Dear Readers, Below is a creative non-fiction piece I wrote for one of my classes. This is, too, a work in progress, but has an aim to speak from a place previously silenced. As I sit here in a class with some phenomenally motivated students seeking to analyze women’s issues and rape culture, I thought posting this–here–would provide a space for discussion. Do note that this piece has been submitted to a scholarly journal, thus you are free to ask for the information to document this granted you are interested in using it in some fashion.
My dearest lover,
So much time has passed since I’ve seen you. Still, the memory of you remains an ever-fixed mark on all I see. The image of your face recalls itself, with delicately woven fibers, patterning the windows in my house and the frozen glimpses in hallways, pathways, byways. I can’t look at my own face in the mirror without seeing your fingerprints stamped upon my neck. Tiny moments became an imperceptible reality. You saw me like a tango—the fiercest waltz. I swayed in the only direction both of us knew how to move. Now time takes me back and forth between what was and what could have been. Then I realize that there was only you. And there will probably always be you. Whenever I dance, I will know that, once, I danced with you.
What is a dance, but a push-and-pull? So it was that we danced. You pulled me close, and I pushed you away. Tug of war.
That was when you grabbed, and I shrunk inside. I knew to yell, “No!” Though you never listened. The dance went on, on, and on. I saw there was no way to go, but yours. I closed my eyes, letting you do what you wanted with me. What a funny word love is when it’s used to replace other things. Things we do, or don’t. Some things are better left unsaid, I guess. The carcass of myself looked into your face. Resignation masked your angry eyes.
“You disgust me,” you said—like it would make me more limp than I was. I wanted to say, “Yea, me too.” Like I had a voice, or something. But I don’t. Well, I didn’t. So I thought I’d break down, and say something. So what if most of what I got are questions, and a few ideas that get in the way at times? It’s not like you care, or cared. So I figured, why not: just write?
I wonder if I was just some girl to you. A mere thing. A lesser creature to your beast. Then I thought that what is soft inside a man has little to do with what is soft in me. Your hard, your rough is what goes after me. Anger is a killer, and you thought your love was the best weapon. It wasn’t. Your love only killed what wasn’t there: the tough that makes up the inside of me. So, I found a way to fight you. I wrote what I knew best: you and me. Here we are:
The bitter drive of the soul holds me to—
together. Singing, and as I digress,
the chatter comes, goes: Michelangelo.
Oh! It is time! Ha! Time to snake my dress.
A smile where it can never belong.
The yellow fog—his lips—creep awhile.
Thick, torrid and haunting tastes of the throng:
you may take my body, but not my guile.
I am to dream the man, my Lazarus,
As the cold air shrivels warm succulence.
Stone deaf to the chant of strong Aeneas,
mermaids only hear poor Dido’s defense.
You dare to consume my flesh, but I am
to him—the peach—and not the slaughtered lamb.
Do you hear, or are you stone deaf? I’m not just some girl. I’m a girl. You thought your love could consume me. But I can still “dream the man.” You can’t beat that away. When I got it, my imagination became stronger than you. That is why I’m writing. But what good is it to write such poetry to you—you who never cared to listen to me in the first place? I write because I can. I write with a need to call you out by name.
And who are you? What kind of man does such a thing? A normal one—one who suffers the parallel fate of the woman he’s tried to kill inside. In many ways, you are trained to hate me. History told you I was a tease, that I would error, and that I was evil. Eve. So, it formed us into who we are. And the god warned Aeneas who I would become:
“You, goddess-born, how can you lie asleep
at such a crisis? Madmen, can’t you see
the threats around you, can’t you hear the breath
of kind west winds? She conjures injuries
and awful crimes, she means to die, she stirs
the shifting surge of restless anger…
Be on your way. Enough delays. An ever
uncertain and inconstant thing is woman.” (Virgil, IV, 776-787)
Ancient schemes taught you not to trust me. Scripture and myth told you that we women taunt. Homer had no choice; Telemachus had to hang the “sluts—the suitors’ whores!” (Homer; XXII; 490). And hang we did, for the sins of our sex. We hung then, and we bend now. But broken are we never, or will ever be. I am nothing, except for someone I fight to become. So are you. But you knew that already, right? ‘Cause you fought me with that stupid dance you probably don’t even remember. Who could blame you—you who doesn’t know what fighting is for?
