Growing Up Believing I was A Ghost


By Amanda Pendley

Tripping over my femininity like it was a crack in the pavement, I chose to tuck it in my back pocket until it was safer to pull out.

Growing up on a street full of boys and baseball sweat, I quickly learned that I was nothing if not the image created for me.

I often preferred to be nothing, even with all the consequences that came with it.

If you were not powerful enough to punt a kickball over a three-story house, you weren’t cool enough.

If you didn’t wrestle in the dirt with the other boys at recess, you weren’t tough enough.

If you did not hock a loogie and banter like you were in The Goonies, you weren’t “boy enough.”

To summarize: if you weren’t “boy enough,” you were nothing, even if all these standards were nothing but childish whims.

Even though my pride wanted me to remain as myself, even if I was nothing, I tried to prove that I was something.

It turned out that the only “something” I could be was along the lines of the cliché damsel in distress in every somewhat adventurous summer horror movie plotline; otherwise known as the girl character they include only to fulfill the role of the love interest.

Femininity was viewed as a disease: a deadly thing not meant to be touched, and I didn’t understand that even I believed it too sometimes.

Inside of me there was a persona built up to be eighteen stories high; a trying effort to conceal what was perceived as my nothingness.

This need to hide myself like a sheet ghost on Halloween was so ingrained in me that I didn’t quite know that I was hiding myself at all, but I did know that I was exhausted by the time I got home at night.

I would trudge through my front door, tired not from hours of childhood games, but from the energy it took to censor myself to avoid being “too much of a girl.”

Once I picked up on my own unhealthy habits, I started to see them everywhere: I started to see ghosts.

I noticed how women have to censor themselves, and how they have to become someone they’re not, just to get by.

I saw how women are constantly treated like they are nothing.

Even if they are seen as something, it’s usually something to be criticized: something appalling and outrageous and unconventional.

I started to see the other ghosts at the same time I started to see myself as one.

Still growing up in a world full of men and menacing glares, I quickly learned that I was often seen as nothing.

Or if I was something, it was usually something bad.

At this point I didn’t know which one I preferred to be.

Then I felt my forgotten femininity ticking in my back pocket, left there from all those years ago.

I heard it speaking to me as if over a CB radio, desperately trying to reach the other side.

It said, “it doesn’t matter if you are viewed as nothing, as long as you feel like something. It doesn’t matter if people are intimidated by a strong independent woman as long as you feel empowered by being one.”

And then I felt like I understood.

I finally understood the power of presence and the power of women.

We have all been ghosts in our own bodies at one point or another.

Unseen and unheard, but highly afraid of.

And why are people so afraid of ghosts anyway?

It isn’t because of childhood cartoons or those somewhat adventurous summer horror movies with their token damsel in distress.

It’s either because people believe that ghosts are real, and that frightens them; or it’s because people don’t know if ghosts are real, and not knowing frightens them even more.

It’s because people are afraid of what’s left unsaid and what is left unheard, because what if one day these ghosts have the power to say it.

And what if this time people actually hear their voice from under all that “nothingness,” and static on the radio, and white cloth used to make sheet ghosts.

I think it’s power in the end that makes people afraid.

Because now, women are gaining the power it takes to speak their truth.

We aren’t afraid of ghosts because we understand how they work, even if it’s at the smallest degree.

Ghosts know things; they have power, and they haunt.

They haunt so that people will never forget that.

So now, as I pull my femininity out of my back pocket, I watch as it takes two different forms: a pocket knife and poetry.

It resembles a pocket knife because now that I give it power, my womanliness is my weapon.

And poetry because women are poetry.

All of the mirages we have been are a story transformed into a revolution: an army of ghosts now seen and now heard.

Amanda Pendley is a Kansas City-based writer. She is also the editor of Elementia, a teen literary magazine.