Martyrs

At the beginning of my junior year of high school, we started leaving school after play practice—me and the Countess and the Dryad—to drive around town. I had a car, a piece of shit Honda, the color of old mayonnaise, without functional defrosters or radio. The passenger seat held a boombox, and usually the Countess holding the boombox and sometimes a collection of wasted D batteries used to power said boombox. I had just started smoking, actually smoking, not just holding a cigarette between my fingers like a woman in an old movie and pretending to puff at it.

The driving around was a real deal and critical. I’m not sure if you grew up somewhere civilized and walkable, with honest-to-Christ public transportation that I can convey to you the open-windowed, Springsteenian joys of being sixteen and barreling around your hometown under the cover of darkness, playing music loud enough to contain all your teenage feelings as you speed toward oblivion or adulthood, which might be the same thing. We liked the bendy twists and gothic black of the river roads, the lowest point in our mountainous town, and in those days a wasteland of blackened warehouses and the graffiti palimpsests all the way to the monumental ruin of the old railroad roundhouse with the shattered windows. We rode with the windows open because the cigarettes and the prickling cold of autumn made us feel kind of high. We switched records to match the mood. I liked “Disintegration” for driving. The Countess liked Cocteau Twins, but the easy favorite that fall was Tori Amos’ “Little Earthquakes,” courtesy of the Dryad.

I remember flying downhill on Craven St, while we shivered collectively to the minor-keyed, arpeggiated evocations of trauma and suffering. And it felt real and visceral as hell. And  it probably would have even if I had not been a girl that played piano and tried to transform myself into both a singer-songwriter and an unnatural redhead.. I was new on my musical education, barely begun to explore the seemingly infinite world of art about female pain. I  still struggled  with Kate Bush and Sylvia Plath. I was a couple seasons away from Liz Phair and Carson McCullers, a year before Kathy Acker and PJ Harvey and Riot Grrrrl (and the four-month period of time when this was my favorite song[1] in the world). I’d eventually I start to fetishize fury and wear my ironic distance like it was part of the dress code.  At sixteen, though, listening to Tori Amos recount worst thing that could happen, acapella, past the ghostly loading docks of the river district, I thought, this is amazing, this is the kind of thing that people have to hear, this is this kind of thing that could change the world.

 I know.

Hilarious, right?

***

I haven’t really listened to Tori Amos since the turn of the millennia. Sometime along the line, her lyrics got once too oblique and too earnest kind of at exactly the same time. The music started to sound too much like the guy doing pop covers on the piano by the escalators at Nordstrom. For a while, I wrote it off as a problem of the new stuff. Then, I started hearing all I didn’t like in the old stuff too. There were a handful of songs I could sit through without squirming. There are a couple of her songs I haven’t deleted off the hard drive.

Tori wasn’t the only artist I adored as a teenager  and fell out with as an adult. She aged a bit better than JD Salinger, slightly worse than Donna Tartt, and about the same than the entire subgenre of mostly Northern California-based, melodic punk rock (and its attached “scene”) to which I professed an embarrassingly devotional, cross-continental attachment for a few years. She is, however the only one whose songs, oblique and over-earnest as they may be, have continually re-upped on the brain over the weekend.

I probably don’t have to tell you that my life over the past few days/weeks/ months) both online and IRL, have been a constant broadcast of what women have suffered at the hands of men.   It feels like we’re bleeding out all over the public square to force a reckoning, and yet the crowd mutters on, disinterested, inured, convinced it is mere spectacle, a tale of sound and fury told by hysterics for the advancement of a political agenda.

And here’s the thing: those voices, that chorus? It may be louder now. Everything sounds like an arena hit when amplified by strangers on social media. It’s not new, though. The days we drove  too fast on the River Road wondering aloud why we crucified ourselves, every-y-day? That was about a year after Anita Hill bared her soul on Capitol Hill, was excoriated for it, and despite all she endured another shitty man assumed a shitty man assumed one of the highest judicial seats in the land. On the radio, as we drove, were  the allegations of women accusing then-candidate Bill Clinton for various acts of sexual misconduct. During the day, we listened in the bathrooms and hallways and we learned things.  We learned which teachers got handsy. We learned which boys thought they were entitled to it. We learned which parties to avoid. We didn’t learn those things because we were smarter or safer or less reckless than the other girls. We learned them  because some other girl had already faced whatever trauma,  pulled one of us aside and said, I need you to know what kind of boy he is. I want you to understand what sort of world we live in. And I need someone to know what happened to me, to believe I am telling the truth.

 And despite that, despite our efforts, at least one of us in the car had her own chapter to add to the great pain compendium by the end of semester, as horrifying as the rest, almost more horrifying because it almost sounded mundane by then, like I’d heard it before. Because had heard it before. I ‘d heard it a hundred times and it always ends the same way and I don’t know how many more  times we should be expected to endure it before someone fucking pays attention.  

***

I don’t have a solution. Destroy The Patriarchy sounds pretty good. Not exactly reasonable. Maybe not practical. Certainly not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

I am tired though. I am tired of talking about this. I’m tired of the same old shit. I’m tired of women (and men and non-binary people) opening their wounds time and time again to a bunch of old, white dudes who insist they see nothing. Like what in the world did half the population in the world do to deserve the Prometheus treatment? Is this really still about a goddamn apple?

I want to believe that there is a turning point. That this is a turning point. That all this suffering serves some function. I tell you my story, so you maybe won’t have to suffer as I did, even if that’s not how it works. That’s never how it works. I know my history. I know it backwards and in high heels.  I don’t like the feeling that these experiences, these testimonies, these stories, the painful recountings are just part of the landscape, an acceptable, normalized level of horror and suffering that is nothing more than a burden of womanhood, no different than puberty, from childbirth, from menopause. Did you get your period? Have you started wearing a bra? Do you have your #metoo yet?

I have friends with daughters that are about the same age I was when I hung out with the Countess and the Dryad. More than anything  I wish things had changed more since 1992 than they have. I wish people listened–actually listened– to women. I wish were trusted, without qualification, to report our actual experience, not just to each other.  I wish that a woman being hurt, harassed, assaulted (and threatened with violence should she ever report it) were seen as being as much of a tragedy as a man not getting a job. And since we’re in real beggars on horses territory, imagine a world in which men were held accountable for their actions. Imagine a world in which children were raised to know better by parents, authority figures and communities that did not accept sexual assault as a normal expression of boys being boys. 

I don’t live in that world, no matter how hard I try to pretend I do. You don’t either. We live in the one still clamorous with horrors survived and endured and endured again with each retelling all the way to oblivion or adulthood or Capitol Hill, whichever comes first.

Maybe it’s time for a different kind of song.

____________

[1] If I’m honest, still one of my favorites

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