Dear man of mine,
I have called you this for six years. I memorized the ridges and valleys of your hands, the hard knots in your legs, the soft stretches of your sides. I know all the expressions you make when you’re telling me a story and the way that you sound when you’re falling asleep. I can predict what inside joke you’re going to reference and beat you to it. By now we are an almost freakish combination of each other. You’ve gained my love for sci-fi and facts and I’ve taken your open acceptance of others.
But I fear now, even after all we’ve learned to share, that I can never make you understand the world I walk as a woman.
When you look at me, I think that you see my strength, my intelligence, and my self-confidence. I grew up close to a father and an older brother and almost always had boys for best friends. They taught me that the way to be happy was to accept myself and because I knew that they valued me as I was, I never doubted myself. I grew up believing that I was everything I needed to be. If it wasn’t for the boys who danced with me when I was single, wrote me funny notes when girls picked a fight with me, or came to get me when my car broke down in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t have turned into me. I wouldn’t have become a woman brave enough love you and let you in.
Because you see, for all the boys who built me up, I can never forget the ones who tried to hurt me. They left wounds that you cannot easily see. So how can I help you see them?
If I could take you back to a sunny day when I walked home from elementary school with my best friend, you would find a middle school boy waiting behind the jungle gym to rip off my shirt. We hit him together until he was bored or bruised and he ran away. I didn’t think it was important, then. Just another bully.
I can’t forget when I was in sixth grade, riding the bus home, and an older boy reached for my hand, faking flirtation, and squeezed it until my knuckles ground against each other. I wanted to scream or cry but I just stared back at him.
Surely you would start to see after what happened in seventh grade on such a good day. My teacher asked me to run an errand, getting papers and supplies from some eighth grade teachers, and I was so excited to leave my classroom and roam the school. I was entering the eighth grade building when classes were ending and a boy I barely knew wrapped an arm around my waist and stole all my joy when he told me he’d fuck me anytime.
Or what about ninth grade when a boy in gym watched me stretch and whispered every day in my ear how he’d like to be between my legs. I wish I could let you feel my rage when I told my PE teacher that he was making sexual comments and how he refused to do anything until I told him what the boy said. I felt so weak when I couldn’t repeat the words and endured the punishment for months longer.
I can still feel fingers around my neck from when a boy pushed me against a wall, begging me to give in and show him that I liked him. I wondered then if he deserved to hurt me for withholding my feelings, but I’d already learned that no one would help me.
It happened again when I was fifteen. I was shaking because one of my best friends couldn’t stand that I didn’t want to date him. He was screaming at me that I was a selfish bitch and when my parents picked up the phone and overheard him, they couldn’t understand why I let someone talk to me that way.
I wish I could say that it ended somewhere or that I stopped feeling so powerless. I’m a girl who loves comics and video games and YA novels with kickass heroines. I was a martial artist and I know how to shoot a gun. I’ve got a tongue that can filet a person down to the soul. I am tough and even when I’m in over my head, I never show it.
Here is what scares me, though. I don’t laugh too loud, dress too provocatively, or speak carelessly to strangers. I choose every word deliberately, worried that I may make someone think that I care more than I do. I don’t get drunk in public or drink in the presence of new people. When I think about it, I wonder if I’m just a collection of fears and my virtues are nothing more than precautions.
When you look at me, you do see strength and you do see intelligence and self-confidence, but all that is armor carefully forged and at great cost.
If you could see me when I catch a man’s lingering stare in the grocery store or when someone comments on my body day after day at work, you wouldn’t recognize me. My armor doesn’t keep me from wanting to hide, or worse, murder with my bare hands. I am small and fragile and all my hopes are pinned on my ability to act unafraid.
If you could understand the chill I feel in my bones and the never-ending caution, you would know that the kind of love I have with you—all those vulnerable moments of perfect trust—are a miracle.