Well, I do. To fight for myself, I must also fight for you. We must take these archaic examples on. Beautiful though they may be, they mirror the horrors; an unhappy man makes a whore. Mary. But can’t a woman, too, make a man? This would be where you would ask me how, if you would only ask. As bell hooks says, it starts with a noun:
Romantic love as most people understand it in patriarchal culture makes one unaware, renders one powerless and out of control. Feminist thinkers called attention to the way this notion of love served the interests of patriarchal men and women. It supported the notion that one could do anything in the name of love: beat people, restrict their movements, even kill them and call it a “crime of passion,” plead, “I loved her so much I had to kill her.” Love in patriarchal culture was linked to notions of possession, to paradigms of domination and submission wherein it was assumed one person would give love and another person would receive it. (hooks 101)
And our love has always been this way. It was what made me part of you. No. Meanings often change, mostly into something we never thought before. Love isn’t just a noun; it moves with us, takes shape in where we are as people. So there it is, with us now, as it wasn’t with us then—that night we danced, and you forgot who you were and who I was. That fateful night where love was a noun, and you wrought me with a pain so deep I saw beauty. That night a few hard kisses, with a push or two, put me in another place. But what happens when I begin to see myself somewhere else?
That night wasn’t just that one—that one where we were friends, and then we weren’t even ourselves. It could have been a day lost in some cave, a prison where I was a girl locked away—bought and paid for. Paid, and meant to pay, for being a whore. How it was you saw me: there in a brothel. I could have been 8, or 12, or 16, or 20. The age doesn’t matter, does it? And you found me. Hidden away, needing escape. But I never needed you, and deep down, you musta known that. That was why I had to pay. That is why I always pay. So you could have your way. That night and that day, I was a little girl in China, India, somewhere, maybe even in Arizona being ran over by my father for wanting to be myself. Noor. I have so many names, I forget who I am. It was never about my name. But one thing remains the same: I pay.
Lover, you can rape me; you can stone me; you can even stab me. All of this you have done, and will keep doing. All in the name of love. All if I keep playing the whore. I won’t. I can’t. What is it about womanhood that makes a man afraid? Are you scared? Angry? I can never remember how you feel. Such a silly girl. But now I want a reason for it, like a real one. And the only way I can get it is to start looking at us.
It was after that night that I saw a way to fight for us. How can I fight for both you, and for me? You want to know though you haven’t asked. So I will keep writing. I write to you, about you, for me, in the hopes you will hear this in a different voice, a voice that makes sense. I write:
“Welcome to the New De-ja Vu”
And woman is the prophecy of truth, or are you just a bitter lily-livered lie?
Don’t you die, unhappy Dido, let us clasp our hands in this reverie of dance.
I say love is happenstance, you would like me to give in to chance.
Take things for what they are, what they seem to be, what they scream
into the delicate canals of the ear, tingle, tingle, they rub the tickle just the right way.
I will say yes, I guess.
I will not fight if you repent, repent for the men—
repent for those who are more afraid than you.
If things can be so simple that the simplicity is the sublime,
I pine; I reap with what suits mine eye.
The universal beautiful,
a torrid dream that archetypes the anomaly
of your sex…I beckon for forgiveness;
Of what? Nothing, I reckon.
We inconstant creatures never wanted more than what Roman arms negated.
Push us away, uncertain, and they fall to tears in front of dear Tiresias.
But, you, your tale is not one of sorrow. Your lineage lies in my breast.
The language in this poem is the very language I use with you, save for one striking difference in translation. How am I to ever let you go, if I hold on to a different definition? Love can be a dance. Love can also be a dare. A dare to lead with footsteps I never had. There is power in a dare, especially if we dare to think. Through the power of language, I dismantle the idea of power. Take it away. There is no use for ref-use, but to re-fuse. Where it goes, I do not care.
There was a time—there must have been—where the lines blurred, and we were not made to resent one another for what we weren’t. We loved each other once; we had to. Yet, here we are: segregated and separated by gender. The very makings of our bodies split by what makes us connect. Someday we have to see where we aren’t that different. Sometimes we have to dare to dream. Once, a man with a “different” dream took on difference:
Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority…Hence segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? (King187)
Maybe this isn’t all that different. Maybe Dr. King wanted change more than difference. I like to think about change. I’m gonna dare myself to see you for who you really are—only by knowing what you are not. You raped me for not being a part of you. An eye for an eye; a sin for a sin. A man is only a man because he isn’t a woman. What is a woman?
