After my college graduation ceremony, my mom and her sister came back to my dorm room to help me finish packing in order to move me back home. My Auntie Maureen had a fabulous idea: she took the purple sheets off of my bed, spread them out on the floor, and began tossing my clothes, shoes, notebooks, cd’s, and whatever else she could find on top of them. Then we wrapped the sheets up, twisted the ends and hauled the bulging Santa-like sacks out to the parking lot.
My ornery grandfather and one of my brothers were already waiting for us there in my car, a Nissan Altima. Mom and Auntie Maureen sat in the front, and I sat in the back in the middle (I was in no shape to drive, having just said a tearful goodbye to my boyfriend), flanked by Grandpa on one side and my brother, Kevin, on the other. As soon as Mom careened the car onto I-55 South, Grandpa started jabbing me with his bony elbow.
“Move over,” he grumbled at me.
“Grandpa, there’s not a ton of room back here, I’m doing the best I can,” I assured him, as I scrunched myself up smaller to appease him. Annie Altima wasn’t a large car to begin with.
After more grunting and grumbling, he says it, words I can’t forget:
“Well maybe if your shoulders weren’t so broad and you weren’t so big,” he barked.
My mom’s eyes caught mine in the rearview mirror. Don’t listen to him, they said. Yet it was too late.
I had never noticed my broad shoulders before, but ever since I catch myself—hunching, shrinking to fit, trying to make myself smaller. More agreeable. Passive. Invisible. All because of a thoughtless comment uttered 12 years ago.
I won’t do it anymore. For anyone. You see, I am cultivating a nice pair of cojones. You can’t step on me anymore. You can’t whittle me down and force me to fit into the space you’ve provided.
This is the end of an era. It’s been a long time coming.
I will not shrink to fit.