Dessie’s Place

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

I’m still working through Oprah’s original book club list from 1996. Oprah is a second mother to two generations of North Americans, the gen Xers and the people who won’t admit they’re Millenials. It brings me such joy to see that O sticker on a novel at the library. Saves me from thinking too much. I’ve just successfully made my way through East of Eden, Oprah’s 49th selection. Out of the solid 40 hours I dedicated to this book, the most insightful and precise sentiment that pulled at me was the look inside Dessie’s place.

“It was a sanctuary where women could be themselves- smelly, wanton, mystic, conceited, truthful, and interested. The whalebone corsets came off at Dessie’s, the sacred corsets that molded and warped woman- flesh into goddess-flesh. At Dessie’s they were women who went to the toilet and overate and scratched and farted. And from this freedom came laughter, roars of laughter.”

I have been known to hoarse out what is called the ‘bark laugh’. A laugh so unexpected that my throat can’t quite take whatever hilarious thing was just said and it barks out a sound that can only be matched by your worst winter cough. The bark laugh has only been known to exit when I’m in a place like Dessie’s.

When I’m surrounded by women who have strict come as you are, leggings-only rules in their homes. Where you’re praised for skipping a shower that day. Where you share in the glory of finally being free to rub your eyes and mush your mascara onto your cheeks. Where you compare leg hair growth and length of times between shavings. The one who has gone the longest reigns supreme. Where you can ask if your weird body part is weird and be told that yes, in fact, it is. So you can accept it and stop obsessing. Where you can consult on that thing your body has been doing lately and be advised to either A) seek medical attention or B) carry on as usual because that thing is relatively normal, I think.

Where you can confess all those deep down secrets that bring you shame and knot up your stomach. The things that pop up in your memory every now and again that make your neck shrink into your shoulders. Like that thing you did that made you eat a 2 litre of ice cream straight from the tub. After you’ve had enough of torturing yourself with your own humiliation, you finally summon the courage to share it. And that 2 litres-worth-of-ice-cream-shame brings shrieks of laughter from open mouths that melts your shame away and turns it into a good story.

My parents raised me to have unwavering confidence. My friends raise me to have unconditional humility.  Without so many words, the conclusions reached from these women about whatever it is your self-consciousness is worried about is that you shouldn’t take yourself quite so seriously. They dose out spoonfuls of sugar with the medicine life sometimes prescribes but they also make you gurgle warm water and salt. The bitter taste that you needed to snap you back into place. It’ll do you good, dry out your wounds.

Yes, this is about the extent of what goes down at Dessie’s Place. Freedom that brings laughter, roars of laughter.


– Jodi

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