I love this picture of myself, taken by my first husband on our honeymoon in Switzerland. I look happy, my guard down, and my hair — well, I was growing it out. But it was so thick! So healthy!
We couldn’t exactly afford a celebratory trip to Europe, but his parents were going on a University of Michigan alumni tour to Lucerne and other alpine cities, preceded by a week in a nosebleed summer camp halfway up the Alps. (We had to pay; it was not a gift. His parents rarely handed us anything free of strings.) So I got to joke that we spent our honeymoon in a romantic country, surrounded by 200 friendly strangers and my new in-laws. The others caught wind of a newlywed couple, but they never figured out it was us, probably because I looked to be twelve years old, much more like a kid sister than a bride. This was not an auspicious start to a marriage, but by then I was skilled at wearing blinders and turning my head to look at something else (diamond ring!) any time a red flag began waving.
Here is the thing about giving someone the finger. It wasn’t something I did often. In fact I remember having to practice. I am not good at fancy hand gestures, and found it highly annoying when every one I knew started making the holding-a-phone-to-the-ear mime at me, since I could not do it back. It took me years to master, and now I just feel silly doing it. It’s all I can do to make an itsy-bitsy spider while singing to little kids, and it goes without saying (get it?) that if I were to attempt sign language it would be like my dad try to say the name of his favorite Mexican food: TAY-coes. My sign language would be heavily accented.
Once I mastered this transgressive hand signal, I reserved it for two occasions — demonstrating my displeasure to boys who shouted surly suggestions out the windows of their cars, and being cute-mad at people I liked. Mostly men; maybe only. Have I ever given a woman the finger? I don’t think so.
Years later, I was out for lunch with a few male colleagues when I gave one of them the finger, and the other two began jockeying to receive the same treatment. Apparently I was so adorable when I did this, its only effect was laughter. This was much like my attempt to take up smoking once I got to college, only a cute guy friend walked by my room just as I was making a mess of lighting a Winston. I was so embarrassed, I never tried again. I would send Robin a thank-you note if I had any idea where he ended up.
So there we were, the honeymooners, jet lagged in our hotel room, hiding out from his parents, all relaxed and happy. He must have said something mean-funny, so I gave him the cute-mad finger. Eight years later that would sum up my opinion of our marriage. On that day in Switzerland, it was just a joke. I’m glad he took the picture. When I talk to people about domestic violence, I always remind them that these men are not monsters. After all, women go out with them, fall in love with them, marry them, have a hard time leaving them. And at least in the very beginning, we feel safe enough to send a rude gesture right straight at them, with no thought of consequences. If they’re lucky, maybe we’ll catch that moment on film. Something to look back on with wonder.