I took the pain and I wrapped it in a ball. I swallowed the ball and buried it deep inside me, so deep it could not even cast a shadow on the wall of my forever filling room of internal horrors. Yet still my mouth filled with the remembered flavors of a man’s body, gagging me. I grew bulimic, trying to throw up my loss of innocence along with the memories I could not process because what happened, happened before I could talk. Preverbal rape doesn’t have to leave a mark, and the man doing it can tell himself, “It’s okay, babies don’t remember.” So, I grew and I gagged on the remembered scents and flavors I could not understand because I did not know men yet.
But I knew my body was not my own. It was an owned thing, a marketable thing, a bought and sold thing if only I stayed slim enough, pretty enough, pliant enough, quiet enough, young enough because these things are what a real man wants. I knew real men. They came home on their lunch breaks and pointed their wives in the direction of the bedroom and then rode them like two-dollar ponies at a fun fair. One wife prayed. All the kids watched through the key hole. “They’re going to make another baby,” my friend giggled when it was my turn to look. I never looked again. This wife’s praying hands ended my childish voyeurism because I could feel the desperation and despair as she lay there, eyes closed tight, her lips mouthing words only God could hear.
When I was six my mother said my face was beautiful and that my breasts would be set wide and that men would like that. She ran her fingers down my sternum, measuring the width with finger and thumb. I was already being groomed for market. She taught me how to look up and smile through my lashes, to act coy, because… Men would like that. She taught me to turn my head and smile in a leading way, and how to say just enough to start a conversation but then fade into smiling silence so the man had the floor to talk about himself. She taught me to lose at games, to wear heals that made me slow, and skirts that showed my perfect legs. And when I grew fat, she turned her focus on my sibling.
I am the lucky one in this story. Though my whole life has been shaped by misogyny I am the one who believed she got out, I’m the one who believed she built a family, I am the one who wrote romance novels that didn’t end in marriage, I raised my son to be a good man who respected women, and I am the one who believed I had honored my own voice fully and completely, yet never realized that I was so silenced by my culture that my screams for help where barley more than a whisper. Maybe in the end, I became that good wife pliantly pinned on her back, praying.