I always struggled to maintain friendships with women. It was easier for me to hang out with men. I knew exactly how to talk to them, how to act around them and was confident in my direct approach.
Women scared me. We always seemed to be hurting each other. The idea of a united front, working to overcome inequality and patriarchy as a tsunami of feminine strength seemed implausible.
Over time, I learned how to approach female relationships. It requires a real effort for me to connect with other women, even though it sometimes seems futile. The few friends I did manage to make are extraordinarily patient with me. I know that I wrap myself in yellow tape and dare them to try.
And then #metoo and #timesup happened, and I saw women emerging from their own prison. I dipped a toe in at first, wanting to test the waters I couldn’t trust. But I fell in hard. I found myself swimming in a school, sometimes wildly as though being chased, but most times with direction and purpose. Every once in a while, coming up for air, I saw some of what I knew deep down was still there; we weren’t all prepared for this.
The other day a woman called out from her prison and she got swarmed. There was a pounding on her door, a demand for her to open up, and I saw that there are cracks that are widening.
We need each other. But we need to tunnel into each prison and sit a moment inside. We need to see her space, feel her boundaries, and hold her hand when she decides she wants it to be held. Then we can be the force that will break us free.
This is what my prison looked like. It’s empty most of the time now. If you ever see me inside, come in through the back door I hide behind my unsmiling eyes. I’ll be waiting for you.
* * * * *
I keep the women in my life at bay.
Held off by my rigid tone, they circle for a moment before wandering away.
I don’t blame them.
The door is bolted and covered in skulls.
I am not very inviting.
I throw a line, teasing it a bit before I reel it in.
My words fall from my tongue with force I don’t even try to control. I am unbridled, wild and free in this prison I have constructed from the rubble of my demolished childhood.
It is warm in here.
I touch the splintering walls, piercing my fingertips with rusting nails. Watching the blood flow, I patch the roof where sunlight dares to shine through.
It is stifling in here.
Betrayals decompose in heaps strewn about the floor. Expectation died here long ago. The stench of rotting dreams reminds me not to close my eyes.
It is burning in here.
The men who knock are well received. I learned to navigate their world the moment I heard one moan. They trip over the warning signs. They don’t understand the game I play. They take me as I am; as I project myself to be.
I host them in the darkness. There is nothing here for them to see.
Lingering outside for a moment, the women stare through the glass walls of my prison where I meet their gaze with my empty plea.