The List

By Jen Gardner

The time He cornered me in the swimming pool when I was four. Come here, give me a kiss. How His voice was oily and sweet, and I imagined Him as a giant eel with jaws hinging open when I swam too close. How I pretended I was a mermaid. How I slapped my fins to raise tidal waves and wriggle past His wrinkled outstretched arms. 

The time He paused his rooftop hammering to whistle and hurl compliments on my pre-teen body. How I hid beneath my long shield of hair, shrunk under the armor of my backpack. How it happened again and again. How I walked an extra half-mile home just to avoid that house, and all houses where Men worked. How I never told my mom, because I knew she’d never let me walk alone if she knew.

The time He yelled out that He bet I was wild in the sack. How His yell turned heads in the street. How I hung my head in the shame He forced on me, and crossed to the other side of the road.

The time He asked me why I wouldn’t smile. Just give me a little smile, baby, come on! How He followed me, until I submitted. How He praised my grimace and told me to have a beautiful day.

The time He stood over me and my friend as we lay on the grass in a public park, eclipsing the sun with his sweaty body. How He pulled His penis out of His sweatpants and just stood there while we hurriedly packed up our lunch and walked away.

The time He asked whether I thought my decrease in participation that semester was due to my gender. He was my teacher. How He asked me this in all seriousness in front of the entire class. How I bit back tears and left the classroom in silence.

The time He followed me on a motorcycle for over six blocks through a crowded city. How He sent His friend to follow behind me on foot. How He circled three times before I noticed. How my instincts kicked in and sent me dodging through alleys and storefronts, anything to keep Him from following me back to a hostel filled with twenty-year-old girls.

How I’ve learned to carry myself when I walk alone.

How I’ve learned to take up extra space on a bus.

How I’ve shed makeup because beautiful has become synonymous with vulnerable.

Because this list took me five minutes to write.

Because I’ve been lucky.

Because my mother has a longer list. 

Because we do not talk about our lists, but we all carry them, heavy with the shame we’ve misappropriated as our own. 

Because He is not all men, but all women have met Him.

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Jen Gardner writes poetry, short stories, and nonfiction in Minnesota and Southeast Alaska. More of her work can be found in Grim & Gilded, Siren’s Call Publications, or on her website at