At What Cost?


by Stormy Peterson

I learned early on, I’m the kind of bitch people don’t worry about. . . probably because I was raised by one, or maybe because very little escapes my attention, and I rarely find myself playing the fool.
   I don’t coo, and giggle like a baby-doll come to life, I don’t have a tiny voice and a vacant look on my face that begs someone else to ‘write my story for me,’ and I definitely don’t play small to make other people more comfortable.
   I have a big, loud mouth, and a head full of ideas that I believe should be used for more than just adding to the collective cacophony of noise.
   When I was a young girl, I sometimes wondered what it would be like to be the classic damsel in distress that the quintessential, handsome gentleman would rush to save from whatever peril I found myself in. But I was different, and always had been. I didn’t cry when I was scared, I had a calm, clear head during emergencies, I didn’t shake at the flood of adrenaline coursing through my system, I didn’t shrink from blood (at most, my worst thoughts were of staining my clothes).
   I was not the woman from the black and white movie who needed to be slapped in order to ‘snap out of it,’ and I certainly never wilted into the nearest man’s hands in a dramatic back-of-hand-to-forehead-faint. No, that woman was never going to be me. And if she was, it would require the abandonment of everything it had already meant to be me, in my most natural state. Frankly, not only had I never quite learned how to be that fake, but it sounded like an awful lot of work for a payout that didn’t seem equivalent, or greater to the required price.
   Not interested in being short-changed, my days continued on as they had before, with me growing each day (more in feistiness than size, I’m sure) until I overheard the conversation between my parents after one of my dad’s friends was killed in a workplace accident, leaving behind his widow to now navigate life on her own, newly discovered, terms.
   “That poor woman,” my dad said, “I just don’t know what she’s going to do without him; she needs so much help, and doesn’t know how to take care of anything. It wouldn’t be as hard on you because I’m gone all the time, anyway. I don’t worry about you.”
   “Yeah, I know,” my mother quipped. “I have to do everything myself, so I just pretend like you’re dead, it makes it easier to get through all of the tasks on my own without being perpetually furious about it.”
   This was a wife who, for a time, slept with a pistol in a sliding compartment in her headboard in case anyone from the rabble of weirdos, and peeping Tom’s swarming our home decided to up the ante, and force entry in the late night hours. Our houseful of women left to fend for ourselves which comprised of two teenage daughters, a runt (me), a toy poodle, and a mother with no concept of backing down. She didn’t have the luxury of catching the vapors every time a man couldn’t magically solve our problems.
   And so it is, my sisters and I never learned to be women who would trade our souls for the illusion of a man’s safety, and all of the counterfeit comforts included. I’ve seen her, though. I know who she is, and I’m not judging her, I’m wondering which part(s) of herself she had to kill to get here. This is the place where she washes her husband’s patronizing insults down with another gulp of boxed-wine bought in bulk (which is incredibly economical, and an obvious choice I finally understand considering how much fluid it must take to drown oneself every day) that has become her home; her cage. Her prison.
   Ever the perfect hostess, she (again) offers me another glass, secretly hoping I’ll get drunk enough not to notice, or remember, her humiliation. It’s not just that of her husband’s actions, but how she betrayed — and continues to betray — herself, for what we’ve been told we all really want.
   I don’t accept, and we sit awkwardly in her shame.
   She is painfully aware of how aware I am of it all, and part of me aches for her.  Do we both know the money, the property, the expensive gifts, jewelry, cars, new family, and upgraded husband are meaningless when you’re dead inside?
   Does she ever visit her own grave? Did she leave any markers behind to find it again?
   We can pretend that heartbreak and shattered dreams are avoidable, but they truly are commonplace happenings that are not exclusive to one type of person, and yet each one of us has the power to decide whether we will be defined, destroyed, or just slightly detoured by them. Cloaking ourselves in the bubble-wrap of artificial-stability does nothing but suffocate. 

“Don’t be delicate, be vast and brilliant.”

©2018 Stormy Peterson

Stormy Peterson is a fine artist cultivated in the foothills of the Olympic Peninsula, believer of Bigfoot with a background in apparel and textiles merchandising, and design.  Come hang out with The Longshoreman’s Daughter herself, at

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