today you were married

today you were married in a verdantly green place and a red dress

you married your college sweetheart

maybe your one true love

and I who maybe was once your best friend for life was not invited

 

I was not invited to re-meet your now-husband

I was not invited to meet your new stepdaughters

the truth is I would not have come

 

I was not invited because you broke up with me 15 years ago

inexplicably, to me

it was a hard time, angry abandoned betrayed

 

you and I hadn’t lived in the same state for 15 years, since we graduated high school

but we were always devoted and loyal to our friendship and closeness

until you weren’t

 

the truth is that when I got married you were not invited

to that Mexican beach, where we were encircled by friends and family

even my love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin parents came to my Buddhist, lesbian wedding

my groom’s best woman was her childhood best friend for life

my best man was a good friend, one-time crush, from theater

the best I could do: my best friend for life had broken up with me seven years earlier

 

what you don’t know is that my longterm boyfriend broke up with me that same year

what you don’t know is that the woman who “adopted” me as an adult goddaughter (said I felt “familial”) broke up with me three years later when I started seeing the woman I married (said I felt “predatory”)

it’s confusing when predatory is familial

it was a hard time (angry abandoned bereaved)

maybe the world is not a safe place

 

what is my lesson here?

am I a bad friend?

too needy?

too risky?

too damaged?

all tangled up in sheets of shame

maybe the world is not a safe place

 

maybe it was a relief

I didn’t have any other best friends for life, I sunk deeper into loneliness

I saved my own heart and mind with meditation and yoga

learning to occupy space, body and breath

it is my path

 

it is a relief to not feel trapped in the roles we inhabited in grade school

you: artistic and creative

me: sexy and wild

maybe without you telling me who I am I can feel creative

maybe without me telling you who you are you can feel sexy

 

never-mind that sex was compulsive for me (100+ guys before graduating college)

rape and coercion when too young, it’s confusing when predatory is familial

all I’m saying is that sexy and wild was not status, not something to fall back on

 

I understand how rape is defined, but consent is slippery

I don’t know how many times that word could be used to describe my sexual experience

I didn’t know how to say no

I didn’t know how to say yes either, it just wasn’t the space I occupied

in fact, I had learned not to occupy space at all, space to be penetrated

in rape culture, I’m sure I appeared willing, if vacant

100+ guys would argue that I consented, even pursued

all tangled up in sheets of shame, I couldn’t disagree, consent is slippery

the world was not a safe place

 

I’m sorry

I let your letter lie dormant for three years, I’m embarrassed

it’s not fair to not respond

I don’t believe you were a rapist

we were young and foolish

 

what I couldn’t say was what I remembered about your college boyfriend

what it was like to be your best friend for life while you and he fucked and fought, crashing together and flying apart, always wildly romantic, always ascending to tantric ecstasies or plunging into fetid depressions and explosive anger

what I couldn’t say is how the world is not a safe place when a guy decides to have sex with a Thai prostitute willfully without protection

you said in your three-year-old letter he was no longer dangerous

a father, even

but having so little experience staying safe, I couldn’t be sure

it’s confusing when predatory is familial

so I let you steep in your own assertion that you might be a rapist

it’s not fair to not respond

I don’t believe you were a rapist

we were young and foolish

 

no, I didn’t want it to happen, I do wish it hadn’t

I didn’t know how to say no

I didn’t know how to say yes either, it wasn’t the space I occupied

sex with you was an expression of loyalty and sisterhood

I believed in you us

I was always devoted and loyal to our friendship and closeness

I couldn’t disagree

women have consented for far less than that, consent is slippery

 

it’s true I am painted the victim here, maybe it’s not fair

I still feel abandoned betrayed, maybe angry, maybe bereaved

not by the sex

but by losing my best friend for life

learning that I’m the kind of girl with whom her best friend for life would break up

I could learn not to occupy space at all

maybe the world is not a safe place

 

not today but someday I will die

sitting alone with my own heart and mind, a path

learning to occupy space

contemplating loneliness, loyalty, devotion

who am I all tangled up in sheets of shame?

who am I if there is no shame?

who am I if the world is a safe place?

