Growing up a girl, is to grow up an avocado.
You grow and grow until you’re ripe and then you’re trapped in a skin that fits you like a glove.
It seems like the perfect size until you want to run or dance or climb or scream, and then you find you cannot move.
It’s like trying on a dress too small and trying to rip it off. You pull it up over your ears and it gets stuck around your breasts, and your arms are trapped above your head and there’s nothing you can do except yell for someone to peel it off.
That’s the feeling of growing up an avocado.
I was an angry a lot when I was growing up – which is not terribly surprising on reflection. People tend to get angry when it’s hot and stuffy and they’re locked in small claustrophobic rooms and told they can’t open a window.
I am eight.
I am eight, and I am an avocado in a flock of magpies and I want to be a magpie so badly that it makes my fingers curl.
I want to know what it feels like to dig my claws into the ground and to stretch my wings and have the world tell me that one day I will be able to reach the corners of the sky.
I dig my avocado toes into the ground and they look like soft, white grubs, and when I reach my arms up the sky is so, so far away and no matter how tightly I close my eyes I cannot imagine my fingers touching tree canopies or the wind in my hair.
The Power Ranger boys at preschool grew up magpies, so did my best friend’s brother who tried to peck me with his magpie beak.
They don’t have to squeeze their eyes shut to imagine their place in that big, big sky. I hear them practicing their magpie song in the back corner of the playground, and I want a song so that the world can know my magpie call.
They are told to look up at the sky and that it will be theirs when they are ready.
We are taught how not to get picked until we’re ripe.
That year I get my brother’s hand-me-downs and I claim a red t-shirt with black and white magpie print. I wear it all the time.
Maybe some of those magpies will rub off on me.
I am eleven.
I am in Westfield with my mother. I’ve been walking two metres behind her all morning pretending that I don’t know her.
She’s irritated, and maybe a little hurt? by my distance, and I stand at the top of the escalators to wait while she browses. I wait and watch the men watch me.
They look normal, I think, these men. They come up from the floor below like a production line.
Brown leather jacket, dark blue jeans, brown hair with flecks of grey. He looks like a dad. Not my dad, but a generic sort of dad. I watch his hand on the black hand railing as it moves upwards.
I flick my eyes up and his pupils stare back at me. I look down. When I glance up again he’s gone.
That’s the game – look down, look up, look down.
I start again with the next one. Black, shiny shoes, charcoal pants and white shirt. No tie. Thick grey hair. I look down, I look up, I look down.
Blue eyes, this time.
Every single one of them; watching me watch them watch me.
I am fourteen. I hide the magpie t-shirt behind the bed and go shopping with my friends for clothes we think the boys will like.
I push my hopes to be a magpie back behind my eyes and down my throat and swallow them; and start to want someone to pick me so I can find out what life feels like outside the fruit box.
I meet him at a charity event. He has long hair, and a broad smile, and I watch him watching me watch him when I dance in front of the speaker stacks and I don’t stop dancing until he comes over after the band has finished up and asks me for my number.
I lie about my age. We meet up for lunch. Turns out having lunch isn’t just having lunch, and I’m not sure that I’m ready. But I feel grown up. He keeps asking if I’m sure I’ve never done it before. (It’s not the kind of thing you forget, I say.) I never hear from him again.
I’m eighteen and studying at university and I cannot believe I’ve spent all this time thinking that I’m a piece of fruit.
I get my first ‘real’ job and work long hours with big eyes and an open heart and every belief that we will change the world. I notice the way women are crowded out of meetings and the air is filled with the sounds of men, but I don’t want to rock the boat. So I say nothing.
I say nothing and I’m in the lift and he spins his headphones faster and faster in circles, closer and closer to my face. I laugh. I press back against the wall. I wait for the doors to open and am filled with a resentment with which I have become familiar of the tiny, petty things men do to remind you of their dominance.
He walks behind me the whole way home one night after I tell him I don’t want him to walk with me. I feel slightly nauseous when I feel a familiar tickle beneath my lower ribs, and realise that alongside my anger, I am a tiny bit flattered by his attention. Such is how we’re taught, when we grow up as avocados.
I’m eighteen and I sit on the lawns outside Hermann’s bar and we drink beer and smoke cigarettes after class and talk about the times men have touched us when we didn’t want them to, and the times they touched us when we did, and no one is remotely phased that in puddle of women on the lawn who have just left school not one of us can say that we haven’t been afraid.
It’s a callous kind of conversation that we have. We don’t know how to care for each other yet. Instead we talk crudely and brashly of wounds and of fear, and we laugh and we drink, and we sit a little closer.
I am twenty six and I cannot name a single woman in my life who hasn’t been bruised by men who they think they own her.
I cannot name a single woman who has never felt afraid, or been pushed against a wall, or diminished in her work.
It’s six months back, and I am preparing to move interstate. I sit in the sun in my backyard with a good friend and we drink two bottles of wine, as we talk about the world and our place in it; and like magpies we look to the sky as if we have a claim to it.
It’s fun, to talk about our possibilities.
It’s Friday, and we don’t have work and are feeling silly so we walk to the pub to meet some friends and are joined by two men who talk to us about our work and about the world and I tell them about the possibilities.
One of them asks me a lot of questions and I get that tickle beneath my lower ribs and we go back to his apartment.
I tell him that he’s hurting me, and that I want him to stop. I tell him that I’m scared. He’s stronger than me, and calls me baby.
I leave. He doesn’t stop me. A man at the servo sings out to me and I can barely hear him through the dull thud between my ears, and the sky is so big and so dark I cannot believe that just hours before we were talking about how it could be ours.
The next day I joke to friends about how terrible he was in bed and dance around the edges of the bit where I couldn’t prize him off me and he left bruises that lasted for days.
One friend squeezes my knee under the table, and looks at me with wide, sad eyes. I feel that perplexing mix of relief and despair we feel as women when we understand each others’ unspoken stories.
Over recent weeks women have taken to the internet to tell their stories of the men who hurt them, who made them feel smaller, and made them quieter. They have told stories of stolen opportunities, of broken bones and of the men who tried to make them disappear.
All women have these stories.
All men have these stories too.
Stories where you were there. She said no. You did it anyway.
Or maybe you were there and you said nothing. You walked away.
We all have stories. Telling them helps us unlearn who are we in those stories.
It is hard to punch holes through the dark green avocado skin and grab the stars you don’t believe you’re entitled to. It’s even harder when you don’t understand why you can’t see the stars at all.
It’s hard not to be repulsed with yourself when – alongside the anger and the shame – you also feel that tickle under your ribs when your boss tells you you’re beautiful and that you will go far. You don’t want that feeling. But it makes a lot more sense when you remember that you’ve spent twenty five years in a fruit box.
And it’s hard to unlearn the size of the sky when you have always believed that it is your playground and you don’t want to share it. You’re already competing with other magpies for your two square feet of sky, and you don’t want to give that up.
It’s hard to let go of that comforting lie that you were born with bigger wings, and not that ours were clipped from birth.
These things are hard to unlearn, but they are necessary.
Because we are not avocados. And you are not a magpie.
And we all want our share of the sky.