She raised her hands shakily overhead as demanded by the boy about two inches taller. She did so slowly while playing afraid. With the green/blue super soaker, he motioned for her to retreat to the jail - the shadowy space underneath the top of the slide. She went and placed her hands behind her back. Her curls tumbled in front of her eyes, but she didn’t brush them away. She looked up all faux-helpless and submitted to an interrogation.
J got up but I stopped him from intervening. I wanted to see how she would play this. What had started as a pair of slightly older boys chasing and trying to spritz her with summer playground plastic weapons, quickly turned into a tense standoff and then surrender on her part. Was she playing the bad guy or the victim?
I wanted the kid to show her some mercy. I mean, she’d surrendered. It also looked like she’d given up her comrade, a girl of similar age with beaded cornrows who slumped down next to Willow once caught and ushered to the same jail. But, now the kid had two flunkies and they all pointed their water guns at the girls play-demanding and yelling. I ended it. Willow saw me and got up but he stopped her.
“It’s my mom,” she explained and he turned around as if it couldn’t be so. My best stern mother face was what made him shrug and allow Willow to pass. She didn’t want to leave, she wanted to stay and play prisoner/hostage. I refused and she moped all the way home through the sunny Bed-Stuy streets echoing with daytime July 4th rockets.
I was just as bothered. Only on a playground did I have the power to end a standoff with a stern expression. I was questioning: how would Willow defend herself in powerless situations; do men really hate women so much that they have to trap them; am I a weird parent that I watched Willow squirm under the watchful guard of somewhat older boys. All these questions jogged a rage that likes to roam outside its cage every once in awhile. I was provoked by a specific fear of violent men - those that make you pay for their own impotence.
The women who raised me encountered some violent man somewhere along the way, even if they ultimately ended up with kind men. Their nicks forced them to shed their softness for survival. I almost did it. Maybe I did. With J, I certainly don’t recognize myself sometimes. It’s like I’m acting out of primal fear and protection.
Men set fire to women, verbally encourage women to smile in the streets, and rape behind dumpsters with equal agency. I am still learning to live in this world. Even with a kind man who promises to be my side forever, there’s an unease in my day to day because of the violence I've endured and the fact that at like 5:00 on a Wednesday I’m a bitch for not stopping to entertain a stranger.
Around and between the monkey bars, Willow ran from her perpetrator then turned abruptly to face him, saying “you can’t catch me.” It’s that resistance that I want to cultivate, fan, and tease out if I can. Because this really isn’t play. It’s a learning.
I shut my thumb in the car door
and realized the fragility of a fingertip
Here, mothers are killer whales
and children are fish
where we are together, anchor-less ships
We wait for the men
somewhere dutifully preparing and trying their best
which is why I've always loved them
But when the pain pored over my arm
and I shed my nail, it was a charcoal goodbye
These things happen, accidents
attacks now, I blame myself
I should have never stood there
"Oh, I should have loved him harder"
now I've also shed the jelly love that
brought them to me in the first place
I wrapped cloud gauze, inherited guilt
the moment I walk from the car
and cannot move
I look to Mommy because she knows
she's warned me of blindly slamming doors
but she can't tell me anything
Is this what it's like to be a woman?