I will die anyway

whether I’m your best friend for life

or not

whether I was once a rapist

or not

I will not occupy space at all

there’s wisdom in that, a path

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courthouse

in 1994 she fled Texas

highways disappearing out into nowhere

never looking back

no single place to come back to

not that she would

 

and yet

she finds herself here

 

she knows he’ll come if she says she needs him

the truth is she does (a long history of needing and not needing between them)

she arrives in her mother’s great whale, beaches it in his sister’s driveway

climbs into his cozy car, the car he drove his mother around in

of course, they get lost

 

cop car outside the one-time donut shop, now juice bar

inside everyone is too-quiet and extra still

a film camera points at the guy behind the counter, wooden and staged

not interrupting chatting cops, they steal wifi and make off laughing with a downloaded map

 

circling downtown, finally an affordable parking lot

a spot marked by wildflowers springing out from the wall, too cheerful for today’s errand

he: Small happinesses go a long way with me these days.

 

circling downtown, lost in too-tall buildings and one-way streets,

someone points the way

around the corner, a small plaza, a monolithic edifice, they mount too-wide stairs

a uniform asks their business

she: Criminal records.

uniform: Felony or misdemeanor?

she, choking on a swollen tongue: Uh, a felony, I think?

he, ever so gently: Yeah, it’s a felony.

she: Yeah, felony.

uniform: That’s the other building around the corner.

 

at security, he remembers his pocketknife (Texas men must carry one at all times)

he’s not getting in with that

she can’t lose momentum, she has to get it done

she goes in, he goes back to the car, lighting a Camel

too-alone, she’s a jackrabbit caught too-quiet and extra still among people just doing their jobs

she startles, vulnerable and exposed, maybe he’s watching over her through glass doors

no, he’s gone (that long history of needing and not needing between them)

 

at the elevator doors, she waits

she knows how to sit and wait, but this is a slow skinning with a dull knife

the doors part, then she’s trapped inside

when freed, she wanders a warren of indistinguishable, perfectly-serviceable, utterly-depressing hallways

finally, an arrow to a door opening into a tiny room with a counter

behind the counter, a too-young woman asks her business

she, bravely: Criminal records from 1994.

she, looking sideways at the other people in the room: A murder.

she, not whimpering: My brother did it, his court records.

she, holding her breath: In May 1994.

woman, just doing her job: What’s his full name? What exactly are you looking for?

she can’t say she’s forgotten the poor girl’s name

she can’t say she’s forgotten if he raped the girl too

she can’t say

woman just doing her job: I’ll pull all the records up on that computer over there and you can look through them.

 

it doesn’t take long to learn the girl’s name was Sarah Anne

it doesn’t take long to confirm Sarah Anne was “sexually assaulted”

then Sarah Anne was killed with a bat and some “other unknown object” (bile rising)

all irrefutable and tragic, in black and white

only 11 years old

she met Sarah Anne, half-sister of her brother’s girlfriend

 

she becomes a computer, processing information

sometimes being fully human doesn’t serve

 

she was once 11 years old, painfully awkward, never fitting in

body soft in the wrong places, pointy in the wrong places

how old was she when she was “sexually assaulted’?

how old was she when she fought back with a hard, pointy elbow?

 

then he’s there, back from the car

she buys copies of the record that she doesn’t want

what can be done with hard facts that cannot be true?

 

outside the building, proof in her bag, she cannot fathom where she is

without him beside her, smoking, she forgets how to put one foot in front of the other

she forgets what she’s just read

he walks her by the river

new-but-old, familiar

wooden and staged

she holds her breath

she exhales

she inhales, too-quiet and extra still

 

she remembers being 11 years old, painfully awkward, never fitting in

playing Christmas songs on the French horn for tourists on the river

sharing the mouthpiece with her friend Eddie

his lost in the bottom of the river

lost

lost

 

a hippie coffee shop he found to impress her

amazing gluten-free pecan pancakes

he’s there, so she doesn’t disintegrate, doesn’t flatten into nothing on the spinning surface of the earth

each of them extra vulnerable and exposed

she asks about his mother’s death, he responds

not evading

he asks about her brother’s crime, she responds

what she forgot, what she can’t stand to remember

he’s an elephant caught, having remembered everything, he read every newspaper

familiarity as invitation, as threat

a wide, yawning, Texas landscape of guilt, separation and estrangement

 

she sits here with him, tasting and not tasting pancakes, espresso

on the razor blade of intimacy and running away

heart compressed, too-quiet and extra still

inside the fresh, frozen moment of waiting and timelessness

he: Look at that sweet morsel behind the counter.

she (do I say I’m writing about sexual trauma?): She’s too young, I can’t go there.

