I remember it clearly, the first time I was called a handful. He said it disparagingly, like I should know it wasn’t a great thing. That I had any doubt. That all of life up to that moment hadn’t prepared me, done its level best to ensure it. That somehow I still had doubts that to be an outspoken young woman wasn’t a prized trait.
I had walked into the college common room expecting to see Brandon and Brenda and Dylan on the newest 90210. But instead it was showing the World Series, the crowd categorically different. I remember it as all men, most of them new to me, for these were not the folks I experienced my weekly check in with on Southern California. No, these were dudes really, not my normal circle at all.
I complained, bemoaned that I would miss it and it was after another minute or two that he said it. This interloper, this new presence on this floor was telling me this opinion. To be clear, I wasn’t telling him he was a handful. That wasn’t how it worked in the 90’s.
I teach, in my other life. And I drop these stories in class from time to time, so they know. So they know that I didn’t always have the presence of mind to be sassy only at appropriate times. So they know I made mistakes, got kicked out of high school algebra or got saucy with a guy who others said not to push while tending bar. It happens, I say, to the best of us.
The funny part is, I really do try to be a nice person most of the time. I score high on the agreeable index. I keep my head down, I fit in. I’m a middle child, after all, raised by a the kindest woman ever. My goal has long been to be a good girl. But when you’re a woman in American society, one must know when to raise one’s voice.
I’m wiser now, and I honestly feel like I understand better than ever when is the right time to say the thing that needs saying. And I still miss opportunities and I’m still that kid who stood in the hallway during math class. Who got walked to my car by the lead bartender that Saturday night.
A handful of what, exactly? A handful of challenge? A handful of liberty? Of sparks? If only they knew how badly I wanted to fit in, how I was emulating the thing I most wanted to be: the man who could say the thing without any second guessing. How I envied them. Ironic, how my greatest wish was what pushed the buttons the hardest. But somehow I don’t think a handful of envy was what he meant.