A Pound of Flesh

I’ve paid my pound of flesh, whether it’s a heft of breast or a fistful of crotch. A pound of flesh is the price you sometimes pay to be able to walk away.

No-one tells you that paying Shylock is sometimes the easiest way to free yourself.

I’ve played acrobat, contorting and bending myself into the negative space of subway cars to avoid the press of a hard-on I didn’t ask for against my back, into my hips, in the hollow below my tailbone.

I’ve slowly, slowly, ever so slowly inched away when I woke to find hands mapping the country of my flesh in the quiet of the night. I rolled away, pretending to be asleep to avoid the morning awkwardness. You see, I never stamped a visa for you to tour the landscape of my body.

I’ve gone cockeyed focusing on the too-close words of a book held high enough to blot out the sight of limp, flaccid d*cks hanging out in the plain sight of day on rattling trains to Brooklyn.

I’ve stood, shock-stock still, in seventeen year-old confusion to avoid brushing against the middle-aged man who cornered me in an office perfumed with machine oil and Old Spice.

I’ve used pools of streetlamp light to chaperone me block to block to avoid could-be, changed from heels to running shoes, skirt to jeans, fitted to loose to avoid would-be.

I’ve run, panting, past the dark spots.

I’ve studied the dim backseats of cars to make sure they’re empty.

I’ve kept my foot hovering above the accelerator pedal when the headlights got too close.

All to avoid the Boogeymen d*ck girls are taught to be on the lookout for.

The prison of potential rapist d*ck keeps girls and women running, keys wedged in our fists, toward the light.

I’ve criss-crossed a rush hour crowd to avoid flashers, ignored their guttural moans as they touched themselves under the flanks of their coats.

I’ve gone blocks out of my way to avoid packs of Kappa Kappa frat boys and Wall Street suits roving the city like wolves on the hunt, humping street lamps and statues, yelling about their d*cks into the city night.

I’ve moved to hide the body of my toddler son from the preying eyes a man rubbing himself against a fence pole outside an asphalt playground.

I’ve removed hands from my ass, palms from my thigh, fingers creep-crawling up a skirt hitched on a barstool.

I’ve pretended the lurch into my breasts was accidental, that copping a feel on the way upright wasn’t intentional. Smaller humiliations swallowed to avoid the larger danger of uninvited d*ck.

I’ve closed my mouth against an uninvited tongue probing like a wet slug against my lips, used the flat of my palms to brace myself against shoulders twice as broad as my own just to avoid the straining at the crotch bulge of a blind date.

I’ve serpentined out of the embrace of a drunk friends, swatted away the hands of a barflies, pried fingers from my knee where they left marks.

I’ve turned my head against the sandpaper bristle of a five o’clock shadow, hysteria rising into my mouth like sick as I tired to wriggle away from where I was shoved and pinned against the wall of a barroom bathroom. Note: a bit of flirtatious banter does not mean a woman wants to fuck you in a toilet stall.

I’ve lived decades with one eye half on something else to avoid potential harm. Doing the math, assessing the risk of d*ck. Swallowing down the humiliation, the rage as it rises like bile in your throat if it means staying safe.

Oh yes, I’ve paid my pound of flesh.

Women know that the monsters under the bed are real. They’re hiding in the bushes and in dark entryways, hiding behind the mask of a friend. They’re hiding in board rooms and in offices, on subway cars and bus shelters. They’re lurking on social media and in the lines of blinking instant messages which scream whore! because you write about women. They’re waiting for you on Facebook to call you a stupid bitch, they will be waiting at the end of this essay just to type I don’t believe you, who would want to fuck you, you should be flattered.

Someday you’ll open us up and the stories will spill out, free at last, hissing and rising into the air like steam from manhole covers blown skyward from the pressure below. Our stories will rise and form, letters linking to form words and words to form sentences. Sentences will march until they form volumes, epics filled with the weight of a thousand tiny humiliations, a million aggressions, all the stories of what women have done simply to avoid your d*cks.

And the stories of how we’ve survived when we couldn’t.

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