I sat on the ground hiding behind my shopping cart in the back aisle at Target. I had not bathed in two days. I cried.
God. How did I get here?
I stopped at Target to pick up a few things after my regular appointment with my therapist. In the middle of our session she asked me how this week had been with the current news cycle (a question becoming too frequent these days.) I broke down. For the first time in a while, I wept uncontrollably and could not stop. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe. I just sobbed.
Then, of course, the overwhelming guilt of my privilege to get to sit in a therapist’s office and cry about the news swept in and I cried even harder.
When I got to Target I was still crying. I went directly to the clothes section because maybe trying on something pretty would make me feel better. That’s how it works, right? Of course, my “regular” sizes didn’t fit because I had a baby 6 months ago and still haven’t been able to regain my shape. And, of course, at night when I’m not sleeping because of newsfeeds and headlines and feelings of worthlessness…I eat. A lot.
I cried some more.
What was I even trying on? I found this pink sweatshirt that read: “MY VOICE IS VITAL.” “That’s affirming,” I thought. Maybe I need that. Maybe that would be another response I could add to my armor since 2016 when the sea changed to surface those that would go on to normalize (re-normalize?) overtly racist and sexist rhetoric. I mean, the initial power of the “Feminist With a To-Do List” and “Nevertheless She Persisted” and “Roar” and “Smash the Patriarchy” pins I had bought were really starting to wear off.
Yeah, maybe it would make me feel better to walk around in a overpriced sweatshirt that tells people that I matter. The brand, named “A New Day,” (eye roll) would have successfully capitalized on my pain this week…had it actually fit my new body and not forced me to look at myself naked to try the damn thing on in the first place.
I then get to the food section to decide how much indulgences I should get for the week ahead. I’m in the middle of the usual fight between myself and the articles and blogs that tell me “If you don’t have it in your kitchen you won’t eat it!” When I hear it. It’s the voice of one of my former students who took several of my classes at the college where I taught last year.
“He can’t see me like this. Oh God. What do I do??”
So I turn around before he can see me and run to the back of the store to hide behind my cart. But then I start questioning: “DAMN. I’m in the laundry aisle. Young men at college need laundry detergent too. WHY DIDN’T RUN TO THE FEMININE HYGIENE AISLE?”
Why couldn’t I face him? Would I have stopped to talk if it had not been a male student? I don’t know.
I probably would have felt more comfortable letting another woman in on this particular breakdown. Would she understand it? But then maybe the young man should have seen me like this: a seemingly put together college instructor breaking down in Target because of the events of week.
“Yeah, dude. This is what is happening to a whole lot of women right now. We are not ok.”
After hiding for a while I text my 3 best friends in our “be brave, you got this” moral support chain. One responds: “Just leave. I feel like Target is probably littered with abandoned carts by people who are having a rough week.”
She is probably not wrong.
However, I have to at least get back to the baby section to get formula because I have stopped producing milk. Here comes the shame again. More tears.
So what is it about this week? I would say it started last Thursday. You know, “The Kavanaugh Hearing.” But let’s be honest. This started when I was born 32 years ago, the doctor looked at my anatomy, and declared me officially “a girl.”
It started with sexual assaults I never wanted to name that because they had to have been my fault, or they involved someone who had power over me, or were more easily defined differently.
Last week I, for the first time, made a professional move that made me feel like I was worthy. I felt like such a strong, brilliant, bad ass for about 5 hours.
That was cut short.
Thursday arrived. I went to the gym to try to work out some feelings in a healthy way (Yay!) When I get there the Kavanaugh hearing is playing on every television screen with every major news outlet represented.
“God,” I thought, “this is overwhelming and has got to be triggering for at least one woman in this room right now.” I put on my headphones and blasted some show tunes.
Then, I get a text from one of my best friends who is an Episcopal priest. She tells about how a group of older men at a gathering before that day’s noonday Eucharist service commented on her weight.
“Don’t worry, honey, you wear your weight well,” one of the men said referring to her bottom.
“I then had to serve this man communion,” she concluded the text.
This. This is it. It’s just the casualness of it all. It’s the way that it is so NORMAL. It’s not the trauma inducing overt acts of rape or sexual assault that have led so many women to their breaking point this week (though for many, of course, those have too.) Rather, it’s the slow, whittling trauma of existing in this reality created by off-hand comments about our bodies; created by people crying “political correctness police!” when we stand up for ourselves against those comments; created by “boys will be boys” mentality; created by fellow women sharing memes like “Beware! Our sons are in danger!”
It’s the slow burning trauma of simply not valuing women enough to believe them.
That particular exasperation was put on display this week, but this isn’t new (for women who follow Christ anyway.) Jesus’ disciples didn’t believe the women either.
In Luke the women go to the empty tomb, encounter two angels, and go to tell the Good News to the disciples:
“‘Remember how [Jesus] told you when he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:6-11)
I imagine those bold women were a bit exasperated too.
Their profound and world changing cry of “JESUS IS RISEN!” Was met with, “Oh sure. Just the idle tales of women.”
For those of us aware of it (and perhaps even for those who aren’t) it’s the trauma caused by this casual build-up that makes weeks like this so painful. It’s this accepted attitude we live with; it’s the questioning about why we might be upset about this; it’s the labels of “over-emotional” or “angry feminist” when we express this pain; it’s the culture that responds to our profound speech with, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them.”
It’s confusing. It’s exhausting.
When I finally made it back to the front of the store the woman at the register asked, “How are you doing today?” Our eyes met and locked for a little longer than comfortable, and then, with a sad smile she just nodded.
She knows. I know. You are not alone.