Lady of the Flies
Or, A P***y Memory
It is sometimes a small piece of crust on a table, a deliberate nic in the plaster, a body with folded hands, a wolf, that makes us remember.
We were trailer park rovers before I had moved back to the city and he had been forced to reject television for Jesus.
We’d marry one day in a state that allowed it.
I assumed that we both looked forward to seeing each other during those easy summer visits, skateboarding to penny candy and running through yard after fenceless yard. All novelty to me: the candy, the freedom, and him. Looking back now I wonder if I offered him anything but smiling eyes and laughter — anything more than the unwavering validation of his “cool.” Maybe he would have respected me more if I could have taken him on a handle-barred bike ride past the never-ending window panes of crumbling North Jersey textile mills along the river, or out for a properly-schmeared bagel.
But what’s respect when you’re seven?
I took a quiz a few weeks ago. A mindless series of automated clicks that had the potential to turn a moment of self-loathing into vapor.
Do You Have A Photographic Memory?
“Congratulations, you’re in the top 1%! You have such a gift! Why not go out and celebrate instead of sitting at home watching documentaries on extreme weather devastation tonight or reminiscing about your 5th grade spelling bee win. Regularly accessing a brain process that most humans lose by the age of six is just SO you.”
So, how could I forget?
It is sometimes the viscid juice of a yellow peach running down your chin, a gnat in the eye, bare feet on newly-waxed green linoleum.
We were sprawled, childlike, on a pull-out bed in central Pennsylvania with light flowing full through a bay-fronted picture window into a room as sparse as the area’s mining jobs; miles of unevenly varnished oak floor and a small, disinherited tv in the corner. My parents were asleep in another house and his had gone to church, so we yawned “oh shit” repeatedly until deciding to go into the backyard to conquer “things” — grass speckled with web and drop and wiffle ball and bat. We: two denim cutoff shorts in a sea of green sending out the call to the others.
They began to creep from the mouths of ripped screen doors.
Why did I forget?
It is sometimes the oil in a pan, a candle collapsed in on itself, the metallic smell of a hand sharing pocket-space with coins.
The joiners almost immediately began to identify me. “Hey girl, hey girly girl!” even though we were all wearing denim cutoffs with zip flies, slightly frayed, trimmed clear of grass stains. I reminded myself that shoulder-length hair was a testament to my wildness, not my vagina.
“Shut it, ok, just shut it,” I spat. They swallowed until I didn’t know the words to a Def Leppard song. “Girly girl” quickly became “bitch.” I immediately realized that was I was no longer safe with my betrothed.
Are we ever?
It was a nursery rhyme coloring book at CVS — the cartoonified wolf on the cover — that brought this 30-year-old moment back. My mind hadn’t perfectly photographed the connection like the quiz said it should have, but I’m grateful it allowed it to exist — hidden somewhere behind tongue licking teeth, the familiar scent of cut grass, and red plastic. I began to remember the many times the wispy memory of that day crawled to the surface but was met with shame or confusion. Now, in a mostly empty CVS, I’d been firmly shaken awake by an unfamiliar glossy cover. Younger me would have already made the decision to leave it on the shelf.
But I couldn’t.
They began to hit me with a wiffle ball bat. Two boys, joiners, held me tight in that dead sea of thousands of backyards without any fences. My cousin took the bat and slammed it hard between my legs.
(We’re gonna get married one day.)
I tried to pull away, slide my elbows out of small, sweaty hands — to twist and kick, gulp breath, cry and let my body weight fall toward green — but they held fast.
(My cousin Mandy is the coolest because she can spit like a boy.)
They moved it back and forth slowly, the bat — their pre-adolescent wet dreams made tangible with a wand big enough to hold — and looked at one another laughing. I didn’t know why they were looking and laughing like that until the cartoon wolf reminded me. Me, the adult with a photographic memory, reminded of the moment I’d decided I’d never want a husband.
(Alabama, that’s where you get wife papers and buy video games together so we’ll be goin’ there.)
They took turns slamming the plastic bat again in the same, young place and I screamed louder, finally startling this robotic, early sexual abuse; the universe screaming “boys, will be boys.”
And then I stopped.
(Come back, we ain’t gonna hurt ya.)
I began to wait for my betrothed, my abuser, maybe out of habit or maybe because we were going to get married and skip stones in the creek and look at tadpoles, quietly saying all the bad words we wanted to. Maybe because I was seven.
And then I ran like oh shit.
I continued running even though he had not caught up, because I saw an army behind and a mother ahead, in the kitchen, through cafe curtains with apples and roosters floating in tea-stained, tear-stained, plasma.
I stood in CVS thinking about what to do with any of it.
I knew her like I knew him and like him she was now something unfamiliar and vacant. I tried to tell her about the red plastic bat and she looked at me sternly.
“I will not hear anything that sounds like a tattle.”
“But they were hitting me.” I said.
“Manda, there is no tattling in this house.” But there had always been tattling. It had always been okay.
“But they held me and hit me in the…”
“That’s enough! Do you hear me! Enough!” she screamed, into my face then away from my face as her son stood in the doorway, practicing his swing. She stopped my tattle at the most important detail.
Maybe she already knew.
The store was closing and all I could think was what if I’d been wearing a skirt?
I spoke quietly to the rushing trees and power-lines as we drove back to the city and told them about his mother’s face, the unfamiliarity of volume and flush. I didn’t tell my parents as we drove home that day for fear that their tattling rules had also changed.
“Ma’am can you please proceed to checkout.”
“I wasn’t wearing a skirt,” I thought aloud. I could spit and run and drink black coffee and skin my knee without cry but,
in some stories, girl just can’t exist.