I was 11 when the boys clustered around me at lunch, calling names:
skank, hoser, slut, scumbag, stupid butt-ugg bitch.
I don’t recall why they hated me, only their sneering baby faces
and those skinny chests puffed up with imaginary muscles.
We knew we’d probably be raped sooner or later, my friends and I all knew.
The knowing was something we carried tucked between our legs like a blade.
If one of us forgot and let her guard down, we’d get angry:
How could you let that happen, we’d wonder. How could you forget?
So I planned it carefully. A nice boy on a hillside overlooking the city.
Broad daylight sufficed since I wanted to do it in the open, natural, like any other animal.
I didn’t know how, after deed was done, he’d spring to his feet like a fighter
evading the count and sprint up the path to straddle the summit, fists raised to the sky.
There’s a delicate line between giving and losing, owing and giving,
taking and stealing, giving and taking away.
Or maybe it’s not a line at all but a layer of wet silk, a quavering doodle,
a tidal line evaporating in the sand.
On that line, I became a woman. A woman is not born, she’s made. But when? When Adam
needs something to keep him warm. When the doctor says so. When she is told not to climb
too high, to pull her skirt down or a boy will see her underwear.
With eggs or their fertilization. When someone makes her.
Like that time a guy drove me to his home instead of mine. I shouldn’t have gotten into his car
or I shouldn’t have gotten out. I should’ve refused to enter his apartment, should’ve said no
louder, but I was just an obstacle to be mounted, a scumbag, a scabbard. I didn’t call it rape
so I could at least control the semantics. Taking the blame let me believe it would never happen again.
We all have lists of things we did and did not choose. Did-and-did-nots, too.
And when someone’s decision outweighs ours, we get to choose under which column we list it.
There is a fourth option, a box with a lid where you can stuff the muddle of things that happen anyway.
I forgot the things I couldn’t change and chose my husband carefully.
I had daughters, one and two. Birth was a powerful surrender.
I gazed at those faces for hours, watching to see what she would and would not choose.
Every moment, every year, a new angle rises to the surface.
On their faces ambiguity is clear, questions ripple with muscle.
Then when my first was 11, a boy at school called her a whore.
He said he was only joking. He walked up behind her, put his hand on her shoulder
and said, “Did you know that most rapes start with some kind of casual contact?”
He thought it was funny, and so did his friends.
How could I let that happen? How could I forget? I recite a litany of things I did and didn’t do;
can-and-cannots rock me from side to side. If I hold her head in both hands, press my palms
to her ears, and love her deeply, maybe.
Maybe, maybe pulls us forward.
Let’s watch a movie, she said, one you liked when you were my age, and that was easy
that was Saturday Night Fever and all the girls lined up on a square of asphalt during recess
and we’d all do the hustle, clomping up and down, side to side on our cork platforms
while the boys on the other side of a cyclone fence pretended not to notice.
So we watched together, only I somehow failed to remember
how two women are accosted before the opening credits are done rolling
how the main character tries to rape his dance partner because they didn’t win.
How could I blank out a gang rape in the backseat of a car?
The girl onscreen struggles and sobs under boys who writhe like mindless maggots, all mouth,
no ears and no eyes, and I realize my girl is lying stiff as a mannequin
her eyes are two mouths that scream without sound
She says why are we watching this, can we please turn it off?
What else have I done to her, what blades of knowledge planted deep
what litany of can and cannot does she use to sing herself to sleep
thoughts grown nacreous, keening and honing and thrumming inside.
But it’s harvest time. I hold my truth in hand
whetted, bone hard, and heavy.
Look how sharp, how beautiful.