in elementary school I came home, sat in front of the tv and watched an After-School Special. It was about a shy girl who had moved into a new school and nobody wanted to be her friend until the coolest boy (the QUARTERBACK) started noticing her and asked her out. She felt so indebted to him for giving her attention that she didn't notice when their relationship started becoming abusive. They would go to big parties together for popular people and he would watch her every move. If she so much as talked to another boy, her boyfriend would hit her. There was a scene, I remember, where it showed her face--all black and blue--looking at her boyfriend begging him to stop.
I sat and watched, riveted until the end when she finally had the nerve to tell her parents the truth. I sat and watched the abuse, the cover-ups, the never-ending dramatic pseudo-apologies and thought, this is the most romantic thing I had ever seen.
To have a man care so much about you, to be so obsessed with your actions that he would watch you and hover over you, to be capable of making a man so angry or so blissful felt like a super power. I began to mentally work out how to become a shy, retiring girl so that a boy would feel like he could own me.
This was a revelation. I spent the next few years of my life pleading -prayerfully- to be more simple, to be less wild, to be more innocent and carry a reputation of weakness. But no matter how desperately I didn't want to be the girl who showed up to parties loud and animated, that girl would always come out on top. And in all my relationships, I was the one who had the control.
After that After-School Special day I resumed growing up. I came to interpret a pressing theme inside my upbringing : I was to be a wife and mother -as soon as possible- and in order to achieve this, I was to be as sexy as possible. Without messing with my chastity.
The blueprint for my wifehood and motherhood was found in sparkling photographs of Martha Stewart enterprise. I believed a successful woman looked like ironed sheets of high-ranged thread count, painted walls in organic colors and monthly parties with themes and color schemes. To please everyone in my life, I would marry as young as possible, have babies in succession and live in the dreams of professional domestic stylists.
And yet, in order to catch a man it was imperative for my body to be as thin as possible, perky and pleasing. I needed to dress with just enough thrill to catch an eye, but not so seductively that I would forgo sleeves.
Be sexy enough to attract a man. Be good enough to keep him chaste.
So when I turned nineteen years old, I had a very clear vision of everything. And though it promised my total happiness, I was in such a dark, lonely, medicated place at nineteen years old. I promised myself my existence would be better as soon as I met the boy who would own me. He would own all of my choices and all of the consequences and I could just be obedient. I wouldn't be complete until I met him.
And so you can imagine my relief when I met that boy one day during Speech and Drama class. I walked into class wearing my requisite tight skirt (but long) and watched his eyes travel up and down my body. The relief I found in thinking I finally found my owner, the man who held my destiny. The thrill I felt when he confessed to hitting his former girlfriend with a pool stick when she said things he didn't like.
But that wild, opinionated girl--the authentic me--she wouldn't be put away. And for months and months I danced between the girl I felt molded to become and the girl who wanted to obliterate the mold, smash it, destroy it. And this impossible dance cost me just about everything I had. I felt as powerless as the shy girl in the After-School Special, except I didn't feel special, I felt rage.
Why didn't the shy girl ever show rage?
I would've broken up with him sometime after the manipulations started, but, you see, I had a very heavy, very real, pressing fear that if I didn't marry by twenty-one I'd be disappointing my entire world. Including God.