Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Girlfriend

Continued from Changing Mennonite

When I opened my eyes, I saw my “girlfriend” Tony standing there.

“Tony!” I said.

“May I sit beside you?” she asked.

“Yes, you may.”

“Thanks, I was hoping you would be in my class again. How are things? How’s the cleaning job?”

“The job is going good. Do you want it back yet?”

“Heavens no! I’m never taking on a job like that again. Scrubbing other people’s shit off their toilets is not what I desire to do at all.”

“Okay, I haven't seen you here in a while. Where have you been?”

“I dropped out again, but here I am, and I f#king hate school. I can't wait for this semester to be over so I can move away from here.”

“Really? Where are you moving to?”

“Someplace where there are more gay people, and since you are my girlfriend, you wanna come with me?”
“Ummm…” I muttered as I turned red like a tomato while I cleared my throat.

“Well, what do you say, honey? You wanna come with me and let me show you the ropes?”

“I am not sure what that means.”

“I know, and that’s why it’ll be amazing. I will teach you.”

“Ummm, but I’m just getting used to this place, and besides, I think I'm okay now. I'm not that afraid of men anymore. I think we can break up now.”

“No, no, no! Don’t say that, Anna. Men are assholes, and as long as you are my girlfriend you are protected, and besides, we don’t need them.”

“Ummm, no, they're not all assholes. I have been thinking about that a lot lately. I have met many amazing men. It's not fair that we let a few assholes ruin all of our opportunities to decide for ourselves who we choose to connect with. Maybe we don’t need them, but it’s still okay to want them in our lives, isn’t it?” I said. “I mean, I am not that good at expressing my thoughts with English-only words, but doesn't that feel like we are just giving them even more power over us?”

“NO!” she replied.

I didn’t want to be hateful anymore, especially because I was choosing to move past the many years I spent being terrified of Aaron Neudorf.

I couldn't continue to agree with her, because I realized that I had expected all men to treat me as Aaron had treated me all those years, and I recognized that I had played a part in allowing that to happen. I was ready to take control of my actions. I decided that this might be a more appropriate opportunity for me to practice standing my ground on my discoveries than when facing border patrol officers with knives in my backpack.

“Wow, Anna, you have changed.”

“Yes, I have.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I went to Mexico all by myself, and everywhere I went there was a handsome man who was nothing but helpful and kind to me. I have had an amazing role model—or many, for that matter—and I think I have matured and learned that sometimes good men and women do bad things and hurt people. But if we are going to be judgmental and hateful how will that ever change? I think I can stand on my own two feet now. I have decided on how I am going to treat people, all people. Or, I am starting not to look at people as “men” or “women”; I am choosing to look at them as human beings. We all have stories and reasons for being the way we are, and because of that I simply cannot choose a team. I want to be on all teams. The human team!”

I was overwhelmed with fear of what would become of our friendship after sharing my thoughts with her. I was shaking from head to toe, and quickly added, “Is that okay with you? Can you handle that?” bracing myself for what I had coming. I expected her to take my new-found convictions from me, because I knew that I wasn’t strong enough to stick to them, even though I felt brave enough to express them to her. I was still vulnerable, because deep down inside I doubted myself very much. But she didn’t. Instead, she said, “Wow, Anna, you do have a good argument there. Good for you, girlfriend, I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you.”

“You're welcome. I have a long way to go before I can forgive what has been done to me,” she explained.

“I can’t even imagine what you have been through, and I probably can’t help you, but I can listen if you ever want to tell me more about it.”

“Okay, stop it, Anna, you are going to make me cry.”

I hugged her, and she became my best sister from another mister. I spent many weekends at Club Sins with her and my gay “husband,” Josh. During that time I learned the term “confidence booster.” Apparently, that’s what I was to Tony. The men whose house I cleaned and the people at the club assumed we were a couple. I played along because I longed for the unconditional love she expressed for me. It was perfect in the sense that I could just be. I felt nothing but acceptance and love every time we went to the club. It was the ideal and safe space for a human like myself to grow.

Yet I spent many sleepless nights thinking that many people would judge me if they knew the truth and believed that I was seriously messed up in the head. But I had grown up thinking that I was not normal because I didn’t fit the mold, just like all the people at the club. I had reached the point where I had stopped fighting the urge to be normal, because I didn’t even know what that would look like where I was concerned. I thought about women like Mrs. Braun and the horrible, yet socially accepted, ways many people were living which I thought was unacceptable.

