Every decision, so they say, creates a parallel dimension, setting up another ‘self’ who goes on to make different choices, ad infinitum. Well, they say that in this dimension, anyway. Here’s a tale from Kristy Webster that takes place in the here-and-now and the way-back-then – an impressive feat for a tidy little tale.
I still remember those boys who tried to make us feel stupid; asking us what the last book was we read, the capital of Michigan and questions about all the wars from World War I to Desert Storm. You nodded and smiled. I dug my nails into my thighs. What did we know? We still had babies suckling at our breasts. We were babes ourselves who’d known husbands at a young age, who’d listened to the Men of God. We were daughters of Ruth. What did we know about Science and History, Geography and other recipes for intellect?
Those boys told us how pretty and brave we were. They said how hard it must be, so young, so alone, looking after our children. They looked at us like meat, but back then, nineteen and twenty, you and me, we were roses. Pretty, dumb roses. You made magic happen with your flame red hair and your ice blue eyes, you knew how to be soft. Me, I thought I was Joan of Arc back then, shaving my head and throwing all kinds of babies out with the stale bathwater. No more God, no more Men, no more Marriage, no more of the quiet cringing, the acidic silence bubbling in my belly. I wanted what those boys had.
I plucked Emerson, Whitman and Borges from a Power Tree, ate them without a lick of seasoning. I traversed the gap over the years best I could, to someday teach those boys something about what a rose of a girl could learn.
All the while men nodded at your enchanted smile not at all caring what you knew, what you didn’t know. They wanted whatever it was you had; that supernatural breath that moved and excited them. You held your power in the prisms of your giggle, the toss of your locks, the weight of your touch.
I swear it’s not too late, to show those boys what we can do. What did they know? Names and dates and capitols? How to roll their own cigarettes? What did they know about stolen adolescence? What did they know about being beat over the head with the Old Testament, offered forgiveness, maybe, by the Gospels? Did they know the right hem lengths, the difference between housewife and whore? Did they know how to be invisible and visible at all the right hours and places? Did they know how bad it felt for us, to know so much of nothing that the nothingness impaled us, slanted us towards our own dominion? What did they know.
Back then our hungry babies nursed from our goose-pimpled breasts while those boys, those Almost Men, laughed at us, swollen with the pride of knowing all the things we never had the chance to find out before becoming wives and mothers then single mothers. That moment I promised myself that someday I’d pull the rug out from under those boys’ fat egos.
I thought you should know, I found one of those boys today, balding and robust in all the wrong places. He took my order, and I gave him a one-dollar tip. He put his arms around me. I showed him a picture of my son, now a man. He showed me a picture of his two-year-old daughter. His partner had left him. My second husband had left me. What good does it do, this game of What We Know, when we end up in the same place, with pictures of our children vibrating in our pockets?