If You Find Her, Give Ophelia CPR, For God’s Sake
As you probably already know if you graduated from the equivalent of a high school in an English speaking country, Ophelia is Hamlet’s poor girlfriend, who drowns herself over her unrequited love for Hamlet. Hamlet, the reluctant hero of Shakespeare’s play, whose indecision causes tragedy after tragedy, shuns her. He says, “Get thee to a nunnery.” Ophelia drowns herself in a river instead. I guess the prospect of being a Danish nun in the early fourteenth century was not particularly appealing for an adolescent girl.
There’s a book called Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. I’ve never read it, but it was recommended to me once by a former therapist of mine. Maybe I’ll get around to it one day. Apparently, the point behind the book is that adolescent girls lose themselves once they venture into the realm of puberty. They stop being fully engaged and independent and thinking human beings and become instead, the simpering love objects of fully engaged men, in action movies and on the covers of magazines.
The messages we’re taught about being women are taught by reading the covers of Cosmo, Ladies Home Journal and Playboy. Men want food, sex, and beer, and not necessarily in that order. We are here to make men happy. We’re not successful unless we have a man and can keep that man. That is the new goal.
When we’re girls we’re fun and independent and concerned with goals and our future and career. I wasn’t a tomboy, and I even played sports, basketball on a school team and pick up games against the neighborhood boys. I learned how to throw a perfect spiral with a regulation football. I took dance lessons. I had dreams of being a photographer or a lawyer or a writer.
That changes around the time we enter sixth or seventh grade. When we turn adolescent our thoughts become consumed with whether or not boys like us and what we can do to make them like us, our weight, our bra size, makeup, sex. Those of us who don’t conform to this way of thinking are punished severely by our society until we give in, or, at the very least, offer nothing but passive resistance, sitting in the corner at the junior high dances, wallflowers.
The boys are in charge now. Later, the men will be in charge, and they will remain so until the day we die. We learn that boys can be withholding and controlling, that they insist on dominating the relationship and the conversation. They want to pick out the girl they want to win and then win her; they do not find your interest in them anything but pathetic or, worse yet, something to be exploited. If you do like a particular boy, then you learn how to hide it or face the consequences.
The girls who get the attention of boys stay in line. They do not grow taller than boys if they can help it. And if they can’t, then they wear flats and slump their shoulders in a desperate effort to hide this. We do not let on that we are smarter than boys, even if we are. We let them win, at everything. We learn quickly that to do anything else is social suicide.
If you are one of the girls, like me, who resents this, you learn to keep your mouth shut. The other girls, who probably all secretly resent it, too, will peck you to death like the weakest bald-assed chicken in the barnyard. Ironically, it’s the other girls who are being suppressed and repressed who enforce the codes, not the boys.
I just befriended this guy on Facebook who used to be the children’s librarian at the public library in the blink-and-you-miss-it town I lived in when I was in junior high school. We’ll call him Dr. Who because he was a fan of the series and later went to medical school and became a doctor.
All the boys I went to school with thought he was the bomb because he had one of the first Macs, and he would play video games and talk about science fiction with them. And their pictures are on his Facebook page, which amused me to no end because it has been so long now that I wouldn’t even recognize the one boy who used to make my life miserable if I saw him as he looked then on the street now. We should call him Little Shit. I stared at that first picture of Little Shit and was, like, “So, that’s what he looked like. Jeez. He was cute. I didn’t remember that.”
The children’s section of the library was in the basement, and they had some books that were age appropriate for young adults, books by authors like Richard Peck and Judy Blume. I was already starting to read a lot of books in the adult section of the library as well. I went through every Agatha Christie mystery there was. I sucked them down like I had voraciously consumed all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys years before, like I can read an Ann Rule true crime novel now.
My mom was in nursing school at the local university, and at the ages of twelve and ten, respectively, my brother and I were not allowed yet to be latch-key kids. My parents were convinced that I would lose the key. (Given the number of times I’ve had to call Pop-A-Lock as an adult, they might have been right about that!) So, Dr. Who became our de-facto afterschool babysitter most afternoons. We weren’t any trouble. We would sit at a table and work on homework until my mom came to pick us up.
In the school I went to when I was that age, there was a gifted and talented program in seventh grade, but that was the last year that you could participate in the program. They insisted on testing my IQ again to make sure I would qualify, because they undoubtedly wanted to save tax payer dollars or insult the educational system of the state I had moved from that had previously determined my gifted and talented status. The cut off in the state of Oklahoma was 130, and I made it. So, they were forced to enrich my life for one more year of my academic career.
Naturally, there were many boys in this class and only one other girl, not because there weren’t other smart girls in my school but because no other girl’s parents wanted them singled out as a smart freak. Even the parents get the consequences of shouting out to the world that your girl might be (gasp!) of above average intelligence. I, personally, didn’t care yet. I wanted to be in that gifted and talented classroom.
The eighth grade math teacher taught it, and it was a computer lab where each of us got our own computer and got to learn computer programming in Basic. This was a big deal in the early eighties. The computers were Tandys from Radio Shack, cheap IBM knock offs with floppy drives, in the days when floppy drives were called that because the disks were actually floppy. Little Shit was in this class, and whenever he had a free moment he would mock me and call me, “Mary Poppins.”
