The Prison Cells We Hide In

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.

Dear Asshole

(trigger warning – please don’t read if you are not in a safe place)

Dear Asshole,

I wonder, when you kiss your wife, if you remember what it felt like to shove your tongue into my mouth…your teeth hitting mine as you demanded I open my lips more..

I remember.

I can still taste your saliva…I sometimes feel as though my tongue is swelling…as it betrays me when I seal my lips and refuse any entry…even to love.

But you told me you don’t recall…so I imagine you kiss your wife without guilt or shame…

I wonder, when you look at her…if you remember when you stood with me and looked…and looked and looked…while I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath.

I wonder this as I hide under my blanket at night…and shut out any light…as I press my hand against my eyes even if there is no one looking at me.

You remember that one…you told me so…except you told me it was normal and, for a teeny-tiny second, I believed you.

But it’s not normal…for me to hide my body from intimacy…for me to look in the mirror and shudder…no matter how many layers I have on.

So I imagine you feel comfortable in your own skin…after all, you’ve moved on.

I wonder…when your wife touches you…if you remember what you made me do to you…

I remember.

I still smell you.  I can’t get rid of the images of me kneeling at your feet…I can’t stop feeling your breath…I can’t stop all my senses from experiencing what was for you, a minor event…

My senses do not allow me to feel pleasure without fear.

Do you know what it is like to be overcome by fear with any expression of pleasure?

No, you wouldn’t know.

I imagine you let yourself experience pleasure because you think you deserve it.

I really wonder though…if you remember how I turned you down…and how you didn’t seem to care…

I wonder…if I had known it was because you no longer needed me…because there were others who could take my place…if I would have been so quick to stand up for myself.

Because now I feel guilty.

I feel guilty that I didn’t protect others…that I didn’t tell.  That I let you go on…

And that guilt makes me that crazy, obsessed person who can’t stop talking now.

I’m practically screaming it from the rooftops…twenty goddamn years later…when it can no longer do anything to stop the fucked up life I was forced to lead.

Oh I know you think I am crazy…I know you think I shouldn’t hold on to this…

I know you think you couldn’t possibly have screwed up everything for me.

But you’re wrong, Asshole.

You’re wrong about everything.

See, I lost my childhood because of you.

I lost my ability to trust.

I lost my ability to connect.

I lost my ability to live free.

I continue to suffer…every fucking day.

The worst part is that you took them away from me…

You made them have to choose a side…and they did choose…you.

So damn you, Asshole.

And damn the wife you never told.

Because I have nothing left to lose.

You do.

And if I sign this letter…the way I should sign it…

You will.

Dear Spouses,

Dear, dear spouses

of victims

of survivors

of the broken people…

Thank you.

Thank you for not letting us push you away.

Thank you for seeing past the desperate facade we thought was infallible.

Thank you for understanding that not everyone wants to be touched…or can be touched…and adjusting your needs accordingly.

Thank you for remembering not to ask about it.

Thank you for listening to all of it and accepting it

even though you want to kill someone

even though you want to let anger take over and justice prevail.

Thank you for knowing that you just have to embrace it.

Thank you for sleeping on the floor when the bed becomes a trap.

Thank you for letting irrational behaviors slide…

because they make sense…because you get it.

Thank you for never attempting to relate to it.

Thank you for teaching us that we can be loved despite…

in spite…

because.

Thank you for always, always standing by…

through panic…

anxiety…

fear…

shame…

confusion…

delusion…

and hope.

Thank you for waiting for us to come to you.

Thank you for knowing when we are ready.

Thank you for knowing when we aren’t.

Thank you for agreeing to take part in a union we believed we could never deserve.

Thank you so very much…dear, dear spouses…

for loving people…who sometimes doubt the love they are in.

We are grateful for your patience.

We are overwhelmed by your strength.

And we believe in the salvation you offer when you look into our eyes

and show us who we are.