(sit and wait)

he: I hooked up with Carrie a few years ago. It wasn’t worth it.

she: What wasn’t worth it?

he: Sex without love.

longing

dare she say that she too wonders about love-making, how-to

now, after years, decades

writing

meditating

processing

she’s not the girl she used to be

now maybe soft in the right places, pointy in the right places

she: If my wife ever leaves me, I’m going to find a hot, rich, older man to take care of me.

he, under his breath: Well, I better start working out and win the lottery, then.

they laugh, wooden and staged

longing

isolation, loneliness

she tastes the power of being unattainable, ideal and, very likely, toxic

 

that’s the closest they get to talking about what happened between them (maybe what’s still happening)

when he was in love

when she was in defense, her body a fortress shielding her, too-quiet and extra still

sex only a thing to do

to fortify her self-worth

to acquire security and power

to stay safe within inviolable roles, wooden and staged

hers: never say no, be the best she can be

his: persistently seek genuine intimacy, all ways, always

did he know she didn’t know how to be there?

if yes, why did he do it anyway?

if no, was she that good? or was he simply too driven by need to notice?

or was he powerless in the wake of her too-fresh history?

(that long history of needing and not needing between them)

and so, they missed each other, over and over

 

in 1994 she fled Texas, never looking back

unresolved, unresolvable

brother in jail

family in church

unnameable longing, heavy and dense as an elephant

never looking back

but here the present

a fresh, frozen moment of waiting and timelessness

a wide, yawning, Texas landscape of guilt, separation and estrangement

 

no, she is gone

Red IV

P1010467

IV

She should have known better. She’d been there before. So many years ago that she could hardly remember, except it’s one of those things that you never forget. It’s not that she pretended it never happened, she learned from it, from her distance from it, from that little broken girl once full of the clear, pure innocence that lives in a human heart, full of longing and loneliness. When red red red shame hacked off her hands with a sharp axe, she wept over her own stumps, healing them with the purity of her tears. She ran far far away from the shame. Maybe she hoped to escape the shame, and maybe she did. Life went on as it always does. Eventually, she healed herself whole with finely-formed, but icy-cold, silver hands. She became a healer at the edge of the forest. She was known far and wide for her keen intelligence and cool healing touch.

Her warm, beating heart was full of longing and loneliness, but perhaps that is how it should be, how it functions best. She was tender that way.

He made himself useful. He chopped wood for the fire and cleaned all the dishes. He took out the trash. He told her everything, he remembered it as if it were yesterday; he was sorry. Also, it wasn’t his fault; as when he was only a pup, he too had been grabbed and shoved into shame-filled, shadowy, red red red corners. She looked into his big, brown, sorrowful eyes, and she believed him. And why wouldn’t she? She believed in the process of healing; she believed in his vow. Aren’t we survivors all taught to imagine ourselves capable of being completely healed and whole again? Hadn’t he suffered enough? Anyway, he had lost his right hand.

What happened next doesn’t need to be said, she invited him into her bed with her icy, silver hands. He may have complained of the chill; she may have complained of roughness. She was small, the woman with silver hands, not much bigger than a little girl with fragrant hair and thin arms and legs, just older. He told himself he wasn’t pretending with her, and maybe he wasn’t. She told herself that she could actually relax with him, and maybe she did (except when it hurt). Sometimes she would swear that she could actually feel the warm softness of his pelt through her silver hands. It was complicated that way.

When the woodcutter broke down the door in the middle of the night, the woman with silver hands was terrified. She reached for his soft body in the bed, not finding him. He had left her alone in the bed to hide naked and trembling in his guilt and fear. The woodcutter knew everything, knew it as if it were yesterday … there was a little girl on this edge of the forest, a beautiful princess; the wolf had invited her into his lap where he smelled her hair, marveled over her warm fingers, and petted her thin arms and legs with his stump.

