You should’ve asked

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The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About

Scarily spot on.

Drifting Through

image: Shutterstock image: Shutterstock

There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture and sexism. I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

They don’t know.

They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we are not always aware of it. But we have all done it.

We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all…

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Hindsight

There was never a moment when I thought

You would hurt me

Which makes me feel like my brain was missing

When I look back

The same flashes in my mind spinning like a zoetrope

I forgot to think

I forgot how to think

Because my mind was full of you

And how you made me feel

Nearly every waking moment

Nobody knows what is inside the minds of others

No matter how close we feel to them

We don’t know what’s inside ourselves

And you didn’t believe we should be together

You told me that

I didn’t listen because that wasn’t what I wanted to hear

I made myself blind, deaf to reality

And constructed a cocoon in which I wrapped myself

Unwilling to face the world without you

Because at times you made me feel

Like I deserved to be happy.

Lavender

There were lavender bushes across the entrance to her college

With grey stone steps up the middle.

She traced the bushes with both hands whenever she went in,

sometimes breaking the soft green stems or crumbling the flowers

Between her fingers as she ascended.

In the garden she walked by in the afternoons was another bush,

A different type, with the flowers on top of the spikes.

Her brother would ignore it, full of chatter as they went together to the play park

Yet a sudden interest would spark on the way back

As he tried to delay going home

And he would stare avidly at the bees bustling about near his nose.

One winter their Dad spent a month in Provence,

Missing both their birthdays which fell eight years and six days apart.

When he came back he gave her a thick glass bottle  of lavender oil

Which she sprinkled on her pillow some nights

To soothe her, then on her wrists some days

To remind her of who she was.

One day she made a lavender tart from a stained French recipe book,

Doubling her ingredients so that she used up all the eggs

But the tart was too strong and bitter

Because she used dried lavender instead of the fresh sprigs she saw every day.

Thrills

I like to scare myself

So I go to zoo reptile houses and put my face close to the glass tanks

I can hardly breathe as I gaze inside

Not knowing where the snakes are hiding,

Although I suspect they are coiled around branches or pooled into spirals.

Then I spy them, one by one: a tail dangles from the foliage,

A head pokes out of a hollow log

And it is a relief to know where the snakes are and that they cannot touch me.

I like to scare myself

So I swim out into the ocean as far as I can

Until I can barely see the shoreline and I cannot feel my wrinkled toes.

Sometimes the water is cold and murky,

Sometimes it reflects the sky

As I return to the beach slowly, tired by my exertions.

Feeling weak and heavy, before I reach halfway back

I begin to fear I will sink and drown

And it is a great relief when I stagger onto solid ground, pressing smooth pebbles down with my feet.

I like to scare myself

So I lie on the floor at night next to my bed and think of my small regrets:

The times I have not told my friends how I really felt,

When I refused to continue my piano lessons any longer,

Scowling in every photo from the ages of eight to eleven,

And staying indoors too often.

It is harder to find relief, but I tell myself until I drift into sleep

That I will not repeat those mistakes;

For there are new ones to be made.

Dawning

His spiteful words hung unanswered in the air as they stood in the hallway,

While she kept completely silent, unmoving, staring vacantly into space

Because she knew how much it unnerved him.

She told herself not to tear up and showed no emotion;

Instead she gazed at the wall just to his left, as if it meant much more to her than he did.

He had made her feel like she needed him

But she came to realise that she didn’t need the insults he threw at her to vent his frustration

Neither did she need the feeling of guilt that pervaded her days

Souring her enjoyment of time spent with her friends.

In fact she now knew that she felt better without him,

That she was more alive on her own.

Moving Out

As my aunt and I neared the house I held my breath

For a moment and averted my eyes

But they were drawn to the window from which the light shone

Which had been our living room three weeks earlier,

Shortly before the house was sold through officious estate agents.

The window was on the second floor and I could not see who was in the room

Although my aunt assured me they were ‘foreigners’ who were changing the makeup of the street.

The house was over a hundred years old, identical to the others stretching out

On either side of it, built to house workers

Who were now dead, some of their names names now forgotten.

Recently the street was filling up with foreigners, according to my aunt.

Our house had surrendered to them,

Former neighbours had felt unsafe with the new dynamic and moved away,

The men loitered outside the houses and smoked,

While no one took care of the small front gardens.

My aunt had not wanted to take this route through our old street

And she sniffed as we neared the end of it,

Disapproval flashing across her face.

She had no personal problem with any immigrants,

I was informed,

Yet they needed to assimilate themselves more into the British culture

Instead of changing the atmosphere of what was once

A perfectly respectable street.

It made me ashamed that I held my tongue

Because she was old and I did not want to confront her

But it was unclear how she imagined the people on the street

Would assimilate with a culture they had no chance to experience

Since the British residents rarely spoke to them

And viewed them with suspicion.