hē′mă-tō-poy-ē′sis ~ pericardium

Waiting for a Hard Rain

Stephanie K. Hopkins

2006

It is one week, two days, and five hours until my
seventeenth birthday. Summer stretches before me like a
march of endless, windless days. I sit on the porch, feel
the wood tremble as trucks go by
. In the past ten
minutes alone I have counted fourteen. I should go inside;
my skin is burning, the tops of my knees bright pink.
Instead, I sip lemonade. By now the ice has melted, and
each time I lift the glass, cool liquid drops onto my legs,
runs over the surface of skin.


There will be a party, no doubt. There will be cake
with seventeen candles and an invitation to make a wish.
I will close my eyes, wait three or four seconds, open
them and blow. I will not wish for anything this year,
except maybe a cool, hard rain
.


How could I know yet how summer will unfold?
How could I know that in one week, three days, and seven
hours, I will be inside a car looking out? I will see the
yellow glow of streetlights, the quick flash of a parking
car. I will hear a door shut, the jingle of keys, voices
and music rise and drop with the opening of the club
doors. I will feel three things: the steady thrust of the
steering wheel against my head, a hard object wedged
beneath my back, and him inside me. I will not know
whose car it is, if its parts are all working, if it gives a
smooth ride.

But I am jumping ahead. For now, there is only the
march of days, wood trembling beneath bare feet, white
heat burning
.

Where will you go, my darling young one?

I walk the thin path along the highway. Though
the sky is blue with no clouds, the view is white. White
papers spin in clusters, white edges flickering like white
heat. White of sun reflected off a red mini-van. The road
itself a white pathway. White, like some smile plastered
on the face of a boy whose mouth makes you think of
Christmas lights and glitter.

A pick-up truck with a dog in back speeds by and I
think, Away. You don’t have to know your direction; you
don’t need a map. You can just burst forward, and the sky
above you will stay a bright, endless blue.


The gas station on the corner looks like it has been
waiting a long time for me. Rusty car parts line the
gravel turnaround
. A whole engine sits without its car.
Faded vinyl frames a boarded up entrance. Weeds grow
through cracks in the concrete lot. I smell oil mixed with
dirt
as I walk behind the building, step over car parts.
Hidden from traffic, I slide my back down the gas station
wall until I sit against it, hands hugging knees.

Car parts confuse me. The way they make
movement possible, the way they hide beneath a smooth
veneer: carburetor, alternator, shock absorber. But don’t
listen to me. I don’t really know what these are. I just
like the sound of things. Compressor. All that speed in
just three syllables.

Tell me, have you found yourself in the back of a
speeding car, felt that rush as trees bowed down, sped
past?

And who did you meet, my darling young one?

So this is what happens next: I meet a boy. In a
car. In white summer heat. He’s the one I told you about.
Do you remember? One day, two hours after my
seventeenth birthday. The one I lose my virginity to. In
the front seat of a borrowed car. In a parking lot. Of a
club.

Don’t judge me. I couldn’t help it, I was burning.
Oh. I forgot to tell you that, didn’t I? The virginity thing.
But you knew all along, you’re a smart girl. You know
what vinyl against soft skin can do. You know about the
inside of cars, how heat gets trapped, becomes hotter than
skin can bear.

I left other things out too. My friends inside the
club, waiting
. But that isn’t important. So what is
important? The car that drives by? The things I hear.
Should I tell you? What will you think of me then? If I
told you what one of them yelled. How would you see
me? Just a girl, her head beneath a steering wheel, her
skirt raised. Her first time. A man’s voice. Girl parts
named like car parts. Her engine exposed
.

Don’t let the pale wrists, the fragile frame, fool
you. As if I was a stranger to cars. I am not.

There’s one more thing. I forgot to tell you. It
wasn’t three things I felt in that car, it was four: the steady
thrust of the steering wheel against my head, a hard object
wedged beneath my back, him inside me, and white heat
that burned through me with its dizzying, tumbling rage.

Other cars follow. And boys, yes, but they aren’t
important. Only one boy matters here.

