Like A Girl

The deep brown shade that glazed the wood was almost heavier than the door. It melted the light that snuck in via the stained glass of glittering gold and grassy green into hues and shadows that crashed by the waves of my shivering feet. A dusty brick of maroon leather, lying next to to a white vase of white tulips and white roses, was carved with cursive: "Books Of Hymns." A black cross hung a room's length across from a mammoth silver screen allowed Jesus to observe the dim Mac's screensaver slideshow of a smiling newborn and shots from last Christmas.

Sometimes I found comfort in a church. Verses or hymns stitched across frames or statues offered a sense of familiarity from my days back in elementary and middle school - where my independent and supposedly non denominational one featured a regular Biblical reading in the daily assembly in fact referred to as "chapel."

Sometimes I found distance in a church -- at least my own distance, that is. I'm not Christian, after all. Not only that, in fact I'm actively something else. "Muzluhm," Moozlem, "Mossloom" -- or you know, "Muss-limm."

Sometimes I found my self in a church. Each Friday this chapel's main sanctuary was dimmed and darkened and only the podium propped a flickering flame as bright as a distant star if you were in the audience, as bright as the sun if you were up behind it. The hall's organs and windows and paneling flattened into one compressed canvas, stamped into a single printed postcard -- tucked behind the wispy hairs and poking ears burning from whomever assumed the podium's glow -- and that postcard mailed you to the unknown address of their sorrows and stories and secrets, where the price of postage was purely, was painfully your inability to ever unfeel their words or worries or weeps again. They'd share their fourteen-year-old naivete, their fourteen-year-old wisdom. They'd share their eighteen-year-old cautions, their eighteen-year-old regrets. Each Friday: Indaba is they called it - after the word for meeting or conference or gathering by the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa: a meeting of confessions, a conference of beliefs, a gathering of secrets.

Sometimes I found everyone except my self in a church. Each Tuesday before ten, just like Indaba, guitar picks and pianos and pitches and poetry and prose would rumble the church, like the viscous vibrations my phone never felt because no one really ever called me back. But this was Evening Prayer and you prayed not really for God but for the call back, or a text back, a kiss back, a love back - because you weren't there alone, usually at least, unless you were unusual.

This time, though, I wasn't wedged in the arms of someone I really didn't know nor was I nestled between the podium and the postcard. I was dissolving, slowly, into the brown wood, first stripping via the trembling tears that melted my face.

I hated crying. Not because I didn't feel free from the bursting pipes that loosened their lug on my lids but because it made me "emotional" -- "like a girl." I loved being a girl, even being like a girl, but I hated being "like a girl."

Especially because that's why I was here. The Reverend nudged me a box of Kleenex and told me it was God's gift to cry.

"I just don't think you know what you're actually trying to start." I wanted to start a group of thought, discussion, acceptance.

"I just don't think you know the tragedy it is to faction a community as small as your minority's already is." I wanted to strengthen the drops of us rejected from the pool, humiliated from the pool, lectured in the pool, silenced in the pool, drowned in the pool - into more than a pathetic puddle of a duo of drops.

"I just don't think girls can go ahead and do this -- I've spoken to Her." I wanted suddenly to in fact vanish in the varnish and drown in the brown, where I could float freely beyond the accusations that I didn't comprehend why I wasn't allowed to lead a sermon, why I didn't understand it was wrong I wore shorts to lacrosse, why I shouldn't talk to boys who wouldn't call me back anyway to lend me a chance to value the volume of viscous vibrations, why I should blindly believe that women can't shame other women.

The Reverend nudged me the same box of Kleenex again and repeated to me it was God's gift to cry.

I wanted vivid voices -- mine and hers and hers and hers included, too, -- and daring debates -- between me and us and them and him and her and her and him and us and me and them and them and him and her -- and sullen silences -- our tears, her tensions, his trembles, their tales.

My wish to conceive and cultivate a club that could be summed up by its guiding belief "Islamic discussion club" was dampened and dulled by this bellowing "I'm no straight old cis white man; I know a struggle too."

-----

I walked back to Ms. Hamilton's in the February flurries, my brown boots heavy and coated by the airy pale flakes that frosted exhausted sprinkles of snow into a rigid slice of ice that froze my feet even under two woolen socks and collided with indented marble in my trudge up the century-old staircase.

And when I am opened the almost-empty but not at-all classroom because my Rock and Wings were ankles-folded, paper-grading at the table -- when I uttered a hollow "hello" to Ms. Hamilton and told her I had just cried I did not cry again -- and she told me it was okay that that being "like a girl" was not a shame or a sham or scam, but a reason to keep climbing. But then why wasn't I crying now and only then?

Ms. Hamilton, a Reverend, though not the, that Reverend was the woman who ran Indaba when I first went to witness the weeping wedged between the postcard and the podium.

Ms. Hamilton, Episcopalian, and me, "Muslim" -- because it can be spelled and pronounced all one way; me, my identity, we need not be a Dictionary definition, an Encyclopedia entry more than once -- around a brown oval wooden table that didn't ask me to vanish into the varnish or drown into the brown; rather one to circulate what was said and volley the voices between me and her and whoever else might join our receptive round.

Ms. Hamilton, not to be my savior or translator or brainwasher -- but my guide, my teacher, my freshener -- the hands and voice and motivation to open the Qur'an and read and interpret words for my own: a job no longer left for old men in long beads and flowy white robes half way across the globe, whether today or centuries ago.

You had to be schooled in studies and immersed in Islamic training, they said, which made sense -- but how can they know my experiences here, now or ever, as a girl?

Not just "like a girl."

The Reverend or Her or the others who simply asserted they supported "me," "my faith" - but then why did they simply and always talk above, at, or for me? Why wouldn't they talk with me?

"Honey, you can't just stand up in front and give a sermon, even a talk because the guys can't, shouldn't look at you or hear you when they're tryna focus in on God."

I'm confused. Men are taught to jump to control of the entire community- the sermons, the large halls, the leaders of the mosque, the finances? Yet they supposedly can't control when to leave a woman alone? And that's where tucking me away is supposed to help. This magical shoving behind and shutting up are supposed to ward away the supposed only weakness of men.

-----

Best friends and mentors and comfort and selves -- they mustn't reflect how others think you should fabricate yours out of glistening flames or stained glass panes. They should be what you wish, want you want, what you know -- or perhaps what you don't: something sketched from the unknown address of sorrows and stories and secrets, where the price of postage is purely, is painfully your inability to ever unfeel the words or worries or weeps again.