It was an honest question delivered by an honest friend, but I was tempted to give a cheeky answer.
When I was a little girl, I preferred playing with the boys. Girls were okay, but the boys did stuff, went places, got dirty — dogs followed them around because they knew that wherever boys were there would be an adventure.
It wasn’t long before I noticed the anatomical difference between my male playmates and myself. In the summer, we took off our clothes when we went swimming in the creek. This minimised the disapproving looks we got from our mother’s, regarding damp, muddy clothing.
In our ‘birthday suits,’ I noticed that everyone around me had ‘a little extra’, and in some cases, a lot extra. Boldly, I asked the boys what that ‘little extra’ was called. I got all the answers that you would expect but one of the older boys, who went to a posh school, told me not to listen to the crude boys, the correct name was ‘a penis’. I thought he said ‘happiness’, and come to think of it, under the right circumstances, I was right.
That night, after a bath and my favourite dinner, my mum put me to bed and read me a story, ‘Rufus and the mysterious case of the missing dog biscuits’. I was exhausted after playing all day, but as usual, I didn’t want the day to end. I engaged my mother in conversation, even though I was having difficulty keeping my eyes open. She indulged me because she knew that the Sandman would win this battle sooner rather than later.
Before I drifted off, I asked one last question. “Mum, why don’t I have a penis?” There was a long moment of silence during which I thought I may have fallen asleep, but eventually, my mother said, “Don’t you worry darling when you grow up you can have as many as you want.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, but her answer was strangely reassuring, and I can picture her now delivering that line with a tiny smile on her face.
Mostly the boys accepted me for my daring and courage but sometimes, mostly during those swimming sessions, one of the boys would kid me about my lack of appendage. I simply delivered my mother’s famous line, and a look of bemusement would spread across their face, and things would return to normal.
It was probably then I learned that the world would leave you alone as long as you had a comeback line that sounded vaguely plausible, with a twist of confusion.
“Seriously Elena, how are you going to cope without a man?” My friend’s question was more urgent because I seemed to be in my own world. I was — I was remembering my beautiful mother and my exciting playmates, but now I had to come up with an answer, or she would not leave me alone.
“I do most of the things that a man does around the house. I fix the lights when the bulbs blow out. I sort out the tradesmen when we need them. I do the shopping, cleaning, ironing, and cooking. What do I need a man for?”
My friend smiled and blushed, and before she could speak, I said, “And for that, I have an ample supply of batteries.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant, Elena, but it does bring up a good point. What about friendship, companionship. Someone, to be with in your old age?”
When I replied, there was fire in my eyes.
“I’ll attract someone who doesn’t give me a backhander just because I looked at him when he was angry. I’ll choose someone who doesn’t frighten me and likes to share their day without a hint of condescension. A partner who will share the load, not dump it on me. I’m awake for the first time in more than thirty years, and I’m not going to waste the experience. I’ve got places to go and people to see. I’m going to listen and learn and I’m not going to say no when life says, ‘come this way’. I’m going to get to heal others because that is what I was sent to this earth to do. I know this now, and while I have breath in my body I’m going to follow my dream. The universe can have me and I will ride the waves with a smile on my face, and a glass of red in one hand and chocolate in the other.”
It occurred to me that this was the first time I had said these words out loud — the first time I had shared my excitement and frustration at my past. How could I have let it go on for so long? Children, of course. We do whatever is needed to give our kids a stable home, but sometimes, just sometimes it would be better if we didn’t hang around and watch the life-force drain out of us.
I was lucky. I discovered Nick. Well, I didn’t exactly discover him, he was always there, but I found him. A friend suggested that I go and speak to him. “Great,” I thought, “just what this bloke needs, another middle-aged housewife bleating about her boring life.” And, at first, that was what it was — me bleating away. Amazingly, he didn’t fall asleep during our sessions, and slowly he began to show me that there was something very special inside me.
That was all it took.
I was ready, and the teacher appeared.
I unfurled my wings and dried them in the sun — then I flew away.