There must be an apple for me to eat somewhere.1 What is the danger in a woman? I have been looking for the answer my whole life. Girls are not so threatening. I was only six when the old preacher took off my glasses and said, why would you ever hide such pretty eyes behind these? Females are more knowable. Frank Bascombe, one of Richard Ford’s invented writers, says of his characters, my men and for the women, female characters, even as he compliments his own rendering.2 Even as the othering has already occurred. Chicks, females, girls, hotties, thots, thirst traps—these are the preferred nomenclature. But I have always been a woman. Even as a child I was a woman, ambiguously grown.
In middle school we girls were supposed to wear shorts with hems that stretched below the tips of our fingers—what could be found above them was too horrifying to name. But I am an adult now, and no man’s Eve. There: a vagina that can contract in pleasure and give birth to new life, an asshole that can expel the waste from my body and receive the pleasure of a tongue, breasts that can nurture a growing baby or swell at the lightest touch, a mouth that can speak with surety and taste the skin of the beloved, and a brain that can imagine new worlds and keep me safe from this one. These, I am told, should be my shame—these aspects most desired, most precious, most mine.
That I have survived is a miracle. No more hands between my legs walking down the hall squashed between other bodies as I change classes. No more hand on my hip you dirty old man I am only seven. No more come sit in my lap. No more grunting you look beautiful into my neck you creepy man. No more that sucked after the first kiss because I didn’t let you grope me. No more staring at my breasts I am only 14 you’re my teacher. No more I dreamed about you, no more spank bank, no more you need to come now because I want you to, no more are you wet are you wet are you wet. No more expected hugs, no more unbelonging or insecurity or do I look nice. No more guilt, no more shame.
Even on sunny days and supposed times of rest, I seethe with rage. See how I flame and burn? Where can this kindling do some good? I grow so tired of the embers, long alive. My Sabbath is full of the long stares of girls told that pleasure will deplete them, of mothers screaming by the bodies of their dead children in the street. My Sabbath contains all the uncried tears of boys, held back so that they might be men. We sing our pain; we approach the veil.
Annie Savoy3 said the world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness. Most days I tend to agree with her, and sometimes with Scarlett4, and almost always with Idgie Threadgoode5 and Anne with an E6 and when I’m drunk, with Janis.7 It has always been the same: a stunned face after I yell back, or perhaps, a raised eyebrow when I delve into—pick a subject— and am given that supposed compliment: I have never met a woman like you. Were they better at hiding themselves? I want to ask. Instead, I tend my resentment like a pet trained to attack. Later, it emerges. Perhaps a dark evening after a long day and he—pick a he—falls asleep before the movie is over. We get up, tired, and fight as we make our way to the bed, angry, years of raised eyebrows in every one of my words, years of catcalls in my raised voice, years of assault in my stiff body—because you never pay attention, I scream. You never pay attention.
Before sex was a question: pockets full of rocks and rope and broken jewelry and folded papers with secret prayers written in ink. Nail polish and lipsticks. Twigs and yarn woven together. A pen stolen from the library. The wrapper of a fruit leather. I once left a bottle of purple nail polish along with rocks and shell pieces in a pair of mustard-colored overalls and the polish bottle broke in the dryer and baked purple polka dots into the threads of my clothes. It is not that sex destroyed these pleasures, but it asked for them to be hidden. I learned how to wear new costumes, how to put on ugly and pretty with a change of my hair, of my makeup, of my glasses, of my clothes, how the contents of my pockets became irrelevant—my pockets smaller than any man’s anyway; what could I possibly need to carry or collect?—this is my baggage.
So I know why that woman stranger walks around with resting bitch face and fronts that you should not approach even before you do. I know why her shoulders are tight and her chin is up in the aggressive dare of a prison gang’s silent leader. She started this life with all the hope and softness of an early spring afternoon, and she was grabbed, smacked, fucked, hit, slapped, and raped into suspicion. Because I am her, I know that in secret, she still harbors that original hope and thriving joy of her genesis. The longest wish, unmentioned, kept behind staring eyes and haughty defensiveness, is the yearning to be safe, where the laughing, silly, kind and generous interiority she now protects might be free.
I carry these sentiments, good and bad, into the valley, and drink and plow and return when the shadows of the mountain become too deep. I learn how to survive by surviving. I learn how to breathe by breathing. I see by seeing. This, too, is work: this staying alert, here, alive. At times, I have avoided life in the name of life. But I have saved leftover coffee for other mornings, to be mixed with milk and sugar and ice. There is no better indicator of ambition, no better indicator of what might be.
1 Genesis 3:6.
2 “All my men were too serious, too brooding, too humorless, characters at loggerheads with imponderable dilemmas, and much less interesting than my female characters, who were always of secondary importance but free-spirited and sharp-witted.” The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford.
3 Of Bull Durham.
4 Of Gone with the Wind.
5 Of Fried Green Tomatoes.
6 Of Anne of Green Gables.
7 Of Janis Joplin.
Laura Jean Moore’s poetry, essays, and stories have been featured in VICE, [PANK], the EEEL, FLUX WEEKLY, ENTROPY, the Brooklyn Rail, Corium, the Cobalt Review, and Change Seven, where she is a monthly columnist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. http://laurajeanmoore.com/
READ ALL COLUMNS BY LAURA JEAN MOORE:
- The Streets Are Full of Blood
- On Vice(s)
- What Gets Missed
- Low Country
- A Dark Graceful Wilderness
- Before and After
- On Greatness
- Whiteness, A Study
- New York
- American Dreams
- Body Talk
- Habits, Simple and Austere
- On Love