My womanhood is never more apparent to me than when I am just one of the guys, and it is only when my womanhood is so apparent that what society calls broken reveals itself.
I used to be a girl.
I didn’t like that.
Who wants to be a girl when boys get all the interesting toys, all the interesting jobs? they get to read all the fun books and wear the clothes that don’t fall apart as soon as you look sideways at a bicycle.
Now, I’m stuck. I made myself one of the guys and it’s easier for you to keep me there, in the box I built around myself. You think I’m too broken for the other box.
When I wore make-up for a few days you asked who I was trying to impress. You asked if I’d finally changed my mind. Then you went back to farts and crude jokes. You laughed and I laughed, but you didn’t see the pain behind my eyes.
You told me I was easy to talk to. I let my hopes get high. Perhaps you would see past the parts of me you thought were broken and see that I am whole just as I am. Maybe – just maybe – I could break out of this cage I’d built around myself. But, then you started talking about her. A normal – unbroken – girl. You asked me for my help, advice.
I couldn’t offer you much. I don’t feel the same things that she does. I don’t know how you’re supposed to make her want you that way. It was like you were driving the point of my brokenness home. I’m not quite a girl – I’m too broken to be a real woman.
So, I smiled, I laughed, even as I was telling you how to win her heart, if not her body – the same way you’d won my heart first.
I read a book where the princess fell in love, kissed the prince, lived happily ever after. I could have done without the kissing parts. Why couldn’t they just read books together while cuddling by the fire? Isn’t that enough for anyone? Or am I alone?
You and I used to do that. You said it was refreshing as I lay with my head in your lap, holding a book that had captured my attention as your body, never could. It was refreshing to you that you didn’t need to impress me, that I was a girl you didn’t need to think about sleeping with. I was one of the guys.
We got coffee and then caught in the rain. You shielded me with your umbrella, holding me close. I let my hopes up again. Was this my chance to get out of my cage? But your body was the key and I couldn’t bring myself to take it. It wasn’t worth even that.
The next day you started seeing her. She wanted to sleep with you – do things that I didn’t, couldn’t – and you told me you’d finally found the one. You’d only known her a week.
When the two of you inevitably broke up, you ate ice cream with me and we laughed about stupid things. We talked about books and art, and video games as we played for twelve hours straight.
Just before you fell asleep on my couch you asked me why your relationships couldn’t all be like this. You wished you could find a girl like me. I pulled a blanket up to your chin and whispered “I’m right here.”
But I knew the truth. You didn’t want a girl like me. You wanted a girl who loved you like I did and desired you like I couldn’t.
When I wore a dress and heels, you asked what I’d done with the real me. You seemed awkward, shy. You warned me it would attract the attention that I didn’t want. You made the same old crude jokes, but this time your voice sounded different to me.
By now, I’m over you. You’re my best friend and I can’t leave you behind so as the years go by I stay by your side, just one of the guys.
I watch you and the guys: commenting on other women, talking about settling down, having kids and lives. I don’t always like the way you talk about other girls, it isn’t kind or fair to them. It sometimes just isn’t right, but a tiny voice inside me wants you all to talk about me the same way, to notice that I’m a woman too.
So, I try again.
I wear a dress here, a scarf there. I put on make-up too, subtle so you don’t really notice it. You all scoff when you notice. Who am I trying to impress? Without my own desire what’s the point in making others desire me?
You might as well say, Why bother trying to be a woman?
But, as I get a little older with each passing year, my ovaries ache beneath my stomach, my womb cries tears of blood, as though my body too thinks that I’m broken. I look in the mirror, desperately trying to find the switch labeled “ON” that will turn me into a woman, make me feel the desires I’m supposed to feel.
I say to myself in the mirror, my naked body staring back at me with limp hands, “I’m a woman too.”
My hands wander to my breasts, twisting, pulling, and pressing, trying to move them so they look more like a woman. I don’t believe they are right. They must not be because I’m one of the guys.
I sit in the bar with all of you, the only girl in our group. A few of you have girlfriends, but none of them are here. I dress a little nicer now. You’ve all come to accept that I can dress for me and not for others. It took awhile, but I accepted it too. That I don’t do it to attract the desires I can never feel myself. You all see me as broken still, but I don’t care. I know the truth.
