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You open your eyes in the morning to see a note taped to your door. It’s yellow and blue pen swirls around it, spelling carefully. You remember the events of yesterday, it was so loud you will never forget the amount of hatred you felt then. The note says forgive me, forgive me my princess. I love you, and I’ll be downstairs making breakfast for you whenever you rise. If you need anything, let your royal servant know.
You take the note off the door and put it in your blue sketchbook, to see if you keep it this time maybe if you show it to him he’ll remember and not yell at you again. Maybe it’ll be different this time.
The musical is the Wizard of Oz, people pouring into the theater. You are fed up with the blatant hypocrisy in their statements and you try to argue. It’s no use, and your father gives up and walks into the building. You mother, though, she is angry and she hits your cheek as you try to say again that you didn’t mean to start a fight. You hit me, you hit me – it’s all you can repeat. It’s discipline, she says.
You hit me.
The lines around her eyes crinkle as she laughs with the light of the morning sun. You are looking at beads, finding the perfect leaf to add to the wire flowers you just learned how to make. She smiles at you and you see the lines around your own eyes in the same places as you smile back.
This is how to sew on a button, this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on, this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming;
Does Dad hate me?
No, dear, he doesn’t.
But he yells at me. It’s not my fault.
You are not his equal. That’s why he yells.
Because you will never be our equal.
You collapse on your bed and cry, a common occurrence. You try to think why, but your mind is so tired that you can’t come up with an answer. You want him to understand, and you know he won’t.
Your mother comes in, whispering quiet words. They calm you, soothe you and instantly you think
What if you left? What if you went to Maine, to Pennsylvania? Where can you go?
You are both equals.
You stand as you watch as you see the men carry the casket. You were closer to your grandfather than any of them were, but you are pushed to the sidelines as the casket moved forward. You try to tell them and they don’t listen. If they hear, they don’t understand. Let the men do it. Let the men do it.
You’re stopped in the school hallway by a woman with a sneer. She takes you to the office and shoves you to a chair and says, look at her, her shorts are too short. You feel your face grow red and all you can think is
Why don’t you go after the other people, the boys with waistbands at their knees and the girls with half exposed breasts?
Because your shorts are too short, and we can see your thighs.
But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father's house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
You sit with your step grandmother and you hear the same words repeating. You’ll never amount to anything, she says, as if it was something you already should’ve known.
But you, she says to your brother, you should follow your dreams. You’ll do great things.
And you stare at your hands and you think, why can’t I do that?
Because you are playing the harlot in your father’s house.
You sit at the dinner table with your family, your lipstick from the day wiped off in preparation for the meal. Your father says, guess who came home from school today looking like a bloody siren? You blush as you realize he’s referring to the scarlet that earlier had graced your lips, and your mother smiles.
He comes downstairs right after it’s done, after the maroon that is now your hair has been rinsed and brushed. He laughs upon the sight, and your mother glares. She looks like a prostitute, he says.
She does not glare this time.
Fathers of daughters sing more to them – they respond more to happier expressions and more emotions than to those of their sons.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
Saul is your father, lying and cheating to clothe and feed you.
You and your sister and your two brothers are expected to learn the same things. Cook sew sports music science math. Woodworking. You mix the spices and thread the needles at the same table as your brothers. They do not have to sew as much but they knead the dough, spill the flour. Your mother laughs, and the light filters through the window.
You’ve met him – the man of your dreams with his curly hair and slightly oversized glasses. You caught his eye across the cafeteria at work and soon the wedding bells will toll. You are wrapped up in plans and ribbons and lace and cake, and in your head you can still see your brothers spilling the flour.
Dad, you say. I think I’m a tomboy. You are twelve and prefer pants over dresses, denim over tulle. Don’t say that about yourself, he says. You shouldn’t think that about yourself. You look at your sisters and they look at your father, confused. That just means you’re boyish, they say. She doesn’t mean she’s a lesbian.
Oh, he says. He is calm now. Oh.
Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness.
You are playing the –
Throw like a boy – you’re not a girl; don’t pull your brother’s hair, it’ll hurt him!; but he was hitting me, calling me fat;
You stare at yourself in the mirror and see the curves of your body, your hips protruding from your waist which sinks from your budding breasts. You put your hands at your waist and move them in a straight line – off goes your hips, your womanhood.
