I meet him in a bus station café. It’s the first time we meet. He doesn’t know who I am, he thinks I’m just a stranger, a girl on the street. We are calm & polite, we’re gentle.
Only, the thing is, we both know we want each other.
“You’re only 26 and you’re already an English teacher? That’s such an achievement – wow. You must be real proud of yourself. You’re so young, you must be real proud.”
He’s speaking quietly.
“No,” I say, “it’s not how you think. I’m not a proper English teacher. I don’t have any qualifications or anything. I’m just nothing. I might as well be working in Macdonald’s. I’m just nothing.”
We look at each other, we are silent.
Then he says:
“You’re not nothing. Man! You’re so young, aren’t you?”
All around us everyone is gentle and calm, just as we are gentle and calm with each other. This is it – this is it – this is my moment.
I grin like velvet, I grin all sticky and successful:
“You think,” I say, “in another life, we’d have had a baby together, me, the age I am now, you, the age you are now, all married somewhere with a little baby in a flat, only the thing is, it’s all fucked up already?”
His girlfriend: perfect; long, perfect hair and long, perfect nails; is all insulted and perfect and German on the other side of the table:
“Actually, this just isn’t done,” she says. “This just isn’t on at all, you know.”
She tosses her hair around, all German and elegant.
He looks at me and then he mumbles in my ear:
I know what happened. I know all about it. I know all about those other
worlds and other lives. Someone told me, he says. I know what I did. I know what I did to you and the baby. I know how you suffered, I know how you fought. I know – I know it was torture. I know it was torture.
I know what it was.
I know all about it.
He stops speaking and I’m shocked, you know, coz I thought I was the only one who knew. Now his girlfriend is so pissed off, all she can say is actually.
Actually. Actually. Actually. Actually.
ACTUALLY! And I
Why did you do it?
Why did you do that to me, why did you do it?
Where was I, what was I?
I was nothing
I was nothing
I’d stopped existing
I begged you to be human
But you didn’t hear me speak.
He says he has to go, he has to go find his girlfriend.
I sit up straight and gather my things together. It’s time for me to leave, too, it’s time for me to go home. Our baby’s at home, waiting. Waiting, in a box. In a shoe-box, in a plastic bag, under the stairs. In a plastic bag, waiting.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem