- Postpartum: A Fairy Tale, and: Introduction to Patriarchy, and: Introduction to Sex Education, and: Introduction to Art History, and: The Face in the Chalice
Postpartum: A Fairy Tale
The pages of our storybook childhoods were rippedfrom the Brothers Grimm, the woods always in shadow,the apples poisoned, the ladders made of bone,our mothers telling us early how much they lovedand loathed us: how my aunt had wished to findmy cousin drowned in the washing machine,while my mother hoped her cat would climb the wallsof my crib and steal my breath. Our longed-for endingstold gleefully and in the passive voice.Those days were gone, they told us, but we wondered.If, as Bettelheim writes, the witches and giantsin the brutal fairy tales are really stand-insfor the parents the child is afraid to fear and love,what did we make of our mothers’ revelations,which made us the monstrous creatures, changelings leftby trolls? That they could not, or would not, save us.That we had to learn to walk the woods alone. [End Page 145]
Introduction to Patriarchy
For a while we found them everywhere we looked,tucked in our brothers’ closets or slipped insideour fathers’ attachés: carouselsof airbrushed women with rumpled curlswearing sweaters or raincoats or negligeesor nothing but shoes. (Their feet were never bare.)
Bedecked in stockings and heels as tall as stilts,they seemed as though they always had to grabahold of something strong—a doorframe, say,or a fire hose—or lean across a bedto keep from toppling. Top-heavy, lips wet,one arm lifted or crossed, they waited for us.
Side by side, our bodies hairless, all linesand sharp angles, we studied their proportions.We read about their favorite centuries(The 20th, because women can finallypursue their own individualityand potential!) and ideal men and memorized
their vague ambitions. Ranking their parts, we foughtover who got to be Miss Octoberor Miss April when we played—what was the game?It can’t be called dress-up if we undressed.Instead of doctors or astronauts, we channeledwaitresses in a topless bar. We practiced
carrying trays and looking vacant or surprised.When our big breaks came, we posed for centerfolds,eager to please the invisible camera.We leaned against the wall or dropped to our handsand knees, our smiles fixed, until our fathers’voices sent us fumbling for our clothes. [End Page 146]
Introduction to Sex Education
Our final project was to paint a faceon a raw egg, nestle it in a cardboard crib,and carry it for a week. Some girls made lacepajamas, one fashioned an egg-sized bib,but this was missing the point, our teacher said:babies were hell: a never-leaving need,hungry and squalling, shit-stained, refusing bed.Our eggs were easy—no diapers, no mouths to feed—and even so our parenting was lax.We crammed our progeny in lockers, droppedthem on the bus. We patched their hairline crackswhen we could with Elmer’s Glue. The worst were swapped.What had we learned, if we had stopped to think?To forge Ms. Greene’s initials in blue ink. [End Page 147]
Introduction to Art History
I. Fountain, 1917
In the half-dark we sat, most of us half-awake as Ms. Bagwell rocked on thin heels,clicking through slides on an ancient projector,
tracing our progress from the walls of cavesthrough fertile and faceless Venus of Willendorfto the ancient Greeks’ golden boys and gods.
Having signed up for the gentle Impressionistswhose prints hung on our kitchen calendar,I suffered through the Rococo and David.
I was suspicious of the French Romantics’tumult and restraint, the exaggerated tensionin those bodies splayed across battlegrounds
and rafts, and all the women bare-chestedfor no apparent reason. But by the springI decided I loved it all, even what
I hadn’t liked, especially the wayMs. Bagwell nearly leaped out of her shoesat her favorite slides, her hands flying, breathless
as she tried to tell us...