June 20, 2016 by The Citron Review
by Liz Breazeale
Off this sinewy vein of Missouri highway among rib-curved hills a billboard screams: Sodomy Is Sin.
The other side is equally unnatural against Missouri’s autumn colors, stating:
Other times I’ve made this drive, this billboard has lectured me even further, reminding me that Jesus Paid it All, or that ISIS best Friend Obama. Here in rural Missouri, the Bible Belt buckle, it’s not hard to imagine someone handpainting these black letters, like uneven teeth across a wide canvas mouth.
I think of this gentleman scholar, who raises his hate-filled voice as though he is beside me, as Billboard Man. I make an assumption, sure, that this person is a man. I base this assumption on the fact that men give me their opinions about everything, unasked for, unbidden, unapologetic. My makeup or hair or clothes. My opinions, my thoughts, my body. Abortion and birth control and my uterus in general. This is why I speak of Billboard Man and not Billboard Woman.
I should be laughing as I drive, a small, masculine voice tells me, the voice of friends who are older and white and male, unseen passengers who whisper, have a sense of humor, this guy’s just an idiot. But these are men who will never need an abortion or birth control or do not have mothers who are not American citizens, men for whom conservatives are only punchlines, men who have nothing to fear from misogyny and sexual regulation and xenophobia, men who have told me and continue to tell me opinions far less hateful but no less assured of my silent agreement. They, too, are Billboard Men, kinder, gentler ones, more educated ones, but their opinions are punched into the air with the same fervor, the same belief, the same confidence that no one could disagree or want to disagree, that no one has ever lived or believed differently.
Billboard Man, like all Billboard Men, assumes he deserves my attention. Billboard Man is more important than autumn sunrise over colors vivid in the morning haze, more interesting than cloudless sky in the evening so deep blue it vibrates at the edges, more valuable than these sights that come once and never again. Billboard Man does not care that I’d rather watch the scenery. Billboard Man, in short, is more important than me, than what I want, than what I think. Billboard Man deserves my attention, deserves to insert himself into what has been, until this moment, a peaceful drive as the waning sun becomes a curved hip over the top of a hill.
So no part of me wants to laugh when I pass this sign. What I want to do is shout, to stretch my mouth as wide as Billboard Man, to emblazon myself across that white expanse. I want to fill that colorless space with myself for a change, because the words are not as important as the act of filling. I want to scream the way he screams at me, still, from the rearview mirror.
They are everywhere, Billboard Men, with opinions shaped out of beer-gutted letters, so loud they snake into the very air, tongued and slick and twisting, and if I do not hold my breath, if I do not snap my mouth closed, I will inhale them without realizing. They proclaim with the constant, covetous insistence of someone who would not even say he has the right because, to him, to all of them, the right is not conscious, not in the mind but in the marrow.
I drive scattered, unable to return to myself, thoughts strewn among letters along the side of the interstate, knowing the world is made up of these men, that they cannot be escaped. That to live, to be a woman, is to be the blank space, the canvas, the empty billboard that cannot exist, surely not, without the words of the Billboard Men scrawled across me.
Liz Breazeale recently moved to Kansas City, where she works as a technical writer and volunteers as a content editor for the Blue Monday Review. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University, where she worked at the Mid-American Review. Her work has been featured in the Best of the Net Anthology 2015 and selected as runner-up for The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize. Her fiction is forthcoming in The Sycamore Review and Fence, and has appeared in Passages North, Carolina Quarterly, Booth, Flyway, and others.