The Men Who Won the Presidency

By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Laura Fuller

 

Gentlemen of the city, what surprises you?

That there is suffering here, or that I know it?

—Annie Dillard

I’m from Iowa, but I lived in New York because I was in graduate school. I didn’t love my day job, but I loved and respected my boss. The company rented space in an office building near Penn Station, ten or fifteen floors accessible only by elevator.

After work one summer evening, I got on the elevator at the third floor, even though it was quite full. A group of nearly a dozen men from another business offered jovially to step aside for a lady. The oldest man closely resembled KFC’s Colonel. The majority were middle-aged men who looked ahead from under their shiny, tanned foreheads. With them rode a small handful of young men, maybe college or even high school student interns. Maybe it was Bring Your Kid to Work Day. Watch and learn, sons.

All of the men were white. All wore work-casual attire.

There was a feeling of levity in the air of this tightly closed space. Maybe it was Friday. I seem to remember something about golf.

When I stepped onto the elevator, they laughed, miming exaggerated gallantry and pretending to be my escorts to the ground level, rather than a crowd of strange men in a small space. I laughed along, even as the man standing behind me took the joke to some planet where it felt fun and funny for him to put his hands on my shoulders. He gave me a very real, very unwanted massage as a joke in the series of Jokes About Men as Protective Escorts and Not Predators. The punch line here was something like Relax— you’re safe here.

I kept laughing as I wriggled free, but I did not turn around.

The doors opened on the second floor, and jocularity spilled forth onto one of my coworkers, who waited for the elevator with his bike. My wide eyes registered his surprise. He seemed confused: What great fun was happening, and how did it involve me? He didn’t join us.

The doors closed again, and I began to realize what had happened, that I wanted to tell the man behind me that it’s wrong to give a woman a backrub when she hasn’t asked for one. But before I could speak, the men had flooded past me, off the elevator and out onto the sidewalk.

I stood a stupefied moment, then walked swiftly toward the door to catch them. But they were already gone—across the street or dispersed in all directions. They looked like everyone else on the sidewalks.

I walked downtown without a destination, and my horror grew: everyone in the elevator saw what happened, and no one stopped it. I couldn’t report the guy if I didn’t know who he was. Anyway, it was my fault. It couldn’t have been wrong if I’d laughed with him. Maybe I had asked for a backrub.

In the days that followed, I told a coworker who told my boss—a man. After reviewing the security tape, my boss took me to breakfast and asked me, in all seriousness, whether I’d feel better if the man who gave me a backrub in an elevator lost his job.

I talked it over with a friend who was my superior in the workplace. She couldn’t believe I would even consider taking this guy’s job. This stuff is dumb, she conceded, but it happens, and I should put it behind me. He probably had a wife and kids. Don’t ruin his life.

I let him go unpunished.

•••

A few months later, my partner and I traveled to the Midwest for the wedding of one of his old friends. It was fall, and I wore a fabulous midnight blue dress with a ruffle and puffy sleeves. I wore some equally fabulous hose—pearly and translucent with thin, black, vertical stripes.

After some dancing, we headed to the bar for a refill. My partner chatted with the pastor who’d married the couple. While I awaited my drink, I overheard the pastor congratulating my date on my “naughty-girl stockings.”

I wished that my partner had told him off, but instead he moved me away from the bar before I could douse this man of God with his own drink. I was deeply embarrassed. I wanted to speak up to the pastor or his wife, but my date stopped me, and his face was pained with that decision. This man was a minister, and I was the bride’s distant friend’s plus-one. What would people think? There was no need to make a scene.

When I later found the pastor on Facebook, I drafted and deleted message after message. I wanted to tell him, “I know what you said about me. I know what you say when you are not speaking to a congregation. I know how you really are.”

I wanted to tell the newly married couple about him, but my partner and close friends advised against it. I would cheapen the newlyweds’ vows, sully their wedding memories, and help myself not at all. I stayed quiet.

•••

Before the elevator and the wedding reception, I went to a clinic on the Upper West Side. I’d been in the neighborhood numerous times for work or to visit the American Folk Art Museum, and it had never occurred to me, not once, that I might be in danger there. Drivers, pedestrians, tourists, businesspeople, hot dog vendors, and wealthy New Yorkers everywhere—too many witnesses.

Buzzed in through the clinic’s locked door, I followed the nurse to the exam room with artless walls and rude fluorescent light. She pointed to a table covered with a white paper sheet and said that I could either remove all of my clothing from the waist down, or remove just my shoes and underwear and pull up my skirt. Either way, I was to cover my legs with a paper blanket and sit down. The doctor would be with me shortly.

