Sunday, August 26, 2012

A woman's story

One of my friends is certain that men hate women. Not individual men, but men as a group. She acknowledges that this may be stretching reality, that it may be a generalization that unfairly maligns many innocent men, that maybe her own harsh experiences with men have prejudiced her. But she still holds to this because this bias, this belief that men generally would rather hurt a woman than succor one, keeps her safe.

She has reasons to fear men. Her alcoholic father abused her, slipping into her room until she was a teenager when she finally told her mother who slapped her and called her a dirty whore. She dated boys who hurt her and men who cheated on her. Finally she married an alcoholic man who loved her when he was sober and hit her when he was not. And she lived that way for years -- years here in my hometown -- until one day he hit her too hard and she ended up the hospital. She was too dazed to lie then. Their life together fell apart, all his carefully constructed excuses and her concealing lies revealed for everyone to see. They divorced, but not before he broke into her apartment and taught her again why men should be feared. He put her in her place, as the expression goes, and might have done worse, but the police finally arrived.

Now she lives alone. It's lonely, she says, but it's better. She doesn't date. She doesn't intend to ever date. She parks her car close to her door. She watches men when she walks in Wintersmith Park. She carries pepper spray and a key knife and is thinking about getting a concealed carry permit. Her friends laugh about it with her. They pity the man who dares attack her. It's a joke, although, of course, some of them think she takes it too far. They tell her that she needs to get out more, get a life, get happy. She laughs along with them. Sometimes what they say hurts her, but she learned a long time ago how to hide the hurts and how to roll with the blows and how you can never let anyone see you cry.

She took one of my poetry classes a long time ago, and we've been friends ever since. She didn't think she would like me, but she found my class "welcoming" and "safe," a harbor of sorts. And I taught her how to make her poetry better and never criticized the content because I never intend to silence any voice, only teach them how to communicate more clearly.

She called when the whole Todd Akin mess happened. She was horrified that he would say such things, that he would ever have such beliefs about rape, that he would claim he "misspoke," and that unknown doctors -- doctors whose names he can't supply -- told him that women's bodies could do things that they can't. She sees it as another sign that men hate women.

I always tell her the same thing: "Some men do hate women, but most of us don't. Most of us like women. Many of us love women." My words are always the same. She knows what I'm going to say. She just likes to hear me say them. And then we talk of poetry and how to make words behave how we want them to. Then she says goodbye and we hang up.

I'm always sad after we talk. I think of her in her apartment. I think of her alone. I think of how terrible her life has been. I hate her father and her ex-husband for a few moments. Then I sigh and pray that joy will find her again. And if not that, then at least, oh God please, maybe someday she'll feel safe again.

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