Decay perhaps, or maybe erosion is a better word. The wearing away of outer layers. The gristle at the center exposed. We’re not talking about lovely river rocks, smooth and bulbous. Their trauma made them lovely. Our trauma made us sharp. The word trauma really isn’t fair. It would be greedy to use such a loaded word like trauma to describe just existing in the world as a woman, but I’m bloodless now and have no manners. See, the blood dried up. The thing that made me a woman. A young woman.

Age sneaks up on you. Or at least that’s what I’d always heard. The sneaky part is true, but you can only see that in hindsight. In the process, you think it’s a phase, this impregnation of intolerance growing slowly inside you. Perhaps it’s filling the empty vessel where you once grew babies. It causes you to start noticing the bullshit of others. The mistake made in this early phase of awareness is overcompensation. Avoiding your feelings. Gut instincts. She ends up giving even more of herself at those moments so as not to suddenly frighten those around her. To soften the blow, to ease the arrival of her selfishness. So much of your flesh handed away so willingly. A waste, really. It just sped up the process.

Once upon a time, we had thick luscious cloaks of kindness shielding us and protecting others. It felt natural. We walked through the world wrapped in pleasing, soft-to-the-cheek, cashmere. Nice to see and nice to wear, and nice to touch. But, it became wool over time. No undershirt to protect us. The stifling racist heat of the world making it unbearable for us in time. We tugged at the neck for relief. The world’s neglect of the poor made it itch. We scratched when no one was looking. Watching religion grow into something cruel made the wool chafe. Seeing women of the world go unheard rubbed us raw. Others around us found the harsh wool sweater pleasing, but they were viewers of it, perceiving only its cozy charm and appearance. It frayed and pilled over time from the inside and left us in rags.

Or maybe it’s a metamorphosis or shedding of one’s skin like a snake. A self-contained natural thing. Evolution. A personal journey of one. As moms, wives, and caregivers, we have given and given, and perhaps with each hand we offer to others, we also give a bit of ourselves, piece by beautiful piece. We give away the meat and blood of our bodies. Is it so surprising that we’re out of flesh? Out of blood? We’re skin and bones and brutal beings. Used up? No. Enough of our pieces are left, but we’re painfully aware of the depletion and hoard it for ourselves. Selfish with our remaining treasure. Eager to be left alone to enjoy the final feast. Greedy with our bodies and hearts and love.

Maybe our sweetness just gets depleted. Perhaps we’re only given so much at birth, and if we give too freely, it catches up with us.

Our give a fucks run out. Eventually, we scoop into our vessels, and our porcelain cups scrape the bottom of the barrel. We no longer have the ability to sugarcoat. Or coddle. Or tolerate. We can no longer meet bullshit with understanding or turn the other cheek to rudeness. We aren’t as nice as we once were. We eventually meet rudeness with rudeness. We ultimately meet intolerance with intolerance. We grow greedy with our kindness. Protective.

A rebirth or a born-again feeling might describe it better. Not your hands to Jesus rebirth or a newness that’s fresh and beautiful kind of rebirth but a welcome thing nonetheless. A clarity. An awareness. Seeing yourself and the world for what it truly is for the first time. Age is a beautiful thing. Rugged and raw and breathtakingly beautiful. For yourself. For others, it will look selfish and moody, and maybe withdrawn. Maybe even cruel. A woman who knows herself is a powerful thing to be handled lightly. Too many wrong words, and she will end you. Maybe with her tongue, maybe with her fists, or maybe with the worst fate of all. Silence.

Some in our lives will respond to this new brutal version of us by changing or accommodating. Perhaps their once soul-draining behavior gets tamped down, and they attempt to improve themselves by offering up bucket after bucket of kindness to compensate for your lack. You will wave them away. You will resent them for taking all of you for years and offering your bits back out of fear. And yes, they will fear you. They will fear this new version of you. It is scary. You will be unrecognizable to every person in your life except one. Yourself.

Christy Bailey is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, and she has been honing her craft for many years. Essays in particular have become a way for her to cope with our current political climate, her journey into middle age, and her struggles as a woman in society. She longs to be a voice for other women and their unique struggles in this world through all of her writings.