I tucked my underwear into my purse and sat on the table with my skirt puffed at my elbows.

I turned when I heard the door open. A short man wearing navy blue scrubs entered the room, followed by a nurse. The doctor had dishwater hair, blue eyes. He shook my hand—I noticed his bandaged thumb—and we exchanged smiles. He confirmed my name and that I’d come to the clinic for IUD insertion.

The doctor asked how I was doing, and I told him I was a little nervous.

I expected to hear, There’s nothing to be afraid of. Instead, he said, “Who are you having sex with?”

He asked how long I’d been with my boyfriend, and I made up a figure. “About four months?”

His voice was hard. “Are you sure?”

“About which part?”

“Well, you know why I’m asking, don’t you.”

I didn’t. “Because this is a long-term solution?”

“Well, yeah. And four months isn’t very long.” His face suggested that he shouldn’t need to explain this.

He asked, “Do you know what happens if you get an STD with one of these things?” Before I could answer, he said, “You’re screwed.”

I nodded.

“You’re screwed.

I looked down at my hands clasped in my lap, thumbs twiddling, then gripped the sides of the table. I was half naked and covered with a big paper towel. I rubbed my feet together. The paper crinkled.

He went on: “I mean, you catch gonorrhea or chlamydia and you’re infertile. You’re completely screwed. So I’ll ask you again: Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” and my voice was annoyingly timid. I cleared my throat, “I’ve known him a long time, like, from before we were dating … and even before that, I wouldn’t, I’ve never been … in a non-monogamous, I just, I’m not worried about that.”

The doctor turned away from me as I spoke. I was still stammering when he cut me off, “Okay, if you have any reason—any reason—to believe your monogamy has been compromised, that you’ve been exposed to an STD, you come in here immediately. Do you understand me?”

I was taller than him from where I sat on the table, but I felt as if I were looking up at him.

“I’m going to do this for you anyway,” he conceded. “I’m going to do it because you’re affluent.”

A pause.

“You’re affluent, and you look smart. You don’t look like some sixteen-year-old on the street who just wants an IUD because she’s bored of taking the Pill.” He mocked this hypothetical girl and meant to compliment me for being unlike her, for having insurance.

He sat down on a wheeled stool and gestured for me to put my feet up, but he was still talking to me. I spread my legs from the knees down, not wanting to expose myself while he seemed, for some reason, angry. I sat propped up on my hands, with my knees stuck together but my feet apart, heels in stirrups.

He put on latex gloves. The nurse handed him a blue kit full of scissors and other shiny, sharp tools. He pointed to a small black lamp next to him, positioned it to shine light between my legs, and said, “We had a woman used to work in here, black as this lamp, five-foot-nine, thin, just beautiful. I mean this woman was put on this earth to make babies because it would make us all a more beautiful race—heh-heh—but you know what? Her reproductive organs are worthless. Like sacks of pus inside her body. You know why?”

I answered the question to prove I had read the brochure: “Because she had an IUD and it got infected?”

“Yep. Sacks of pus, just worthless.” He shook his head to reiterate the tragedy of the beautiful, infertile woman, then noticed that I was still upright. His face conveyed annoyance.

“All right now, lay back.” He tapped my knees and instructed me to let them fall to the sides and relax.

“Scoot forward. Yeah—to the edge of the table. Now we’re doing the Mirena, right? Not the copper kind?”

I said yes. I could only see the top of his head.

“Good,” he said, “The other kind sucks.” He laughed like we shared the joke. “But you know who loves it? Hispanics, the Mexican-American women. They come in here asking for it by name.” He said women who speak Spanish prefer the copper IUDs, which, I’d read, were perfectly effective and lasted ten years to Mirena’s five, because they were a “knock-off brand.” He trailed off into a chuckle and I felt compelled to do the same, seeking safety in the muscle memory of a doctor’s orders routine, even though this did not feel familiar.

I turned my head to the right to see the nurse, herself Latina, arranging tools on the counter, facing the wall. I failed to stand up to the doctor seated between my knees.

“Okay, you’re going to feel a cold mist. That’s an antiseptic,” he warned, and his voice was suddenly gentle. “And then a bit of a pinch and pressure. That’s a local anesthetic. It’ll make the rest a lot more comfortable.”

While he warned me, I worked to believe that I’d been misreading him. Really, he must mean well. He was a doctor.

The antiseptic spray was cold.

He asked me where I was from, and when I said Iowa he threw his head back in laughter. “Oh! So you’re out here chasing your dreams, are you? Did you follow your dreams to New York City?”

