Every Other Thing

**Trigger warning for violence**

I've been working on this thing--not quite a poem--for several months now. It's a piece, not exactly autobiographical, but rooted in the experiences of violence that I and way too many women I know have had. It is a story that I've heard and seen so many times through my and my friends' tears as we wonder how and why. It's a story also rooted in my sadness, an emotion created by my absolute certainty that I will again sit in a hospital, or a bedroom, or a police station with a woman I know and struggle to find something to say to encourage or help her.

I hadn't shown it to anyone until I recently shared it with Liss. By coincidence, I received an e-mail that day from our Women's Studies Department asking for faculty and students to participate in a Domestic Violence Awareness Poetry Reading. I decided that I was going to participate. I also decided to share it here, but I'm putting it below the fold and want to reiterate the trigger warning for references to/images of battering and sexual violence.

Every Other Thing

I almost said to her,
almost looked deeply into her eyes—
as deeply as I could with the swelling and all—
and said
“Love shouldn’t hurt.”

(Good catchphrase, isn’t it?
Serious and trendy, all at once.)

But, anyway, she was wrapped up in her bed,
right below the picture of her savior,
“No greater love,” read the caption.
an image of him on the cross
giving his life,
shedding his blood,
proving his love.

I almost uttered it,
because I could say it in a quick breath,
in the little bit of time I’d have,
before I’d suddenly have to leave
and she’d be grilled about what she told me

But in the background,
her music was playing,
(that blues shit I hate)
assuring her that without pain, there was no gain.
Telling her don’t blame Mr. Charlie for his transgressions.
He’s just a man
and He-e-e-e’s doing the best he can.
And didn’t she know,
having a piece of man
was better than no man at all?

Good music, she said.
She don't know how the hell
these young girls
(with they silly selves)
listen to men talking bout
breaking their backs
beatin it out the frame
knocking them down
Just too violent!

I still wanted to say it,
even as I looked at her shelves of books.
Nasty novels, my grandma had called them.
(I liked them, too)
I knew what she read inside.
About the women who were always so small, pale, fragile…
About the men so well-endowed that they had to
“Force themselves in”
“Work against her natural resistance”
“Make sure she was ready”
for the hard fucking that was coming,
for the pain that magically turned into pleasure
because she wanted him soooo much.
And because he was skilled—
knew how to use his dick/weapon, hmm!
He didn’t tear her asunder.

“Just say it,” I thought,
even as images flashed on the screen of her T.V.
No sound, but hey, I’d seen this!
I remember he slapped her!
But only this one time
cuz he was really angry.
After all she’d liedcheatedbeendemandingactedlikeabitch.
Or something that made it understandable.
Just this one time, just to get her attention,
make her realize how much he cared!

I wanted to tell her
“Love shouldn’t hurt. It’s not about suffering,”
while I looked in her eyes and patted her hands.
(I’d paid attention when they were telling me that at that women’s center.
I had this down!)

That’s what I’d heard, anyway.

But I/she hadn’t seen that
or been taught that
hell, we hadn’t lived that.

And you know what else I'd heard?
(Lord, so long ago)
From every older woman I knew?
Right after they'd looked at me sympathetically
(they patted my hands, too)
when I told them I was in love
and I was happy?
"Just wait, baby," they said,
shaking their heads because poor baby me
didn't know what was to come,
"You don't know nothing til you been through something."
(No pain, no gain! Damn those blues!)

So, I didn’t have examples
or assurances.
(In fact,
knowing what I’d seen…
what she’d seen…
I wasn’t sure…
Maybe love is this.
I mean, it was for so many
and you’d think
by now
someone could’ve figured out
a better way to love.
Someone besides the women at the center
who’d patted my hands in their certainty.
(I felt like a puppy))

I did have the words,
but suddenly, they seemed,
in that room,
in our lives,
not enough to counter
every other thing.

I patted her hands, though.

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