While I was East Coasting it recently, the 10-year-old daughter of one of my friends dashed through the door of my hotel room and flipped herself onto the bed. “Where have you BEEN?”
Everywhere. The answer was everywhere. But seeing as I don’t live anywhere near her, it was a peculiar question. I ran my fingers through the hair she’d spilt over the comforter. “In space, darling,” I nearly sang.
“No really!” she insisted, pushing against me to sit up. “You never visit.”
“I’m visiting now.”
“No, only because you have work to do, so you’re not really visiting,” she added, “and you never pick up the phone—”
At this I blushed a little. Guilty as charged.
“I wish I could travel places. I wish I could visit my friends everywhere. And wear perfume. And lipstick. And bring presents,”—she hugged the gift I’d given her—“and have roses in my room and a beautiful calm voice and fly away and make everyone miss me.”
Struck with a combination of shock and protest, I suddenly realized how she saw me. I watched her, remembering what it was like to be 10—frustrated, imprisoned, full of desires I could not name.
“I miss you,” I said gently.
“I’m not really anyone to you, though, am I?”
“Is something wrong, love?”
“I can’t explain it.” She asked suddenly, “When are you getting married?”
“Why would I get married? You’re the love of my life,” I cooed.
“What if you get married and you disappear?”
“I wouldn’t I’d still come—”
“No, I mean what if you get married and you stop wearing dresses like that,” she patted my thigh, just above where the form-fitting black dress ended, “and wearing perfume and playing music?”
“Why would I stop doing any of those things?” I asked.
“Because married women are boring.”
She didn’t know it, but she’d touched on a concern of mine. Not that I would ever become boring (unless I’m boring now, because I am certain I will be exactly the same) but that somehow my life would be less significant, of less importance, or potential impact and promise, that I would mean less, cease to be the heroine of any novel. After all, what novel doesn’t dispose of its heroine after her marriage?
“What if my husband is kidnapped?” I asked.
“Well, that would be highly extraordinary,” she remarked doubtfully.
“What if I think he’s dead because I saw him fall into a river, but really he was pushed, and the river is an entrance to another dimension opened by people like him, who can manipulate space, and have locked him there in order to merge together all existing universes and cause chaos for humankind?”
I was roughly reciting off a manuscript written by one of my classmates, the only writer I know to make a married woman in her early 20s the main character of her novel. Until I’d read the manuscript I hadn’t realized I needed it. It wasn’t just that it was a young married woman—it was that it was a novel written for young adults. It was a young married woman whose biggest issue wasn’t her baking contest or her husband’s infidelity or the mysterious murder of her neighbors like some cheap soap opera. It was a woman who travelled dimensions to rescue her husband and thought everything was ridiculous.
“Married women aren’t like that,” she said, though sounding uncertain of herself. “But… you… can be like that. I see it.” She reached out and moved a dangly earring I was wearing, as though to inspect it for otherworld-suitability.
“Then there’s nothing to worry about,” I said in a soothing tone. “Would you like some tea?”
“Yes! Mom never lets me drink tea!”
“Is that so? Maybe I shouldn’t…”
As I ripped open tea bags, she jumped off the bed. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“I will never have a boyfriend. I don’t use that word.”
“Then what word do you use? How should I ask?”
“Ask me if I’m in love.”
“Are you in love?”
“I’m in love with everything,” I announced.
She sighed, evidently unsatisfied. “No, I mean really. You never answer my questions.”
“I answer your questions all the time! Just yesterday you called and asked what’s on the other side of space and I spent half an hour answering your question. I love your questions.”
“You don’t answer them when they’re about you.” She moved to a chair and dangled her legs. “We had sex ed in class today.”
“Oh? I forgot you skipped a grade.” I poured hot water.
“Can I ask you a really really personal question? Like really personal.”
“You’ve been off to a good start, haven’t you?” I teased.
She swallowed a mouthful of air. “Have you lost your virginity?”
“No. And I don’t use that word either.”
“What do you say then?”
“Sexual debut?” and when she giggled I turned to her with a look. “Really?” Although, I wasn’t sure about the term myself.
“I’m trying not to giggle,” she said, attempting to straighten her face.
“No, that’s okay,” I flipped a section of hair over my shoulder decidedly. “Do what you want.”
“I guess we’re not supposed to until we’re married right?”
“Be careful, it’s hot.”
“Right?” she pressed.
“Certainly, if that’s what you believe.”
“I don’t know what I believe. Just what people say I believe.”
“Well I’m glad you can recognize that. One day you’ll decide if you believe it.”
“Do you believe it?”
“Whether or not that’s an accurate interpretation of Islam doesn’t make much of a difference to me in terms of how I live.”
“You always do whatever you want.” Her voice sounded distant. “I hope I don’t disappear after I’m married.”
“Now listen to me.” I was done. “This is important. Your value is not dependent on whether you are still available to other men. Do you understand? You don’t just disappear because you’ve got a ring on your finger.” I was suddenly fuming, remembering a particularly horrendous episode of How I Met Your Mother. And Scrubs. And every comedy ever that tried pulling the same running gag in which a woman literally vanishes off screen as she slips on her ring. “Your availability is not something you contribute to society. It is not something that makes you important, or valuable, or a person—it’s not something anyone should even think to care about. You are not a commodity to lose all value when you’re ‘off the market.’ Whether you are available to men is absolutely and despicably meaningless. Only the worst of people think otherwise. Do you understand?”
Well, do you?