There was a sudden pressure from inside of me, and a pinprick. “That’s the anesthetic,” he said.

Rather than defending my home state, I added that I lived abroad last year. I wanted to impress him with Dubai. (A dull push from inside my abdomen. Odd pressures, something moving inside me.)

When prompted, I coughed, and he slipped something into me, fast.

“But Dubai sucks, doesn’t it?”

I heard myself say that I would not like to live there again, a true statement that, in this light and this air, sounded like betrayal. I said I was glad to come home, that it felt better to live where food grows naturally. He approved of my explanation: “You’re funny.” I hadn’t made a joke.

He said Dubai seemed like a worse version of Las Vegas to him. “I’ve known a lot of people who have moved to Vegas, and you know what they always do?”

He waited, forcing me to ask him, “No, what?”

“They come crawling back.”

He shoved his stool backwards from the table, smiling triumphant. “Would you believe that’s it?” He removed his gloves. I sat up immediately.

The doctor boasted, “Now what was that, like three minutes?”

I blinked.

“I had an attending physician in med school who took twenty minutes to put in an IUD, and it hurt, you know?”

Blink.

“Yeah, but that didn’t hurt, right?”

Silence.

“Right. You wanna know the secret? You numb ’em up. It’s that local anesthetic. You numb up the cervix and you can—” He saw horror spread across my face. “I can do whatever I want.”

He went on to tell me warning signs to look out for after the procedure. “But right now?” he said. “It’s beautiful.” He laughed like he’d won a game.

He shook my hand again, and I said slowly and clearly, “Thank you.” I looked in his eyes. I meant it.

•••

Some days later, I printed paperwork from the state of New York to report this doctor. But I didn’t send it. Instead, I felt tremendous guilt and shame, internalized all fault for the things he’d said to me, thought briefly about killing myself, and found a therapist.

He can do whatever he wants.

•••

I am a smart woman with a good life. I have a good job and kind friends, a supportive partner and a safe home. I am in good health. I enjoy privileges I did nothing to earn.

Nonetheless, my life would be better if I had not been assaulted in my workplace, abused while seeking medical care, or reduced to a sexual object by a man who teaches morality.

My neighborhood in Brooklyn was full of people of many races and social classes. There were small children in strollers. High schoolers stood self-consciously in circles. Drunken men hung around outside the liquor store. There were many languages in the air. Cops walked the beat. From my bed I heard loud parties and midnight basketball games. I even heard a gunshot once. I was surrounded by things I’d been taught to distrust and fear. Nothing bad ever happened to me there.

The only men who have abused me are men I was taught to trust without question. They are men who know no consequences, men whose inner goodness is implied by their career choices, their age, their affluence, their skin color.

Time and again, these are the men who have caused me to think that perhaps I was not good or smart or worth my own life. Although I was allowed to speak up about their missteps, and people may have even listened to me if I’d done so, social pressure made me think better of making a fuss.

If the businessman’s employer or the church or the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct had issued some reprimand for these men, traditional wisdom told me, I would undo their lives of otherwise perfect service: These men do not deserve a second chance; they deserve a never-ending first chance.

My silence came from the supposition that these men were as good as it gets. If these men were not our businessmen, our doctors, our pastors, we might just have to do without commerce, without care, without God.

I now understand my decision to over-pretend at normalcy, to thank the doctor, to keep quiet: It seems this doctor has been elected president. So has the pastor. So has the businessman.

Years ago, Donald Trump said into a microphone that he cannot resist kissing women he thinks are beautiful, and that he can do this without the women’s permission because he is famous. He can “grab them by the pussy.” He can do anything he wants.

When asked about these statements in a debate, Trump shrugged off all criticism. “Don’t tell me about words,” he said.

Americans hold dear a sweet trope about childhood: When you grow up, you can be anything you want. You can be a farmer or an actor or a teacher. You can be a doctor. You can be a pastor. You can be a businessman. You can be the president. It’s hopeful.

Trump heard this promise and thought he understood, but he needs someone to tell him about words. When he was promised you can be anything you want, it seems young Donald heard you can do anything you want.

•••

This essay used to be confident and indignant. It used to declare, if you want to be the president, you must do service for the people you wish to govern and treat them with respect. It is best not to do things that amount to sexual assault and brag about these activities. If you do that—let me tell you about these words—you cannot be the president.

I was wrong. This man is the president. Each day we awake to the new horrors his reign has brought, and we punch as if blindfolded. More crises will come, but I do not know just what these will be.

I do know that to speak of men’s abuses of power is more important today than it was before the election.

