Childhood friends hold a special place in my heart. Especially the ones who have faded into the shadows of time after being so long ago in the sunshine of my youth. They have evaporated like chalk on a sidewalk of yesterday’s path.
In the last blog post I mentioned a feeble fort I built in the back yard. It wasn’t sturdy, but it was 100% my own effort and doing. I loved it there.
There was another fort that was suspended over a small creek dividing our lot from the neighbor’s. This fort was a well framed, solid structure built by older kids to hide and house their smoking and drinking. They abandoned their building for things like after school athletics and dating. We younger kids moved into that space like nesting mice.
David, Jay, Todd and I invaded the one-room mini-mansion like the mutiny of youth that we were. We cleaned it, repaired it and spent hours and hours in either that space or the other.
We hiked the loping hills of the countryside, proud to have discovered the convent and its graveyard beyond the barbed wire and thistle, always on the hunt for what adventure we could bring back to into the sacred space of the doorless wooden box with small cutouts for windows.
We commandeered tattered lawn furniture left curbside and other broken fodder to fill the space with remnants from the adulthood we so wanted to experience. We did our homework there. We played cards and board games. Todd brought his baseball stats to share and the rest of us called him weird. Jay brought a bit of trouble and spent more time being grounded than able to play in the fort.
For the bulk of those few years, it was David and I, navigating our faulty engineering skills to stabilize my little lean-to on the back lot. He helped me to drag the lumber and linoleum from where it was stored to where it was utilized. He never questioned my ability to build.
At that time and age, no one ever thought twice about little Mari and her entourage of boy friends. The only concerns were about the disappearance of the tools and/or the box of Twinkies. And the boys never offered flack about my skills with tools or our safety therein. Gender and sexualized behaviors weren’t a part of our dynamic. We were free in the androgyny of being neighborhood kids, pestering no one but each other and always on time for dinner at home.
Somewhere between middle school and now, gender roles, taught to us by our elders, squeezed us out of our freedom like a whalebone corset that cinched a little tighter with each year that passed. I grew taller and yet was somehow seen as smaller; as less than—as suddenly incapable of many things that just an inch prior no one thought much about.
With height came hips while menses and bras that fasten in the back magically transformed missing tools into missing make-up. I didn’t put the hammer away. I simply found new tools in which to hide.
Back in the hey of my young adulthood, tools, like so many other things, became gender specific. Cigarettes and drinking were included. Capri cigarettes for women, Marlboro for men, filter-less if he ever had his nose broken in a fight or a tooth knocked out. Skinny wine became a thing because femininity was anorexic in all of its forms.
‘Ladies tool kits,’ in shades of pink, floral and tiny, were no exception. They looked as though Strawberry Shortcake got caught in a die-cast form, fruit scent optional. With a matching carrying case should the need arise to tote an entire entourage of malnourished tools to any home repair emergency, these instruments were an embarrassment to anything outside of jewelry repair, doll dentistry, or the children of Keebler Elves.
Of course, I had a set. I may have even had two. Where they went is a mystery. They probably lifted up and blew away like the dandelion seeds that they were. I just remember the incredible frustration I felt when unwedging the tiny-tot hammer from its flimsy plastic prison and then holding the hammer and thinking that it would shatter the instant it hit anything other than a finishing nail through a sugar cookie.
Well intended, I’m certain that those fragile little instruments, like the ideals around them, harbor a greater purpose, but they hold no real weight in the work that needs to be done.
My leather gloves and crowbar are tirelessly in use, tearing down walls and separating the things that no longer function from the items that are trying to hold them together.
Deconstruction of material fabricated by someone else has meant finding a blend between cast carbon steel and padded underwire; between tool belt and satin sash; between knowing my strengths and accepting self-determination as a societal synonym for single.
It shouldn’t be but I’ve bore witness to independence called out as intimidation and being capable confused with being contemptuous. One fool referred to the project that I was working on as “little” and the work I was doing as “cute.” For good measure, he added “sexy” to his comments as though cute and little somehow belong with sexy. Okay, potential pedophile…why don’t you and your primed-for-prison mindset squeeze yourself into your own pigeonhole because my self-sufficiency is too big for such a small space.
Childhood friends always wanted to help, not because they didn’t think I could manage my vision, but because they were inspired by it. They never isolated me as cute, rather joined me in what became our collective determination. Autonomy isn’t about being alone rather it is the coming together of like minds to find freedom, partnership and possibility as well as having the right tools make it all happen.