Bridget Hoida on: The Tall Wall

There are a lot of reasons why I adore my agent, the charming Sally van Haitsma. To begin, she’s smart. Really really smart. And by really really smart I mean smart in the way of getting obscure cultural references and understanding that some darlings cannot be killed all in the same breath. She’s also persistent. As in, she never, ever gave up on me or my book, even after we were told by the Big Six (and the little sixty) that it was, perhaps “too Hollywood insider” for anyone outside of the Hollywood set. Also of note, she cares. Which is rare when it’s true, and with Sally it’s always true. But if I had to list the best reason why I’m so smitten with Sally, I’d have to admit it’s because she’s tall.  Really, really tall. Almost as tall as she is smart and that’s why I like her.

ImageIn the first six–or sixteen– drafts of So L.A. Magdalena, the protagonist, was tall, but it was Sally who pushed me to make her taller. To make her own her tallness and to translate that tall onto the page. When you’re 23 or 36 tall is sexy, but when you’re 13 and taller than pretty much everyone in your junior high school –administration included– tall is not so delightful. In fact it’s painful. And even though I’m six feet it was Sally who had to reminded me of what it means, how it feels to be tall. Through her tallness, and her caring boldness, she pushed me back into the arms of a too-short eighth-grade-boy at the junior high dance. She made me slow dance with that short, sticky boy in my mind, the Karate Kid’s “Glory of Love” on perpetual repeat. While we brunched at Antoine’s Cafe, the two of us compared inadequate inseams and the brief but lasting horror of stirrup-pant blunders (thank god for scrunch socks and safety pins).

Which is important. Especially in Magdalena’s world where she admittedly “augmented everything” sans corneal implants. And height. And it’s important too, in today’s world of “perceived imperfections” where patience isn’t valued. Where girls (and boys) are having cosmetic surgery at 12 and 14 to “fit” the “beauty norms” of an increasingly image obsessed society. Don’t believe me? See here: The Upside of Ugly. Or consider my kid. He was born with one ear that is bigger than the other. The medical explanation is that the cartilage is missing. As his mother I was urged to fix his big ear “before the age of five.” I refused. He’s older now, way beyond five yet recently a doctor asked him, at his check up, if people bullied him about his ear and if he wanted to get it fixed? He looked at the doctor like she was crazy, held his big ear and said: “No way! This is my lucky ear.”

So what I want to say is: It takes time to grow into your face. And time to grow into your height, too. Why would anyone want to alter that? Why would anyone want to augment what inspires resilience? What gives them character? No matter how awkward or painful?

“The Tall Wall” an excerpt from So L.A. by Bridget Hoida

IN ADDITION to their supposed intuition, the Jablonowski women were also tall. At six feet I’m their crown jewel. Although I never saw it that way. What I saw was a girl hunched over at her seventh-grade dance, ignoring her grandmother’s pleas not to slouch, hoping—just for one song—that she would shrink short enough to be swirled in an awkward shuffle around the floor.

And because I towered over most of the boys in my sixth- through eleventh-grade classes, it was impossible for me to be pretty. To be pretty was to have Guess? Jeans that zipped just below your ankle, not two inches above. To be pretty was to have a spiral perm and jelly shoes and stretch pants with stirrups that actually stretched under your foot (and did not, for example, have to be cut off and pinned inside two pair of scrunch socks). To be pretty was to have your boyfriend’s name puff-painted on your pink jean jacket and an arm full of Swatches and friendship bracelets that linked you to Heathers or Valeries or Kimberlys or Kristens.

To be pretty was to be short. Shorter, at least, than the boys. Which, at fourteen, stretched out on my extra-long day bed and flipping through Vogue, didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Because when I looked at the glossy pages I didn’t see short girls. I saw stringy, awkward gazelles with spaghetti limbs draped in lace and slumped artfully across the pulpits of abandoned southern churches. I saw muted beach pictorials of barely-there bikinis and legs as long as the surfboards they perched upon. But apparently, as my mother explained while she stroked my straight hair, Real people don’t live in Vogue, Laney. They live in suburbs and neighborhoods and apartment complexes and farms. Real people have to work for a living and can’t spend all day in their underwear flipping through magazines and imagining themselves shorter.

I’m not in my underwear, I said as I slid on a pair of super-short cut-offs. And I don’t imagine myself shorter, I said as I slid the magazine under my pillow. I imagine myself tall, in a world with tall people who think that I’m pretty.

Well sounds like you’re home, my mom said as she motioned out the large bay window toward Junah and my three tall cousins bent over grapes in the field. Ready to join Tall World, because it’s crush time.

You so don’t get it, I said as I tugged an old Esprit t-shirt and ran out into the hall. You just don’t get it at all.

 —

OUTSIDE OF the land of giants that were largely male and entirely related to me by blood, the rest of the world had pegged me as Too Tall. At least for a girl. Worse yet, in their opinion, I refused to put my long legs up to any real use. I mean sure, I helped people reach top things on shelves and such, but I refused to bump, set, spike, lay-up, free throw or triple jump. Because I was neither athletic nor pretty I was left with smart, which I embraced fully and added to it—more from necessity than from desire—some flair. Let the pretty girls have their acid-washed jeans, cinch belts and China flats. I was going to be an artist. And because real paint supplies were too expensive, I took to installation and made-do with myself. I wore argyle sweaters and color-changing lipstick. I studied the fashion magazines I hid beneath my pillow and pieced together a new vision for myself. My mom was more than happy to let me take over the Singer, and with it I learned to sew sections of Junah’s old jeans into patchwork miniskirts that I adorned with safety pins and grosgrain ribbon. I was the first girl in Lodi to wear ankle socks with patent-leather pumps and, when it was cold, I pulled up mismatched leg warmers. If I couldn’t be pretty then at least I’d be striking. I’d be memorable. I’d be something more than a tall girl, tugging on the hemline of her store-bought skirt and slouching in the corner.

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2 thoughts on “Bridget Hoida on: The Tall Wall

  1. In 7th grade, I cried myself to sleep at night, praying I would wake up changed in the following way: I would have bigger boobs, smaller feet, and I’d be 5’2″ instead of almost 5’9″. But when I got older I realized there is one REALLY big advantage to height: YOU CAN EAT MORE. And that was the end of pining and longing.
    Loved your talk at Newport last Saturday. Also Sally’s. She is really special, thinking ahead to a future that few can imagine.
    Can’t wait to get your book. Best wishes.
    Lynne

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