i do not matter.
i am nine, maybe, ten years old.
my next-door neighbors, eddie and james*, come over and want to play doctor. they are twins, and they are my age, and so, we play doctor in my backyard. they crack & snap the branches off from the tree and stick the branches up my vagina. i am the patient. they are the doctors. they tell me that doctors can stick branches & stuff up a girl’s thing so that they can take her temperature. my mother doesn’t take my temperature in my vagina. i know they’re wrong. i say nothing. nothing. i don’t tell my mother that eddie and james came over to play doctor. she is watching the mike douglas show, and she does not want to be interrupted when she is watching television.
my vagina is burning. i am scared & in pain & it is the middle of the night and i start to wail. sob. it burns and it feels like my insides are exploding. my mother and father are sleeping right across the hall from me. right across the hall. i know she can hear me. they can hear me. she probably thinks i’m having a bad nightmare, i think, so i cry louder. i get out of bed and go into their room and i stand by my mother’s side of the bed, and she’s awake, kind of groggy, she says, honey, what, what? and i pick up my nightgown, and i point and cry, down here, mommy, down here.
i am hurting.
i am eleven years old.
i have another infection, and i am back at the pediatrician’s office, and the doctor tells my mother i have a urinary tract infection again. she tells her that i need to take cool baths – not hot, not warm – cool. my mother is impatient. irritable. cranky. smoking. the doctor gives me antibiotics. we stop at orbach’s so she can go shopping. she tries on shifts & shoes & sweater sets. i am in pain and i am uncomfortable and i smile so she doesn’t get upset with me. she tries on clothes and i sit on a stool and i keep my legs wide apart, so i don’t rub my thighs together because that will irritate my burning vagina more. we go home. my mom tells my dad she didn’t find anything at orbach’s. he asks her how I am, she says, fine.
i am not fine. I am hurting. i do not matter.
i was running & playing & whooping it up with my friends when andy fell on me by accident, and i could hear the snap & the crack, just like a tree branch snapping in half, and it hurt & i ran up the hill & screamed, mommy, mommy, mommy, but mommy was playing mah-jongg so she shooed me away and i went into the bungalow and she came in, and pulled & snapped open the metal ice tray and wrapped my hand in ice, and made me promise that i would sit there and be a good little girl, so she could go back to finish her game. i heard the ice cream truck – the little bell – and i heard my mom ask for two creamsicle pops, and then, a little while later, she placed the two perfectly licked-cleaned just like new pop sticks on my middle finger and then wound it, wrapped it tight with plain scotch tape, and a band-aid, and that was that.
my finger doesn’t heal. it is crooked & bent & misshapen. I am hurting. I am not fine. I do not matter.
awful fucking horrible, first time, bad, painful, nothing sex. he liked me, but he hardly even knew me. we went out a few times. local. friendly’s and jahn’s, and the empress diner, where he smoked cigarettes & talked about sartre, & modern art, & music & he played the jukebox & drummed to the beat of the songs on the table with his long thin fingers. he was cool & hip, and one night he took me into the city, new york city, to an apartment, his friend’s apartment. a warhol person, his soon to be famous friend. we ate chinese take-out, and we had sex. bad sex. gooey sticky sex. bad lo-mein sex. i was one month shy of turning 15, and i didn’t know what to expect. he said don’t worry, don’t worry. don’t worry. and then he slid my panties off and i felt flush, and i wasn’t sure what to do, so i fiddled a bit, and twirled my hair, and focused on the tv which was in the corner of the room – a black and white zenith – and while he was moaning & groaning & saying please, baby, please, oh, yes, baby oh baby & rocking back & forth on top of me, penetrating me – janet leigh was getting bludgeoned to death in the shower at the same exact time that i was losing my virginity. he told me that i looked like – reminded him – of a younger, much younger, ultra violet. i was lanky & had long curly sexy mop-y hair & wore lots of make-up & mascara, & red lips, and he was my friend stephen’s older brother and, and, and, well…fuck. just plain fuck. i. gave. it. up. for. him.
another boy. another god awful mistake, because, well, fuck, i do not matter.
