I drew this picture of you

We are drawing on opposite pages of the journal. I have just completed a small portrait of her. “Look,” I say to the four year old, “it’s you.”

“No. That’s a dog.”

“It isn’t. It’s you.”

“I can tell from the nose. It’s a dog.”

“No, it’s you.”

“That isn’t me. That’s a dog. I’m much bigger than that. Draw me bigger.” And she stretches her hands to take in the room.

I draw a much larger portrait.

“Yes. I like my hair.”

“I like your hair, too. It’s pretty wicked.”

“Yes, thank you. You’re nice.”

And this morning I’m thinking about adolescence. About the years I pretended I wasn’t smart. Lied about it even. Didn’t raise my hand when I knew the answer. Let boys explain a process I knew inside and out, and murmured appreciatively in response. I wrote a novel about it. The way girls hide. Or anyway, the ways I hid.

In graduate school, we were discussing Jane Austen. A roomful of writers and nobody mentioned irony. No one. Finally I said it. And then our professor asked us to define it. “Anyone?” he asked. “Can anyone define irony?” I waited until the answer actually burned me. And then I blurted out the definition. Oh, check the girl writer who can define irony! Someone alert the media.

These are notions of self. That portrait of me is too small. I don’t recognize that tiny thing as myself. Draw her bigger. Let her stretch and glow. Let her take up the room.

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