I know that my silence about such abuses means harm to those whose identities render them mute to the ears of those in power. Even when I am not the direct beneficiary of my own actions, I am responsible for the world around me. We share everything.

I know my own family, people who would never identify as racists or sexists, voted for Trump nevertheless. I try to hold up the fact of Trump’s election and get a good look at it. I know it’s gravely important that we work to understand. For unknown reasons, this is most difficult in the mornings.

•••

I’ve made the strange decision to throw myself at gardening. I planted bulbs in my rented front yard despite the fear that many would be dug up by squirrels or eaten by rabbits before they could bloom in the spring. I set paperwhites in the windows all around my house, inspired by their ability to bloom without soil, to bloom especially when I needed them most, as snow flew outside and the whole world seemed dead. In the darkest days of winter, I bought a houseplant that is a carnivore. This plant nurtures itself by eating its pests. I found its hunger beautiful, and I hung it in my kitchen.

•••

Despite bruised hope and disillusionment, the end of this essay remains:

My great-great-grandmother sent a song down through the generations. In a mock-operatic voice, the women of my family have used this song to goad our brothers and husbands: “Let the women do the work, do the work, and the men lie around, around, around.”

Yes, let’s.

•••

LAURA FULLER is an Iowan and a pie enthusiast. She lives in Wisconsin, where she teaches English and writes essays. Her work has appeared in Misadventures and various other publications and has been featured in performance at Lincoln Center. She holds an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from The New School in New York.

Pin It

Beyond the Lonely Bench

By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

by Jena Schwartz

The writing in my head syncs with the rhythm of my gait as I walk through the familiar grounds—not familiar in that I’ve ever been inside of this ubiquitous, quasi-suburban condo complex, but in that I could get perfectly lost here. This evening, rather than going north towards the farm, I decided to go west, down the hill, then took a right and wandered into a backdrop unexpectedly perfect for feeling my way into something I didn’t know was waiting when I left the house: a memory, maybe, of who I used to be. A mirror of who I’ve become.

I’m walking, and I’m overcome with the need to find the way out. There must be a hidden path from the neat contours of this neighborhood into the semi-wilds of an in-town farm. I just know it—and I’m determined to discover it. I follow the winding sidewalks and cut through the cookie-cutter parking lots. I’m moving deeper and deeper into something, the way one might walk through a house in a dream. The further from the street I get, the grey-blue condos like a hall of mirrors, the more I move into the feeling of how I related, as a woman in my twenties, to women in their forties and maybe to other women, period.

When I was in my twenties, women in their forties seemed not old exactly, but… how can I put this? Like women.

There was something so foreign to me about the divorced ones. And also about the married ones, the ones with careers and husband and kids—all of these, really, lumped together in some category of grown-ups, of having figured something out that I had not and wasn’t sure I wanted to. A category of… Other. Other than what? Other as in mothers? Other as in adults, whatever that meant but was most definitely not me?

At twenty-five, I was newly married, completing the graduate degree that would mean little more than that I’d marked a few years’ time, written more poems, felt unseen by female professors, and wondered if my advisor and I were flirting or being literary at the Irish pub, his Guinness to my Diet Coke with lemon. (Was I afraid to drink, to let loose, of him or of myself?) And then there was the cigarette I’d scrub from my skin—hands, mouth—before turning to walk home to the tiny one-bedroom I shared on Summer Street with my new husband.

We moved to Vermont and I donned an official title as director of a small nonprofit, where I inherited a board of alumni and faculty that included some women in their forties. I was once again the girl among them, young, smart, small, and mighty—and regularly mistaken for an undergrad. Their lives seemed to me an unattainable blend of alien and enviable, far from mine for reasons I couldn’t name except to say that there was always some nagging—I’d feel it especially after running or sex—that I was longing for something. I began to name the longing “myself,” and this would go on for many years.

Walking tonight among these ubiquitous middle-class condos with their flowerboxes, a single lonely bench, automatic garage doors closing out the outside world, and decks turned inward rather than towards each other, the sensation comes rushing back and now I’m writing in my head in earnest. I’m forty-one and suddenly I realize that now I’m the woman in her forties.

She felt like a girl—I felt like a girl—because to really become a woman, to actually grow up, would require something of me big, scary, destructive and off-limits—something like cheating, like an affair and with another woman no less, like breaking all the goddamn rules, like making my own prayer books and play books and plans. And none of this would accommodate the sweet house with the French doors, the earth mama I also knew myself to be, the role as wife by way of the only models I knew, and the babies I knew were waiting for me. I could not reconcile the leaking breasts that would nourish then shrink back to perky young with the running with wolves and reading other people’s poems, never my own. And so I didn’t. I looked at other women and I looked at myself and one of us had, always, to be Other.

