It was summer and I was 15. Still flat as a board, but tall and willowy, my hipless torso and ribbon legs predicting the shape I would eventually own in adulthood. I realize now that I was pretty back then, but at the time, I compared myself to my mother, whose exotic Cleopatra hair and red painted lips seemed far more glamorous. My mother moved through life in stilettos, applied mascara before brushing her teeth, and—as owner of her own women’s clothing boutique—enjoyed the reputation among the other suburban mothers of West Hartford, CT as fashion’s final say.
My mother was so irresistible to me that when we walked down the sidewalk after a day of shopping at G. Fox, I couldn’t help but reach for her hand. As we crossed the main drag, an 18-wheeler that had been idling at the stoplight let out a long, extended blast of the horn. Startled, I dropped my mother’s hand.
“Hey sexy!” shouted the trucker, his oily elbow resting on the open window. “Hey. You! Sexy one! When are we gonna make love?”
My mother, who actually loved getting catcalled, put her hand on her hip and did a little shake. “Thanks!” she called cheerily.
“Lady,” shouted the driver. “I was talking to your daughter.”
And in that instant, I become someone else. I was free and untethered from my mother’s apron strings, however loosely they were tied. In my new form, I immediately recognized the significance of being noticed (and of my mother being dismissed), and the first delirious high of being appraised.
Why did that trucker pick me instead of my mother, who honestly, didn’t look like a mother? (“We’re sisters,” she used to joke when making introductions.) What was he truly seeing as our long legs marched by, our strides and gaits so evenly matched, our long, piano player fingers intertwined? What if it happened again? And what if it didn’t?
It’s sad to say that I was set free the day I was objectified by a man. It’s sad because I would be lying if I didn’t say I liked it. I was jubilant about it, actually. Gone was the too-tall girl who was always the first one nailed in dodgeball. Dismissed was the shy wallflower that wildly miscalculated her costume for the high school Halloween dance and showed up as Hester Prynne, a scarlet “A” pinned to her dress and a pillow strapped beneath it. I was so different from my stylish mom, the only one in my pack of friends that was routinely picked on for having the wrong brand of clogs, being unable to blow dry my curly hair sufficiently straight, and wearing a beret because my mother told me I’d look just like Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde.”
It didn’t matter that I was earning straight A’s, was always kind to the perpetually beaten down substitute teachers, and took up for the misfits, burnouts, and nerds who had it even worse than I did.
When I got home and shut myself in my bedroom, I looked at myself in the mirror and finally saw something that was pleasing. Something that could take me places, could get me things. Something that could, and would, get me into all sorts of trouble.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.