i sat there with a few other girls my age. none of us talked. names were called. forms were filled out. money was exchanged. names were called again. nurses took your vitals. you were given a robe. you undressed. you waited. you were asked, “are you sure?” you said, ”yes.” more waiting. then you get called. rolled in. a needle. the anesthesia kicks in. count back from one hundred. ninety-nine. ninety-eight. ninety-seven, ninety-six. ninety-five. ninety-four.
nine. ty. thr. ee. ni. ne. ty. ni.
you wake up. you think it’s been forever, but it’s only fifteen, twenty minutes later. groggy. alone. scared. the gown is bloody. i’m wearing a kotex napkin. a bulky sanitary napkin. i ache, and i’m empty. sad empty alone empty. and i look around, and see on either side, the same as me. bloody gowns. groggy. scared, and the nurse comes in with some juice and offers a sip, here the straw, your lips are dry, sip, sip, lift your head, sip, and says, atta girl. atta girl. she takes my pulse and checks my vitals and says everything is fine, everything went fine, take care, she says.
i don’t know how to, i tell her.
you lie there. you wait. no one is coming to get you. you’re young.
you had secrets. scary, lonely, shameful secrets. you get rid of those secrets.
you get dressed. fill out more forms. atta girl, one more time. you leave. you are empty. you are head to toe fucking empty. you cry and cry and cry, snot nose cry. you are young and scared and you didn’t say no. no, i can’t. no, i don’t want to. no, i don’t like you. no, i don’t want to have sex. no. thank you. no.
i try to take care of me. i slip.
i am pinned against the wall.
he is angry. enraged. vile. mean. his eyes, they are bulging.
i do not love him.
i do not want to spend one more moment lying in bed next to him, fucking him, sitting in a restaurant with him, sharing popcorn with him, driving in a car with him, waiting on line at the supermarket with him, ordering sushi with him, going to the movies with him, watching tv with him, cooking a meal with him, giving him a blow job, getting on planes and trains with him, visiting our families – his family, my family – with him.
i do not love him. why did you stay so long he asks.
i was lazy i tell him.
i say it. i say: i do not love you. i grab hold of his hands, which are pressing down on my clavicles, and i say to him: i do not want to be with you any more. not one more day. not one more minute. i am not staying here, i am outta here. i am fucking leaving. now. i grab a few things. small things. personal things. enough things. my purse, my cash, my jewelry, my beads from my altar, a few tee’s, a pair of jeans, and the clothes on my back.
i get in my car and i drive and drive and drive. and i drive to my friend’s house. and that day, at 7:52 pm i begin to matter. slowly.
slowly, i begin to matter. slowly. slowly. no going back.
and yes, god yes, i slip, but i catch myself. i grab the railing, or the step, or the handlebar, or the back of a chair, or the counter top, or my husband.
and yes, god yes, i can feel that shame & doubt & all that self-hatred/loathing bubbling up. it bubbles right to the surface. and i am brought back to moments. memories. pieces. slivers. snapshots. times that hurt so deep, that cut so fucking deep that it can actually feel as if my ribs are cracking and i can barely breathe. and yes, god yes, i am sometimes reminded of that young girl who had no self-esteem – no self what so ever. none. zero. she wanted to be included, to please someone, to fix someone, to make it better. to be seen. to be heard. to be visible. to belong. to fit in. to be loved. please. oh please, here, over here. pretty please, with a cherry, man, on top.
that little girl, that young girl, that young woman, did not believe she mattered. she did not. not one bit. she was taught to not care for herself, about herself, she was taught to keep quiet, to keep her feelings to herself, to discard & disconnect from her own pain, she was taught to be invisible. to stand in the background. and for a while she believed it. of course she did. it was engrained in her, etched in her. she believed all the bad, & the ugly, & the awful. she believed she was worthless. she believed it, and held onto it with all her might. so tight that it began to mold & shape. but then one day, she woke up and she just stopped believing that she didn’t matter. just like that. she stopped believing it because she knew – she fucking knew – she was wrong. so wrong. so very wrong. completely & wholly & fully wrong. because she knew on that morning that she was no longer that little girl, that young woman, that invisible battered scarred woman. she was fierce & mighty & worthy & invaluable, & beautifully broken, and everything she did – every single thing she did, every single thing she experienced, everything she felt – was so she could inspire & encourage & remind another girl, another young woman, another woman that they mattered.
*names are changed even though both brothers are now dead.