The wolf ran naked in the night through the woods, trying to outrun the woodcutter, the woman with silver hands that he believed he loved, the taste of beautiful princesses, and red red red.

Maybe the woodcutter was wearing a cloak made by her Grandmother. Maybe the wolf got away, maybe the woodcutter finished the deed. The woman with silver hands at the edge of the forest never heard the end of the story, only how he disappeared into some shame-filled, shadowy corner. He was the one that got away, the one that wasn’t healed by his vow not to waste his chance nor by her cool healing touch. Her silver hands, having failed, turned to lead, as heavy as her heart. She found she could no longer lift them, much less live up to her fame. She hid in the house she had opened to him, wandering through the spaces hollowed out by betrayal. She wept over her heavy, useless, lead hands. She wept for years. Of course, we lose all sense of time in grief, in horror. Perhaps she fell into a gap between times. When she re-emerged from the gap, her hands were warm, supple flesh again. She couldn’t consider why, or what happened, she could only put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, like we always do.

The clear, pure innocence of her warm, beating, human heart was still full of longing and loneliness … and sometimes loathing, but perhaps that is how it should be, how it functions best. She was human that way. She returned to her work, her keen intelligence, her special healing touch. She became known for her insight, the eyes that see, the hands that know; she remembered everything as if it were yesterday. It’s one of those things that you never forget. What do you do with a memory that you didn’t want in the first place? She couldn’t very well bury it in a Tupperware somewhere. She rebuilt her home at the edge of the forest. She took her time. She got a pitbull and explored the woods, taking refuge in the quiet, the play of sunlight as it passed through leaves dancing in the breeze, the company of birds and singing, squirrels chittering among branches, the fecund scent of rotting wood and moist earth, the sudden surprise whiff of a hidden flower. She had the idea that one day she’d go looking for him, and maybe she did. And she told the story once to a woman in a red cloak making her own way, bloody and sore, through the wood, so that I could tell you.

Red III

P1010384

III

He knew, of course, that this is not how the story was supposed to go. He knew that he was to die, not get away with only a bloody stump. He knew it as a just punishment for stealing that which cannot be seen, that which can never be recovered, and vowed not to waste this chance. He licked his wounds and cared for them in the snow in the deep wood away from eyes that see, that know. Eventually, spring came as it always does and again. He told himself how he chewed off his own paw to save himself from the trap of beautiful princesses and red red red. He hid from the little girl and her renewed explorations in the forest. He moved farther and farther away from what had been his home. He was self-sacrificing that way. Of course, we lose all sense of time when running away. Maybe he fell in the gap between times, between trees in the deep wood. When he re-emerged from the gap, she was there, another girl, no, a woman, a woman with silver hands who was kind and who saw the sadness and loss in his eyes, in his stump, and who took him home.

Red II

P1010510

II

Grandmother should have known better. She’d been there before. What she failed to remember was old news, really. So many years ago that she could hardly remember, except it’s one of those things that one never forgets. Besides, where could she put a memory that she didn’t want in the first place, that she didn’t want to remember? How could she learn from something that she had to pretend never happened?

So she had invited the wolf in, he had made himself useful. He chopped wood for the fire and cleaned all the dishes. He took out the trash. When she got sick, he had pushed her bed closer to the fire to keep her warm and kept her tea and soup hot and ready.

When the knock came at her door, she knew her granddaughter was coming. She invited her in without leaving the bed. She was sick after all. Of course, he’s the one that opened the door. And the little girl was surprised, she hadn’t even realized that she was no longer walking with her wolf. He was “her” wolf now, she was sure. He still had her basket; he was smiling as he opened the door wider for her. In she went, laughing because she could feel her power over him.

What happened next doesn’t need to be said. It was all red red red and muzzled screaming.

By the time she crawled, bloody and sore, into the bed next to Grandmother, the wolf was long gone. Although the little girl couldn’t talk, Grandmother knew. She remembered everything as if it were yesterday. But she was sick and couldn’t move and could do nothing. She did the best she could; she told her granddaughter to forget it ever happened and kissed her tears away. They ate the dinner packed in the basket, and, although it was already getting dark, the little girl wanted to go home.

