Even though I clearly hear #YesALLWomen and #NotOkay, I feel alone.
Even though my beloved GOP-voting friends hear it too, I feel alone.
Even though strong, conscious men bear witness, I feel alone.
And even though I live with a husband and sons who admire and support me, I feel alone.
This makes no sense, I say to myself…
And so I delve even deeper into my alone-ness and ask:
Who is it that is alone?
This is what I hear:
I am alone, says my little girl self, in her rocking chair… Daddy scares me with his deep, angry voice.
I am alone, she says, when I’m asked to hug and kiss every adult who comes to visit.
I am alone, says my child self, when daddy tells me to pull down my pants so that he can spank my bare bottom.
I am alone, she says, when I climb the hanging rope in gym class and feel something powerful between my legs, but no one ever talks about it.
I am alone, says my girl self, when I hear my mother and her friends complain about the fat on their bellies.
I am alone when I look down at my own belly and wonder what’s wrong.
I am alone when daddy says: “Smile. Hold in your stomach,” when he snaps our photo.
I am alone when he says “It’s a good thing that you’re going to be petite because guys don’t want wives taller AND smarter than them.”
I am alone, says my teenage self, when I face my first menses, in the contempt of silence.
I am alone, she says, when I stuff toilet paper in the crotch of my swimsuit at summer camp.
I am alone, she says, when I begin to feel sexual desire but don’t know what to do with it.
I am alone when an older relative confides that her older brothers used her body when she was a child.
I am alone when my Junior High classmates grab my best friend’s breasts in the hallway of the auditorium.
I am alone when that same friend confides that her stepfather sticks his tongue in her mouth and puts his penis in her hands.
I am alone when I insist she tell her mother, and when she tells her mother and her mother slaps her.
I am alone when her stepfather smacks her across the face outside the movie theater because we were talking to boys.
I am alone when her mother helps me chart my cycle, and helps me with my sewing project, and mocks me as she wraps the measuring tape around my chest. “You’re so flat,” she says.
I am alone when I have my first boyfriend, but I’m not ready to kiss.
I am alone when my grandmother confides her dreams of working at the United Nations, derailed by pregnancy and marriage.
I am alone when my mother never shares any dreams.
….When all the women I love are alcoholics.
…When my uncles begin commenting on my weight, my shape, my attractiveness.
…When my mother chides me to put on a bra, tells me that I look like a cow.
…When a friend of the family comes to stay and gives me the nickname: Thunder Thighs.
I am alone when the priest tells me that I can’t hold my boyfriend’s hand across the cafeteria table in the same highschool where a teacher is sleeping with a student.
…When I watch a male classmate put a mirror on his show and sidle up to girls in the cafeteria, while the other guys laugh.
…When Sister Henrietta measures our dress length with a ruler and stands at the top of the stairs to remove our cardigans (because they’re not part of the uniform.)
…When there is no access to birth control or education or talk about birth control at my school or among my peers.
…When I over hear my father and grandfather talk about a childhood friend’s recent abortion.
…When I hear that my father joked about putting a birth control pill in my orange juice when I was a toddler.
I am alone when he and I paint the sign for my uncles’ new restaurant: The Happy Hooker. My first waitressing job.
I am alone when grown men, even friends of the family, start hitting on me.
I am alone, in the morning after sleepovers, when girlfriends whisper that they were forced–by friends, boyfriends, one night stands–and we all nod our heads and never say: rape–because we aren’t those kind of girls; the ones under the boardwalk, raped by strangers; because they went where you aren’t supposed to go; and wore what you aren’t supposed to wear; But still, something feels wrong, inside, even so.
I am alone when I watch my boyfriend, face to face, with another girl, on stage, eating a pretzel, biting their way toward each other, until their lips touch.
I am alone, at that same party, when he puts me on the floor, in the center of the crowd, and lays on top of me, thrusting his drunken tongue inside my mouth.
