Saturday, March 26, 2011

Being the Enemy

When I was smallish-- maybe eight or ten-- I found myself on a bus sitting next to a young woman. We made small talk. I mentioned that I was homeschooled.

Suddenly, the woman's face scrunched up. Her eyes narrowed. Her mouth pursed. And she proceeded to tell me that homeschooling was the stupidest thing that anyone could do, and that I would never learn anything, and that I wasn't learning how to socialize, and that my parents must be real idiots or hate me if they were homeschooling me. She knew better, because she was a public schoolteacher.

I hadn't said anything to her about the quality of public schools in the region (god-awful) or about the benefits of homeschooling. All I'd done was mention that I was homeschooled. I sat there, stunned and silent. Children know it when they've met a bully, even when the bully is an adult, and I thought she must be a nasty, insecure person to pick on a little kid. I also thought she was nuts for terminating a perfectly polite conversation in order to snarl that I was not properly socialized.

But she knew who her enemy was. It was the little kid sitting next to her. I was the upending of everything she believed in and worked for. So she hated me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Black Lipstick and Chevy Pickups

Growing up bookish in a region where a quarter of the population can't read was defining. It meant getting teased by other kids when they saw me with a book. It meant making other kids defensive and angry when I used words they didn't know. It meant exhausting the public library's collection of children's literature by the time I was eight, and it also meant developing a pretty chronic superiority complex when it came to anybody who wasn't as obsessed with reading as I was.

So I was a nerd. A pasty, stringy homeschooled nerd with an overbite. My clothing came from church rummage sales and the local Seventh-Day Adventist mission. Every week at church I wondered if the dress I was wearing had been one of my classmates' cast-offs the year before.

This was Bible Belt fundamentalism in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the fashion among poor homeschooled Bible Belt fundamentalists was cotton floral prairie dresses. I wore old lady shoes: flats with buckles and bows on the toes. My glasses were thick bifocals in huge plastic frames (my paranoid schizophrenic father was convinced that metal frames would attract mind-altering radio signals). There was one year that involved a perm. It was everything you could imagine from a perm on an eight-year-old Appalachian child in 1991. When I was 10 or so my grandmother took me to the Sears in Chattanooga and bought me my first article of brand-new, never-before-worn outerwear: a denim dress with ribbon flowers on the yoke.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It Is By Brains You Have Been Saved

So a bunch of people in my office had babies this winter. I went and bought some board books (the classic work of literature "Hand Hand Fingers Thumb") and left them at the desks of the baby-havers. With a friendly signed note on top telling the recipient why it was such a great book. It had to be signed, see, so that people would know who to be grateful to. 

Orthodoxy is right teaching. Orthopraxy is right action. My husband the Roman Catholic struggles with leaning too heavily on the -praxy side to assure his salvation. Like all good Protestant evangelicals, I lean too heavily on the -doxy side.

Past Life, Part I

There's no line on the ground that shows the change between then and now. I can't identify the very moment that I shifted from conservative fundamentalist to progressive Baptist. Or the moment that I changed from abuse victim to abuse survivor. Or the moment I changed my mind about the role of women in the Church, or about what it is to be saved, or about how good Sunny D tastes (not good at all, as it turns out). Things changed. But some things that were really, really big changed so much that I don't feel, or think, like a person who could have developed out of the person I was ten years ago. That was a life I couldn't wait to get rid of. At eighteen, I was off like a shot, five hundred miles away and never going back.

Now I miss my home town. But I don't miss being me in my home town. It was a crummy childhood. The now me is a lot better off.

When I was four years old, my family moved into a ranch house on top of a hill overlooking a tributary of the Tennessee River. It had a big yard in the front and in the back, brown deep shag carpeting in the living areas, avocado and mustard appliances and matching linoleum in the kitchen and dining room, and glittery popcorn ceilings. The toilet seat in the master bathroom was one of those squishy ones that makes a soft farting sound when sat upon. On the first day we were there, I pushed the lever on the ice maker and ice fell out of the freezer onto the floor. I burst into panicked tears while the babysitter laughed at my reaction.