My mother called penises “tallywackers.” That’s a name meant to scare a girl off ‘em. I wonder if that word came to mind when she was eighteen, when her uncle raped her.
I didn’t understand, as someone who had never been raped, how it can make a woman run from her body forever, force her daughters out of their bodies to protect them, too.
There’s a story in our family goes: Great Grandma Holliman aimed a shotgun at the ground between her young son’s legs and took the head off a very pissed-off rattler. I hear blushing Freudian implications in my aunt’s voice as she says, “De law! What if her aim’d been off! You’d be missing a few cousins, Christy!” I see buck shot careening through generations, taking out an entire branch of my family tree.
I don’t know where to imagine my mother’s rape, but I like to imagine Great Grandma Holliman’s Annie Oakley moment happening on the same spot in the front yard where the menfolk used to bleed the animals. They’d string up a dead cow, place a bucket under its head, run a knife through its jugular furrow. I’d watch the blood drip from behind the black raspberry bushes a few feet away. If they noticed me, they’d try to gross me out by moving its limbs around, pretending to dance with it. We call this “sticking the cow.”
Women get stuck so many ways.
For my mother, it went, get raped by your uncle, marry a man you hope will save you, put up with his womanizing bullshit for twenty years while you put him through college, take care of his kids, watch him take the house you built together, put a younger, more agreeable, woman in it, and have a son with her to whom he’ll leave it all, everything you worked for. Marry another man and work another twenty years to get some kind of legacy to leave your daughters because you grew up the kind of poor that meant going hungry sometimes and no new shoes and everyone in the same scratchy feather-filled bed with heated bricks at the foot that don’t stay warm long enough and you want better for them. Then, watch you and your girls get screwed out of all that, too, from beyond the dirt you have returned to.
For me, it was a lot of things, sure, but this one sticks out: let a couple of boys in high school take me out for a drive, park in the woods somewhere dark and untrafficked and one gets out but keeps running his mouth to no one in particular while the other one fucks me from behind in the back seat. I feel nothing but the hope it will be over soon and that he doesn’t get me pregnant and through the swinging curtain of my hair, just maybe when I replay this memory now, I can make out the faint pattern of a woman trapped inside the dirty fabric of the backseat, crawling around under there with a message for me. Maybe I can imagine her saying out loud what I now know she was thinking all the time:
“Please, baby girl, please don’t get stuck here. Please I didn’t work so hard my whole life to let it happen all over again to you. Please know this is why I scream so loud and so long when you get anything less than an A in school and this is why when you got that D I kicked you out of the house for a day. Please understand you have to go to college and you have to get out or you’ll never be anything but a woman who takes a backseat to a man. You gotta aim a little higher, Christy.
Remember Great Grandma Holliman? Remember that snake she shot from between her son’s legs? Well, it’s in your genetic code. When you got a snake gunning for you, like I said, you aim a little higher, baby. You pull the trigger first.”
Stina French’s work has appeared in Punch Drunk Press and on the podcast Witchcraftsy. She wears welts from the Bible Belt and her mother’s eyes in the red fall. Find her on the Book of Face at Stina French, Ink. or at Sister Rainbow Scream, Incorporated.