Happy International Women's Day!
There are SO MANY women that I claim as my heroes, but I'm a really Big Fan of Jeanne d'Arc—also known as Joan of Arc—because she (indirectly) rescued me on at least two occasions.
The first time was when I was in grade school. I had just moved to a new school, so I was "the new kid". And as we all know, grade school is a battleground. Mine in particular because we had a small gang of girls that occasionally doled out small acts of violence, like unexpectedly whacking you in the back with a fist while you were taking a drink from the water fountain. (I personally experienced this. It was like a grade-school version of waterboarding because it made you choke on water as all the air got knocked out of your lungs.) The ringleader, a very athletic seven year old, terrified me. I quickly learned that it was a good idea to fall in line with the other girls in my class by giving her my dessert during lunchtime to stay on her good side.
Then one day we were forced to stay indoors during recess because it was raining. I hadn't made any real friends yet, so I retreated to the bookshelf to find a book to hide behind. (Reading always seems like the safe thing to do.) For whatever reason I picked up a book about Joan of Arc. I had never heard of her but the book was thick and provided a lot of cover, so I hid behind it and began reading. Soon I was mesmerized. Joan of Arc ROCKED! I was an instant Fan! She wasn't scared of ANYTHING! And when I read about how she got shot with an arrow in the clavicle I was in awe. My little mind couldn't comprehend how anyone could survive that. Somehow, grade-school waterboarding didn't seem so terrifying by comparison.
From that time on, I decided that I would be like Joan. I wouldn't be scared of things. My inner Warrior Princess had been awakened. First I stopped giving up my desserts (an important first step in courage). Before long I had become a full-out tomboy; able to hold my own with the boy bullies as well. Once my mother looked out the window and noticed a big dust cloud across the street. Two kids were rolling around on the ground trying to pin each other down. "Oh no," she thought. "A couple of the local boys are in a fight." To her great horror, only one kid stood up and as the dust settled my mom realized that it was me. My opponent, an older boy (that picked on me incessantly) (and he started it) was just beginning to sit up as I stood above him, dusting myself off. Thank you Joan!
As the years progressed, I thought less about Joan as I adopted other strong female figures as role models. But then, during my last college summer spent working at North Myrtle Beach, my mom came for a visit because I was about to make the big move to New York City to seek my fortune. During mom's stay, I took her to Brookgreen Gardens, a gorgeous sculpture garden and wildlife preserve. And as we walked around the grounds we happened upon a statue of Joan of Arc.
"Ohmigosh! Mom, I LOVE Joan of Arc! She was one of my first heroes when I was a little kid."
"Well, let me get a picture of you with Joan then."
As I posed by Ms. d'Arc I thought about how I would need to be brave like her all over again. I was about to move to a big city without a safety net. And NYC was not exactly crime-free during that time. It was the 1980s. You really didn't want to walk through Times Square without a police escort.
Mom snapped the photo and as I hopped off the wall that I had perched on I thought, Wow, I love that statue so much. I wish I could take it with me.
As it turned out, I sort of did.
When I moved to NYC, I didn't have a place to live and I didn't know anyone who could be my roommate. I can say for a fact that there is almost nothing scarier than trying to find an affordable, non-terrifying place to live in Manhattan unless it's trying to find a non-terrifying roommate. I searched for weeks until I found a seemingly nice thirty-something who wanted to share her lovely one bedroom apartment. She was a nurse who had decided to "give up everything to become an actress". And since that meant giving up her nurse's salary as well, she was ready to rent out her bedroom. It was a bright, clean, rent-controlled five floor walk-up in Hell's Kitchen, a few doors down from where Farrah Fawcett was starring in the Off-Broadway show, Extremities. It seemed almost too good to be true.
Because it was.
I had only lived there a couple of weeks when my new roomie began acting strange. And by strange I mean that I began to fear that I would wake up in the middle of the night and find her standing over my bed wielding a butcher knife.
It really didn't help that the movie Single White Female had just come out and I foolishly went to see it. That's when my inner Joan of Arc abandoned me. "Ohmigosh!" I whispered to my then-boyfriend/now-husband in the dark, Times Square theater with sticky hand-rests. "Jennifer Jason Leigh is acting EXACTLY like my roommate Tamora. (Not her real name.) What if she starts dressing like me and then tries to kill me?"
"Creepy," Dan whispered back. "You'd better find a new place to live."
"I know!" I squeaked. "I don't want to die!"
"SHHHHH!" (Chorus of annoyed movie goers around us.)
Fortunately I happened to share my fears about being murdered by my roommate with my co-worker Bekah one day.
"Oh, Bekah. Sometimes my roommate starts screaming at me for no reason and other times she walks into my room and just stares at me. Plus she's an ex-nurse—so she knows how to make homicide look like an accident!"
"She does sound creepy." Bekah admitted. "Hey. You know what? I have a friend in my building who mentioned that she might get a roommate soon. Do you want to meet her? She's great and the apartment is rent-controlled and really nice."
"Really? How soon can we meet?"
Within a few days I met my soon-to-be-roommate Awesome. (Not her real name but she was Awesome). I immediately packed my bags and moved out of my Single White Female apartment and into Awesome's HUGE seven room apartment on the Upper West Side—insert choirs of angels—where I happily resided for the rest of my time in New York.
When I first moved in, I was too focused on escaping my scary roommate to realize that my new safehouse—I mean apartment—was just three buildings up from the lovely Riverside Park. You've seen Riverside in that final scene ofYou've Got Mail when Meg Ryan finally realizes Tom Hanks was her online admirer the whole time and they kiss and even the dog is happy . . . La di dah. Yeah, THAT Riverside Park. What a perk after living in Hell's Kitchen! I couldn't wait to explore the glorious green space. As I walked to the end of my block I spotted a large equestrian statue directly in front of me. I crossed the street and walked around to the front and then gasped.
It was Joan! MY Joan!
It was the EXACT statue that I had posed beside just before moving to the city. Only this one was larger than life. I would later learn that Brookgreen Gardens had been developed by Archer Huntington and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington. And Anna was the first woman sculptor to create a monument in New York City: the Joan of Arc Memorial! The very statue that I had wanted to bring to New York was already here, waiting for me. I couldn't believe it. It was truly a sign that I was right where I was meant to be . . . In Joan d'Arc's hood.
And I was no longer afraid.
I definitely lived in Joan of Arc's hood!
Hubby walking by Joan when we paid her a visit one cold winter's day.
It shocked me to see such tall trees around her.
They were practically saplings when I lived there.
Time flies when you're busy being Joan-ish.
* Top photo of my slightly-younger self taken by my Mom
Brookgreen Gardens, Murrell's Inlet, SC.