"Seeking Pleasing" by Carla Ewert
I believe I ought to be pleasing.
Pleasing means being quiet—making you feel witty and smart by keeping conversation safely within the bounds of your skills—not saying what I think because it isn’t what you think, and maybe what I think is sharp enough to undo what you think, or maybe it’s dull enough to pollute the space between us.
But then pleasing means being assertive—because women today should be bold —the one to fill the silence, make the point that needs making to prove I’m as smart as you.
Pleasing means being invisible—a blank sheet onto which you can write the story that suits you: desire, angel, sweetheart, mother, friend.
And then means being visible, clearly marked so you know what to expect: the ring, the age, the roles, clear categories.
Pleasing means being groomed so that when you look you think, that, that is what I wanted to see. Like the man who patted my little one’s head and shook her father’s hand, “such a pretty daughter,” as if her beauty was for his sake—a gift to him from her father—or as if in congratulations, her beauty an achievement.
Pleasing means being effortless, so that my trying isn’t too obvious lest you feel threatened even by that or I become uninteresting in my acquiescence.
Pleasing means burying my talent, the last fearful servant, sometimes not afraid of losing but of outdoing—shining can be unbearable. But sometimes because my talent will never match yours, first servant of investment and returns.
Means whatever things were gain to me, I have counted as loss that I may know you—know you by not knowing myself, allowed proximity because conflict is impossible because I am always already emptied and erased.
Pleasing means being fifteen and kneeling on the floor to prove there is only one inch between that floor and my hem to a teacher with a ruler.
Means measuring with three fingers to make sure my neckline is a modest distance from my collar bone.
Means being nineteen and wearing the shorter skirt because you told me not to be a prude.
Means being thirty-eight and changing ten times because everything feels like too much: too tight, too low, too sweet, too old, too young, too revealing, too intimidating.
Means seeing articles titled ten things a woman over thirty-five should never wear and reading them.
Means my body is for your pleasure not mine, my pleasure dependent on your whim, my responses and aches molded to yours.
Pleasing means my feelings ought to reflect yours. If you love, I love. If you distance, I distance. If you smile, I smile. If you want, I want. Never ask, never need, never want anything other than what you would have me want.
Means only worrying when you have the solution. Only emoting when you have capacity. Only wanting what you can give.
Means narrowing my feelings to the constructs in which we live, not letting them overrun the boundaries, and if they do, drawing them back quickly, hoping no one saw.
Pleasing means being just a pretty face.
Means being more than a pretty face.
Means smiling when I’m angry.
Means comforting you when I’m undone. Means breathing deeply when I want to scream.
Means saying yes when I feel no, saying will when I feel won’t, saying do when I feel don’t.
Pleasing till I’m sick with my own sweetness. Sick with swallowing unsaid words and choked down feelings.
Sick with wanting to know what I know. Wanting to hear my own ache, my own wit, my own soul. My own frequency turned up up so I can hear it over the din of demand.
Sick with fear that pleasing is the only pleasure I’m offered. A pleasure hollowed of substance, my senses undone, capitulating to yours.
And then there it is.
And I know I’m seeking what can’t be found. Trying to grasp what can’t be held.
Your pleasure is a thing I cannot feel. I can only feel my own.
And mine lives in MY body—senses alive and curious. And my body knows already...
the way rain feels on the crown of my head,
the piercing of a rock on my bare feet,
the pink halo around my baby’s hand pressed against the sunshine in the car window,
the arc of lamp light on the wall, soft at it’s edges,
the sound of a plate being placed on the wooden table,
another’s forehead leaning against mine and a shared breath.
This is pleasing.