In the weeks leading up to the launch of She’s Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out, and fighting back, we’ll be posting sneak peak excerpts from the book.
Amy Saxon Bosworth lives and writes from her home in the mountains outside of Nederland, Colorado. Her essays have been featured in Hearing Loss Magazine, Mamaphonic, and Hands and Voices. Her novella The Mean Time was a 2006 semi-finalist for Tin House’s Summer Literary Seminar, Kenya. Her writing was also included in the anthology My Baby Rides the Short Bus (PM Press, 2009). She is currently at work on her second novel.
I Don’t Wear Cloaks
by Amy Saxon Bosworth
When I was small, an older cousin coaxed me into sprinkling salt onto a slug in our grandfather’s English ivy garden. I watched with shame as the creature suffered and died. I remembered this as I sat against the gray cinder block wall on the cold gym floor of my high school one day after winter break. I could think of only the slug curled in my belly. I was sixteen years old.
I had made an appointment to have the little slug salted but changed my mind after a I saw a tiny tot at the rodeo, dressed in Wranglers and boots, wearing a starched white shirt. The tiny cowboy looked so precarious perched so high on his father’s shoulders, so fragile, so human. I tried to reconcile that with what moved within me. I made up my mind: the little slug would grow.
At sixteen, I was pretty, popular, and on the fast track; headed on a full scholarship to the state’s best college. I was a member of the National Honor Society, on the debate team and a star of the Academic Decathlon. Home was a different story: things were thrown and broken; hair was pulled; words were hurled; fingernails gouged flesh. I found solace in a nice middle-class boy and dreamed about getting the hell out.
That winter, I starred in a theatrical production The Diary of Anne Frank. Every night I climbed upon that stage, playing a young girl who was trapped and persecuted. I was sixteen weeks along. When I felt the first movement, I thought I could feel the baby unfurl from its trappings. I imagined its little appendages poking at me from within, insect-like. The tears on stage that night were real.
My co-star Peter helped me bind my breasts with tape and bandages. Peter had just come out of the closet; a good friend, he was the first to guess. He kissed me tenderly each night under the stage lights as the weeks wore on. I told him that if I had a girl I would name her Anneliese; if it was a boy I would call him Blake, after a friend who died of leukemia. I wanted my child to have a strong soul.
I was not anxious to spill the pee on the stick to my parents. My father, a lifetime law enforcement man, had – in uniform – sternly confronted one boy who dared to date me without permission. There was talk of daddy running for Justice of the Peace that spring, and a pregnant daughter doesn’t make for a good campaign platform in the heart of the Bible Belt. And my mother was the cruel one. So I swallowed my tears and used a ponytail holder to fasten my blue jeans. I jotted a life plan in a pink spiral notebook, stalling for time. I knew the longer I waited the less control they had; the more power I gained.
When the time came, I pretended I was Valerie Bertinelli in a movie of the week. I left a note on my pillow and drove away, but my plan backfired when my parents didn’t check my bedroom. Long past curfew, impatient, I called and dumped the news on them.
Tears that my mother never wasted on me before now flowed at the disgrace I had brought her. Three days later I was in full blooming maternity outfits: everything back then had huge blossoming flowers. Three weeks later I was married to my high school sweetheart on his eighteenth birthday. Three months later I was sitting in my very own home nursing my newborn while doing calculus homework.
When my school found out, they counseled me on ways to “go away.” They told me that of course things like this happen to girls like you but they are taken care of early. One teacher refused to give me an A because I was a poor role model. My National Honor Society candle was snuffed out; I was not invited back. My honors graduation tassels were inexplicably “lost.” Today, I do not receive invitations to class reunions.
But my son – who’s a foot taller than me now – is the most honorable thing I have ever achieved. There are things in my life I regret, things I hope I can fix, things I still hope to accomplish, but I believe that shame is worthless. Let other people hold those scales. I have my hands full.
When I see a young girl ripe with life, I smile. I don’t narrow my eyebrows in judgment. I breathe and I remember. I remember standing on stage in a spotlight, wishing for the freedom of a life without condemnation. I meet her eyes with tears of joy and I whisper to her, “peace.”
“Shame is pride’s cloak.” – William Blake
With She’s Shameless, co-editors Megan Griffith-Greene and Stacey May Fowles have compiled an anthology of fearless and funny non-fiction about strong, smart and shameless women. With wit and honesty, the writers share stories of their teen experiences (both positive and negative) on everything from pop culture to high school principals. The book is founded on Shameless magazine’s tradition of smart, sassy, honest and inclusive writing, and reaches out to young female readers who are often ignored by mainstream: freethinkers, queer youth, young women of colour, punk rockers, feminists, intellectuals, artists, and activists. Join us for the launch on June 23rd.
Please Note: Due to the personal nature of the She’s Shameless stories, comments will be closed for these posts. Thank you for your understanding.