So You Will Know

I have been told to be careful by those who have loved me the longest. I was careful and invited a man I knew to my first apartment. I was careful as we made dinner together, listened to Ella Fitzgerald and kissed gently. I was careful and he still raped me. I was careful again and dated a man who was charismatic, talented, well known. I was careful and held his hand while he fought near-fatal cancer. I was careful and practical and stayed with him. I was careful getting ready one night, careful to wear a beautiful dress and to perfectly apply my make-up. I was careful as I lay crying quietly on the bed in an expensive hotel, as he let his friends rape me.

I was a cautious child, lost in tales of frontier survival and shipwrecked families. I trusted the two young women who babysat me and my sister. I was careful not to say anything after they found ways to rape me. I am careful now not to scream their names out loud when I see them in public, when I hear they are playing mediocre folk music in local cafes. I am careful to fall to the ground gracefully when their physical proximity turns my limbs to jelly.

My body has been beside me as I’ve been so, so careful. By the middle of my 20’s, I would look in the mirror and be careful not to meet my own gaze. I was starting to turn murky in the glass, my heart was hollow, my blue eyes looked gray and my freckles were nowhere to be found. I was careful and let doctors tell me they were helping. Helping while they said my body wouldn’t make babies, helping when they prescribed medication that made the pain and noise in my mind deafening. They were helping as I composed farewell letters and contemplated practical ways to die.

I was careful and I trusted them. I was not careful and I finally said no. I was not practical as the child who would be my daughter chose me to be her mother. I was not careful and changed my body, letting needles pierce my flesh leaving behind swirls of ink “ a hummingbird, orchids, waves, lyrics. I was not careful, and now I have scars and a body that was not raped. I was not careful and so my stomach began to fill-out with a new life inside, a child who would have had a Hawaiian name and Chinese-Québec-Métis-Irish-Italian-German heritage. I was careful and trusted the voice of a woman thousands of miles away, a woman who did not want to be a grandmother, a woman careful not to have her son feel burdened.

I was careful when I chose to live underneath redwood trees in a brick red cottage. I was careful and kept to myself, careful not to use my real name as I wrote stories I was proud of, as I was photographed with nothing on but a smile. I was careful to choose a pseudonym perfect for a character Brigitte Bardot would have played. I was careful to protect the identities of those who inspired me. I was careful and let people think I was straight. I wasn’t careful and I got drunk and stoned, told a man with dimples I loved him while we kissed behind a bar.

I am careful not to tangle my hands around and around everything I desire. I am careful to keep using a make-believe name when I write poems, not very careful about keeping the ridiculous porn star moniker well concealed. I want you to know all of this. I want you to be angry or proud or ambivalent. I don’t want you to be careful. I want you to say who you love, even if it is not practical, even if it will hurt. I want you to touch yourself and let the light pour in through your window, the curtains open. I want you to know I love Nina Simone and earrings that dangle.

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2 Responses

  1. Berta Avila says:

    Charlotte, thank you for sharing your story, beautifully written. I, too, have been careful – I, too, have also been wreckful with my body, mind and spirit. I applaud your courage to own your truth and speak it too.

  2. Oh, Charlotte. This is so powerful, it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.