by Masha Sukovic
We are in bed together for the first time. We are holding hands, motionless, not looking at each other. The air in the room feels dense and heavy, pregnant with our twin silences.
I abruptly let go of his hand and start playing with my long, dark hair. I am so nervous, I could puke.
“Look, there is something I need you to know,’ I whisper to him under my breath, even though we are alone and there is no one else there to hear. “I look different than you expect…down there.’
He is silent, waiting. With the corner of my eye, I can see the powerful pectoral muscles of his sculpted bare chest rising and falling slowly as he breathes. I can’t see his face, but I can sense his alertness, his ears cocked like those of a wild animal trying to decide whether to pounce or flee.
I lick my dry lips with the tip of my tongue. The soft breath of the summer night coming through the open window suddenly turns chilly, and I feel myself begin to shudder.
“When I was a little girl, maybe five or six years old,’ I whisper, “the women in my village performed a female circumcision on me. They also call it a cliterodectomy, because it involves the removal of the clitoral hood and labia minora.’
I feel better talking about it in clinical terms. That way it feels cleaner, simpler, like it happened to someone else, in a galaxy far, far away. Not me.
That way, when I relive the events of that day, I can imagine it isn’t my aunt, my own mother’s older sister, who brought me a bag of my favorite candy that very morning, with a loving smile on her broad face, who is now holding me down, her sweat dripping into my mouth twisted in agony, her strong brown hands pinning my struggling arms slick with sweat behind my back. I can imagine that the old woman, who is my next door neighbor and whose chickens I chased around the yard, barefoot and giggling, only moments before, isn’t the one cutting into my tender flesh with a razorblade, as I struggle, fight, and scream. I can forget that the women in my home village are nothing but weapons, casualties, and hostages, their minds and bodies colonized by toxic patriarchy running amok. Clinical terms can sanitize anything, even nightmares.
Now that I have said my piece, I grow quiet. He draws a deep, raspy, tortured breath that makes me think that there must be a sleeping Malayan tiger stretched out on his chest. Then he silently reaches out in the dark, finds my trembling hand, and gently squeezes it.
“That’s OK. Really,’ I say, touched. “I escaped all that, that life. I’m here now. With you. I didn’t end up becoming some fat man’s second wife,’ I spit out with a forced chuckle.
“I just wanted you to know. But I’m OK, now. I have a medical degree. I am a citizen of the United States of America, for God’s sake. For better or worse. I am safe from all that. It’s just hard, sometimes, you know? It’s hard telling people about it.’
“I know,’ he answers, hoarsely. And I am strangely offended, even angered, by that. How can he, a man, possibly know what it feels like to be a woman, broken, betrayed, and wounded by those she trusts the most, torn apart limb for limb, bloodied and butchered like meat for the market, just to keep some anonymous husband’s property intact?
He takes a deep breath. “My Dad was this military guy,’ he whispers. “He was huge, pure muscle. When I was eight, I told him I wouldn’t wear a dress to church because I didn’t want to be a girl anymore. He tried to force me into it, and when I wouldn’t budge, he…he just lost it. He took off his belt and beat me bloody with the buckle. He said he would beat that fucking bullshit out of me if it’s the last thing he does. He beat me every Sunday before church until I turned 17. Then one Sunday, three days after my 17th birthday, when he raised his belt wielding hand at me, I hit him so hard, I broke his fucking jaw. That was the last time I saw my Dad. I ran away from home that day. Changed my name. Changed my whole life.’
He is breathing hard now, clutching his fists in the dark, like he just ran a mile up a steep hill in thin mountain air, with a Malayan tiger on his heels. It’s my turn to be silent again. I squeeze his hand, caressing his callused palm with my thumb. I am lying on my back, and I can suddenly feel the tears I didn’t even know I was shedding fill my ears and roll down the back of my neck.
We are there, together, holding hands, the summer night spreading its blanket of stars across the vast California sky, the rhythmic humming and whirring of crickets outside the window washing over us like warm rain. And suddenly, as if an invisible puppeteer is expertly pulling at our tired, worn-out strings, we turn towards each other and fall into a deep, hungry, urgent embrace.
We are both skittish and uneasy at first, reluctant to touch and explore what is unknown to us: he is afraid of hurting me, because, after all these years, my scars still look so angry and raw; me of touching him in a way that could somehow, unwittingly, question his masculinity. But then we both let go of our qualms, and melt into one another; our bodies and our fears dissolving together like soft pools of hot candlewax.
I clutch at the short hair at the nape of his muscle-bound neck, where two elaborate tattoos of birds in flight meet, as he gently kisses me down there, where the many pains of my past are forever etched into my flesh, his tongue a panacea, his tears soft like liquescent butterfly kisses.
And afterwards, we just hold each other, our bodies beaded with sweat, naked, exposed, and raw, covered in the soft pink dust of the emerging dawn, two long lost children, home at last. And we softly whisper to each other and to each of the little girls that we once were: “You are good. You are loved. You are enough. You are whole.’