#iamsubject project – Me


by S.D.

I remember the day when I looked into the mirror as I did every morning. But this time I saw more. Usually I would just check to see if my hair looked tidy, my make-up – little as I used to wear – was suitable and my dress would make me appear as the more-or-less successful lawyer that I was at that time.

I had been taught you had to look according to your profession, no matter your own personality. Of course, there were lawyers, mainly feminist or leftist or environmentalist, who would proudly differ from the others by their appearance. But if you wanted to keep a job in one of the “nicer“ law companies, you’d better not wear anything individual for work. Or speak up for anything strange – like human rights, for example. Or seem attached to a religion – well, Catholic might pass, but not if you would follow fasting rules before Easter. Not in Germany.

So I looked at myself and wondered if that was still me. If that was what I wanted to be, what I would be in the years to come. I mused at my schedule, wondered about my clients who usually were not “my“ clients, but an assignment from one of the other lawyers.

The image in my mirror nagged at me all day. And the next. And the following.

I needed the job, the money I earned, to keep the house running, to provide my children with whatever they needed. But was it worth selling myself? Who was this “self,” whom I was missing when I looked into the mirror? Who was this lady watching the lawyer dress up, go about, talk the talk and walk the walk in too-high heels?

Summer passed. This feeling of living beside me would not vanish. Yet one night he moon vanished; a dark night covered the world with a veil of starlight over fog rising from the wet lawns. It was eerily quiet. But in my ears, there was the sound of a far away call. I had not heard it in years, but in this dark night it resounded time and again.

So I knew my time had come. No cowardice, no fear of losing my livelihood should further make me continue this double life, living under a mask that threatened to strangle me.

Long before dawn, I took a long shower, as if to cleanse my body from all the fake and poisoning stuff I had felt myself forced to swallow or to use. I dressed up in a long nightshirt with a hem that swept the floor, covered my wet hair with a white scarf. A look at the time told me that soon I would be able to “distinguish a black thread from a white” – so I went to the kitchen, took some water and ate a little.

Then it was time to stand up and pray. Pray, as I had never done before. For me, for my children.

Sunrise found me again in my room, between the open closet and the mirror. A long search provided me with an outfit that I felt would be me from now on: a long skirt, a matching tunic with long sleeves and a light coat to cover both. No makeup. Also the nail polish had gone before my shower in the night. Now it was time to do my hair. I found a hair slide to fix it in the back of my head, then started to wind a green scarf around it, as I had seen it done so many times on other women’s heads.

I looked again into the mirror. The woman there answered with a smile. I nodded to her, took my handbag and left the room. The day would be long, and I did not know how it would end. There would be a price to pay for this. But it was me now, not someone’s idea about what “me” should be. My heart was at peace.

I never looked back.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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