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Don’t Fence Her In

Interpretation by Rebecca Paquette Johnson

Do we label ourselves or does our culture label us? As a girl who grew into women I now understand that it’s a little of both. As girls we have little control on the cultural end where at a certain age we are often judged based on beauty rather than merit. I remember graduating summa cum laude from college only to have my step-father minimize the accomplishment by saying, “Well, if you can’t get a job at least you’re cute enough to marry a rich guy.” The implication was that my intellect didn’t matter. I’d never make it without a man so I might as well stock up on make-up and hairspray and find me a rich one. Unlike the heroic women I’ve seen in documentaries or read about in books who rise above (at least somewhat) this kind of grotesque gender power play I took it all to heart and, for a long time, felt unworthy of equality. But I’m 50 now and a lot has changed. Not necessarily out there in the “Real Men“ world, but in here, in my world. I struggled. I grew. I’m still growing. As is “Real Men” poetic interpreter, Becky Paquette, my friend and fellow explorer who was inspired by the poem to write the following piece about her own journey of self-discovery as she moved from the fogginess of 49 into light-filled age of 50. Cheers to all of us who are shedding cultural skins that just don’t fit.

T-Shirt by Rebecca A. Paquette Johnson

“Fold into your culture” “Be selfless”, “You’re not enough”, Her t-shirt said.  She wore it for 49 years.  At times She questioned the fit, but family, neighbors and her culture said it would be uncomfortable and possibly intolerable if changed.

In Her time of inevitable questioning, messages to shelter in self-care, started to come. They came to Her in the spiritual, in vivid dreams, visions, from the living and the dead. Dreams in which guiding spirits unmistakably were leading Her. Dreams containing guidance and clarity.

This information made the t-shirt feel confining in the most unsuspecting places. Her throat strengthened, Her song grew, and the collar constricted. Her clavicle tightened and tingled as though it had milk to let down for a babe. Her stomach rested, but Her tightening skin became acutely alert. Her mind and wisdom-heart considered that darkness may have hidden gifts and She could look in, not look away anymore. The t-shirt felt wedged into Her subtle folds and slowly, almost lazily, out of habit, it continued to tighten. Sensitive to her knowing, her soul had finally seeped thoroughly through, connecting to the exterior layer of her epidermis and now Her energy started to push beyond the boundary of Her body. Her light, rekindled from 8 year old playfulness made Her dance. Her eyes shifted from the ground she had been staring at for 9 years and up into the mirror that had been placed there by a loving friend. The girl was not a loathing, unsatisfied heart anymore. She was fully alive. She felt artful. She was art. She danced, a beautiful dance. At first, She only danced in the protected light of the moon. Soon she danced unapologetically wherever she went, moon lit, or Sun drenched. The t-shirt’s fit became unbearable, so constricting. It began to pull apart at its tired seams. Unraveling light cotton rags started softly falling away from her tentative, yet exhilarated body. Her new nonconforming ideas, like razors, struck the material. Eventually leaning into Her soul’s request until she stood there naked. With no t-shirt to protect and anesthetize Her, she spread to Her awakening. The razor’s edges, subtly, tenderly and with the utmost care, slit her gently open. Numb to threats and fear and intimidation, she stood now, strong, balancing upon bravery, neither in panic, nor calm, she watched, hovering above herself in disbelief, at the unfolding. Oddly, the bloodletting caused no alarm. Blood and cultural pressure no longer caused Her to tremble. As not a thread lay upon her now. The self-loathing messages had dripped off and lay at her feet. Interior nonessentials were released through fresh wounds. Slowly, garnet droplets fell on the t-shirt. It saturated the old useless messages. They became unreadable, unrecognizable, obsolete. She was curious about her nakedness and the blood, yet the newfound sensations pleased her. Relief and freedom overtook her. Ragged, like cloth peace flags that waved through raging winds, the ribbon of t-shirt began to rise up around her and roll through the air. And as material in a magic trick, it shape-shifted, floating, until slowly, gently, with the assistance of her willing artistry, it spun into what appeared like beautiful, aged cursive. Since She had another lifetime to grow, she patiently watched, witnessing her own miracle, as the threads began to organize like linear messaging waves. Then, like acrobats aloft, turning with the grace of a ballerina, it twisted in the air. Lines of scored music started to articulate her soul’s experience. She continued to dance. Soon a complete song of silken sinew wrapped into Her new story and wrapped around Her tender heart. She felt it. All of it. Past narratives, gifts from willing souls of grace and cutting pain, – it all integrated with Her song and was known from then on as a love story.

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