When the stranger approaches me at the bar as I’m buying you all another round, he looks me up and down. I know in his eyes he sees me not as one of the guys but as a woman. The woman I look for in the mirror. Perhaps he will see past the parts you all call broken. We talk as I wait for your drinks, he asks for my number. I tell him I don’t know and he gives me his instead.
You all notice and when I return with the drinks you try to warn me. You’ve seen him before and you know his type. Suddenly you all see me a little different. But, I see him a little way off, talking to another woman, our eyes meet and I know he sees me too. He sees me the way you all see me now, but he saw it first. He stops talking to her and leaves the bar alone.
A few days later I brush you off. I called him, despite your warnings. We meet at a bar I don’t know. I wear my hair down – a dress – my make-up a little more daring. I smile and laugh as he talks circles around me about everything and nothing. I’m not one of the guys tonight.
Tonight, I am a woman.
He asks me back to his place. I tell him no, I tell him the truth. I tell him about the parts you all call broken.
“I bet you just need a good experience.”
That should have sent up every red flag in the world, but if it did I just ignored them, laughing it off. It was all in jest, wasn’t it? I just wanted one night to be a woman and he didn’t seem scared away by my brokenness.
I let him buy me drink after drink. He takes me back to his place and I’m too drunk to know what’s happening as he fucks me without asking. I can’t object, but somewhere in the back of my mind I know that what he’s doing is wrong and I’m screaming for you to save me. I’m one of you, aren’t I? You protect your own. But I’m one of the guys; I’m supposed to be able to protect myself.
In the morning I wake up alone in his bed. I don’t know where I’m at. There is a pain that I am not used to, my legs tremble as I gather myself together.
I feel his arms snake around me while I pull my shirt on. “I told you you’d like it,” he hisses in my ear. “You moaned like a bitch in heat. Now you’re a real woman.”
I can taste bile in my mouth as I wrench myself from his arms. I run from his lair and I call you from a bus stop a few blocks away. I can’t breathe, but I don’t let myself cry.
You pick me up, “It’s not a big deal,” you tell me with white knuckles on your steering wheel. “At least now you know for sure that you don’t like it.”
I just stare out the window, shivering in silence – uncomfortable in my own skin. Those aren’t the words that I want to hear. I don’t know that I want to hear any words at all. You warned me about him. You warned me not to trust him, and I didn’t listen. I didn’t want to. I just wanted to be a woman.
I began to weep, sobs racking my entire being; there was a dead rabbit on the side of the road.
I’m not sure she could be called a rabbit anymore. Her tail was in one place and her spleen in another. She wasn’t recognizable as a rabbit anymore. We passed her quickly, no one stopped to mourn the loss of her life.
She shouldn’t have been in the road.
Her blood was a bright crimson stain across the asphalt. Fresh, I saw it before we ever got to where she was – everywhere she was – you couldn’t miss it but no one looked at her. At the gruesome display that had become her body. Spread across the road like that. I knew she was dead. I knew she couldn’t feel it anymore, but I could feel it for her. Spread out across the road like that. It wasn’t just the rabbit.
I could see my spleen, my lungs, the rope of my own intestines wrapped around my neck where the ghost of his fingers were still clenching, making it impossible to breathe, impossible to scream. Where the road was I saw his bed. One by one like cars going by I saw you, our friends, everyone, passing through. You didn’t look at me and those that did didn’t really see me, didn’t see the blood and guts and everything laid out in front of you, displaying my humanity, my womanhood, everything about me to be seen. Flattened and bloody, strewn about in a display that would have disgusted any of you who dared to look, but none of you did. You just passed by like cars on the highway, never really seeing.
The tears rolled down my face. “Buck up,” you said. “It’s just a rodent.”
You didn’t see me…
I wanted to be a woman; I guess I wasn’t prepared for what that really meant.
He tried to fix me. He thought I was broken, just like the rest of you. Instead, he broke me. Now, when I stare at my naked body in the mirror, I see the woman that was there all along. She trembles with a mixture of fear and rage, covered in blood, wearing it like war paint. She feels sympathy for the rabbit. She is angry at him for trying to fix her when she wasn’t broken, and she is angry at me for believing that she wasn’t there, and she is afraid of you. She is afraid of being put in her cage again. She screams in defiance even as I want to curl into a bottle and drink it all away, let myself be broken.
She stands there, shouting at the top of her lungs. “I am not broken! I’m a woman too!” This time, I know that she will not be contained. Not by you and never by me.