On Telling the Internet that I Prefer Not Talking to Strange Men
Some thoughts, in no particular order.
1. To the people who say they’re sorry to hear that I live in a sketchy neighborhood: America is a sketchy neighborhood. The key-card dorms of Ivy League colleges are a sketchy neighborhood. Suburban pools beaming out other-planetary light are a sketchy neighborhood. Leather-bolstered front-/back-seats of fancy cars are a sketchy neighborhood. Halogen-fevered football stadiums are a sketchy neighborhood.
2. I’ve been informed that this account is fiction. And that the mundane (brown boots, sorry) isn’t allowed to be lyrical. And that my essay is a cute ephemeral haiku. But here’s my question: Why is it that the stories of women, told in their own voices, have to be re-genre-ed? What’s behind this impulse, this hacking and paring away at my nonfiction?
3. Actually, my husband is doing fine. We are thinking of getting a kitten. You don’t need to feel sorry for him. I’m tempted to tell you more about my husband — in my defense or his. I could tell you that we rode our bikes, the rain on my glasses making office-park moats go kind of Monet; I could tell you that we arrived and the meadow was a thousand filaments of light. We sprung for mondo hot chocolates at a glitzier-than-usual roadside IHOP; how else can I convince you that being married to a feminist is not a living hell?
4. Not quite sure why someone would compare standing at a bus stop to TNDR. Sir, try as I might, while standing at a bus stop I am not empowered, with this little index finger, to swipe left. Besides I have a flip phone so I don’t quite get TNDR; I just googled difference between swipe right vs. swipe left. Oh and there’s also the part where I have a sole committed partner, which I thought was evident in my essay. But now I know: my public city bus is your unilateral dating app.
5. The problem is that when you talk about having game, when you talk about scoring, when you talk about getting some, you’re often talking about coercion. You’re not talking about whether coercion should occur. You’re talking about learning how to do it better. What, I wonder, makes coercion better? When you get sparkle-teeth toothpaste and figure out the good lines/ when you offer to give us a ride home; your car is just over there/ when you buy hair-gel that comes in black matte bottles/ when you mention martinis, at a little place uptown/ when you incise out our self-esteem and fill the empty place with but your eyes are really nice/ when you bought us all those drinks and we can’t even______/ when we were drunk anyway/ when you sigh and lower your eyes/ when you’ve been hurt before and you lean forward to tell us about it?
6. Thanks for pointing out the spelling errors! I posted that essay in a tangle of nerves and urgency. Those mistakes feel like spaces between a fast pulse, like awkward pauses made for panting breaths. Like the gaps and heaves of a quick dash.
7. Feminists are not humorless. Maybe we’re not laughing because your jokes aren’t funny.
8. You said that the entire world is oblivious to you; you said you wish people still found you attractive. Such steady tunneling electric sadness. I get that. I’ve walked around cities feeling that film of nothingness against my skin. I’ve longed for the Hey that could center me inside my skull, inside my hips, inside of the tenuous column of my ribs. At the grocery store I’ve picked up orange juice and wondered if my cells are just a net of the invisible. I’ve stood at intersections thinking that cars could drive right through me. Please know: Hey what’s your name are not the words that say You’re seen. Please know: our bodies get stolen in a thousand different ways. Please know: I’m sitting here drinking my coffee, wishing for a world where you feel you fill up space.
9. I wrote about the granola bar in my backpack. I’ll tell you more about that granola bar. It was a trail mix granola bar. It was Kroger brand because that’s cheaper. It might’ve gotten squished in my backpack because granola bars do that. Are you tired of hearing about my granola bar yet? Because you mocked me for mentioning it. You said it was evidence of my self-absorption — why does she think anyone cares about her granola bar anyway? Who does she think she is? She is someone who buys the cheap granola bars at Kroger, and they kind of taste like chemicals even though they’re supposed to be trail mix flavor. She is someone who packs granola bars every day because she doesn’t have time for breakfast. Does she think she’s special? Who does she think she is anyway? Let me tell you: she’s someone who knows her granola bar is boring, routine and ordinary. She’s someone who knows that all of this — hey why don’t you talk to me what are you too good for me why are you so stuck up — is boring, routine and ordinary. She’s not special; this happens to women everywhere, every day, and that’s the point.
10. I guess these exchanges weren’t extreme enough for you. How about:
Another time I was waiting at the bus stop. It was a Sunday, a few days before my 37th birthday. I was going to my friends’ house: sacred spicy crockpot soups and folksong guitars and their sons’ bare feet on hardwood floors. This disaffected scabby snow was falling. A guy was trying to tell me about that bitch, his ex. He screamed at me when I moved away — what are you too good for me, what bitch what? don’t walk away when I’m talking to you. Sometimes those words spun out into a screeching song. I transferred buses downtown. He followed me. Sunday afternoon, mid-sized Midwest city: every neon sign anemic and empty, not even worth lighting the word Closed. Why are you such a stuck-up bitch? Where are you going? Can I come with you? Another guy was waiting at that stop; he sat and laughed like we were reality TV. I stood there and stood there. My friends’ house didn’t exist, and my house didn’t exist, and the only thing that could possibly exist was the bus’s shining sign, a thin bright scroll manifesting — there, finally? maybe? — far-off in the snow.
That man took up so much space. The street was called Broad and he filled it. I guess I didn’t want him to take up any more space, there on my page. I guess I wanted to make room in my essay for my interior life, my self-interrogation, my relationship to the complicated language of I’m married. Silly me.
11. Can we talk about class? Can we talk about how my neighborhood is a place like most places, where people are just trying to live? Can we talk about how, in my neighborhood, the trying to live is complicated by poverty? Can we talk about how my neighborhood sometimes feels bowed and choked and humid with frustration? Can we talk about what you picture when you hear poverty, and how my neighborhood probably isn’t that? Can we talk about how I like to say that I live there because I’m also poor, and can we also talk about how my grad-student poverty is only poverty on paper? Can we talk about how I ride the bus to campus, how I take the silver-doored elevator to the 11th floor, how I sit in a wooden rocking chair and look at the lake which from that height looks like a perfect green lucky marble? Can we talk about intersections, how those intersections are a thousand shards? Can we talk about how those shards feel like a grenade pressed close, pressed into my heart?
12. You don’t get why I might not want to talk to you at the bus stop. Because you’re a nice guy/ you’re a good guy/ you don’t mean anything by it/ it’s OK, you just want to talk. But the thing is: when I wrote that essay, I was trying to talk to you. You had a chance to listen to me. Let me say it again: I wanted to speak to you. And you wouldn’t listen.