A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen

[CN: sexual assault, incest]


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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Once upon a time, a beautiful maiden in possession of all her limbs [so every version of the Armless Maiden begins] lived in the forest with her father the woodsman and her mother, the woodsman’s wife. [Or sometimes her mother is already dead, depends on which version you choose to retell.] The woodsman is seized with sexual desire for his beautiful daughter—or perhaps greedy desire to trade her to the devil for wealth—or perhaps marital desire to replace his dead wife with similar product already close-to-hand and convenient.

[Such surface details of a father’s lust often shift, the critics agree, while leaving the underlying incest motif intact.]

Angered at her strong rejection of his plans, the woodsman chops off his daughter’s hands with an ax. [Just above the wrist, or a bit below the elbow, or let’s say he takes the whole arm—at this point, you really wanna quibble details with me??] He may even demand that she cleaver them off herself [though I am fuzzy on the mechanics of how this would be done]. She flees from him into the woods, to eat fruit from the ground where it has fallen and, in general, to survive like a brutish animal.

Now, since this is a fairy tale, you and I both know what’s coming: a handsome prince, true love, and marriage. [Still that tricky “look, ma! no hands!” issue, though. Happily ever after is harder with a princess who can’t hug her spouse, care for their babies, or even wipe herself after a late-night visit to the chamber pot.] So the story hiccups into a second half, during which our handless heroine flees back into the woods, communes with herself and with nature for a number of years, and becomes such an overall loving spirit, inside and out, that her arms and hands grow back entirely. 

At which point, the Armless Maiden—armless no long—reunites with her love, scoops up their baby [grown surly preteen, no doubt, in her absence], and takes over all the housework, allowing everyone to Happily ever after, for ever after…

Do you know this story? Have you come across it elsewhere? Can you perhaps then explain to me, because I really don’t understand, why our heroine comes back to herself all sweetness and light and not, for example, royally fcking pissed the fcking-fck off?

Me, I think I might pick up the first ax my new hands could carry and go hunting myself a woodsman.

[Or maybe I just like to think I might.]

[Me being me, I’m much more likely to pick up the first available pen.]

[Which is another way of saying: I’ve been having a lot of trouble figuring out how I want to write today’s post.]

Continue reading “A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen”

Love Letter, Unsent

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Photo of the author being given a bath. Presumably by the author’s mother.

Dear Mom,

I miss you.

It has been exactly a year since we last communicated. I recognize our estrangement remains fully my choice, that I have only to pick up the phone and you or dad would without doubt answer. I think about that option every day.

I miss you—deeply—every day.

And, every day, I remember: sometimes we face decisions where all the options are bad. All that anyone can do then is choose the least shitty of the shitty outcomes.

And so I choose to orphan myself.

For me, losing you remains the least-bad option available.

* * *

I remember clearly that it was Valentine’s Day, the last day I replied to any message from you. One of the texts you sent, amid that final flurry of texts, simply said “Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you!” And I’m sure you thought that was innocuous. I’m sure you thought that, THAT, was a message I couldn’t possibly take issue with.

And so I would give you what you wanted.

But this is not how love works. This is not how anything works.

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Cunt.

Most days, my morning starts with coffee.

Other days, it begins with finding myself being equated to a Nazi mass-murderer by some random online stranger, who happens to disagree with me about the need and function of public protest in any functioning democracy.

So, yeah. That.

I wondered, as I stared at my computer screen this morning: why am I the one in this exchange feeling trapped and tongue-tied? Why this stab of pain at witnessing the shameful barbarism of another human’s ill-informed—and ill-intended—imagination?

I have been trying to write about shame for days, y’see. The way it clots the throat. The way it steals intent and stillbirths action.

When functioning properly, shame polices the edges of propriety. It’s the tool our social herds use to cull those whose behavior transgresses the untransgressable. But often when we speak of it this way directly—“Have you no shame?”—we are merely evoking the presence of its absence, trying to summon the effects of a boundary on someone who has long since abandoned our thought-to-be-agreed-upon rules.

Shame is a double-edged knife, sharpened even through its hilt. It cuts in unpredictable directions, as often burying itself in the flesh of the sinned-against as in that of the sinner. More often, perhaps.

Still unsure what I’m getting at? Ask any rape survivor.

Ask if they felt shame.

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White Woman, Interrupted

 

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[Poster by Hayley Gilmore.]
7 days.

It’s barely been 7 full days.

Some say the world was made in 7 days.

The new US president—aided, abetted, and manipulated by the unholy choir of white supremacists and power-drunk opportunists that surrounds him—seems bent on tying, if not beating, that world-creating record as he sets about the process of destroying it.

Holy crap. I mean…

HOLY CRAP.

How to even begin to resist?

With the Word, I ‘spose. If I’m sticking with tradition, I begin with the word. And in this situation, that word is me. My resistance must begin with me.

* * *

Let me be clear: I want to save myself.

First, last, every day in between. Myself.

So do you. It’s human nature; it’s survival instinct; it’s why we don’t yet breed in cannisters but cling to the fleshy stickiness of bodies and lusts, new life emerging blood-covered and squalling.

I want to save myself most, and so do you.

Now. If I misunderstand this basic fact, I can’t serve justice. It is my own judgment that I confront in the mirror at the end of each day, after all.

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Writing in a Time of Plague

The first time I wrote on this blog in my truest voice, it was a declaration of independence from audience. “I am done speaking to the bodies of men,” I pronounced; “To the helpmeets of men.” I decided to write first and foremost for myself and, as a distant second, to address an imagined audience of other women who had survived sexual assault. Anybody else who wanted to listen? Was certainly welcome to do so, but I would make no adjustments for their comfort.

As last year began winding down, however, I started itching to leave this stance for greener, less plundered, pastures. Tired of five years of filling-in-the-blank “current occupation: rape survivor-in-recovery,” bored with my own intimate overexposure and the incessant “I… I… I…” of confessional writing.

I wondered what else I might want to say, if I no longer felt compelled to foreground the issue of violation.

And then my country elected a rapist as president.

ratking

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Red

I had the dream again.

Eyes too impossibly wide, teeth too impossibly sharp, slavering tongue and hot breath too close against my face and I cannot even scream as the huntsman’s scrabbling claws rip deep into my belly.

Woke up drenched in sweat, tangled in sheets. Panting.

I lay rigid in the dark and waited for the room to stop spinning.

* * *

Joseph Campbell was asked once why he didn’t account for stories about women when developing his archetype of the hero’s quest. “Women don’t need to make the journey,” he replied. “In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is to realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.”

And if she is the place people got to already?

What does she do then?

* * *

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