My mother gave me a necklace on the day of my first moon blood. September 19, 1996. I am 14 years old. The last of my girlfriends to initiate into womanhood. I don’t remember caring so much. “You’re a woman now,” my mom said, riding in the family van to horse-riding lessons - our weekly mother-daughter pilgrimage to what is wild and free on the inside. I thought of how being a woman meant mess, and uncomfortable scents and limitations to the frivolity of childhood play. Whether that moment was fueled by a barrage of hormones or a deeper lament for the passing of time I do not know. What I do remember is the handing of the necklace - one I will never wear, and the smell of horses and a taste in my mouth like shame. And beneath it all a deep grief that was not mine alone to own and to feel, but that kept at my side, an unwelcome guest, for some time to come.
A diary, worn and tattered, catalogues the events of my menarche story in one painfully tortured surface account that belies the larger, and more deeply distressing themes that accompany adolescent becoming. Betrayal, belonging, identity, the quest for autonomy, desperation, death, and the mess of rebirth.
Did Steve look at me today? Am I too fat? I’m definitely too fat. I want new clothes. If only I was invited to... So-and-so called me a flirt. The young voice of me speaks out from underneath, tapped into the under-world, as an innocent commentator on a collective, cultural woe. Self negating, deprecating, riddled with shame and confusion - torn asunder and kept up at night with a knowing that terrifies - as well should:
I don’t belong.
And nobody can find out.
There is real danger at this time in life for both men and women. A time where the creativity, wonder and innocence of childhood are at risk. Sacrificed to a growing pressure to become. The becoming part is natural and holy as it reflects one of many rights of passage we undergo in one lifetime. Fueled by physiological and psycho-spiritual impulses, it’s not meant to be easy. But with no to little preparation and a perfunctory marking of a threshold moment (if you’re lucky), and worse, inside of a world hellbent to control what is unknown, menarche becomes a time not to die and birth anew, as nature has intended, but to self mutilate enough so that one can fit inside pre-existing social standards. Cookie cutter shapes just too strange for the whole person to fit in, we “arrive” and take our first terrifying steps to adulthood with severed limbs, or twisted parts - perhaps missing a core competency we were born with at birth. Intuition. Wild imagination. Inter-special understanding. The power to self-reference, and so many others...a shade of what we would become if we lived in a world that celebrates all uniquenesses as gifts for the collective, instead of collective threats.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” And as it stands now, that fear is not simply personal.
I run my fingertips over the cover, pale pink with raised buttons on the outside and a cheap silver lock that never worked from the beginning. The words of Marianne Williamson reverberate in my mind, familiar to many of us whose soul cries out from the constraints of a culture made too-large to be truly safe. I wonder, just for one moment before the grief, long held quiet, pushes to the surface, what I may have been like had I been held through this passage in a different way. Had I been welcomed into adulthood in a red tent, or into the embrace of a council of elders: a different becoming from a different time. Then that wondering is gone, and I know I have come back around to latent grief and unfinished stories for a purpose unique to right now and to the world as it is.
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls those of us on the path of returning FERAL women and men. Once domesticated, now returned - or - returning, to the wild. Let’s be clear here; she is not speaking of an uninitiated “wild” state; free of responsibility, and full of whimsical vigor and shortsighted, egoic self-claiming, but one of the deepest bow to all that is wild and free, that perhaps doesn’t fit in with our dominant culture - even now. A siren song to those parts of us that are the gifts we carry for the world, that are our birthright to share and offer.
These parts are living in dark dungeons, under the watchful eye of our very own dragons. They live out, beyond the lock and key of painful and unrecognized threshold crossings and severed by shapes we assumed under societal pressure. They speak of moments when the world said NO, you can’t be that, think that, look that way, speak that way, dream that way. It is equally these WILD pieces that hold the power we so often fear. The power that can truly change the course of our lives. And somewhere beneath the layers of domesticity, they live unscathed...waiting patiently for our heroic return. Instinctual. Natural. Beautiful. And yes, threatening to the status quo.
It is said that time is cyclical. I am surprised that I kept them - the diary with the raised buttons and the gold necklace that I never wore. That they waited for me all these years, sitting quietly in the dark, remembering what I tried hard to forget. My fingers fumble with the clasp, still new-feeling, and I tremble from the chill of metal against my chest, resting just above my heart. There on the threshold stands a decision that can only be made with the power of the fearless heart... to belong to oneself first. To trust what you came here to do. To believe in the FIRST shape of you, the one you came in with, and to defend it to the death. For that is what it may cost you.