A girl looks into a mirror. Staring back: a feral thing with bloodshot eyes, its matted hair jutting twigs and leaves.
Trick of the light.
She shakes her head and the mirror ripples, then settles, like a pond after a skipping stone. Now, across the glass, the girl sees a matching limpid-eyed child in pigtails. She turns her face to the right and to the left, checking herself in profile, and nods, satisfied.
A final toss of her head, and the girl steps away from the mirror, opens the front door, and walks into the bright morning sun.
Stretching from her feet along the sidewalk behind her, the girl’s shadow rears on two hind legs and snarls at the sky.
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.”
I’m not sure what clearer “KEEP OUT
GIRLS ONLY! CLUBHOUSE” sign we could have hung
better than bricking in our front door. Sole entrance
a dumb waiter conveyed up 4 stories on a pulley
of my hair, should’ve clued in
even the most oafish how we feel
about uninvited third parties.
I long ago tired of explaining: she’s not my mother
or my gram. (Or my captor,
tho I am clearly caught.) The word you want is girlfriend partner paramour main squeeze better half ball-and-chain reason for living cohabitater. Capice?
And when did it become your business anyway.
Stored with other detritus in the attics of the unused east wing,
sealed since renovations converted the ancient chateau
into a trendy B&B. Rumor was, if you looked long enough
you’d see her chest rise…and fall, rise…and fall
almost like she was alive, just sleeping. Trick of the light,
most everyone agreed, but still the campfire stories continued:
about a witch and a curse and how you better kiss the first boy who asks
cos true love’s too long to wait for.
Hans Christian Anderson got it wrong:
the Little Match Girl did not die
of exposure. No—
she arranged what remained of her inventory
strategic as an arsonist,
wore taps on her shoes to keep time clackclackclack jigging on cobblestones
whilst around her, flames bright as a party dress,
centre-ville dissolving into hot ash and smoke
as the match girl laughed and thumped
her feet, awkward and resplendent,
and, finally, at the last,
After the Trump video released last Friday, writer Kelly Oxford tweeted about her own experience—at only 12 years old—of having a strange man grab her crotch. While she may not have expected more than a few friends to respond to her invitation to “tweet me you first assaults,” she has now received hundreds of thousands of stories (a million on Saturday night alone), and the tweets are still pouring in, under the hashtag #NotOkay.
I find myself among those unwilling to join this conversation openly. Not because I do not have such memories in my past, but these are encounters that I either have already shared or have reasons to hold private still. So I am thinking instead about the ubiquity of not only sexual violence in girlhood but also the threats of such violence—and how these twin forces shaped the early years of so many women I know, and continue to color our daughters’ experiences today.
With all that in mind (both the said and the unsaid), I decided to revisit and revamp this piece I wrote a few years ago:
My Body Is a Car Door
He and I are drinking coffee together, sitting
each in our own maturity and marveling the kids these days! when he says:
“I always thought puberty
was so much worse for girls. Breasts, menstruation—
like living inside an alien.
Boys have nothing that compares.”