The Knowers

Who can know the true value of the harvest?

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.


The Knowers

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?

27 thoughts on “The Knowers

  1. Mac Eagan says:

    Although much of this story leads me to sadness, listening to a woman recount the injustice of not being treated with respect, the final question leaves me with introspect. Do we all end up at the same place, regardless of our circumstances and whatever choices we make? Or should we all give more careful consideration to our choices, realizing that a few will change our path, but we are tasked with determining which of all our choices are those important few.

    I loved the poetic justice of “He took my order, and I gave him a one-dollar tip.” Serves him right. Serves anyone right who fails to consider the value of others.

    Great work.

  2. Parisianne Modert says:

    How marvelous your words of women flow in rhythm to the beat of the changing of times and customs. Within your wisdom blossoms the pushback and aspirations of women to be fuller human beings with the respect from the men once denying that fuller set of inherent potential. Here is the temporary death of false equality in romance with life purpose and the resurrection of women and men adjusting, but not quite reaching that truest equality and enduring love for each other.

    I wonder if that partnership is two or even more generations away for most heterosexual couples. Your story does give me hope and perspective into how we have evolved as women which has upset the notions of more traditional men. I wonder if women and men of my niece’s twenty something generation can really grasp how we as older women have rejected our great grandmothers’, grandmothers’ and mother’s pass me down view of how we should behave as women. If they haven’t I would suggest they read your story of the aspirations of women to be full participants in the world we share with men. Get use to us gentlemen for we have arrived and are every bit your equal intellectually.

    Your story to me leaves me lingering with bittersweet thoughts of the nature of the relationships of wives and husbands with your elegantly modern last sentence ending at, “with pictures of our children vibrating in our pockets?”. Thank you for your beautiful word craft of profound insights Kristy. It has been an honour to read your words knowing I would pluck your writings off the shelf telling my niece that you are a must read for both myself as her aunt and her as we both mature in life as women working for a more enlightened world of respect and dignity for all.

    • Beverly Lucey says:

      I saw the story as more narrow than that. The narrator and her friend were caught in a fundamentalist religious sect that they accepted until they didn’t anymore, and somehow found the courage to run away. Out of the narrow, into the wide.

      They had been beaten down with distorted words of a god and a Book until they realized there were other words in other books, that other men’s words were not so harsh and could truly inspire. Both the protected world that hurt them and the wide world that hurt them, led me to think that of the two, she would choose the wide because at least she could choose to be wise. That wisdom, though, doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, but does lead to perspective and understanding…even sympathy.

      • Kristy Webster says:

        Yes, Beverly, you hit the nail on the head. This is a very thinly veiled biographical piece. You really got it. Thank you.

  3. Glclark says:

    So who wins? We all struggle against some sort of gender bias and prejudice and ignorance and insensitivity and bullying only to find out in the end that we all end up in the same place – sitting in a diner being served a cup of coffee by the person voted Most Likely To Succeed and sharing pictures of our kids with people we wouldn’t give the time of day back when we were trying to climb some imaginary social ladder.

    This story is one of those head slappers that says, “Why didn’t we know we would end up like this all those years ago.” And, if we’d known, would we have acted as we did back then?

    I never went to any of my high school reunions for this reason. The ‘Beautiful People” didn’t like us “Goat Ropers” and we didn’t give a damn whether they did or not. Next time I get an invitation to a reunion, I’m going to send this story to the organizers and tell them to kiss my rusty red ass.

    By the way – Damn good story and beautifully written!

  4. Stars Fall On My Heart says:

    Between the two, who knows more? I suppose it matters if you value knowledge, by itself, rather than simply a means for financial success or elevated status. So what was the right path? It’s the one thing books can never reveal and neither of them may never know. Lovely job once again <3

  5. Michael Stang says:

    They way I appreciate this well talented told tale, is that nobody gets out of here alive. You can climb, scrape, destroy each other until the gows come home, that’s just the way we do it, show me different. Our energy is exactly that- ours, related to each other, connected to the universal lines of existence, the way we work. Everybody’s got circles, we come back around. Do I live corrected, abused, ignored, honored, accepted, you bet I do and you do too. The way you have expressed yours is masterful.

    • Stars Fall On My Heart says:

      The ending leveled the playing field. I don’t know if that’s what we women pictured when we rallied for equality…

      • Michael Stang says:

        Nor the blinded by all that can be hidden away men. How do they (me) suffer themselves? Death laughs at each the same.

        • Mac Eagan says:

          I don’t think I can agree with you, Stefanie, that the playing field was leveled. There was certainly a reversal and likely one that neither side really saw coming. The narrator/protagonist knew where she wanted to be and showed a lot of focus in getting there. One might argue she saw the end coming but I would say she only saw the end for herself. Although she may have hoped, I doubt she ever saw the boy from her past playing the role of servant to her.
          I do agree with Mike that in the end we all become equal. What is important, then, is to learn and practice that equality before it is forced upon us.

          • diana_SD says:

            Ooh, now I’m I’m the one to disagree! I don’t think we are equal until we are worm food. I do think we are all slaves to our biology, mostly sticking to our roles–even when we think we aren’t–until we wise up, often far, far along in the game of life. No we aren’t equal. Some never wise up and remain as egotistically attached to their own face in the mirror as they ever were. This story is a sad commentary on having only kids to show for it in the end because we couldn’t see past the dictates of biology. Not a life in my estimation, unless you really, really enjoyed it, and I got no sense of that here. The equality I saw here was in the blindness of social strictures that make so much less of our lives than they could be. That our protagonist sees that they were both blinded is the only salving outcome for me.

            What’s REALLY important is that Kristy gave us something to chew on, to think about, and to ponder and a protagonist whose strengths and weaknesses are all bared in a few exquisitely written sentences. Good work!

          • Mac Eagan says:

            Wow – that’s two fights I’ve gotten into during this contest!
            OK, not really fights but it does seem to be the second time I and another person have “disagreed” although we may have been saying the same thing.
            I don’t think I could misunderstand what you mean by us being equal “when we are worm food.” That is the point I was trying to convey when I said I agreed with Mike that “in the end we all become equal.” Mike had posted “no one gets out of here alive” and that is where I agreed with him. And I believe you and I are also in agreement on that point.
            A point we certainly agree on is that Kristy has given us an excellent piece of writing, as seen from all the discussion it has stirred up.

  6. tlrelf says:

    The ending gave me chills. . .While I was expecting some sort of conclusion that showed how the narrator triumphed (or believed herself to triumph), I wasn’t expecting this compassionate scene complete with realization that our children make it all worth while!

  7. Beverly Lucey says:

    This story is fabulous. The balance of then and now, the evening out at the bitter end–the language itself is gorgeous and created characters out of a small group who represent the Almost Everyone in that closed world back then. Wow. I am humbled.

  8. Jean Rodenbough says:

    But really, it’s never too late to show those guys how much wisdom and power you have gained from life experiences!!!

  9. diana_SD says:

    What a haunting insight into the gender wars! This poignantly written story of the disrespect shown to each other that results in nothing more than children–no sense of self to emerge from the conflict, just PTSD victims of separation. That all we have to show for ourselves is raw procreation–no tenderness, no revelation of self-hood is a reality so many of us face. A tragic tale of the sad misuse of personal power and the struggle to escape the endless cycle of biologically driven competition. I am moved by your insight into the empty tragedy that life becomes without empathy.

  10. Tiffany Monique says:

    The story also gave me chills. There were some tasty lines of description and an accusation and a sadness. There was hope and hopelessness as well, and I like the way it begs discussion. Well done!

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