I’m flooded with the memory of running with him, my husband, through a golf course—a conventional landscape not all that different than these condos. There’s a full moon. We don’t have kids yet; I’ve never been pregnant. We are a year or so married and why am I so angry, so agitated, so full of rage that I have to stop right in the middle of that manicured green to scream a rare scream while he looked on, at once supportive and—I can only wonder now—befuddled?

Do I still feel like a woman in her twenties filled with longing? No. I am the woman in my forties now. And yes, toobecause I carry this girl-woman who really truly didn’t know how to become, to break open by breaking with what I’d been told, taught, and shown.

The parallel rhythms of writing and walking are now in full swing, having felt my way towards and indeed found my way to the path, the one I knew would free me from the condos into the wild of the farm’s back gardens, where lie row after row of stunning beauty, well-kept secrets finally revealed.

I’ve gained a few pounds since this latest round—I hope my last—of quitting smoking. And these few pounds on my small frame mark the difference between a more angular and an ever-so-slightly softer and fuller body. I am no longer a girl and no longer a child. I am no longer longing, at least not in that way that had me looking at all the women around me thinking, they are The Real Women.

How did I get here? By leaving the apartment I share with my wife of one year for a sunset walk alone. By going down the hill instead of up and taking a right instead of going straight. And finally, by walking towards the sun instead of turning my back for another minute on the light.

These are the ways I find my way to the path, the existence of which I only imagined and intuited. And there it is—beyond the lonely bench, and all those years of not belonging.

•••

JENA SCHWARTZ is a poet, writer, and facilitator, known for leading rich, safe, creative, and deeply nourishing online groups and real-life retreats. She is also co-founder of The Inky Path, an online writing school and community. Jena lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her kids, Aviva and Pearl, and her beloved wife, writer and artist Mani Schwartz.

I Will Put Your Poem on the Wall

textfist
By Andrew Mason/ Flickr

By Jenny Poore

I have a meeting with a senator in two days. A real senator, too, not a state one. They say that he’s very handsome in real life. Like, when they make lists of things like that, of handsome senators, he’s usually on that list so it’s been suggested and verified by multiple other people, not just me. As I write this, two days before I meet the handsome senator, I am aware of a giant red bump protruding from my face, sitting above my upper lip and below my nose.

I have been torn all week between messing with the zit and just leaving it alone. I want it to be invisible immediately, but to make it be invisible immediately you have to mess with it, touch it and, poke at it with concealers that thwart the fairly effective spot treatment gel that I sometimes must use. The alternative (leaving it alone) means that the medicine is free to do its work. But to do this, to make it go away faster, means to leave it unconcealed where I must confront it whenever I pass my reflection (in mirrors, shiny appliances, freshly washed windows.) My four year old reminds me of it. Mommy, there’s something red above your nose, she says although she means below my nose.

I got an email last night from the senator’s people; they would like me to introduce the senator to the group of women I am hosting. Can I prepare remarks? Of course I can, of course. I can certainly do that. Instead of thinking of my remarks, though, I wonder how many more coatings of medicine I can get on my face in two days to make the zit be gone.

•••

For several years, an evangelist lived across the street from us. He was a grade-A moron but he loved the lord, and in the city where I live, you don’t have to be smart to make people give you money and tell you you’re awesome—you just have to love the lord and encourage others to do the same. I’d walk past my window and see him across the street behind his screen door wearing nothing but a pair of tiny shorts, talking on the phone, and patting his soft belly. He’d yell into the phone loudly, quoting scripture I assumed, then he’d laugh and pat his belly some more, technically inside his house but he might as well have been outside you could see him so easily. He wore cheap suits and let his dog shit in all the neighbors’ yards. He was friendly and loud and stupid, and I couldn’t stand him. He was a man that takes up space and makes noise like there will never be a shortage of either.

•••

I’m meeting the senator because I run an organization that teaches young people how to love writing. He is a good senator, in addition to being handsome, and he is meeting with area businesswomen. My organization was founded by women and is run mostly by women, so it sort of makes sense.

Yesterday during a workshop, I was helping a girl who always comes to our workshops even though I don’t think she really likes them. Every time she’s there I end up trying to get her to finish whatever she started working on because she just tunes out. She acts like it’s school even though most kids act like it’s the opposite of school—like it’s fun and they’re there because they want to be there. The kids had been led through a series of exercises that left them with a handful of ingredients that they could readily bake into poems. She already had all her ingredients right there on the paper. The poem just had to be assembled, and all she had to do was write it down.

