June 12, 2010 by The Citron Review
All the hard laughter. It scrapes, as if laughter’s a kind of rape. Even Tony Antonio, who saw me with Cosmo in my math book during study hall 5th hour—“Five Secrets to Reeling in My Man,” “Ten Steps to Satisfying Him in Bed,” “Seven Ways to Highly Effective Orgasms,”—he was laughing hardest.
Now he whispers in my ear during history, says he wants to meet me at his red convertible in the parking lot. Bring whatever’s in my purse. But he’s not pointing at my purse when he says that. I cross my legs, am so red I’m burning up the parking lot it’s so obvious. Yeah, I want him. This is a guy who would have highly effective orgasms. Not that I want to be thinking it. Not that I even really know what’s effective about one or not. Right now I just want him to shut up. Right now I’d rather screech away in my own red convertible, flames blazing up the streets, hair dyed scandalous as The Scarlet Letter.
But we’re stuck in this history class, his eyes on my back. All of it. While people are overthrowing dictators, killing each other every which way, I know he’s watching me. There’s looting and pillaging. The teacher never says “raping,” but we’re all thinking it. About how there’s nothing to stop some people from getting all they want. About how much there is to want: the power, the crowns with their emeralds and rubies set in gold.
But Mr. Habush says in war, things are different. He says it with a glazed-over look on his face, like he’s looking past the back wall and into some place he’s been he’d rather not tell us about. But he has to. Soldiers don’t just take over a place sometimes, he says, they set fires swallowing entire villages. It’s us against them. You follow orders. But here, right here, right now, under the florescent lights (he points to them, jabs his finger like he’s angry at them) and in a heated room it’s different. And he’s right back here staring us down like we’re at boot camp and he’s gotta shape us up. Oh, we’ve got it good. Don’t we know it? He starts in about our inalienable rights like voting and calling senators secretaries, talks about people who make homemade signs to march with out of markers and duct tape or go to Kinkos to do it.
And I think it get it, for a second: I’m not helpless. Not really. Sometimes it’s just that you think you’re helpless. Don’t have power. You think you don’t, and just then, because you’re not shot at or in a prison cell, you do. Because you’re not in an unheated room with someone pressing you against the wall with a gun in your mouth, like what must have happened to Mr. Habush in wherever cold place he was stationed or whatever. That gives you power. Freedom to choose. There’s power in my purse right now. And Tony’s eyes all over me. No one’s pressing me against a wall. Unless I want them to. I can do anything I want with that.
Angela Rydell has work published or forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly, Poet Lore, Poets & Writers and other journals. She is a recipient of Poets & Writers’ Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award and holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College.