She ran home where she could say nothing to her mother about the wolf. And so life went on, as it always does, Grandmother got better and the little girl did not play in the wood. When she saw him, she would run away, sometimes he’d let her go, sometimes he’d grab her, shoving her into another shame-filled, shadowy, red red red corner.

One day, the little girl returned to the wood; she was ready. She tried to remember how she used to play, how she’d enjoy her naked skin in the forest air, how she’d follow the tiniest trail to a fox’s den, and how she’d sing back to the birds. She could feel something about her was broken a little, but she kept trying. She was brave that way.

The wolf smiled at her toothily when he encountered her. He had the idea she’d come looking for him and maybe she had. She was ready this time. He came to her and out from under her cloak came a knife; she’d stolen it from her mother’s kitchen. It was heavy and sharp and she went for his panting smile. She cut him, not mortally, but just so. And the wolf howled in pain as he ran away.

He took his wound to Grandmother for care. He lied about what happened, of course, but she remembered everything as if it were yesterday. When she came to him, she was ready and precise. She was determined that way. And for herself and her granddaughter and for all the girls that could remember only red red red, she cut off the paw that reached for her before pushing him out into the snow, bleeding.

Although Grandmother knew there would be other wolves, she felt vindicated a little bit in that moment. Perhaps it was not kind, perhaps it was just, perhaps not. She tucked the paw into a Tupperware and buried it in the bottom of a locked trunk. Eventually, the red red red trail in the snow melted away from sight, as it always does, and Grandmother lived to tell the story, she remembered everything as if it were yesterday, so that I could tell you.

Red I

P1010368

I

Once there was a girl, she was like any other girl, like me, like you—the clear, pure innocence that lives in a human heart. She was curious and adventurous, maybe excessively so in a society that still tends to blame the victim for forwardness, for lack of care and precautions. She loved the wood, the quiet, the company of birds and singing, the play of squirrels chittering among branches, the fecund scent of rotting wood and moist earth, the sudden surprise whiff of a hidden flower. She followed the tiniest deer trails just to see where they might go and discovered fawns curled up against their doe-eyed mothers. More than once, her silent bare feet enjoying the cool damp of the earth took her, quiet and watchful, to places unknown and marvelous in the deep wood.

The first time she saw him in the wood, she knew him. He had been to dinner in her home; he was a friend. He had told her she was beautiful, that he liked her skin, her face, her arms, her legs. She liked it and why wouldn’t she? Aren’t we girls all taught to imagine ourselves the beautiful princess? One time he invited her into his lap where he smelled her hair and petted her thin arms and legs. Another time he dared her to allow the air and branches to touch her bare skin, so she moved out of reach and removed her clothing simply and elegantly, before running off into the wood. Oh, how she loved the feeling of the damp coolness on all the parts of her skin. She couldn’t help but make exploring naked in the woods a habit that she reveled in repeating over and over, giggling, with a deep knowing that she was no different really than the squirrels and the deer. She would climb trees and sit on the earth, feeling connected in unabashed nakedness.

When her grandmother got sick, she and her family had to take care of her. She had less time by herself playing in the wood. It got colder as it always does and she leaned into the feeling of cozy warmth inside her clothes contrasted with the prickly cold of the air on her face, fingers and bits of ankle. It’s true that when she was sent to take a basket of medicine and food warm from her mother’s oven to her grandmother, she was told to stay on the path, but they were her woods, her playground. She knew everything about it and was mesmerized by the sounds of leaves crunching underfoot. She was wearing her cloak, not just because her grandmother had made it, but also because its opening allowed for a delicious mix of warmth and cool sharp breeze in to tickle her exposed skin. Of course, children lose all sense of time in play, in woods. Perhaps she fell into a gap between times. When she re-emerged from the gap, she couldn’t find the basket. And then, there he was, big as life, gorgeous and peaceful, not what you’d expect from a wolf, with the basket in his mouth. She didn’t know to be afraid as she was friends with everyone else she’d met in the forest. He offered to walk with her.