1984 – Momma, I want to lose weight, you say. I think I’m going to cut back on cookies. Oh, dear that’s a good idea, she says. Your father echoes his approval, and you begin counting and measuring – thank god your mom sews and has a measuring tape. You watch your brothers eat cake and bread and muffins – and you look at yourself, wishing there was less of you.
135 to 110. 135 to 110. You’re at 125. Eat just a little less. Just a little less. They haven’t noticed, you can get away with it. Keep going. 110. 110.
You are playing the harlot in your father’s house.
Longitudinal studies have recently emerged showing that overprotective parenting in early childhood is associated with later anxiety disorders.
You walk through school with a spring in your step – third grade. You write your name on all your papers and participate in all discussions regarding Bunnicula. A permission slip comes around – it’s for a movie just before break, rated pg. You bring it home, excited, except he refuses to sign it and you have to raise your hand the next day and say you cannot watch the movie.
They stare and your cheeks grow red. You walk a little differently now. Speak a little quieter.
That’s your dad?
It’s sixth grade. You are eleven and the class is reading Freak the Mighty. The teacher says, we’re going to watch the movie, so bring in this signed permission slip. Instantly you know you will be only one to not watch the movie.
You give the slip to your dad. He looks at it and says you’re not even thirteen. You can’t watch this. But I’ll be the only one in the class that won’t watch it. They’ll all laugh at me.
He signs the slip.
12/8/2014 - You are 15 and in all your years you’ve never met someone like him. He wants to be around you, he talks to you. He said he would hug you and never let go.
You go home and tell your dad you’re just friends. But your mother you tell of the boyfriend you have just acquired. Your heart is soaring and all your fears of ending up alone are over.
But your father is angry when he hears, angry that you are 15 and he is 18.
Can’t you see she’s happy?
harlot in your –
He gives you up and you are his, your first love.
For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
don’t talk back to me like that; don’t ever wear lace on your shirts because that entices men and you’re a good Christian girl; don’t you dare talk to boys, will you come brush this knot out of your brother’s hair?
You work in an office, making enough money that your children will go to college without debt. You sit and go home and go back and go home and your husband won’t let you borrow his car one morning to get to work. That’s okay, you say. I’ll work from home. But you think of what your daughter tells you, that you need to stand up for yourself. You are both equals.
He cuts you off in conversation when talking about where you’re going for a family vacation. You think nothing of it but as soon as the car stops and it is just you and her, she asks, why do you let him do that? Why do you think nothing of it?
You are both equals.
You are scrolling through the internet looking for a house to rent for the summer beach vacation. The amount of choices is staggering, and you and your sister must find one to fit the family. You find a few choices and find your father, telling him about the house and how much money it will be. Your sister expresses doubt about the money and your father gets angry at her for worrying about the money. She works three jobs and is a single mother and you stare at your father in disbelief.
You are both equals.
“How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth-- A woman will encompass a man.”
You are arguing with your father and it has progressed to a point that you’re not sure why you’re arguing. You b****, he says. You motherfucking b****.
What did you just call me?
She’s such an idiot, he says. You can barely hear him as your ear is sunken into the carpet of the steps.
What did you just call me?
She is! She doesn’t understand how the world works.
Clearly you don’t. She says this with an air of finality. You never have.
What did you just call me?
You are young, almost old enough to play the harlot. It’s the evening and you are watching a movie with your family. It’s one of your mom’s favorites.
He says something and you can barely believe it. You don’t understand the rush of words and emotions and they overcome you like a heavy woolen blanket. There is no memory of what he said. There is only the pain and confusion and the hurried packing of bags.
We’re going to grandmas, Sarah.
But I don’t want to go.
I’ve already packed your bag.
I don’t want to go I want to stay here You are screaming now and you don’t understand why she is leaving and what will happen to you if she does. She’s the only one who understands.
She is leaving.
Why did you stay here?
Can I go to my room, dad?
No, we need to be together right now.
But I don’t want to be here right now. I want to go read.
THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU GO WITH YOUR MOTHER?!?!?!?!?
You see her in church the next day – Sunday. A holy day. She does not look at him. She stares straight ahead, making conversation with her mother instead of your father. You want to sit next to her but you’re not sure if that’s okay.
Is that okay?
You are all equals in your father’s house.