Dec 12, 2008

Badass No More

I was born and raised in New Jersey, a place where everyone—girls included—are raised to be tough. We still have our girly-girls and queer queens, but even the most girly female or effeminate male from Jersey is tougher than their social counterpart from any other part of the country. This isn’t bragging, it’s simple fact. The sweetest, shyest, blonde, tiny, delicate, elfin-looking girl in Jersey is still fully prepared to engage in a bar fight with broken bottles if the necessity arises. And it doesn’t even have to be a severe necessity. That’s just the way it is.

The more delicate women of my home state find it easy to pass for normal. Outsiders looking in suspect nothing unusual about them unless something sparks their temper. For girls like me—who feel fully feminine on the inside but who were born with enough musculature to push a broken-down mid-sized pickup truck to the corner auto shop singlehandedly—that ingrained badass quality is hard to hide, and even harder to control. Within the borders of Jersey (specifically, the rough neighborhoods in which I grew up) my ability to lift my own body weight over my head was a necessary talent. It kept me safe and unimpregnated, among other things. But, like most indigenous skills, when I moved out of Jersey, my toughness wasn’t really needed. And, for a time, I struggled to find a place, both for me within my new environment, and for my temper within me. I couldn’t simply throw it away, or save it for weekend visits to my mom, but it could no longer sit in the driver’s seat. And anyway, this thing, whatever it is, this piece of acid-covered steel lining my spine, is a part of who I am and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not just because it helps to keep me and my family safe, but because it comes with a tremendous gift: an ability to process fear differently.

For ordinary, everyday fears—like wondering if my son will get hit by a car walking home from school—I’m perfectly normal. I tap my foot and try to convince myself I’m being irrational. But for extreme situations where there’s real, immediate danger, I become calmer and meaner instead of jittery and scattered. I still experience the fear, and rest assured that if someone put a gun to my head, my adrenaline would spike; if they pushed me off a cliff, I’d scream. But, thanks to this gift, my adrenaline wouldn’t spike as high as the average guy’s, and I’d only scream once before the part of me that’s always prepared for a bar fight took over and my inner bulldozer started rumbling forward. It’s been a great gift, one for which I will always be grateful, but somewhere along the line it made me arrogant.

I never thought food would be the one thing I couldn’t fight. But it’s true. I’ve battled it for most of my life and the shit wins every single time. I don’t know how something as small as a cheese doodle could have more power over me than a fully grown human male. I’ve fought human males and won. But cheese doodles kick my ass every time.

This is funny in my head but not my heart. Or my liver, which I’m slowly destroying every time I lose one of these many fights with comfort food. How can I possibly still consider myself to be a true badass Jersey girl? I’m being outgunned and overpowered by spaghetti noodles and pizza slices. Stuff that can’t even move, much less lift as much weight as I can, is nevertheless showing me up for the weakling that I have become.

What’s a badass to do?