let's hope this whole "writing poems outside of Chicago" thing isn't a fluke...
What One Could Learn From 3rd Grade Girls, if One were So Inclined
Imagine you are 7.
Imagine that the girl who rules your school,
the one with the fierce leather jacket
and a real poodle skirt for Halloween,
wants to be your friend.
Says she has a secret she wants to tell you.
She leans over and says
"The Easter Bunny isn't real.
Also, you're fat. And I hate you."
Decades later, it will still be hard to pin down
which part was worse.
Probably the part about the Easter Bunny.
Imagine you are 17.
And, after years of repeated abuse,
you pick your girlfriends based purely on their ability
to make you feel absolutely worthless.
Your best friend makes you feel like Frankenstein,
steals all your crushes,
and makes fun of your sister.
You love her because everyone does.
And proximity is better than exile.
You barely manage to not kill yourself Senior Year.
And your sister, the one who should have been your best friend all along,
takes the bus ride with you to buy the tiny amount of Prozac you can afford
on your minimum wage job selling balloons and party hats to impossibly cheerful people.
The irony is not lost on you.
Imagine you are 19.
And, one day, stumbling down snow-slicked streets
in a Montana town,
your safety is shattered by a stranger's hands
in places you can't protect, or predict.
It is fear, not cold that freezes you in place.
Imagine that somehow, one shard of courage shoots up,
colludes with the snowy streets,
and gets you free.
The worst has not happened.
Imagine that, when you call the police,
the woman on the other end asks for a description of his face.
Imagine you say "I couldn't bring myself to look. I was too afraid. Also, I was told good girls don't stare."
Imagine that she implies that, perhaps, you deserved it after all.
Imagine that, after this heaping up of indignities, you call your best friend at the time.
You pour out your fear, choke on it, humble yourself, ask her to come over,
keep the nightmares out a little.
You do not have to imagine what she says next. It rings in your ears after all this time.
"It's late. I'm in my pajamas. Can't you come over here?"
Imagine that you do not say "Seriously? Fuck you."
Imagine that, because you are a good friend, you empathize.
You say, "I know. It's late. Sorry I woke you. I'll be okay."
Imagine that, after you hang up, you crawl past the now-too-large windows of your house,
grab a kitchen knife, and fall asleep on the pile of clothes shoved in front of your door,
so nothing gets in.
Imagine the two of you never talk about that night again.
Imagine you are older now,
not wiser, really,
with friends who almost always answer your calls on the first ring,
and are so glad to hear your voice.
Imagine that you spend your days
with the under-12 set.
Imagine that your secret favorites are the ones who are told routinely
they are too ugly, too fat, too brown, too unfortunate to make it in this world.
Imagine you can see their beautiful selves shining through,
like how someone must have seen you.
Imagine you can see the reign of terror start,
the dictatorship of the blond-haired little girls
with their fierce leather jackets
and poisonous smiles.
Imagine that every day, you go home empty,
feeling powerless to stop the inevitable girl war.
But imagine these little ugly-beautiful girls surprise you,
and stand up,
use words as weapons without stooping low,
fixing forever your idea of who a friend is.
Imagine you get to stand back,
as some forever-broken part of you is fixed,
and the lie is undone that we girls will always hurt each other
on our way into the world.
Imagine you could almost cry
at how lucky you are to offer them a little
and get back so much.
Imagine the epiphany you might have,
there on the playground,
as they skip off,
to jump rope
and be beautiful for no one.