You know that movie with Cher as the mother, Winona Ryder as the troubled adolescent, and Christina Ricci as the adorable youngster? It was one of my favorite movies growing up, I must have watched it a million, gazillion times (and I still can't think of the title, which i'm refusing to google on principle-old age here I come!). So the story goes (Once upon a time...):
(Told from the point of view of the adolescent) A young single mother is living in 60's American suburbia with her two daughters. She is self-involved, superficially neglectful, and careless, but sincerely loves her kids. She moves them from town to town with each cessation of her numerous love affairs, until they come to a town where circumstances, timing, and auxiliary characters force them to grow up.
I walk with her around the supermarket, she insists on pushing the cart, and will try to maneuver this enormous thing in exact accordance with every step I take; this is cumbersome, to say the least, and after awhile, I cannot help but tell her to "Just. Sit. Tight!" I round the corner to grab a bag of her favorite pasta; in the time it takes to find it, stop to check the price of sesame oil (shit!) and double back, a man has materialized out of thin air to pester her , entice her, cajole her, trying to satisfy some inexplicable (even to him), instinctual need. She is always doing her best to scrounge up her face in disgust and confusion, in a futile attempt to repel him the way one would swat at mosquitoes on a hot, humid, night by the lake; but the men are just as determined to seek out her light, as mosquitoes seeking out sustenance...
I remember these interactions well as a little girl and as an adolescent (somewhere after 25, when I have finally owned my identity and my sexuality, I have become the seeker, not the sought-Bah!). But I have never had the chance to experience such an interlude as a third party observer-let alone as the designated protector. So I round the corner, see the man, and come barreling down on him-realizing shrieking "rape" and hitting him about with my purse may only exacerbate the trauma of the situation, so instead I give my best scowl and throw WTF glares at him. Guess what happens? (And yes, in the two weeks we've been here this has happened enough times for me to standardize the behavior) Invariably, the man will simply wheel away from Vannesa, glide past me, and NEVER, ONCE, make eye contact with me. Like I'm not even there, or more aptly, like he has just snapped out of his predator's dementia and continues shopping treating us like the random strangers that we are.
In the times when this happens with my mother also there as a witness we cluck to ourselves about the creepiness of this phenomenon, speculating on what we can do to protect her-we've actually considered the merits of converting to Islam simply for the dress code as a solution to our problem. Perhaps it is not wise to let the Little One hear us hemming and hawing over this problem, but in any case, she has begun voicing her own disgust at the male population, both child and adult, who all seem recklessly addicted to her against all her wishes; hence the need to discuss.
In her more frustrated moments, (Ugh- just one memory of walking around a children's store with my best friend and the salesman sliding up to me, running his finger lightly down the length of my arm, and slithering "I liiiikke youuurrr colorrrr" still brings up sparks of anger and revulsion that could ignite a forest fire), I tell it to her straight-there is NO romancing the woes of the Pretty Little Girl. So I tells her, I says:
"Men EVERYWHERE, no matter their age, profession, or race, men have something weird in them where they have to..."have" a pretty girl: talk to her, befriend her, seduce her, condemn her, demand of her, "master" her...no one knows why. If you have 100 men in front of you, including uncles, brothers, pastors, teachers, doctors-all the kinds of men in your life, about 30 of them will be men you can be friends with, but they are also a bit "weird", as in they may not hurt YOU, but they may hurt other women or girls or at least not understand how difficult it can be for women and girls. Then there is another 15, okay well, let's say 20 men who will be men you can really trust, like Uncle G, or Jaja, or a teacher, or a doctor, or some friends who will never ever hurt you AND who understand that it is NOT a figment of your imagination that there are those other men who are out to...own you; these men will protect you no matter what, even against their own kind. And lastly, out of these 15-20 men there will be 1, 2, maybe 3 men who you will love in a way that is different from the rest, and it is out of these 3 that you will find your husband.
The rest of the 100, well the rest are freakin weird, and sometimes downright bad. In bookstores, at the clinic, in the supermarket, at school (here it has been the security guy on our compound who assaults her with friendliness whenever she takes out the trash) they are always around and they will always try to take some of your light. But the trick me and Mukaka have learned (in this moment of frustration she was discussing reasons she was not happy) is to NOT stop SHINING just because of them. Don't try to hide your light, don't let them make you unhappy, because then... they win."
Okay, perhaps most of this speech was said in my head as she had already drifted off into what we were going to have for dinner while we washed up the lunch dishes, but it was a good speech to make, even if it was just to myself...