Today I’m that good kind of tired that comes from staying out late, dancing and drinking with friends. I don’t take fun evenings for granted. Traveling abroad alone as a female, I’m often on guard. I’m careful to book safe hotels (especially after this experience), walk in well-lighted, well-traveled areas, and watch over my shoulder for anyone following me too closely. I’m aware how privileged I am traveling alone as a woman–I have money, I have an able body, and I’m in a part of the world that doesn’t typically attack or rape or molest lone female travelers. In subtle ways, though, I’m reminded that there is a box that women, particularly married women of a certain age, should fit inside. And if you know me, you know I don’t like boxes.
I recently gave a reading of an essay about my work as a GTA. Woven into the story are glimpses of my former life, a suffocating, painful time. I find myself, even years later, chafing when I sense people questioning me, wondering what I’m up to. Would a middle-aged woman do that? Would a married woman do that? When a woman questions me about dancing or says she’s too old for dancing, I say my family is from New Orleans, where you dance until you’re too old to walk, and even then, you sit (if you must) and tap your foot and join in the party of life however you can. When people say they’re too old too dance, underneath, they’re saying dancing is for the young. Wrong, I say.
This summer, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever really dance again. I had major surgery. Removal of tissue. Reconstruction. The recovery was slow and painful. Parts of my body have taken months to return to fully functioning, and some of me still isn’t there yet. I found out a few weeks ago, though, that I can dance. There’s this feeling, though, this lurking need to explain myself to the people who see me as an old, married lady. Read: “Finished with having fun or being any combination of sexual or sensual.” No, that’s not me.
I made some new friends recently on a solo trip to Bath. Hanging out alone in the rooftop thermal spa was, yes, a little challenging–I was surrounded by lovers and clumps of men and women at stag- and hen-nights. For the Americans in the audience, that means bachelor and bachelorette parties. So, picture me, arms crossed on the lip of the pool, staring out at the sunset all alone while around me are merriment and whispered sweet nothings. Imagine my surprise when folks introduced themselves and asked if they could watch the sunset with me. So lovely. One of them, a college maths teacher, invited me for dinner with her and her husband the next night.
Of course, I worried a little. They might’ve wanted to chop me up and eat me for dinner. But actually, they turned out to be lovely Brits, and we stayed out until two in the morning drifting from one pub to the next until all the doors were finally closed for the night. Like a conversation in an airplane, when you know you’ll likely never see this person again, we talked about all kinds of things. At one point, the husband asked me, “You’re tactile, aren’t you?” And I said yeah, I guess I am. I like to dance. I like massages and thermal baths. I told him and his wife how I’d felt slightly touch-starved since coming to the UK. The English have a larger need for personal space than my countrymen back home across the pond. He said that earlier, I’d rested my hand on his arm and then pulled it away as if I’d been jolted. I had, I think. I was jolted because I was surprised to suddenly find my hand on his arm. You’re hard to live with, aren’t you? he said. (He’s quite straightforward for a Brit, isn’t he?) I said how do you mean? He said I was strong-willed, wasn’t I? And I said, Oh, that. Yeah.
I am tough to live with. I’m sure my partner back home and my son are enjoying a little breathing room. I’m enjoying it, too. It’s amazing what days and nights of space to think and read and write can do for creativity. I’ll return home soon, but oh, I don’t want to lose this window that has opened in my brain–words come to me so easily, ideas. Scenes. The last several years have been HARD, as anyone who knows me can attest. Here, in the UK, the cortisol is settling out of my system, and I’m breathing a little deeper, worrying and fretting a little less. Heck, I might even get a tattoo.
Here’s a song by Meredith Brooks known to many as “Nothing in Between.” The real title, though, is “Bitch.” The first time I heard this song I was visiting New Orleans the summer of 1997… weeks after my first husband told me he’d found someone else. Whew. Some good shit here, ladies and gentlemen.