There is the car in dark woods. Pineapple air
freshener, empty beer bottle on floor, white dog hair on ragged fabric seats. Tell me. Have you shivered in the
back of a borrowed car
, stumbled over belt buckles and
buttons and seats that fall down, but not all the way? And
did you see: Flash of a white smile. Flash of light. The
face of a man. His shiny badge. Did you pull a borrowed
shirt around you as the cops laughed, and he laughed with
them. As you played the game of a girl gone wrong. Look
how she shivers—the naked teenage body behind a
borrowed shirt.
Imagine the glimpse of white thighs, the
thin wrists. Count the moonlit lines that illuminate soft
skin.

This same car, the same boy, take me to an
afternoon party behind someone’s house. It doesn’t matter
whose—it could be anyone’s. Older girls stand in clusters
with their perfume trails. Perhaps you know them?
Perhaps you were there. The long, manicured nails, the
even tan. They eye me as I raise glass to glass. The swift
shot pushes the head back, the throat catches fire. One.
Two. Three. Four. Look how easily they go down.

There is music. Hard music that suddenly gets
soft. It is from another generation, and it lifts and drops
with the sweet summer air. The voice is warm and light
like water trickling over skin.

Oh where have you been my darling young one?

I am in a garden of daisies and long, tan limbs. I
see how light stretches across the lawn in geometric
perfection. The crowd roars on the live recording, an
ovation to each step I take without falling. Hand finds
hand, feet stumble over stairs. Myself, bathed in light and
music, and him, quietly leading, move past closed doors,
into an empty room. Downstairs: laughter, a girl’s high
squeal
, a whiffle ball hitting a bat, the clamor of
conversation, the guitar’s calming strum. Darkness
presses against my eyes, closes them to the lull and blur.
What does it matter that the rug rubs my knees raw? I
should tell you this: I released myself, soared into air.

This is how the summer unfolds. Like white paper
pressed neatly into squares. How the deep folds mark the
opened page. You have to hold it against a hard surface,
smooth it down with a firm hand. Even then, lines run
through it. Like shadows break up sunlight.

I arrive at his house on the day he folds white t-
shirts, places them neatly in a bag. He leads me to the
pool where we drink beer in late summer sun. I dive deep,
awaken at the cold splash, the chlorine smell. He watches
quietly. Long legs snake through water. Streak of white
beneath the blue.

Vegas, he tells me when I dry off, as if that
explains things. As if one word could ever be enough. I
need more words than I can count. But he will leave me
behind with this heat that builds to a dizzying rage.
I
am left to walk a curved road alone, against the sound of a
distant hammer, the echo of flip flops against tar. To wish
for a hard rain to cool me.

Oh. But it seems I have left things out again. It’s
tricky, you know. I wait for you to read between the lines,
but how can you? If I could just hold my hand against
your forehead, let you feel the fever that pulses there.

Then you would know.

Then you would know why, at the party, at
somebody’s house, in the afternoon, on a hot summer day,
in an upstairs room, on a stranger’s floor, on a rough wool
rug, I let myself be lifted up, I soared into air. It doesn’t
matter
how many drinks I had, how many hands lifted
me
. I lost count.

What matters is this: the sudden scratch of
polyester against a bare back. The white torso, draped
over the bed, legs dangling. My head in his lap. Three or
four of them with their hands on my thighs. Can I touch
her?
His quick nod. She’s beautiful. I, too, am enamored
by the beauty of outstretched legs, the sleek lines, the
delicate skin. As if they are not my own. As if the moan
comes from another’s throat.

That’s enough, he says. Enough. As if it can be
counted. As if we could hold it in our hands and count it
together like daisy petals, seashells, raindrops.

We never speak this moment. I never let him
know I know. Never let them see the restlessness that
propels me through summer days, stirs up the surface of a
still lake.

Oh where have you been, my darling young one?

I have been in a room of a house where light
stretches across the carpet in geometric perfection.

And what did you see, my darling young one?

I saw. Light that went on for days. I saw. The bend
and sway of trees from the backseat of a car. They seemed
to bow as I passed by. The kind of bow where wind
rushes through you at the sight of it.

