Childhood games, such as “boys catch the girls,” taught us how to behave and what to feel about ourselves. It taught us that we are not important unless we are pursued. Girls were caught, pleased to have been deemed attractive enough to have been chased. Somehow, we knew that we must look down, must dare not make eye contact, for that would admit something, a desire, a willingness to be caught, admissions that would tarnish the reputation, something we knew we must protect.
Since we were old enough to understand society had rules to follow, one of the first rules learned was to cherish the clean reputation more than being kind to fellow sisters. We knew we must remain diligent to protect the reputation for they must remain untarnished, they are more important to protect than our very bodies that host the reputation.
We attempt to protect our bodies from wandering hands, aggressive gropes, suggestive words that lick at our thighs, our budding breasts, the newly-formed curves that we have yet to become familiar with. We brush them off, blushing, not sure if we are protecting ourselves the right way. The polite way.
We started to run in gangs. Gaggles of girls, bound by silent rules, rules we were still learning. We did our best to protect each other, from the lusty, hot stares, from the mouths, lips slightly parted, searching for words, words eventually found that tumbled out ...
Will you? Would you? Have you…yet?
Holidays disguised as happy occasions demanded more from us. Valentine’s Day. Be mine, or else. Say no and you will be sure to hearthat nobody else would ever want you. Happy birthday. I bought you a drink, now you owe me.
We drifted deeper into womanhood. We tried to shed our former selves. Our younger selves. We abandoned the sisterhood of our youth while we pursued independence, money to survive and hopefully thrive, searched for friends who made us feel mature. Made us feel important.
We sought new jobs, learned new rules, yet many rang familiar. Keep your mouth shut, ignore the gropes in the lunchroom, the pictures of nude women in the back office, the unending patronizing, sexualizing, simplifying of our gender.
To many, we are merely mindless makers of babies, socialized concubines who can type, file and get coffee for the men. Look cute, talk dumb, laugh at the right time, always look your best, comb your hair and ensure all your bits are flower-scented. And you must churn out the babies, and convince yourself you’re happy, and you’re to be pleased that you’ve kept your reputation untarnished.
Yet the secret lurks, deep where bits can’t be re-scented. Truth brings its pungent smell to your mind. You try to forget with your overly- boisterous laughter. You’re too happy, all the time. No, really, I’m fine! I’m fine!
The man who took your reputation is gone. He left the country. Business, they said. The man who made you fear all men, made you too fearful to say no, to say stop, has left. Why can’t the feelings leave the country? Why can’t the memories?
It’s too late to say anything now. You didn’t say anything when it happened because the words froze in your throat. You were too young to know how to describe what was happening to you. You were too young to feel anything but sickness so you said you had a stomach ache. You were too afraid to tell because you would have to relive what happened through the telling of words. That is, if you were able to find them. You deem confessing the truth a form of self-abuse of sorts. Why must the horrors be revisited? And deep down, you knew that they’d blame you. They always blame the kid.
And really, how could you convince them otherwise. At the dinner table, they said, “Isn’t it cute how he has so much fun with her? He loves taking her to the city! Family is the best!” They’d recall the times that they said were fun for you and him. But they weren’t fun times and you couldn’t say anything. You had to be a good kid, a good sport, had to keep with the program.
You did after all, have a reputation to protect. Whose reputation, you’re not sure.
For years, your words fought you. You bit your tongue, swallowed the words, clenched your fists. You ate too much, drank too much, worked too much. No, you will not tell. No, you cannot tell. Telling breaks all of the rules.
Then one day, you ask why. Why did you let it happen? Why did you let him take me? Why did you hand me over to him? No answers were given, the subject was changed, but you did something. You asked! You questioned the unsaid, the never-before-said. You started to heal.
Your fists began to unclench enough for you to be able to grab a pen and you began to write. Your words, pressed angrily, tearfully, into notebooks, filled a box. Self-reflection and punctuation, not reputation, became a new concern. You began to look people in the eye and you began to say no, stop, go away. You covered your body with words, protected your body with your words.
You became unscented, impolite, and uncaring of the frivolity of unspoken, disempowering rules. You grew strong enough to see that through your own new-found words you had power. Power to heal, power to reach out to help others and found power to love not only others but yourself.