“Nah, I’m not doing it anymore. I hate doing this. I’m not writing.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked her. “You have everything right there—why won’t you write your poem? “

She’d been scribbling with her pencil, generally looking as disinterested as an eleven- year-old can look, crumpling up her paper and moving her chair around. She stopped suddenly and looked right up at me.

“You’re not going to hang it on the wall anyway even if I do.” She said this like it was a challenge.

Sometimes I hang the kids’ stuff on the wall. Not all the kids’ stuff, but some of it if they’re particularly proud of it or it’s especially funny or good or if I need to cover a crack in the plaster. I never thought that she’d noticed or cared but the mother in me realized I’d been played. Of course she cared. She just figured I didn’t.

“I will hang your poem on the wall. As soon as you are done writing it I will hang it on the wall. I promise.”

“Seriously?” Her eyes blazed.

“Seriously.” She sat down and wrote her poem.

•••

The stupid evangelist had a really sweet wife. She was young and fresh and seemed mostly resigned to the fact of her doom with this man. I was walking the neighborhood with my mother one night close to Christmas when we saw him in his front yard. Knowing that his sweet wife had gone into labor that morning, we asked after her and their new baby.

“Well, it’s a girl.” He said and paused. “But that’s okay. There’s always next time.” He waved half-heartedly and was gone before me and my stunned mother realized what he’d said and how much we hated him for it.

•••

When her poem was finished, I hung it on the wall. On her way out the door, she nodded her head as if she was thinking, “It’s about goddamn time.” I put it in a place where the senator will see it when he comes in two days. He’ll notice it either before or after we shake hands and either before or after he notices or doesn’t notice the zit that sits above my lip and below my nose. I have not written my introductory comments yet. I have another thirty-six hours of medication applications before I need to have those done.

I spend my time knowing that I have created something fairly good and interesting and that’s why a senator is coming. I’m wondering why I am thinking more about my face than that fairly good and interesting thing. The stupid evangelist would not be thinking of his face. He was told that he was awesome for so long that he easily believed it even though it was not true. That’s all it takes, maybe. You are awesome, you are awesome, you are awesome, and then you think you are. The stupid evangelist with his cheap suits and his easy maleness and the convenient religion that allowed him to be more than his sweet wife and their sweet new baby girl never flinched. He took up all that space and made all that noise, but that was all okay. He was awesome. People told him so.

Listen, because I need you to hear this: I will tell you that you are awesome. Unlike the evangelist, I will say it because it is true, because I mean it. You are awesome. You are the opposite of taking up space and making noise. You are the poet and the poem. You are the clean piece of paper, smooth, unmarked, waiting for the ingredients to be assembled. I will put you on the wall where the senator can see you, where the world can see you, where we can read you and celebrate you always. I will put your poem on the wall, I will always put your poem on the wall, and I will use the stickiest tape, and I will hang it in exactly the right place, I will do all this for you, I promise.

•••

JENNY POORE is a local education advocate and the director of the children’s writing non-profit WordWorks! She lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, with three kids, a husband, and a yellow dog named June Carter Cash. Two of her favorite things are coffee and Sherlock Holmes. You can read more of her stories and essays at www.sometimestherearestorieshere.com.

Bachelorette

bachelorette
By CosmoPolitician/ Flickr

By Sara Bir

The party, by definition, is not co-ed. That’s because it’s a bachelorette party, my first. I am skeptical. I’m a girl, but I don’t understand girl things. Like Anybodys, my favorite character from West Side Story, I prefer to hang out with guys. Of course, Anybodys didn’t fit in with the guys, either. Not because she was a girl, but because she was annoying. Even I know that.

The girls I ran with in high school dipped Cherry Skoal and climbed trees and swung from ropes into polluted rivers. This is not the agenda of the bachelorette party I will attend. The invitation says it’s an ’80s prom dress theme. We are to show up in obnoxious ruffled tulle gowns and tease our hair out as far as possible. The hostess assures me that there will be no male strippers.

The boys, for the bachelor party, will spend the following weekend camping. I envy them.

In middle school I peered, perplexed, over the shoulders of cheerleader classmates who thumbed through dog-eared issues of Your Prom and Seventeen. They scrutinized Jessica McClintock ads with billowing, candy-colored gowns on young models wearing white lace gloves. Sometimes if Mom took me back-to-school shopping, I’d wander from the Junior casual wear to the formals and eye the sequins and crinolines with suspicious longing. When the time came, I did go to prom, but my “date” was my friend Carrie, whose college boyfriend preferred to stay home. Carrie and I had a blast. I wore a feather boa and even shaved my armpits. Knowing I was in no danger of losing my virginity later that evening in a shared room at the Best Western helped.

