I’m Tough. Real Tough.


“I pulled my hat down over one eye… to look tough like Mike Barber in the movies. I’m tough I said to myself… Real tough.” – Bill Martin Jr., The Ghost-Eye Tree

I have been known to be a tough girl.

An opinionated, no nonsense, lady who doesn’t put up with crap or bullshit or, worst of all, straight-up top-of-the-line phoniness. Blunt. Off-putting. A Bitch.

Yes, I have been called the dreaded B-word that some hold as a badge of honor and some hold as the second meanest derogatory lady slang word in the English language. (By the by, is it just me, or does the word cunt (eek, I said it) have it’s own nondescript meaning besides “terrible, horrible, awful…” ? I feel like it is a derogatory word on it’s own island. It never seems to hit the nail on the head as an accurate description of someone as much as people tend to believe. It’s just shocking, jarring and not all around distinctly poignant. I don’t know who a cunt is. I do, however, know me some bitches.)

For some of you, this may come as a surprise that I identify myself this way. Indeed I’ve become a lot softer over the years, partly because I have less to prove, partly because I’m more comfortable in my own nerdy skin, partly because I’ve gotten more sensitive in my older age and a smidge because I am “playing the game” as they say.

But when I was younger (late teens, early twenties) I think I was awfully proud of the mighty stick shoved up my mighty ass. And if you think it was because I was overcompensating for something, then Bitch, you would be correct.

First off, I’m a pastey thing. To the max. I bruise like a peach and reflect like a mirror. When I go make-up-less, often times people ask me if I’m “feeling okay.” Balls of steel does not an eggshell skin tone make.

And when my gangly pale body kicks some major ass in my weekly TurboPump kickboxing class, I don’t look like a Lara Croft/Sigourney Weaver from Aliens prototype. I look like a fucking joke. No way could my jabs hurt a fly, (or land on a fly. My coordination is no where near solid hand/eye), and by the end of the cardio-bass charged hour, my heated body turns a lovely shade a pink, you know, like a baby’s does. When it cries.

And in my college years, I couldn’t handle it. It was more important for me to command a presence of scary than it was to be present in my honesty. And honestly? In reality I was just like the kid in Bill Martin Jr.’s The Ghost-Eye Tree.

In probably the greatest children’s book ever written, we meet a little boy who has to go across town at night with his sister to get a bucket of milk. It’s fucking dark out. It’s fucking creepy eery. And worst of all, halfway through the walk they have to pass this gigantic tree that seems to be inhabited by a super freaky, totally real ghost (NOT AN OWL, MOM AND DAD! THERE IS NO WAY THAT WAS JUST AN OWL!). So, this kid, scared out of his wits, takes a hat with him to look tough. Real tough.”Like Mike Barber in the movies.”

I don’t know who Mike Barber is, but I imagine he embodies the Sarah Connor archetype I have strived to be like in my mind. And I get the symbolism here. You have to fake it until you make it. Sometimes pretending to be tough is the same thing as actually being tough. Perhaps over time, you will transform into true toughness. But first you need the hat.

Over the years I have had less and less things to act tough about. I have friends who love me, a family I’m close with, and a boyfriend who finds my clumsiness endearing. I’m doing what I love and I’m proving myself by just working hard and being honest and kind. And that makes me happy. It took a little time, but it was wonderful to eventually put my Mike Barber hat away and just be me. Bruise-having, pale yet pink, gangly-shaped me. I can’t kick anyone’s ass, but I can get the hang of the kick combo in TurboPump, no prob. Besides, if I ever get kidnapped, I have no shame in resorting to biting and kicking someone in the genitals. (It hurts on both genders people. Keep that in mind.)

But what happens when you need to be tough again? I often think of the little boy from Ghost-Eye. “Oooooo, I dreaded to go. Oooooo I dreaded the tree. Why does Mama always choose me when the night is so dark and the mind runs free?” I hear you, buddy. Chances are that little boy will have to get a bucket of milk across town for the rest of his life.

So, I reiterate: What do you do when you need to be tough again?

I’m finding myself in this conundrum lately. In the past I would jump at the opportunity to “tell it like it is” and “not put up with crap” and “call people out of their shit” but to be perfectly honest, I don’t know if I have it in me anymore. The one benefit of being on the other side for so long is I’ve learned that it’s all around nicer to avoid the drama. Drama takes energy, and I think I’d rather put my energy at being happy and nice. I don’t want to fake toughness anymore. But is this at the expense of standing up for myself?

I stare at my Mike Barber hat, constantly questioning what’s the “correct” thing to do. I don’t want my current lack of toughness to result in my lack of backbone, or, again the worst thing in the world to me, a skillset at phoniness.

I’ll tell you something right now, you can call me a lot of things, B-word, C-word, a Pushover, Weak or otherwise, but if you were to call me Phony, that word cuts me like a knife. I refuse. It’s just not who I am.

My thoughts turn to Sally, the sister from The Ghost-Eye Tree. She too has to take this journey to the other side of town with her brother, and she thinks his hat is stupid. (“Well you don’t have to wear it,” I said. “No but I have to look at it,” my sister said.) Sally, in fact, is not scared of the tree at all, and only panics when there is confirmed ghost happenings (NOT OWL SOUNDS, I SAY) in that scary-ass tree. After a terrifying run pass the tree, the little boy drops his hat, and it is Sally who takes it upon herself to go back and get it.

I find myself thinking in my toughness debate, “What would Sally do?” She didn’t retrieve the hat because she needed it to be tough, in fact she was mighty tough without it, but Sally went back to The Ghost-Eye Tree regardless. It was her brother’s hat, and getting it back was the right thing to do.

Sally is not a phony. And indeed she is kind of bitchy at times, but I like her. And I think I’d rather be her and grab the hat than let Ghost-Eye get it.

After all this time, I’ve evolved into a true tough girl. And a true tough girl knows the difference between an opinionated, no nonsense, blunt, “tell it like it is” personae, and just doing the right thing by standing up for herself.

I’m not going to put that stick up my ass again, or pick unnecessary fights just to show how badass I am, or cause drama because goodness knows I don’t give enough flying fucks to pursue that avenue. I don’t need to put that hat over one eye to look tough anymore. I’m no longer the little boy who needs it. I’m Sally now. Ghost-Eye is never going to get me.

I’ve evolved into being an honest tough girl: softer, kinder, happier, pastier, calmer. But take note:

I’m also not going to put up with any more of your shit.

– One L

“It’s only a dream” my sister said. “It’s only a fooly inside your head. There’s nothing to dread in an old oak tree.”


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