I loved that Tony stayed by my side after I had risked our friendship by telling her where I stood. It taught me that I didn’t have to be afraid to tell someone how I felt, even though they might not agree with me.

With a positive attitude and my new outlook on life, I continued to help people wherever I saw an opportunity. The most common places were the walk-in clinic, the bank, the thrift store, and grocery stores. At a grocery store, I ran into the woman I had helped at the bank. She couldn’t find yeast, and she didn’t know how to ask for it in English. I thought, “I have an idea of how she feels right now, and I have the power not to allow what happened to me when I was walking in her shoes to happen to her.” I approached her and offered my help. She happily accepted. After I helped her find yeast, I explained to her how to ask for it in English, and she finally said, “Thank you,” with a smile on her face at that. 

Near the end of Tony’s last semester, she said, “I wish I could do what you did, leave my family, all the people who I grew up with and move to a new country to start over.”

“You can.”

“No, I can't. I’m not as brave as you are, so Calgary will have to do for now.”

She had a bus ticket to Calgary in her backpack, ready to leave the minute she received her final report card. I hugged her and said, “Thank you for being a part of my journey. You thought me so much about human love.”

“Here you go again. You are going to make me cry.”

“I’m sorry. I know I’m being what I’ve heard people call “mushy,” and I've seen people roll their eyes at the sight of “mushy,” but I don’t care about that right now. I think it is important for you to know this because I have a feeling that I will never see you again.”

She wrapped her arms around me. I sobbed on her shoulder like never before, knowing how much I was going to miss her.

I was okay with showing her what I felt, because I had read about how important it was to feel one's emotions at the moments one was feeling them. And that helped me when I decided not to focus on being sad after she left. Instead, I felt excited and eager to learn from the humans who might still cross my path.

I went home after school and didn’t even look at my report card. I packed a change of clothes and makeup, and headed to my cleaning job. I decided that after I cleaned, I would make myself as pretty as possible and go to the mall. As I finished putting my makeup on, one of the men came home.

“Hi, Anna, I’m so glad I came home early enough to run into you.”

My heart began to pound uncontrollably. I reminded myself that I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.

“I’m sorry that we leave such a terrible mess for you to clean every time. Thank you for always doing such an amazing job.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I was talking to Tony, and she told me that you guys broke up. I’m so sorry to hear that. How are you holding up?”

“Ummm, I’m okay.”

“Good for you. I got dumped too, again, and I am devastated. I wish I could be as okay with it as you seem to be.”

“Well, I think spending time on your own is very important. And you probably already know way more about this than I do. But, I read this book on emotions and what you are feeling right now is good. Maybe you should read it. And it talks about the difference between being alone versus being lonely, and since I learned that, I really enjoy my alone time.”

“The only thing I know about being alone is that it really sucks. I hate it.”

“That’s exactly what the book talks about.”

“I am intrigued by the fact that Tony always ends up with the most amazing women.”

“Well, Tony sure knows how to treat women so that they want to be in her presence,” I said, and immediately held my breath because I was sure I had overstepped a delicate boundary and offended him.

I held my breath until he spoke.

At last, he said, “I need to work on my approach, because obviously what I am doing is not working. Maybe I will pick up that book and start reading it tonight.”

I took a deep, relieving breath while he continued, “This was nice. Thanks for listening and talking to me. Do you think we could be friends?”

“Sure, why not?” I replied. “I have to get going.”

“Okay, he said as he pulled out his wallet to pay me.

“See you next week.”

“You bet. Thanks.”

While I was browsing through clothes at the mall, all I could do was think about my friend Kristina and how I much I missed her, especially when I needed her help picking out clothes. I had grown into a much fuller body since the time I shopped with her. The sizes that she taught me to pick didn’t fit me anymore.

I put the clothes I picked back on the rack and drove to London to visit Josh. We spent most of the weekend watching movies, eating pizza, and ice cream. On Sunday, Josh took me to a much bigger mall and helped me pick out some stunning outfits that fit me properly.

Josh gave me a box full of books that he bought for me. It was like Christmas morning. I was so excited to go home and spend my time between semesters reading the books Josh had chosen for me.

When I got home Sunday night, I pushed all my pleated Mennonite dresses to the corner of my closet and hung my new outfits beside my favorite “purple dress.”

I tried on one of my new outfits, sat down, and opened the envelope that contained my report card. To my surprise, I had the highest marks I had gotten up to that point, and the night got even better when George appeared at my doorstep. Click here to continue reading my story.

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