I don’t know who started it.
There were seven of us standing in a big circle getting ready to practice zilling. Julz was looking for the right song on her iPhone and suddenly we were in a conversation about body image and weight.
A couple of the women who have young daughters talked about how they never spoke negatively about their own weight or food in front of their kids. Someone else said how when she was in school the other girls always talked about being “too fat” but she wouldn’t join in. “I was always a feminist,” she told us.
As I listened I felt myself being drawn back in time to my childhood. I didn’t want to bring up what I was thinking, I wanted to leave it in the past where it lived. But it was almost as if I were in a trance, overwhelmed by the feelings of a lifetime.
“Every day my father would call my mother from work and ask if she did her sit-ups,” I said.
The amazing thing was that I didn’t have to say another thing. Everyone understood the impact of it.
But I had fallen into the dark hole of my past. I was in the living room where I grew up listening to that daily phone conversation between my mother and father. Then a voice broke through and I heard someone ask, “Why didn’t she tell him to mine his own business?” and another voice, “or go fuck himself?”
“No,” I said quietly from a distance, “she never did, she couldn’t.”
That’s when Julz looked up from her phone and as if declaring a well-known truth announced, “Some guys just can’t hold their arsenic.”
Then she started singing… “ he had it coming, he had it coming…” And Kathleen, who was standing next to Julz, sang with her…
….”So that night when I came home from work I fixed him his drink like usual. You know, some guys just can’t hold their arsenic. He had it coming, he had it coming. He only had himself to blame….”
I imagine I laughed, maybe too loud. But I don’t really know. What I do remember is that while they sang, it seemed to me that they were surrounded by a glowing green light, and between them, they were stirring a pot, or was it a caldron?
Whatever was really going on, they broke the spell I was in.
Suddenly I was back in the moment, back in our Bellydancing class and part of a circle with seven other women wearing long skirts and cholis, with bare bellies and bare feet, while Julz and Kathleen sang an incantation from a Broadway musical that shook me from a memory which has plagued me my whole life.
This all took place four days ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
The thing is, something changed for me that night when Julz’s response to my memory was to invoke those magic words.
My first thought was to wish I had grown up around women like this. Women who knew their own power. But then I knew that didn’t matter anymore. I had gotten myself to a better place.
I now surround myself with women who are strong enough to stand up for themselves. Who do not tolerate being controlled. And I am one of them.
For the past four days, when I think of that daily phone conversation between my mother and father, which is really a symbol of the dynamic that I was taught a marriage should be like, I no longer cringe.
Instead, I hear those magic words, “some guys just can’t hold their arsenic” and depending on my mood, I either smile a knowing smile or cackle.
(The song Julz and Kathleen sang was Cell Block Tango from the play Chicago, You can see it here.)