Something strange happened to us, and it was just a century ago, mere moments. I gradually became less estranged from you than ever before. I was able to work for my money, inherit a legacy, and have a voice to vote alongside of you. This was what I wanted. Mostly, you wanted it for me too. Or did you? Virginia Woolf feared for this day, in a way, because she saw how vulnerable equality would make me:
Moreover, in a hundred years, I thought, reaching my own doorstep, women will have ceased to be the protected sex. Logically they will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied them. The nursemaid will heave coal. The shop-woman will drive an engine…Remove that protection, expose them to the same exertions and activities, make them soldiers and sailors and engine-drivers and dock labourers, and will not women die off so much younger, so much quicker, than men that one will say, “I saw a woman today,” as one used to say, “I saw an aeroplane”? Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation, I thought, opening the door. (Woolf 43)
And, so it was that anything happened. I earned a new identity, and lost the protection of the old one. I was no longer protected by my occupation, and you knew it. So you kept fighting me with the same weapons, making me become more of myself. Then I realized: a woman cannot disappear if she always knows she’s a woman.
Where could I ever go? That’s pretty much the problem. It’s always my problem. I’ve become something new, something that constantly tries to define and redefine myself. Women are always fighting against what we are: “…women absorb and transmit misogynistic values, just as men do. This is not a tidy world of tyrannical men and victimized women, but a messier realm of oppressive social customs adhered to by men and women alike” (Kristoff and WuDunn 69). Do you see why I cannot blame you? I am equally at fault. Women are bitches, girls meaner than boys. We compete with ourselves, against ourselves. We resent the beauty in our shared womanhood. So what do we do? “While empowering women is critical to overcoming poverty, it represents a field of aid work that is particularly challenging in that it involves tinkering with the culture, religion, and family relations of a society that we often don’t fully understand” (Kristoff and WuDunn 177). Our lives deeply imbed themselves inside who we are. That is why it is so hard for us to change. I can strip away the protection of my womanhood, yet all that is left is my being a woman. Not much different, really.
Something needs to happen. There needs to come the time where you stop hurting me, and I stop hurting myself. There has to be a hope for a reality where everything is different between us. We have to see the place where two things come together. With love. That noun that became a person itself when it was with us that night—it needs to go. bell hooks speaks of a true kind of love:
When we accept that true love is rooted in recognition and acceptance, that love combines acknowledgment, care, responsibility, commitment, and knowledge, we understand there can be no love without justice. With that awareness comes the understanding that love has the power to transform us, giving us the strength to oppose domination” (hooks 104).
There it is in a lasting form, less abstract than you would think. This is what I would ask of you, if I could ask. Could you love me? Would I even love you if you loved me? Would I start loving myself, and all my woman selves, if I dared? We could make the first steps barefoot, scared together, seeing each other as who we really are. Barefoot and careful. Tiny steps aren’t much, but it takes movement to move. What if love was a verb?
It took me a long time to think of this. I guess I didn’t even see a way to do anything until I thought about you: what makes you, you. And me, me. Then I just started writing this silly little letter, kinda like a thank you, more like an I-love-you, “girl” thing. I guess the best way to say something is to say it. Sometimes saying something isn’t enough. Maybe you could help me out with all that. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve read this, and you listened. Maybe, I’ve just been rehearsing this dance over and over, waiting for the song to change, or a new partner that doesn’t mind if I knew how to tango. He might even know what I don’t. So I’ll leave you on good terms. I’ll leave you with something sort of like a dance if words could move, and our love was a verb:
“When the Gods Smile”
A silly hope for a day, a mere glimpse of a fantastical fate,
makes the farce dangle on its devious way, stopping for no one
The bet made slips like a mercurial deviation from my lips.
I’d say stop, stay a while, if I could only catch my breath;
when it’s your smile that halts me in the hall, the corner of a communal space,
I’d tear my eyes out with the perpetual remembrance of the softness of your face.
Hips made from the sincerest of earthly flesh.
eyes with an ocean whence the dusts of the universe first met.
hands meant to borrow what they never fight to possess.
hair sprung with an energy best formed with intellectual intent.
sometimes I wonder what I’d give for a touch, or a taste.
Where forever I have courage, in your place, I deign to hesitate.
Can I borrow this moment, one hour, of your precious time?
May I have another spark, for it ever fuels the rhyme?
What was never even a possibility, not a plausible truth:
rings like sun shines, the stars provide, and the fates soothe.
You deserve the ultimate, while I pine for the impossible.
things are what they are, hope, my incorrigibly improbable.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.
hooks, bell. Feminism is for EVERYBODY: Passionate Politics. Cambridge: South End Press,
King Jr., Dr. Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” A World of Ideas. Ed. Lee A.
Jacobus. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. 178-199. Print.
Kristof, Nicholas D. and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity
For Women Worldwide. New York: Vintage, 2009. Print.
Virgil. The Aeneid. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Bantam, 1971. Print.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. 1929. Orlando: Harcourt, 1991. Print.