Kennedy Vagina By Amy Turner
When I was nine my mom dressed me like a Kennedy and told me my vagina stuck out. It was 1984. I had been prepping for a third grade dance recital for retired Balboa Bay Club Patrons when I turned to her, modeling my hot pink Capezio kitty cat costumes with marabou cuffs. My mother stared and said, “Hmm. You know, your vagina sticks out. Just phmph. Just sticks out.” Then she made me turn to the side.
We looked at my 9-year-old mound stretching the cotton-poly blend, and I thought it appeared perfectly normal. She kept saying, “Just…sticks out there, doesn’t it.” I let her continue to stare and laugh. A soft shake started inside of me. The rattle hum of defective. How does one’s vagina ‘stick out?’ What does one do about it?
“Put on your coat and I’ll take you down,” she said.
The coat was three-quarters, royal blue, with a matching hat. She’d gotten up at 4 a.m. to go to a sale of “European Designers” to buy it. When buttoned up and backcombed, I looked like a tiny Jackie Kennedy. I had her Midwestern aspiration written all over me. She’d moved to Newport when she saw a statue of a dolphin that she thought was pretty. My father followed. Two immigrants. South Dakota and Texas trying on Southern California cool.
My mom drove me to the Yacht Club we didn’t belong to, where, along with my dance cohorts, we danced for retired Yacht Club people. Two of the girls in the group belonged to the club, two didn’t. But they all stopped at the gated entrance while my mother drove onto the property without a decal on her windshield, waving like Lady Diana at the teenage boy manning the booth as she barely paused in her Toyota. She gestured to him, to open the gate, immune to country club law. He looked confused as he hit the lever, and she just drove on. I scrunched down in the seat, trying to disappear, as she pulled up in the handicapped space, and told me to get out, dance, “and put my shoulders back.”
How could a person put their shoulders back and hide their girl bone at the same time? I danced cautiously. Timid and protective next to the girls with member numbers that allowed them to walk up to counters ordering grilled cheeses like life was a free carnival. Girls with spiral perms and – probably — concave peeholes.
My mother reminded me often that life was not a free carnival. That the families in the housing developments with the Mercedes, the friends doing a remodel, the wives who didn’t work, skinny women, women who went to nail salons, there was a price for all of it she’d caution me.
“A woman must have her own money to have her freedom. You never want to be a kept woman,” she’d say, smuggling knick-knacks she bought at Marshall’s into the house, hiding the contraband from my father.
Another soap dish made in France! France! The rustle of her plastic bags rang out daily. As if one ceramic swan was going to push us into belonging.
She’d hold it up to the light… “it’s European,” class and glass issues sparkling.
My father hid Marlboro lights in his gym bag and covered up their aroma with cough drops and Old Spice so that every time he came home from work I felt like I was having dinner with a hooker with a head cold.
At nine, it was clear, I didn’t want stockpiled French soap dishes. I wouldn’t be a kept woman. Maybe I wouldn’t be a woman at all. The way my mother explained it, being a woman sounded like punishment. I’d be….a worker. Sure. A worker. Still there was third grade life to contend with. Such as, “Hey, Mom! Brandi Benson invited me to Knott’s Berry Farm on Saturday. Can I go?”
“No such thing as a free lunch,” she’d say, and scowl as if I were a kinderwhore.
It’s confusing to be young and feel bad for liking things. Things that have been crafted to appeal to you, like amusement parks, designer clothes, and Chinese restaurants with children’s menus. My friends had dishwashers and housekeepers and Hawaiian vacations. My mom weeded the garden in her undies and washed her own plates. Every time I grumbled about having to dry, she’d say, “doing chores was the only time I ever got to talk to my mother.” Well, everyone I knew had gardeners and Moms who wear separates, and they still manage to talk, I’d think.
I learned a form of cootie catcher feminism. In one triangle, there was work. But flip up another triangle, and there was the body as currency and phrases like ‘damaged goods’. But mostly, what was happening between me and my mother was a schism of culture more than a schism of gender. Esther Perel says that in the past, “intimacy grew out of lifelong shared work, it is now intimacy itself we work at.” The mother daughter romance is no joke. She wanted it farming style. Families needed each other to survive a winter. But we were not on a prairie. We had trouble.
My mom wanted me to get a job, get married and have children that would grow up listening to Top-40 hits, attend a community college, sleep with enough people until they find the one that most resembles the cherished parent, get a job selling copy toner, have weekends in Lake Havasu where they do a little wakeboarding and wife-swapping, make babies, retire to Palm Springs, and die.
But I had dreams, too. I wanted to live unpunished.
I’ve looked at it, this being a woman. I’ve looked at my pubis too. It’s a real standard issue number. So I think it was probably my mom’s fear that I’d actually grow up and use my pubis. But I didn’t know that then. The way you didn’t know a lot of things.
Amy Turner is an author, essayist and TV writer who just this past year had two pieces published on The Huffington Post. She was a Producer on ABC Family’s “MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, ” a story editor on CBS’s “THE EX LIST” and a staff writer on Aaron Sorkin’s NBC drama, “STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP.” She’s working on a nonfiction collection, “Cool Girls Die Alone.” Some twittering at @turnerleturner.
Amy met Jen when she attended Jen’s Manifestation Workshop in L.A. They believe they are long lost siblings.
Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif. over New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (2 spots left.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.