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A layered memoir
The other man
“My mother is aging me,” my aunt claimed while wiping up her resurfacing tears. This summer she should have celebrated her 10 years of marriage which gave her two children. An arranged marriage to an older guy she barely knew. She should have celebrated.
At 20, my aunt was a brave but silent woman. She slipped her heart into the pocket of a boy once, but she gave him up along with her heart, to forever carry the burden of the other man. The other man gave her two children and now at 30, my aunt is a single mother of two. The other man refuses to pay child support. The other man refuses to see his kids. The other man refuses to give my aunt what she deserves.
My aunt had found love but one day she opened the door to the other man. He did not know what love was but made himself comfortable in her home. He was comfortable with lying, bribing the local psychologists for writing a fake diagnosis so he could get away with not paying for his own children.
She had once met a soul that fought like her, cared like her, loved like her. She missed her heart, her love, that pocket of love that made her feel safe and sound. She hoped that those big brown eyes, she once lost herself in, would come home to her, that his dark, soft skin would trace against hers. He was the Sun. He had her orbiting around him and the further away he got, the colder she became. She no longer wanted to stare at the grey eyes of the other man, colder than the winter sky. Unable to warm her up.
How can you celebrate someone’s pain? How can you look at them in the eye and smile while they cry on the inside? My aunt had found love but one day she opened the door to the other man. My aunt claimed her husband did not trust her. She didn't bleed her wedding night, she could not prove that she was a virgin, that she was pure. She couldn’t prove her worth.
Finally losing hope, she confronted him; she was met with anger, rage and hatred towards her that had built up over the years. She was sent back to her mother’s home with curses following her footsteps, like a virus holding her hands, tying them together, spreading further, not letting her take control. But she drew in a deep breath knowing that the cold, hard, burning stares would only end when they finally cut through her skin. Those stares were lethal, they burnt through her skin piercing every pore. Everyone wants a strong woman until she actually shows signs of strength. Everyone wants a strong woman until she raises her voice, straightens up, makes her own decisions.
“My mother is aging me,” my aunt repeats. Quieter this time. The night before, for the first time, she had decided to go out with her friends, only to get dragged home by her mother.
“What is a divorced woman doing out with her friends late? What would people think?” my grandmother yelled while her eyes narrowed and darkened against the light. Her stare was cold, rigid, hard and far away. When someone looks at you like that, with rage but also disappointment in their eyes, it crushes you, but when it is someone that gave you everything good and everything painful, it is earth shattering.
The claws of every girl’s life
It is like someone tore in, took your heart out, threw it on the ground and stepped on it, only to put it back in later. You can still feel the claws that squeezed out every last bit of life left. I feel those claws on my skin too. And in my hair and around my waist and on my chest. And I always will. I still see their sharp stares and wondering eyes that cut like knives in every piece of my body that they took a ‘peek’ at.
I can still hear the words that cut deep into wounds the claws created. I can still hear “You are not that special, stop crying,” and “You are not even worth raping,” and “You should really apologize to him.” But I did not want to apologize to him. I did not want to apologize for telling on him. I did not want to apologize for my body. I did not want to apologize because he saw parts of me he was not allowed to see.
He followed me into my cubicle. He invited his friends to watch. To look at me. Was something like that allowed? I did not want to apologize. But I did. At 14 I thought if I apologized they would just leave me be, only to find myself shoved into the boy’s bathroom, trying to suck at the air that was becoming thicker every second, too thick at one point to draw in a breath. I could feel the cold fingertips this time; they were everywhere, tearing my soul. I could feel the coarse whiskey tongue circling my skin and in that moment I wished I could turn off my tears pooling around my eyes and save them for later like I always did. But they soaked me up, drowning me in that moment.
When the wet lips were no longer eager to whisper and to hoot and to blab, when the questioning eyes were no longer eager to inspect, stare, gawk, when the claws stopped reaching for me, I knocked on the principal’s door. He was busy, it was a busy office, everything moving but I was let in. I gathered up the courage to tell. I felt good that day. I had gotten out my black polka dotted leggings and my black skirt. I was finally standing. I was speaking. I wanted to speak. The principal took a look at me and turned around to open the closet behind him and drew out sweat pants. “Cover yourself up please,” he said and handed me the pants. “Your skirt is too short,” he clarified. When I did not move he turned around to the male student sitting in his chair and asked, “Doesn’t that distract you? Isn’t that uncomfortable?” The boy only shook his head helplessly. I took the pants and left. In that moment, I felt the boy’s eyes on me, following my steps out the door, inspecting, his lips ready to tell. Those claws, were once again nearer and nearer. Closer and closer, no matter how many times I leaned back trying to get away, they remained just in front of my eyes, ready to to tear my confidence, my voice, my body. Those claws don’t listen, those claws wouldn’t hear. He was another clawing monster, so I didn’t speak.
I had to grow up, quickly, so that I could take care of myself. That meant not trying anything new, anything different, anything that could potentially cause everything to happen again. This aged me. Being a girl aged me. Those claws aged me.
We are a family of girls. My aunts, my sister, my cousins. We do not talk about love. Love does not exist unless it is approved. I did not understand feelings, that they existed, that they could happen. I never had a crush. I let all of it age me into someone I did not want to be. They had tore in, took my heart out, threw it on the ground and stepped on it, to only put it back later. But at least I am no longer empty, and those claws, I won’t let them near me.