Little Shit made my life a virtual non-stop ridicule fest for over two years. Not that I just let him do that to me. I tried to give as good as I got. Still, when your opponent has his very own Greek chorus…We always had almost every class together. Our lockers were always close. Our after school activities were always the same. Sometimes it was claustrophobic.
He was popular. His family had been insiders of this small town since before dirt was invented, and they were part of the social scene. His dad owned his own prominent business in town. They had the kind of Reagan era, squeaky clean upper middle class existence, complete with the right kind of clothes, that guaranteed invitations to the birthday parties of the right people, where you could play spin-the-bottle with girls from the same world. I lived in a trailer park and had two pairs of ill-fitting, generic denim jeans. There was no contest there.
Little Shit thought it was funny to hit me on the head with a fly swatter. He also thought it was funny to ask me to “go with” him in jest in a band room full of his friends. We had a “free day” the day this happened, and it caused such a ruckus that eventually even our seemingly heartless band teacher took pity on me and gave me a note that I could take to the office so I could escape. The next week Little Shit thought it was imperative to make sure that I understood that he was kidding, again with multiple witnesses and a scene at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on the town square. He never, ever let up.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There were three times in my life when Little Shit was nice to me. I remember them very clearly.
- Little Shit and I were in show choir together. We were almost always each other’s dancing and singing partners, since I was the shortest girl and he was the shortest boy. We were performing at the membership-only, swank restaurant in town, that I had never been to before, and I was super nervous. He told me to relax and that it would be okay, and then he told me to look in the audience and notice that they were all sweet, white haired grandmotherly types. They wanted us to do well, and they would undoubtedly be happy with anything we did.
- In the eighth grade, my best friend talked me into taking Home Ec instead of the Woodshop class I wanted to take, because she reminded me that the only girl to ever take Woodshop class in the history of the town had been branded as a lesbian and was even more unpopular than I was. One of the girls in my Home Ec class made giving me a makeover her class project, and after I came out of the class with my new makeup she asked Little Shit what he thought and he actually said I looked pretty. But I figure this was just so he didn’t insult his friend’s makeup skills.
- In the ninth grade, the boy who was the best friend of Little Shit’s, the one I had such a huge crush on who had moved after seventh grade, came back for a visit. He was at a football game that the band had to play for, in the back of the bleachers. Little Shit walked past me from the concession stand up the bleachers, and I asked him, “Is that Chris, or am I crazy?” And since his response was to sigh and say, “That’s Chris,” I figure that not taking the wide opening I gave him qualifies as a kindness from him.
By the beginning of our freshman year in high school the intensity of the whole thing with Little Shit evaporated somewhat. He came to high school that fall looking like someone I didn’t know. Apparently, puberty finally kicked in over the summer. He got himself an older girlfriend who had a car, and, if rumors were true, gave good head. I had no desire to compete with that. He didn’t stop cold turkey, but mostly he left me alone after that, which was both a disappointment and a relief.
Then there was an older boy who was interested in asking me out. I wasn’t interested in him, and at fourteen it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since my parents would never have allowed me to date. We were friendly, the boy and I, and that was that for me, but he wanted to take it further. Since it was a small school it wasn’t long before everyone knew. And there was nothing to tell.
Little Shit cornered the poor guy in the student union and laid into him. I never could stand for helpless creatures to be abused. I knew he didn’t have the kind of mouth on him that a confrontation would require. I stepped up and gave Little Shit a tongue lashing that I bet he didn’t forget for a long time. I told him he was a worthless human being who got his jollies out of being cruel to others, just straight like that, no clever one liners. I stood up to him. I yelled. A little crowd gathered, and for once people didn’t fall all over themselves to rush to Little Shit’s side.
When I moved from Nowhereville, Oklahoma, I moved to a suburb of Oklahoma City where Chris lived. Since my parents made the decision to move there independent of any influence from me, I like to consider that the moment when I became the Accidental Stalker. On my last day, outside our lockers, Little Shit made a point out of telling me that he would miss me that was delivered with obvious dripping sarcasm.
The last time I saw him was outside a debate tournament that was held at the local university of the OKC suburb I was living in then. It was my junior year in high school, and I stopped by to say hi to other former classmates. He came on the school bus and ignored me, and I ignored him. That was that.
I remember Dr. Who sort of “saving” me from Little Shit’s attentions on numerous occasions. Once, when he was too late to intervene, and Little Shit had seen fit to insult my mother in his usual cruel manner, I ran out of the library in my anger and embarrassment. Dr. Who looked at my mother, with Little Shit there to overhear, and said, “Boys are cruel when they’re lovestruck.” My mom repeated this to me, and I was delighted if, for nothing else, because of how embarrassed I knew the Little Shit would have been about that.
In hindsight, though, it strikes me as a big injustice to teach our girls that what they can expect out of love is for some man to abuse and berate and shame them. That’s true love. The boy who pushes you down on the playground, the one who pulls your pig tails and calls you names. How many of us never outgrow this? I wonder.