I could show you: like when I was small and
would lie on my back in the station wagon and look out
the rear window. I watched the upside down world rush
past, saw recognizable shapes turn into magic: the shoosh
and hush of leaves in wind, the bursting smell of vibrant
green, trees so close I could almost touch the underbelly
of leaves
, darkness giving way to a starry sky.


What’re you gonna do now, my darling young
one?

The day I sat at the gas station—one week, two
days, and five hours until my seventeenth birthday—how
could I know
then about the way light stretches across a
carpet, a lawn? That kind of knowledge is only visible
looking back, through a rear window, at a high speed.

If I could go back, see the girl against the gas
station wall, hands hugging knees, would I recognize her?
Would I see a sudden glimpse of white out of the corner
of my eye? I might think it a sliver of sunlight, a
reflection off hard metal. I might keep walking, take fast,
determined steps. Or I might stop, ask her, What are you
waiting for?

2018

Dear one,

I see you. Inside your bubble of sensual hyper- vigilance. The story of the child who learns to watch/listen/sense the world in order to guard against the violence of the unpredictable.


what is an invitation

who is making the invitation

a wish lies in someone else’s hands

WHY WON’T YOU WISH FOR ANYTHING?

What conditions are necessary for a young woman to know what she wants?

A cool, hard rain—something extreme to make you feel alive. Flash of girl on bedroom floor, cutting. The cool hard rain of metal and blood. Here I am.

You don’t yet know the words agency, power.

The split-ness into Watcher and The One Being Done To. A feeling of being kept inside, looking out. You named this feeling, “Love.”


A way of being is sealed here: a method of escape when someone enters; a retreat into the sensory world of objects; the pleasure of this heightened awareness of outside; and the mistaking of this pleasure as connection with another.


The view is indeed white. A fantasy of whiteness afforded only to the white: white trash, white purification hovering around the edges of what you could not see. The narrow box of a white childhood plus the lack of agency of girlhood gives us a story where wanting lies at the center. Where wanting can lie at the center. You did not yet understand the privilege of boredom. You could walk down a highway without getting shot for not being white.

Bad things happen to girls who head in the direction of away. But there is a budding power here: Away is that impulse inside you that knows there is more.


The gas station/mechanic shop is a masculine space. Grandfather’s space, father’s space, family craft. You internalized the masculine instead of interrogating it. You sought comfort in it, permission from it, protection by, with, and against it. As if any of its available forms could protect you; as if the masculine had answers for a girl wanting to get out. You were surrounded by broken-ness, fragments, non-working parts piled up like junk, and still, despite their done-ness, they carried weight. They carried sex-appeal, as many dead things do. This smell of oil mixed with dirt will forever trigger a complex mix ofsadness/desire/family/comfort/trappedness/longing/being anchored in the dirt.

THE STORY OF WHITE GIRLHOOD INSIDE THE PATRIARCHY IS A STORY OF WHO DID YOU MEET.


If I judged you, my love, it was to protect you from the judgement of others. But I see, now, that it makes no sense to cause harm in order to protect from harm. Can you forgive me?


The fantasy of a girl’s virginity/vagina/purity/pussy/a thing to be used/the tarnished/gone to rot/

Friendship, a place to bide one’s time until a dick is found? Friendship can’t protect you from yourself. Where secrets are born.


You played dumb. In a couple of years, you will be second in your high school class. And when you find out, you are horrified (at the visibility? At being separated from your peers? At the responsibility of leadership? Of having to speak out loud? Of having to live up to your own success once this is over? Of being desired less? Of having choices? Of not getting to stay in your perceived helplessness?) and you immediately fall behind in your classes so that someone else takes your place.


Who is responsible, who owns anything here.


They continued to shine the light on you. They wouldn’t stop. He and the cops laughed. The boys club of it. An unspoken “good job” to him. While you shivered, could not even put your clothes on. Just a naked girl behind a filthy shirt.


Yes I know, you were fine. You were cool. Of course you can take it, you’re a girl. The birth of toughness. But when you’re ready, maybe you’ll hear this: THIS WAS NOT OKAY.


