Young Woman Listening To God by Brent Schreiber

Tonight at work the air crackled and pulsed, we all had our ears tuned to some strange undercurrent that went beyond speech or sound. We were on edge, defensive, picking up on each others tension and helplessly multiplying it like an echo gone wrong, repeating again and again what was better left unsaid. 

It was palpable. Our newest youth worker lowered her voice to a whisper when everyone had left the room,  “Are you feeling like it’s really…intense in here right now?”

I wonder sometimes if, beyond the mens-magazine jokes about women having their own language, we do somehow trade more often in subtle changes in the air or emotional frequencies, rather than words themselves.

What are we reacting to when surface interactions run smoothly but there exists an unspeakable air of treachery, of opinions being audibly formed while you speak?

Is this innate? Is it imagined?

I wonder sometimes, about women. About the bonds between us that are formed and resisted and angrily destroyed. How emotions seem to be felt more intensely – or perhaps, arguably, just more readily acknowledged.

I used to say that you could tell if a man had sisters. These are men that grew up privy to the secret lives of women, they feel comfortable treading upon that hallowed ground- willing to buy tampons, happy to wait in the lingerie section. They seem somehow aware of the invisible currents that run between and around the women in their lives. They knew when to walk lightly, when to push.

There’s a strange energy when all of my sisters and I are together, all five of us. Beyond the chaos and the anarchy there exists an audible noise, a powerful howl, a strength that goes beyond names or numbers.

For the men, the closest I can get to articulating it is with a Transformers analogy. Imagine that point when, faced with a formidable opponent, all of the individual transformers combine to make that one, giant Transformer (Optimus Prime? Decepticon? Is this painful for you? Adam’s not home to ask, I’m coming up empty here, but you know what I mean, right? The big one, the Mega-Transformer)

Each piece clicks into place, interlocking into an arrangement that’s simultaneously awkward and natural. This is the 5 sisters together, we fall easily back into the roles we’ve been playing since birth, shrugging them on as easily as childhood nicknames: Toad, Lucifer, Sunshine, Fatty and Poopie.

No matter how much we deviate from those old roles in our lives, being together somehow sucks us back, playing our old parts, spitting our old lines, old rhymes. Despite any vows to the opposite, I always end up trying to wrest control, police things, Lizzie makes peace, Claire stirs the pot, Hilary leaves a wake of chaos behind her and Mawney desperately careens between being caught up in the whirlwind and trying to resist it, escape it.

It’s at once unsettling and deeply comfortable. It’s unsettling to see yourself revert so quickly, completely. It’s deeply comfortable to know, at this one place and in this one time, exactly what is required of you. To know precisely what part you are expected to play in service to the greater whole.  

I think for a long time my brother felt left out of this circle. Shipped off to boarding school he missed many of the running around years, years where my sisters were growing up. We were close, me and him, tearing around our neighbourhood on bikes two sizes too small, stealing rhubarb and walking busy Calgary streets like catwalks, dressed in our finest. But for a while I think he felt separate from this entity, one Transformer fighting a losing battle against the monolith Mega-Transformer (It’s got to have a name, right? Anyone? Beuler?) and being subsumed by it, devoured, lost in the noise.

It’s been interesting to see him rise up in the past few years. I see it visually; him straightening his back, squaring his shoulders and taking on his position as the eldest, firmly removing it from his bossy younger sister’s white-knuckled grasp (I imagine myself a squalling despot unwilling to relinquish power, no matter how small). I think his wife made him comfortable within the fold of bewildering women, and we’re glad he’s back. He’s needed, missed.

So here we are.  And here, hopefully, we will soon all be. Crammed into my tiny house, plus seven people, minus a dining room- a cacophony of gifts and shouting and lounging, legs entangled and intertwined, old confidences and rivalries rising and falling. The building of empires, ground into dust.

Mega-Transformer rises again!

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