Ed Asner I’d heard about. Lindsay Wagner was the real news. Lindsay “The Bionic Woman” Wagner. That’s how she signs her checks. Coming to my town to film a made-for-tv movie of fluff.
Once upon a time, I was not so bold as I am now. I was even shier, hiding under bangs, braces, and glasses. In 1994, my family moved from a rural Ohio town, where I’d lived with my siblings, rode my bike to see friends, and discovered my own “secret” spots by the creek near dumped tires and toilets, to an even more rural Ohio town. My minister father had landed his dream appointment, which landed me sans siblings or friends in a ranch house surrounded by cornfields on 3 sides. I started 7th grade with my Looney Tunes Sylvester t-shirt, Chuck Taylor All Stars, and Jansport backpack full of loneliness. Do you ask other 13 year-olds if you can sit beside them at lunch or do you sidle onto a bench unnoticed? Can you wrestle a sports bra on in the locker room without anyone seeing your boobs? How do you stay discrete with feminine hygiene? It’s hard to socialize when you work so hard to remain unseen. I was a phantom.
By 8th grade, I’d settled in and had the world by the tail! I cut my hair into a trapezoidal topiary and put drumsticks up my nose when the math teacher wasn’t looking. I found gal pals for sleepovers and bitchy-teen plotting. We were snarky at best. Yet, lining another girl’s locker in maximum absorbency pads didn’t create the bonding experience I desired. Friendships felt tenuous. The doctor told my mom I had an ulcer, though I now know that my stomach pain was caused by an aversion to defecating in public facilities. I missed more days than was permitted by the school district. Should have been held back. There was discussion. Administrators and my mom. But even the Man couldn’t deny my name on the honor roll. And Darlene Wallace wouldn’t hear any more about it. Straight A’s and staying home to watch my stories=winning. The school counselor asked me why I missed so much, if something was wrong. Nothing an obsession with 1970s reruns couldn’t fix.
Charlie’s Angels was the gateway drug of 1970s camp. It was on during the day, around 11am on a Turner channel. During my “sick days,” I watched it right after quality time in my precious turquoise and green lavatory. We didn’t connect though, Charlie’s Angels and me. Another challenge to my trust. There was too much flat-chested sexiness and personality conflict amongst the Angels. A man from a talking box bossed them around, and they packed the tiniest heat possible. Feminine heat. Excessive lip gloss. Guest appearance by Sammy Davis, Jr., and so many different Angels. Not my scene. No disrespect, Angel’s fans. And then, one afternoon on the Sci-Fi channel, The Bionic Woman and I found each other. Jaime Sommers wasn’t just another gangly lady with baby-sized pistols. She was the product of love, hope, and scientific badassery. Neither completely woman nor completely machine. A medical breakthrough and 5’9” of tough stuff. In her life before working for OSI, Jaime played professional tennis. She lost her parents in a tragic car crash only to survive a sky-diving accident herself years later. To survive it with the scientific improvements that enabled her to mop the floor with anti-‘mericans and meanies. She taught middle-schoolers on the side. Tall, smiley, and a little awkward. Smart, kind, and semi-reluctant to beat the spit out of baddies.
Jaime Sommers is who I wanted to be. Her boss Oscar’s repeated use of the nickname, “Babe,” makes me regurgitate now. When I was 13-14? Jaime was solid enough to carry casual sexism, knowing all the while that she could crush Oscar’s manhood in her one bionic hand at any moment. Look out, Oscar! Here comes a Fembot. What is the greatest threat to the world? Strong, unthinking a-holes. What totally undermines a lady’s right to have rights? Physically strong and intellectually/emotionally weak Fembots. No one was fooled by your mechanical vaginas, Fembots. Least of all Jaime. My bionic hero fused force, strength, emotion, humanity, progression, thoughtfulness, intelligence, and audacity into one woman. This would be my evolution, I decided. A force of good and blondness flinging myself at life because I could handle any situation, save any basket of kittens, and reject any man so I might stay home and needlepoint Shakespeare quotes. Strong enough to be single while also getting nasty occasionally with Ken-doll Steve Austin; it’s my prerogative.
In three short seasons of reruns, Jaime and I had a kinship. Maybe this part of my life was the meaningless meandering of a growing kid brain and weird hormones. Who remembers puberty being described as blossoming? Ah, the gift of menstruation! I think that it was more. Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers was the intellectual and emotional being I saw in my own mother. But my mom’s body stayed broken. By the time my mom passed away last January, she had two femurs held by metal rods, plates, pins, and screws. Her knee, hip, and elbow had been replaced. Toes fused. Fingers curled around joint deformities. She walked with a cane as long as I remember and didn’t walk at all for the last 5 years of her life. That is reality. Medicine and science don’t make ordinary people into superhumans. Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can make a vital woman full of love, brass, and her own kind of grace feel subhuman. Instead of recognizing the grit it took for my mom to get out of bed in the morning, I looked to Jaime Sommers to teach me how to be a phenomenal woman.
No one’s mom is cool when you are 13. Maybe there’s some well-adjusted, homeschooled, breastfed, genius uncontaminated by teenagerdom who thinks her mom is the bomb. Unnatural. It’s a mom’s duty to suck sometimes, and honestly, mine seemed to relish her tyrannical rule. Yeah, she was a fucking trooper trapped in a rapidly decaying body and struggling with the complications of tragedy, a whole lotta holy rolling, and narcotics in her brain. But when I was 13, she was a dictator turned master humiliater. It was like living out Kim Jong-Il’s blooper reel. She threw all 5’ of roundness at whatever she loved. She went to college when I was in kindergarten. Took on tiny, rural, woman-hating churches as pastor. I watched her, in the last weeks of her life, extend loving kindness to more nurses, aides, and random strangers than I can count. And in the ICU, I overheard her telling more than one person that I was hiding a pregnancy when she knew this oven to be militantly patrolled against buns. When I had ovarian cysts at 18, she notified the church community that 1)I had lady issues 2)I was still a virgin. Why did I confide in this woman? Because I trusted her above all others. Her kids were her proudest achievement, and, as youngest of 4, I was unable to escape the domicile before she’d worked her mommy magic. As the bond with a fictional late-70s crime fighting cyborg cannot be broken, neither can the bonds between my mom and me.
From this vantage point, my life is a prairie. I see so much while wondering what is yet unexplored. Past, present, and future. The Bionic Woman was not who I expected to come back into my life to seduce me with her smile and incredible listening skills. But here she is! Or rather the actual human, Lindsay Wagner. Can she get me a deal on a Sleep Number Bed? Probably. I’d be a fool not to ask. Who do I want to share it with most? My evil but completely accepting and supportive mom. I have to do this for her. I have to honor the woman who watched me run through a screen door more than once, whistled from the audience when I played last-chair-position percussion instruments at band concerts, and allowed me to explore the chasms of quirkiness that make my personality. If I can’t track down and at least stand silently and awkwardly before Lindsay Wagner (and this tv movie production company says I can’t), then I hope she frequents the Dollar General, IGA,and Marathon station while in town. I must see her from afar, at least. You can’t break a self-made bionic spirit. I’m cross-stitching a pillowcase that says so.