The cultural preoccupation with the judgment of girls = smoke and mirrors

so that no one is looking at

the things said to her

the bullshit out of the mouths

the cock whipped out while she is

waiting for the bus/going to the library/going anywhere

is it any wonder the violence is re-enacted

to her, by her, with her

Girlhood as bullseye/

Cum ashtray



She must have something deeply wrong inside her, makes others become monsters

Sex will become the outlet for everything big that has no place to go. Everything that you don’t know how to give/release/express yourself will now require someone else’s presence, permission, and agency.


I am choosing this, you say. But choosing a thing that happened to you, after it happens, is different than saying: I want this. You will choose the things that happen to you so many times that you won’t even know how to know what you want.


White girls, white boys, white laughter, white pools, white beer cans, white thighs, white stories, white lies, white cops, white light, white heat, white clubs, white sex, white violence.


This, his leaving, will be what you attach your longing to. “Impossible desire” will become a phrase that means something to you.


You didn’t know that you didn’t know how to drink. The delay, between when liquor goes down and when it hits. You just knew: this is what boys do. Try to keep up. You were one of them once; you played baseball, basketball, soccer. You built forts and bike jumps from big rocks and wood; you could crash like the best of them, and unlike the other boys, you didn’t even cry when you bled.


HOW MANY HANDS. EVERY UNINVITED HAND COUNTS. EVERY. SINGLE. HAND.


Oh where did you go my darling young one?


You will name this “erotic.” You will call it up when you touch yourself later. You will tell yourself that this is a story of desire, of being desired. You were wet, weren’t you?

But that nagging detail…

You don’t talk about that, do you. Days later, your shift at the grocery store. The stock boys and deli slicers, the ones from the party. Laughing together. You walked by and they got quiet, and you

you

it’s okay to say it now

the humiliation

hard to

what happens next is simple but it holds the key

you

walked by and you

smiled at them as if you had all done this thing together

And what did they do?

They got quiet, looked away, looked down

BECAUSE THEY KNEW WHAT THEY HAD DONE

(even if you couldn’t face it.)

Trauma buries itself deep,

visible only in the shape of what follows.

The erotics of the filthy, the uncomfortable, the dark woods, the dangerous road. But isn’t there power in stepping off the civilized path? In owning the discarded? In not complying?

Yes. But you were always so sad.

I thought I could protect you by becoming hard/ numb. It was all I knew how to do: get out of there, out of the body. I’m so sorry. I made a lot of mistakes. It was inside me, too.

I know more now.

I will protect you.

What you really want:

the possibility of freedom,

sweet summer air on your skin,

all the beautiful things.

 

A note: This piece is part of a longer book-project (in progress), in which I revisit, pry open, press against, and rewrite stories of desire. These stories, some previously published and some unpublished, were written by me during what now feels like another era, when I was deep inside patriarchy’s domain, but I thought I was outside it. I am queer, after all, and a woman. How could I be part of the problem?

The work of dismantling the patriarchy requires looking outward at the structures that bind us and looking inward at the ways in which we’ve internalized patterns of dominance and victimhood; how our responses to power often recreate familiar hierarchies; and, perhaps what is more difficult to see: the ways in which patriarchal structures and values show up in those moments where we feel most like “ourselves”—our private longings, our deepest urges, the hidden places where we’ve proclaimed to ourselves or our lover, “I want.”

Is pleasure a thing? Is it set in stone? Is it something that we have, or which has us? Do we have agency in our wanting? Can we rewrite our desires?

This is, at its heart, a loving, questioning project. I am not seeking to shame an old self. For, shame is a relic. I am not after a prescription for what desire should or should not be. This project, rather, is an attempt to mark a moment in time, amidst a larger cultural shift in consciousness, when the stories I’ve written no longer seem to fit with the new shapes growing inside me, no longer make sense. If desire were water, then I am seeking to make visible that which directs and shapes and contains it. To turn the eye inward, to root out that which presses.

If I am championing anything, I am championing the vulnerability of interrogating that which we hold most dear. That which we benefit from, that which comforts us, that which we enjoy. So much so that we can barely look at it in the light of day. And when the containers shift—when the patriarchy gets exposed (inside, as well as outside)—what new channels, rivulets, openings, and boundaries can the impulse, or drive, that we call desire take the shape of, become?