The dress I wore that night still fits, but it’s not of the right era. Finding a suitable dress for the bachelorette party is problematic. After combing every thrift store in town, I realize the puff and sizzle of ’80s prom dresses faded from favor so long ago that only mid-’90s fashion populates the Goodwill and Salvation Army. I half-heartedly buy an unexceptional purple velvet halter dress, a pair of royal blue snakeskin spikes, and a large can of off-brand aerosol hair spray.

The other dozen bachelorettes arrive at the hostess’s San Francisco loft on party night. Many of them I know well already; the girlfriends of my boyfriend’s friends, they are kind and funny women who accepted me instantly when Joe and I began dating. But I’m used to our gang’s weekend meet-ups at music clubs or bars, and at this all-girl affair I can’t seem to settle in. Anxious, I have a few glasses of red wine with our spaghetti and meatballs dinner, and thus decide to stick with wine for the rest of the night. I have learned multiple times if an evening begins with red wine and moves to other, harder drinks, it never finishes well. But when the hostess brings out penis-shaped mini-cakes for dessert, I am too buzzed to remember my pledge, and I enthusiastically drink the icy, fruity-sweet pink concoction another bachelorette offers me.

The penis cakes are made from German chocolate cake mix, and they have toasted coconut icing between the cake scrotum and the cake penis for pubic hair. “I just love to put a big German chocolate cock in my mouth!” I say because the fruity pink drinks have made me especially witty, and the girls and I all laugh.

We change into our dresses and apply our makeup. I fumble with a curling iron and try to attempt the giant, fluffy bangs I was never able to nail during the real 1980s. After ten minutes I quit, stuck with a tangled coiffure that would better suit Ian McCulloch or maybe a homeless junkie. The bride wears an awful, white satin, floor-length dress with white sequins studding its halter top. It’s perfect. “Who knows,” she says, “maybe someone actually got married in this.”

The hostess collects money for the limo—twenty dollars a girl. I pay and resolve to be a good sport. Limos are for losers who want to feel important. We teeter down the stairs in our secondhand pumps and cram into the limo like glittery sardines. Right away the bride opens the sunroof and pops up, going Whoo! Some of us have to sit on each other’s laps. The driver looks at the jumble of girls before he closes the door, possibly thrilled, possibly terrified.

I am wrong about the limo. The limo is awesome. There’s a full bar and a bottle of Champagne and a kickin’ sound system and a built-in fish tank and an elaborate network of pulsing black lights that electrify the white elements of our costumes, rendering the bride trippily resplendent. We drink the Champagne and look out the tinted windows and see the twinkling city speeding by, then look at each other and grin and cackle. Some of us are mothers, some of us have masters degrees. I’ve never been with so many girls in such a small space. We do shots straight from the whiskey decanter and, with a rush, I sense our fundamental sisterhood, the universal manic sisterhood that makes girls flash their breasts and scream gleefully. Joyce Carol Oates and Janet Yellen and Margaret Thatcher could all be riding in the limo with us and they’d succumb to the collective, feminine Whoo in the face of alcohol and estrogen. I am no longer Anybodys skulking in an unexceptional purple velvet helter dress, but part of a fabulous multi-organism system of sparkles and curves, intoxicated with giddiness.

The driver lets us out right in front of the club. This is our red carpet. People take pictures of us with their phones. We strut to the will-call booth, past long lines of boring regular guys in pleated chinos who have nothing better to do than wait for half an hour to see a mediocre cover band. We came to make fun and have fun. We are the party.

We go straight to the bar. The bride wears a pink plastic shot glass on a string around her neck. On the shot glass are the words BUY ME A SHOT, I’M GETTING MARRIED, so two guys at the bar oblige. I want someone to buy me drinks. I want my awakening girl power to earn me free alcohol.

We hear music from the auditorium and, in a pack, run right in front of the stage. The band is called Tainted Love and has about seven members, all dressed in outfits way more ridiculous than ours—gimmicky costume-store stuff like fake fur ties and vinyl tank tops with designs of the Union Jack. They play “Come On, Eileen” and “Maneater” and we all dance and I dance, even if it’s to stupid Tainted Love and their try-hard wardrobe.

