I want to write 10,000 words about the space between the end of a woman’s neck to the outer curve of her shoulder. The strength and beauty as evident here as that in a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. As a woman ages, her neck gets longer, the sinewy ridge becomes more pronounced, as does the hollow below. The skin, as a result of her many burdens and hard fraught victories, brandishes the ridges and crinkles of a life fully lived.
Baby girl, chub of love, dimples here, as the angels kissed you and sent you to your mother’s womb. No wrinkles here, only dimples. You laugh and shoulder fat bounces. You cry and it strains. Grandmother raises you over your head, her beautiful hands hooked under your armpits, raising you from overhead to her lips. Your giggles contagious. Above your granny’s strong shoulders you fly, feeling safe in strong arms on your swooping flight. And from the corner of your exalting grin, a drop of milky drool baptizes grandmother’s strong shoulder. The same shoulder which later you will snuggle into and onto which you blot your tears.
Little tomboy. Athletic now, freckle kissed and sunburned, your shoulders sinewy and strong. Defiantly raised in anger as you fight the world head on, only wanting to keep up with the boys and get credit for what is rightly yours. Shirtless when allowed, your shoulder becomes part of your flat, not yet aching, chestwall. You have shed the baby fat, not yet fully girl. You are as strong as the boys. Your shoulder beautiful and strong, shoring up for the disappointment that will be borne, the love that will attach itself.
Lolita, woman/child. Trying to be comfortable in this body. Your perfect shoulders now fight the chafing from your first bra that cuts into your silky shoulder. Shamed by lingering eyes from old men and jealous women into covering up the beauty of your edge. The first tinge of the burden these shoulders will cause and then to carry sparks in your hungry heart. Wondering how these shoulders measure up to the ideals you soak up from magazine ads and beauty queens.
His rough hands and warm breath upon your shoulder ground you. This span between neck and shoulder tease from flowing off the shoulder garments as you become aware of the luring capabilities of flesh and muscle. This shoulder aches as it holds together what your heart has rendered broken. Open, exposed, available for admiration and strength. It betrays you. A nod in the mirror as your eye draws to the fantastic shoulder zone and inspires you to share what is only fully yours.
“I do” surrender this shoulder to one man, to have, to hold, to claim his own. The myth that he will take care and cherish it…always. Those hands that traced the span, from neck to shoulder, were assessing. Assessing not the beauty and power, but the skin and the capacity. His to take for pleasure personal. His to slap with words or fists. His to pout into when his own mother’s are no longer available to him. A woman’s shoulder, they long to possess, the outward handle of the inward devotion and obedience. As easily accessible for a passionate kiss as it is for a loving brush of caring hand or pinch or shove in anger unleashed.
Ah, sweet baby, fruit of her womb, the shoulder as perfect a spot as ever was to cradle love and keep it safe. The shoulder aches in emptiness when babe is away. How must this expanse of strong smooth flesh smell to tiny nostrils? Lotioned with an abundance of snot and tears, the shoulder skin takes on leather qualities. Gladly given up for this period in life to one who needs it more than herself. The muscle qualities build with the weight of lifting this babychild, gradually strengthening, beyond her belief, as child grows in size and emotional span. Even when said child is in his self imposed age limit for public hugging, these shoulders carry him into the world and catch him when he falls. The most remarkable beauty treatment for this shoulder is the baby balm.
And now, with child gone, metabolism slowed, invisible to eyes of her man and men, these shoulders grow and sag with neglect. Cocoon stage in preparation for final blooming. For the first time she takes a breath to assess the toll these shoulders have taken. No longer beautiful, except in moments of honest inspection, the shoulder is covered. Only for her eyes to see. The memory of youthful promise and myth of unlimited capacity falls over these shoulders, a shawl of sorrow and amazement in where they have been, what has touched them, and at least just a little wedge of hope, which settles into that hollow below the edge, above the chest.
And one day, she drops that shawl. Her shoulder radiant in its beauty and story. No longer in need of cover up. She wears her wrinkles proudly, a badge of her life and direction. Her hips have spread, her skin and fat settled. On this shoulder, scars from biopsies and a life of bra straps. And yet this shoulder, this expanse from neck to top of arm, rope of ridge, hollow below yet full in its beauty, each wrinkle a story of amazing strength. More beautiful than a flower, more caress-able than a baby. 10,000 words could never capture the beauty of an old woman’s shoulder.
Photo from Wise Women: A Celebration of Their Insights, Courage, and Beauty by Joyce Tenneson which was the inspiration for this piece