I have joked about being a man trapped in a woman's body for just about as long as I can remember. No, no, not like in a trans-gender sort of way (relax my female friends, it's men only for me. So far.) but rather in the way that I've never felt super feminine.
Not while cheerleading in high school. Back then I always felt like the big oafish one, the one who always had cigarettes in my purse, beer in my trunk and would talk about having to go drop a deuce in the middle of the game (Nancy N., remember that one??).
Not during my stint as a make-up girl at Dayton's in my twenties. I was the one who crawled onto a bus in the morning, the vestiges of the makeup I wore the night before still clinging to my face, raccoon eyes and smeared lipstick. Yes, it was attractive. I'd get to work, clean my face there and have one of the other girls fix me up. I couldn't stand that job.
Not even while enjoying four pregnancies. Sure, I felt the "Mother Earth" thing, the joy of babymaking, the miracle that was happening in my midsection. But I never experienced what some people described as "feeling the most womanly I've ever felt". I felt embarrassed when I couldn't slide into a booth at Timberlodge Steakhouse though. I was a big, big pregnant lady.
Not while breastfeeding. I nursed all of my babies, for a long time. Yes, I'm one of those people. And yet, I wasn't ever all Nursing Nazi about it. For me, it was simply the most practical way to feed my infants. It was always there, always ready, always free. Yes, we bonded, and for that I'm grateful. I'll forever remember the sweetness of nursing, how a hungry crying baby could be soothed with a flash of boob, a warm blankie and mommy's lap. I remember how their eyes would sometimes roll back in their heads, how their tiny soft hands would tap, tap, tap on my chest. I guess that's kind of feminine, right?
But I digress. I've just never been into the chick stuff. I hate shopping, I loathe "doing my hair" (and will often put off showering just to avoid it), I have never had a mani/pedi (not together, not separately). I dress for comfort. Most days I'm wearing a sports bra under my fleece jacket. Because it's comfortable.
I'm not into shoes. I like my Keens, I like my ugly ankle-breaking Danskos. I hate heels and haven't worn them since my days as a flight attendant. They make it too hard to walk and they pinch the toes.
I like guy movies. Give me a choice between a Jennifer Aniston movie and a Clint Eastwood one and Squinty Clint will win every time. Yes, I will admit to being in love with "The Notebook" but I have also seen "Shaun of The Dead" just as many times. I like guy t.v. shows and guy humor. I like watching This Old House and sometimes listen to Car Talk on the radio.
But even more mannish, in my opinion, is my very attitude. I have always been kind of sluggish when it comes to reactions. This changed a bit after Big Daddy left, for the first time in my life I started having freakouts that required the help of several hens. But gradually I went back to my more benign self, because I learned pretty quickly that freaking out about things does absolutely nothing to improve a situation.
Doesn't matter what's going on in my head...the surface basically stays the same. Jenny in Freak Out Mode looks an awful lot like Jenny in Super Excited Mode. And yes, I realize how incredibly sexist this sounds...to say that women are less laid back than men. I know there are some hyper-sensitive, shrieking males out there just as I know there are women who have taken a very Jeff Spicoli attitude in life. But I think men are, for the most part, better at playing things closer to the vest than women. Sue me.
The other day I was driving somewhere with one of the kids. We were discussing Big Daddy and his relationship with Secretary. The kid brought it up, and seemed to really want to talk about it. Normally I brush this stuff off, as talking about those two only brings me down and if I'm not careful, can start a mental downward spiral that will take me to places I'd rather not go anymore. I can't even remember how it came up...out of the blue the child said, "I think Dad is really whipped."
I almost choked on my gum. It was a hilarious and very astute observation. Where was I supposed to go with this landmine in my lap? So I asked this child.."What makes you think that?".
They started in on things that they've observed over the past few years. "Dad scrubbed the kitchen floor and told Secretary that he did it and she just grunted."
Wait a minute. He scrubbed a floor? Now I was getting a little jealous. While we were married, he barely managed to scrub his teeth...I don't believe a floor was ever touched.
"If he gets us anything like McDonald's or if he buys us stuff we have to hide it from her. And he tells us to not say anything about it when she's around."
Hiding things from his wife? Granted, nothing new here, but still...when we were married we behaved more like "partners in crime" where things like fast food and impulse purchases were concerned. It wasn't until The End that he started hiding things. But he wasn't hiding Happy Meals from me, he was hiding $700.00 purchases at the Coach Store (definitely not buying stuff for me) and details about business trips that were anything but.
"He has to ask Secretary before he spends any money. I think all the money is hers." This is where it started dawning on me...she really does have his balls in a jar. Everything I've heard about her, whether it's from former co-workers of theirs, members of Big Daddy's family, the kids...has been similar:
"Oh she was so abrasive."
"She's super, super aggressive."
"I've never met anyone more completely in love with themselves."
"She will do whatever it takes to get ahead."
"She is the opposite of you, Jenny. Aside from the fact that she looks like she could be your younger, slightly skanky sister."
I had an epiphany in the car that day. It was like a little tiny lightbulb clicked on in my head. Not a 60 watt, mind you, more like the ones you put in your glove compartment, but a lightbulb nonetheless.
For the past 5 years, I've been blaming myself. I was sure that there was something I had done or didn't do, or should have done differently while I was married. Don't get me wrong; I placed some of the blame on Big Daddy, and definitely some on the shoulders of Secretary, but for the most part, in my eyes, the bulk of the blame rested on me.
When I heard my child talking about how things are at home with Big Daddy and Secretary, and that lightbulb switched on, I felt a piece of the scattered jigsaw puzzle of my life fall into place. Just a little piece, but an important one.
Big Daddy needed someone different than me. Someone I couldn't ever be, someone I don't ever want to be.
He needed a ballbreaker. He needed a controller. He didn't need another guy, someone to sit on the couch with, someone to have a beer with, someone to watch zombie movies with him.
He needed a Coach loving, heel-wearing, aggressive meanie. Someone to not only hold his reigns, but hold them in a deathgrip. He needed a feminine dictator.
When I realized this, when that lightbulb flickered, I was overcome with something that felt a lot like relief, and a little like vindication. I felt like Matt Damon in the scene from Good Will Hunting where he's in Robin William's office, curled up in the fetal position and sobbing after disclosing facts about his awful childhood...Robin Williams held Matt Damon and kept repeating,
"It's not your fault. It's not your fault."
And for the first time since this whole thing started I felt a dash of understanding, and a pinch of forgiveness. It felt good. It felt cleansing.
You couldn't tell by looking at my face, but at that moment? I was Jenny in Semi-Understanding Mode.