My bra bothers me. It’s strapless, with black lace and everything, and I never wear it. I bought it before I figured out that if you are an A cup and you don’t want someone to see your bra straps, just don’t wear a bra. Now the elastic cuts into my sides and chafes my skin, so I undo the clasp and launch it slingshot-style at Tainted Love. One of the keyboardists makes a beeline and whisks it away as if I’d thrown a Molotov cocktail or a dead possum. “Bite me!” I yell.

Then they play “I Wanna Be Sedated” (not an ’80s song) and because I love the Ramones I stop being mad at Tainted Love long enough to shout along and jump up and down until I wet myself a little. Incontinent already! I resolve to do Kegel excercises, and then start—hell, why not—right there on the dance floor.

But jumping up and down makes me hot and I forget about Kegels and tug at my black satin opera glove, accidentally pulling apart the sparkly bracelet I’m wearing over it. Rhinestones fly everywhere. I wish one would hit Tainted Love, but no such luck.

The bride is discontent. She’s crying and throwing ice from her drink at Tainted Love, who are playing “Unbelievable” (also not from the ’80s). “I hate this song!” she screams. It is our cue. We retreat to the bar. The bride sits on the hostess’s lap and then she’s straddling the hostess, and the two guys who bought her the shots look over with interest until the bride slides to the floor with a bump.

I notice plush phone booths in the lobby and dash into one, because suddenly it is incredibly urgent that I talk to my boyfriend right away.

“Joe!” I say. “It’s me, I’m here seeing Tainted Love. They suck!”

He’s confused, startled. “It’s after midnight,” he says. “Is everything okay?”

“I love you!” I say. “It’s so weird here, I just had to call you now and tell you how weird it is. What are you doing?”

“Are you drunk? You’re drunk.”

“I miss you! I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Be careful,” he says. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I love you! Don’t worry, we have a limo. Bye!”

I spy a bachelorette swaying/standing. “I think I’m going to throw up,” she says.

I grab her arm. We rush to the bathroom. There’s a line going out the door, but we cut to the front.

The bathroom attendant—they still have bathroom attendants?—shakes her head. “Nuh-uh,” she says. “You gotta go to the back of the line.” My bachelorette cannot wait; she vomits into a sink.

“You can’t do that in there!” says the attendant. “I ain’t cleaning that shit up.” She’s wearing a polyester smock, like a cleaning lady wears. She has seen girls like us come and go every weekend; our tawdry splendor is less than nothing to her. On our way out, my friend stuffs a handful of dollar bills into the attendant’s tip cup, hiccupping wetly.

The other bachelorettes rest in the lobby, wilting on sofas. We rally and summon our limo. I cling to my charge and escort her outside. I realize my shoes are inside the club, somewhere on the dance floor.

The hard-core party girls pop out of the limo’s sunroof again, but my once-supple reserve of Whoo is dry. I push girls out of the way to get a seat next to the door as my woozy friend lets out a gurgling belch. I roll the power window down and ease her head toward the fetid city air. The limo breaks hard and girls tumble atop each other, a tangle of stiletto heels and faux pearls and ratted-out hair. I do not tumble with them; I have made myself small and distant.

My friend leans out the window, retching. Her sickness is my salvation; the more I focus on her, the less aware I am of my closeness to the very same state. I hold her hair back to make it okay. I see the chaotic spatter on the glossy black door when we stumble out of the limo in front of our hostess’s place. We give the driver what I assume is a very generous tip.

Back in the loft, the intrepid hostess puts on even more ’80s music, and it bores into my eardrums like a dentist’s drill. The bride moans in an armchair, the empty pink shot glass still around her neck. My friend passes out on a futon, all vomited out, her dress torn. I brought pajamas, but I crawl under the coffee table in my purple dress and wish I hadn’t started out the night with red wine.

At dawn, I creep to the toilet to throw up. A few hours later, I wake up to a line of girls suffering for turns in the bathroom. “I think everyone here has puked,” the rumpled bride says from her armchair.

It takes me an hour just to get off the floor. Even my hair hurts, which, after a night under the coffee table, now resembles Robert Smith more than any member of Echo and the Bunnymen. I throw up one more time for good measure before I drive home. Joe is there, looking bright and healthy.

“What exactly happened last night?” he asks.

“I’m going to die,” I tell him. “Bed.”

I sleep until five that afternoon and eat boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. Three years later Joe and I get married, and I do not have a bachelorette party.

•••

SARA BIR is a chef, culinary educator, and former music critic/sausage cart worker/sportsbra salesperson/library assistant/chocolate factory tour guide. Her writing has appeared in Saveur, The North Bay Bohemian, The Oregoninan, MIX, and Section M. You can read her blog, The Sausagetarian, at sarabir.com.