17 Jun I Want to Be a Pig Again
The last ten days we’ve been showing our house to strangers with the intent of selling it. That means we had to keep it impeccable at all times for we’ve had visits every day, and sometimes multiple times a day. No pig house allowed!
The kitchen counters bare except for three or four well placed items, some of which we would never set there —a plant, cookbooks. Beds made with the fancy bedding, not the one we use at night. Bathrooms clean, dry, empty of the toiletries now sequestered and crammed in the cabinets. New, perfectly positioned towels. Fluffed cushions. Pesky finger marks wiped off mirrors and windows. Lights on everywhere.
Then we need to vacate the property for almost one hour at a time, often with short notice. Life interruptus. It’s hard to focus on work, writing, or anything else.
In regular circumstances, our home is reasonably clean, but some clutter always has a way to find its surfaces. Mail unopened on the dining room table; shoes lined up in the entrance; books on the nightstands, on my desk, on top of file cabinets; my son’s clothes strewn on his bedroom floor. The harmless piles of everyday living. I never thought I would miss so much the freedom to leave my coffee cup in the sink if I’m in a hurry in the morning, my books growing like mushrooms on the forest floor after heavy rain, the dance of dust in the sunlight.
I want to be a pig again. I want to reclaim my right to flee perfection, to focus on what’s important and disregard the unmade bed if I so choose.
This unnatural picture-perfect home has made me think of all the ways we strive to hide what we perceive as our flaws, often times losing sight of who we really are. Like when we learned to tamper down our raucous laugh if someone told us we were too loud. Or when we didn’t have peace until we straightened our teeth. Or when our affectionate child was reprimanded at school because he gave too many hugs and that was “invading other children’s personal space.”
Coincidentally, I am now reading Girlhood, a collection of essays by Melissa Febos about her struggles coming of age and the ways she tamed her true nature to fit in.
As she explains in her essay “Wild America,” Febos developed early, and her woman’s body in an 11-year-old was met with bullying and sexual harassment in school: “Before I learned about beauty, I delighted in my body…. It always felt good to know that I could easily climb the enormous oak tree beside our driveway, swim to the center of our pond, exert a concrete power on the physical word with my own two hands.” After 11, she started to see herself as other people saw her: the girls criticized as having “too big” hands and breasts, as eating too fast; the boys as a bounty to plunder.
Febos lost her connection to her animal self —her vitality, her vigor, the wildness and the trust in her own body she had grown up with. She felt she was enormous, and girls were not supposed to be enormous. Those capable hands full of scabs and callous brought her shame, because they looked like men’s hands and “to be human meant that unlike in most other species, females were the cultivators of meticulous plumage. We competed to be the weakest and the smallest and most infantile.”
By the time she was thirteen, she had divorced her body. In her twenties, she never let a lover see her naked in full light. “I never forgot myself. Whenever a lover looked at me, so did I, fastidiously monitoring the position of my limbs and torso lest they give away their secret enormity.” Mind you, Febos is a beautiful, petite, curvaceous woman, not overweight at all, but she had been conditioned to see herself as excessive. She’s also a feminist, well aware of the contradictions in her predicament: “…one can build a life around fighting the patriarchy and still have parts of your own mind believe that your worth correlates exactly to your desirability to men.” Been there, done that.
It was only in her early thirties, after taking time off from a string of consecutive monogamous relationships that something opened in her “to let more life in.” In her subsequent relationship with her girlfriend, she was able to bring the glory of her own body without subterfuges. “Intimacy, I’ve found, has little to do with romance. Maybe it is the opposite of romance, which is based on a story written by someone else. It is a closeness to another person that requires closeness with oneself.”
This last quote impacted me deeply. So much so I think I may use at the beginning of my memoir. Having grown up in a large family where there was little intimacy, I still struggle with revealing myself fully to another human being.
My house is now curated for the eyes of strangers. I miss the benign messiness of a life lived with the comfort of trust—the trust of knowing your family members will still love you if there are a few hairs in the bathroom sink. Although it’s easy for me to dislike my home’s too perfect appearance—and most of all, the annoyance to recreate it and dismantle it several times a day—, I still struggle to fully show up without “staging” myself. I still often hiding my emotional and physical “messiness,” that most intimate layer of me. But I am working on it.
Did you feel that you had to hide parts of yourself growing up?