I am alone when we abruptly leave that same party, and other parties, because someone looks at me or talks to me or because I smile at one of his friends.
I am alone at a moonlit beach party when he insists that we have sex in the car even though there are people walking by on the way to the bonfire.
…When he keeps his hand on my head so that I swallow.
…When I face the terror of pregnancy and the hot shame of abortion, twice, at 16.
…When he tells me about his lifeguard friends–how they keep a log book of what they do with the girls they bring up to their apartment. The apartment over the Ob/Gyn office. The one dubbed: The Gyno Club.
I am alone when my father turns toward my mother and says that I’d be a “10” if I had straight hair.
I am alone when he says that it’s a wife’s job to keep her husband by making sure she always looks good.
I am alone when my father pounds the kitchen table and says to my mother: Your life must revolve around mine.
I am alone when he tells me to go to college “to meet people” since my main role will be wife and mother.
…When he is outraged that I haven’t learned how to make mash potatoes from scratch, and when I ask if he knows how, he says: Making mashed potatoes isn’t his job.
I am alone when I never hear my mother say No about anything.
I am alone when he hits me because I do. Across the face. Three times. Knocking me to the floor. Giving me a black eye.
When my mother comes down the stairs and scolds me instead of comforts me.
…When I watch her disappear behind her eyes.
…When she has an affair.
…When she tells me about the daughter she gave up before in the year before she met my father.
I am alone, in my twenties when my sister calls to say that there is blood on the dashboard of our stepfather’s car, passenger side.
I am alone at a frat party, when one of my boyfriend’s “brothers” asks me to dance only to confide that there is a contest to dance with the ugliest girl, but he doesn’t mind losing if he can dance with me.
I am alone when my boyfriend, jealous, drags me out of the dance, pushes me against the wall and puts his hands around my throat; and I shake my head “No,” embarrassed, to passing classmates who pause to ask if I need help, and in their drunkenness, keep going.
I am alone when I tell my boyfriend that I want to travel (and see other guys.)
I am alone when he pulls me out of my going away party, lifts me up, and drunkenly drops me onto my head on the driveway.
I am alone when my father tells me that his girlfriend (the tall one, with the straight hair) has breasts as big as mine, only she’s better proportioned.
…When he tells me I’m an awful daughter because I don’t come to his new place to do his laundry and make him meals.
…When he tells me I am too heavy (loose some weight), too pale (get some sun), too serious (smile.)
…When he tells me that if I cried to my stepmother she might like me more.
I am alone when an old man grabs my breast in Paris.
I am alone when I return from my travels, and my highschool sweetheart starts pulling away.
I am alone when he tells me to unbutton my cardigan to show more cleavage at the nightclub.
I am alone when he’s furious with me at the beach because I cover up my bikini before we walk past the lifeguard stands.
I am alone when he chooses another woman “who gives good head and has a body that could stop traffic.”
I am alone when friends confide that they’ve kept their virginity until their wedding day, while providing blow jobs to their Catholic boyfriends.
I am alone when an older, married customer starts sending me flowers, buying me jewelry, and calling me in the middle of the night, telling me he loves me.
I am alone when I want sex but don’t want a reputation.
I am alone when I realize that even a good friend can be a threat if he is drunk and wants sex.
I am alone when I say Yes to avoid rape.
I am alone when I spend the night with a male companion, whose mind I adore, who tells me that he never spends the night with a girl, without sex, and that I am the exception.
I am alone when we share our favorite music with each other, and he tells me that he doesn’t listen to female artists.
I am alone when he tells me that I’ve grown too thin, that he likes women with a belly.
I am alone when a colleague tells me not to eat pizza because I’ll get big hips.
When another tells me that I didn’t get as fat as he’d heard I’d gotten.
I am alone when a colleague approaches me in the office at school and says that he never realized what big tits I had until he saw me on the beach over the weekend.
I am alone when another male colleague over hears this and asks if I want to submit one of those new sexual harassment complaints. I don’t.
