For Women It Is A Shame to Be Hungry
Think about the radio and how it was always tuned to 104.1. Think about Old Farms Road, coasting to a stop at night in the dead center, and rolling down the windows silently. It was a game; you don’t remember its name anymore. Whoever got scared first, lost. Think about Fisher Meadow past sunset and rushing clothes back on at the sight of police lights.
Think about the shells of old mill buildings dotting the riverside through Collinsville, and every hundred-foot pit into the belly of the earth that was stepped around, no second thoughts. The graffiti was fucked-up and threatening (KILL HER IF SHE DONT PUT OUT), but this was where you felt safest sneaking off to. The electricity that passed between bodies there was the kind that comes first, in youth, in faulty and exposed wiring, and when you are older it is rare and hard-won.
In the beginning, you code your adolescent actions as a shield from the world, you speak a language that’s half-slang and half-joking, your parents are constantly asking you to repeat yourself—“huh?” You play manhunt around the wide expanses of Northgate houses, you smoke pot for the first time, your best friends and lover are tangled together in one wide web that protects like a blanket, even if his wrists are thinner than yours and he cries easier than you. He and his friends are good boys, some are evangelicals, and your mom feels safe when she watches you disappear into their cars. But they are still the boys who talk freely about the asses of your female teammates. And so you learn to laugh, and you buy your first pair of spandex, and you get better at not turning red in the face.
You are enraptured by your own world, which is both shrinking and growing. You are younger than your peers, always cupping anxious hands around little pink rosebud nipples, willing growth, willing from your nonexistent wiles lust lust lust. You are waiting for your hands to be guided correctly by your first boyfriend to what he wants, because for women it is a shame to be hungry and for men it is wholly expected. You chase this feeling forever, the innocence and the friction (and at first it was only ever friction), the closest you have gotten to holding a life in your hands, like wrapping your fingers around a neck.
He asks if you’ve ever masturbated. You are barely fifteen, but you understand what he wants to hear, so you say “no” and he says “thank god,” because you are a pretty, innocent thing, not some half-eaten thing. His private prudishness surprises you sometimes, and you are trying to understand his directives, which seem to be don’t keep your hands to yourself / just keep your hands off yourself. He doesn’t mean harm, he just means he’ll never understand what it is for you to get off, but still he is gentle, and his wrists are thinner than yours, and he cries easier than you when he leaves for college. For you, it is the beginning of independence and danger and no longer will his hands guide yours, no sir.
Think about how you used to get drunk that fall—always out of clear plastic water bottles, always for no good reason. Think about how it felt to realize you could not handle your liquor, and then what a sweet relief it was to learn to take care of yourself. Think about the imprint of your basement corduroy couch on your cheek, and the slow, broken-glass pain you’ll feel but you grit your teeth, and you think, this is a woman’s burden. Think about your first love’s letters from college when he asks what will happen when he returns.
Think about dancing through his kitchen that next summertime when you’re a little older but not much and you’ve coaxed from your laughing best friend who’s like an older sister what the g-spot is. Think about the newfound power you have, think about moving without his help. You say with half-smiles and ferocious anger did you miss me? He is gasping, yes he did. Think about the hours spent back in his room and it’s like a little kid’s. You go back to your old spots and try to recreate that raw, seared-flesh feeling and it comes and goes fleetingly. His hands make fistfuls around you like he’s trying to squeeze a response out of you, but your head is turned sideways, your fingers are drawing pictures in the steam in the car windows. He is living in the drives between college and yourself, you feel guilty more and more, and sometimes he says, “I never know what I’m coming home to with you.” You don’t either.
Think about the very end, at the track at night, when he wants to know how you’ve been passing your time. He won’t use names. He’ll demand, “Do you love him? Do you love him?” These are questions you can’t answer because it has been a long time since you have felt anything but pity, or nostalgia, when he takes your hand over the center console of his car, when he takes you to the old haunts, and he is still satisfied by that desperate and frantic friction. You get firm with yourself, you remind yourself of how he wanted to read the first-ever book you wrote and then hated it, it broke your heart open and made you harder, you vowed to write a hundred other heavy stories all dripping in the uncomfortable personal experience he called “too much.”
You’ll see him less and less, he’ll voice his distaste for how you’ve come of age, and then he’ll say nothing—nothing about your subsequent boyfriends, piercings, bad decisions. He just gives you this long sideways look you’re unfamiliar with—you decide he must have developed it recently. Sometimes you find yourself touching him accidentally, on his arm, or his hand, and he jolts like you have passed an electric current through him, and he looks at you with the long sideways look, he looks at you like he’s not quite sure if he knows you who are.
Still, he drives to your place when your parents split up unexpectedly. His father was a drunk like yours, and he understands, without saying, what you need. Later, you find yourself wishing, absurdly, that he’d come to your ill-attended graduation party, where your father is wobbling in the backyard, throwing horseshoes. Instead he calls and wishes you well. He still waves hello to your mother when they cross paths in town. Apparently, he still asks how you’re doing. You hear he is back living in your hometown.
Think about the first-ever band you loved, really loved, and how trite and simple their songs sound to you now. How time-worn their albums are, how they were always unspooling in his tape deck, playing loud, and he was patient through your obsession, he even hummed along. Think about how easy you trusted, think about New Years and how he didn’t get drunk so he could drive you home for curfew, how protective he was in his weak and lovesick way. Think about the distance now that your fuck-ups, his anger, and time have created. You can barely picture the planes of his face—how many years has it been since you’ve seen him now? Three? Four? You can barely remember the once-effortless movements you had made in dance, in friction, in the green grassy spheres of your hometown—all of them. You had danced, hadn’t you? You had been innocent once, hadn’t you? With delicate calves and weightless steps? You had been good, and then you grew, and so did he, he bore witness through it all, and he is the only one who knows.
Hannah Carpino is a poet and short story writer living in Vermont. She has previously been published in Rust + Moth and Crossroads Magazine.