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Badass Woman - The Becoming

Badass Woman - The Becoming

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Emma’s grandmother, Galina, was a badass woman. She was an excellent chess player and loved the game as much as the guilty pleasures of life. Her husband, on the other hand, was nil at chess. So, what’s a “girl” to do? In her 40s, Galina started to take a week off once a year to escape to a resort, all-by-her-self, to meet up with her chess friends. At the resort, Galina played chess day and night until she turned blue. Most of her friends were men because, for “some reason”, there weren’t a whole lot of middle-aged women who had mastered the game and were willing to do what she did.

Galina’s husband was jealous as heck. But, as the saying goes – happy wife, happy life, so Galina was quickly forgiven. Not that there was anything to be forgiven for. The “girl” just really loved chess! And, secretly, her husband admired Galina’s determination, willpower, and independence.

That once-a-year trip was also great for their marriage. Galina came home fully rejuvenated, ready to immerse back into motherhood, wifeyhood, and running the household.

***

Emma was giving a piggy ride to her seven-year-old daughter. Her four-year-old son held on to her leg, tagging along for a ride. The trio was laughing and shouting each their own version of happiness. When Emma could no longer bear the extra weight, she collapsed with her kids on the sofa, jumping at the opportunity to tickle each one.

“Mommy,” squeaked little Jack, “I love you to the Moon and Mars and stars and Venus and Ur …euh …oh, Uranus!! and …”

“My what?” Emma gasped. “Oh …”

“And back,” finished Jack. The kids quickly took off, leaving their mommy laying on the couch in tears from laughter and new back pain.   

Emma glanced at the family photos above the fireplace. Galina, then in her forties, was gazing straight at Emma through the photograph. Galina. Unapologetic risk-taker. Always confident. Mostly level-headed. Seductive when intimate. Wild when necessary. Dead at 89 from heart failure. “If she ever made it to heaven,” Emma thought, “I bet she is playing chess against Fischer and Lasker at-the-same-time!”

A sudden thought invaded Emma’s mind. A dangerous thought acknowledgement of which could be uncomfortable and life-changing. Emma imagined replicating her grandmother’s chess escapes. Emma too was an avid chess player back in her youth, although she hasn’t touched the game in over a decade.

Emma too, could summon her old chess friends and gather everyone on a resort, say, in Costa Rica. How bad could that be? To add to the “badassness” of leaving her family alone for a week, she could also use her husband’s ridiculous amount of Airmiles points to book her flight and accommodation, thus going, essentially, for free. The thought revived Emma like a plunge into cold water.

All these years, she was so immersed in motherhood and her married life that she had forgotten what it was like to be by herself. She forgot herself, her interests, her audacity. Bewildered and bewitched by her children’s jolly smiles, laughs, and tears, motherhood was the only world that Emma had blindly and happily existed in for the past seven years. She walked away form her beloved career. Turned down subsequent lucrative offers.  And seven years into family life, she did not want it any other way.

Galina’s gaze invited Emma to do something eccentric. “Get out of your comfort zone, child!” it said. “Dare to live fuller.”

Emma pictured herself playing chess in a room full of men, just like in the olden days when she competed. How much has the sad, largely disproportionate male-to-female ratio in chess changed in the last two decades? She never minded being often the only woman in the entire tournament back in her youth. Occasional unsolicited attention never bothered her either.  So why, why was she now so self-conscious and troubled by the idea of potentially being the only female chess player in the room? “Would this be a crime?” she wondered, now that she was married. “Or a sin?” she continued wondering.  A decade of a blissful marriage has done the trick.

Throughout her married life, Emma looked at men as she looked at women and children and the elderly - as if everyone was genderless. Except for her husband, of course. Whenever she saw a new cover of People magazine with the headline of “Sexiest Man Alive!” she always laughed. “They call that sexy? Ha-ha! They should see my husband!” Although she was grateful she could keep him to herself.

But gender differences cannot be ignored. And suddenly, as if awoken after a decade of sleep, Emma was very conscious of it. How would she feel if her husband was the only male chess player in the entire tournament? Slightly uncomfortable, at a minimum. Outraged, in the worst case.

Thoughts. Once they creep in, they need to run their full course. ­­

Emma pictured leaving her kids with daddy for a week. They would eat nothing but pizza and peanut butter sandwiches, and watch tons of TV. Homework would not be done. There would be no piano, no chess, no math lessons, nor theatre. This would also be the best time of their lives!

No. She could not let this happen. For once her kids got a taste of “freedom”, all the meticulous effort she put into raising them as half-decent human beings would quickly evaporate into jokes about farts, snots and “stinky deliveries.”

“Uuugh, since when did playing chess become SO complicated?” Emma sighed …

“Forget it. Maybe I can’t be a badass woman like my granny, but I can still be a badass mom!” she concluded. (She really had to be a “badass” something!)

Emma went to bed quite content that night. But something started to stir inside her. There was life bubbling outside her home and family responsibilities. That life was calling her name.

She lay in bed, wide awake, deep into the night, turning different life scenarios in her head. “Doesn’t hurt to see if I could actually find any players,” she told herself. “Not that anyone would reply anyway.” Emma reached her laptop and messaged several of her old chess friends; then, shut the machine off and passed out in bed next to her already in REM-sleep husband.

***

The following morning Emma’s phone beamed with responses to her inquiry. She had to read some of them twice. Her heart was racing. She felt audacious, invigorated. And for the first time in seven years, she remembered that precious part of self that got lost somewhere along the motherhood journey.

Emma walked over to her loving husband and asked: “May I have your Airmiles card please?”

 

Notes

This story was inspired by the following DixIt card:

Galina’s character is based on a real person, Nina. She is my friend’s grandmother and she did go on those chess trips. Emma’s character is also based on a real person … but I will never reveal who, eek.