I am alone when another colleague confides that a fellow teacher talks to our male students about my ass.
I am alone when I decide to stay in my hometown to raise a family just as a new bar opens at the foot of the bridge: C R Fannies.
I am (really) alone when I want to keep my name after marriage.
I am alone when I ask the Ob/Gyn what I can do to best prepare for pregnancy, and his suggestion is that I get pregnant by September so that I can be back in a bikini for my husband by June.
I am alone when I miscarry, twice.
…When my father tells me that on a scale of 1 to 10, my miscarriage is only a 3.
…When the family minister agrees, suggesting that what I’m really grieving is a childhood loss.
I am alone in my thirties, when blurry memories of men appear, beside me, behind me, in bed, in a corner.
I am alone when my younger sister confides her own, clearer memories. I am alone when I guess at the faces and names of a neighbor, and of an uncle, before she says them aloud. I am alone without our parents outrage.
I am alone three weeks after the baby is born, visiting my dying mother at the hospital, when my physican father says, “You look good, Babe, but you need to lose some weight.”
I am alone when my husband is afraid to take paternity leave because no other man has done so.
I am alone when I can’t leave the baby with strangers and go back to work.
I am alone when my husband’s sexual desires become obligations.
I am alone when I realize that women’s sexuality has been subjugated.
I am alone when my father jokes about the inadequacies of his wife’s breasts.
I am alone when my father says that Hooters is his favorite restaurant because of the wings. I am alone when he takes his grandchildren there.
I am alone when we go camping with other preschool parents, and the husbands insist their wives to get their tubes tied “after the next baby, since they will already be at the hospital.” And when I tell them what my father tells me–that a vasectomy is a simple office procedure, while a tubal ligation requires the administration of general anesthesia (always a risk)–they respond just as adamantly–What if my wife dies one day and I get remarried and want to have more children?
I am alone, in my forties, when I realize that I’ve lost my own pulse.
…when my father no longer comments on my appearance.
…when no man comments on my appearance.
I am alone when a friend’s husband uses a hug on Christmas Eve to rub his hands up and down my body, and I say, nothing.
I am alone when I hear that another friend’s husband says that I have the body of a porn star.
I am alone when my baby sister’s boyfriend whispers to her that I’m a MILF.
I am alone when I hear another acronym, GILF.
I am alone when Farrah Fawcett dies before she stops trying/needing/wanting to be sexy.
I am alone when I am the only one with greying hair at large events back home, even among women the same age, and plenty much older.
I am alone when I have to explain to my sons that they can’t respond physically to their frustration or anger in my proximity because of our gender difference.
I am alone, at 51, this time last year, when I have to explain to my husband–that even though I have traveled the world, by myself, I can’t use the bathroom at the rest stop off the highway, after midnight, unless he accompanies me to the door, and watches while I check, yes, each of the stalls, and remains outside, yes, until I use the toilet, yes, even as I wash my hands, and yes, then waits to walk me back to the car, even if he really needs to pee bad and even if, and especially because, the door to the men’s room is on the other side of the poorly lit, unattended building. I am alone when he is amused by my requests.
I was alone last summer when the ferry captain asked if he could have a hug too, and taken off guard, and wanting to be friendly, I oblige, and I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure, and of course, I’m sure: he just brushed his hand across my ass, and I don’t say anything because. awkwardness. and family. and friends. and embarrassment. and especially because he is driving the ship that i’m riding.
I was alone last night when I sat on the couch, by myself, and watched as the first woman candidate for President of the United States took the stage across from a man who bragged about sexual assault.
I was alone when no one else in my house sensed how important this moment was, or how personal it was.
I was alone, and I was with every woman.
To my little girl, my child, my teenager, my young adult, my young mother and my middle-aged self, and to all of you, I want to say: I am here, you are not alone.
We are all here, weaving together the alone-ness of so many years and so many lifetimes and so many histories.
We are heard.