3rd Place: ‘The Woman I Wanted To Be’ by Christine Anne Foley

I always imagined I’d be the key rattling, fingers donned with rings, large purse carrying, nail tapping, throwing purse on top of the newspaper, beside the Evian water bottle on the passenger seat, kind of woman. The arm around the headrest, neck turned, earring dangling, lip biting, eyebrows knitting, smile bearing, easy reversing out of the petrol station, kind of woman. 

I always imagined being the heavy lifting, bag for life swinging, door slamming, honey I’m home singing, lips kissing, arms aching, heart leaping, happily married, kind of woman. 

The wide hipped, pelvis pushing, saltwater bathing, stitch healing, breasts leaking, takes to motherhood very well, kind of woman. 

The late-night feeding, arm cradling, wet wipe brandishing, Sudocream fingered, carrot puree smelling, tired but always glowing kind of woman. 

I failed. 

I failed to be the woman I wanted to be. 

I failed the woman I wanted to be. 

When I was eighteen, I waxed the hair on my legs, I shaved the hair under my arms, I bleached the hair on my arms, I ironed the hair on my head and I aggressively dissolved the hair along my pubic bone with a chemical cream that smelled so rancid, I had to hold my nose as the hairs curled and fizzled and died, and then I scraped them off with a funny shaped, sharp edged, piece of plastic, leaving my skin hair free but red and sore and burning. 

When I was twenty one, I plucked my eyebrows to within an inch of their life before drawing them back on with a black pencil that crumbled against my skin and the peeling edges tore the soft skin above my eyelid. 

I squeezed my body into tight clothes, always a size down so they’d pinch me in desirable places, pushing the fat from my belly up to my breasts and out over the low neckline, so tight and uncomfortable that my breathing was restricted, and I’d have lines across my midriff for days. 

I applied bee venom to my lips in gloss form until they tingled and stung and swelled. 

In my late twenties, I counted calories and bought a skipping rope.  I read Vogue and Glamour, I bought a vibrator and embraced my sexuality. I wore revealing lingerie for the men I dated. I used oil on my skin before bed and threw face wipes out in exchange for some expensive cleansing soap that claimed to both keep me looking young and make me look younger. 

In my early thirties, I threw out the sexy polyester lingerie in exchange for real cotton thongs that sat high on my hips and gave the illusion of a waistline. I stopped counting calories and joined a gym. In the gym, I wore a bra that held my breasts so tightly that now, instead of bursting out below my neck, they bulged out under my armpits. I bought natural deodorant, said fuck you to breast cancer, changed from dairy to oat lattes and never drank coffee after 8pm. 

In my late thirties I went back to dairy but off gluten. I stopped wearing a bra, said fuck you to the patriarchy, dated less men, lasered the hair on my legs and on my arms and fully removed every last hair from my vulva so I now resembled a child. I dyed my eyebrows and used a similar smelling chemical to the one that once fizzled away my pubic hair to permanently curl my lashes. I swapped Vogue for feminist literature, started an online business, failed, started another one. Went back to Vogue. Decided I could read both. Had a one-night stand with a stranger, got pregnant, lost it. 

Sat in a pool of my own blood with the shower on and watched the red dilute to pink and slowly circle the plug hole and swirl away. 

I did everything I was meant to do. 

And still, I failed.  

I’ve seen all kinds of women. Succeed and fail. 

I’ve covered the purple bruises above my friend’s eyebrow with a thick and creamy concealer. I’ve collected her kids from their abusive father at all hours, day and night. I’ve held another friend’s hand in an abortion clinic, then dropped her home to a partner who smiled and put her to bed. I’ve twirled and danced and sang with couples on their big day. I’ve clapped at the bright explosion of pink from a balloon at a gender reveal. I’ve seen surrogates have babies for my friends who couldn’t have their own. I’ve bought cards that said ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Commiserations’, ‘Sorry to see you go’ and ‘Sorry for you loss.’ I’ve held hands with newly born and the passing away. I’ve slept with men my own age and men younger and older. I’ve kissed women and I’ve liked it. I’ve online dated. I’ve been harassed, I’ve been stalked, I’ve been followed. I’ve had good relationships and I’ve had bad. I’ve been with toxic partners and I’ve been the toxic partner.

I know that I will never be the woman I wanted to be. 

But sometimes, when I pull out of the petrol station, when I throw an open pack of Marlboros onto the passenger seat, when I roll down the window and my bare fingers light the cigarette that dangles from my mouth and I pull dangerously onto the road, I look in the rear-view mirror and sometimes, for a second, a brief moment in time, I catch a glimpse of her. 

I wonder does she recognise me? 

About the Author

Christine is a Dublin based writer from Kilkenny with a degree in English from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Creative Writing from Oxford University. Her play ‘Let your hair down’ was performed at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford. Her work has appeared in literary journals, Skirting Around, Neurological and Sonder Magazine. 

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Published by sonderlit

New Irish literary magazine reflecting people, our differences and similarities.

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