Why I Write: Lauren Yates
I started writing because no one ever took me seriously. I learned to question my emotions and my reality from a young age, and writing is the outlet I have used to speak my truth.
At my junior high school, instead of dances, we had “banquets.”
In the bank lobby-turned-multipurpose room, the tables faced the stage.
Pat and Oscar catered pizza, breadsticks, Caesar salad. A choice
of BBQ or lemon pepper wings. The boys asked why not burgers.
The chaperones explained, “Pat and Oscar do not sell burgers.”
I want to tell people that this is the moment I pulled a flask
of peach schnapps from my plush purse, the Snuggle bear’s
decapitated head. I blamed hand sanitizer for the alcohol smell.
In preschool, I told my crush that I swallowed a bead.
He told the whole playground I had swallowed a bee.
His version sounded more exciting. The truth is I did not
drink peach schnapps for thirteen more years. I probably
drank ginger ale in strappy sandals and a Limited Too dress.
At my table, people shifted their plates across the nylon tablecloth.
I heard my inner thighs in my dance class warm-ups swishing
away, but not the away I wanted. When my mother painted on
my makeup for dance competitions, she always got lipstick
above the “V” in my lips. She blamed my difficult mouth.
At banquets, we weren’t allowed to dance. We couldn’t kiss
or touch or grind. In place of a DJ, our teachers formed airbands.
They danced to Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.”
Don’t know much about history . Dressed as the Statue of Liberty,
Mrs. Demaree boogied forward. Don’t know much about biology.
Mrs. Keating sashayed across the chapel stage in a lab coat.
But I do know / that I love you /
And I know that if you love me, too /
What a wonderful world this would be.
I looked at my crush with electric hope for our first kiss.
I wanted him to smear my lipgloss like melted cotton candy.
I wanted him to smear my lipgloss like melted cotton candy.
The truth is I wrote him a love letter. He came out as gay.
The truth is, my first kiss did not happen for eight more years.
On the drive home, I was still hungry. My mother and I stopped
for burgers. I told her about the banquet. She marveled at my
“raw innocence.” I asked, “Can something be raw, if it’s not
meant to be cooked?” She ordered my burger well-done.
I bit into the burger and got a mouthful of pink.
My mother threw it away; I went to bed, hungry.
As told through the Plagues of Egypt
1. Water into Blood
I am twelve. Samantha and I are hitting the beach for Labor Day.
Neither of us has ever seen a hard-on. I am only a girl,
the way arousal is only blood flowing to the right places.
I want to kiss cute boys like in an Olsen Twins movie.
I worship Ashley, the femme. My mother calls me “girly-girl.”
Take it back! “That’s just your period talking,” she says,
summoning blood from my body. I call Samantha, crying.
I cannot go to the beach. I will turn the whole ocean red.
My mother parts my legs
and crams in a tampon. My cherry pops; my eyes widen.
My friends’ mothers coached them from outside
the bathroom door. Their mothers are nothing like Moses.
My mother crosses boundaries like the Red Sea.
My mother hands me a Valentine. “U R Sexy,”
signed Secret Admirer. It is my mother’s handwriting.
When I realize my mother called me sexy, dead frogs
fall from the sky. My mother puts on her reddest lipstick,
and puckers up. She is my valentine, I am not hers.
I am four, finally tall enough to reach the medicine cabinet.
I grab scissors and lop off my hair. My mother takes me
to get braids. I have not worn my hair natural since.
When my hair starts falling out, I shave my head like it is full of lice.
My mother buys me a wig. The boys I fuck all want to pull my hair.
I am sixteen. My mother spanks me over and over.
Swatting me like killing flies. I tell her to stop.
She keeps going.
When my boyfriend spanks me, he never rubs the skin
before doing it again. He hits the same spot until I bruise.
My ass swarmed, a rotten slab of meat.
My boyfriend bends me over like an animal.
He slides in raw without asking.
No condom. Even though we had planned this.
He says men do not have virginities. That ten percent insertion
doesn’t make him a rapist. My mother tells me this is normal.
I fear they have given me mad cow disease.
My mother walks in on me shaving my legs.
She sees my secret tattoo, turns away, as if my thigh drips with pus.
How dare I mutilate the body she gave me.
7. Thunder and Hail
On my twenty-first birthday, my mother drives us
to her boyfriend’s house in a hurricane.
My mother invites me into bed with them.
I sleep on the couch. She cuts off my health insurance.
She sends an invoice for every dollar she has ever spent on me.
I tell my boyfriend I have been abused by everyone I’ve ever loved.
Worst of all, my mother. He calls me “crazy.” I hear his voice
every day. It eats away at my brain, a colony of locusts.
My new boyfriend texts me he is going to kill himself.
He says it isn’t my fault, that I am the best thing that ever
happened to him. He has a two-year old daughter.
My mother’s boyfriend leaves her for being too “crazy.”
She blames me, says I took away the only happiness she ever had.
The men in her life are beacons of light.
I have only ever been darkness.
10. Death of Firstborn
Someday, my daughter will ask why she does not
have a grandma. I will tell her the truth:
When I told my mother I had been raped, she said,
“Wow,” then went back to paying her phone bill.
I am a seventeen-year-old virgin. No warm, house party beer.
No grinding with a whale tail jutting from my whisker-washed
denim mini-skirt, paired with leg warmers and flip-flops.
My only friends are VH1, Myspace, and my grandpa. I have no
social life. I take a seventh class after school: Theory of Knowledge.
We bring our favorite childhood picture books. I read Tar Beach.
The white kids laugh at the steelworkers who can’t join the union.
They laugh at the book’s “half-breed” father who looks for work
in winter then never comes home. Two black couples play cards
on a Harlem rooftop with roasted peanuts and chicken and beer.
The four of them sit at a green table. I think they’re playing bridge.
My grandpa wants bridge mix for his birthday. I picture the
Tar Beach couples eating candy—named for the card game—
from a purple polka-dot bowl. My grandma calls bridge mix:
“two-bit candies that fell from the belt having seen better days.”
My grandpa loved them anyway. His last words were:
Thank you for the candy. When I ask my grandma to put
the bridge mix inside the casket, she eats it. Her chocolate
fingerprints all over the refrigerator handle. My therapist says
my grandma ate the candy to feel close to my grandpa. As if
chocolate-covered toffees bridged her to the afterlife. This is no
elite grief. A widow can be selfish. A widow can be a bad person.
For Justin Graham
The day before the funeral, I text my girlfriend: “Would you be mad if you couldn’t touch my right nipple for the next six months?” She says, “It’s your body.” When I first pierced my nipples, the right wound would not heal. I lost a battle with a fishnet blanket. Holiness ripped out the silver barbell. How God punished me for watching porn. For wanting holes in my body. As if blood and water never seeped from Christ’s piercing.
The day before the funeral, my ride cancels. My TransPass could get me to Delaware. I could ask someone else. I “forget” to ask. I picture myself stranded on the train. At the wrong stop. Banned. No money. Walking miles in a black dress. Late. Slapping the dead in the face.
May I mourn an acquaintance? Does my sadness even matter? Who am I to ache?
The day of the funeral, I decide to pierce my clitoris. To complete the unholy trinity. A proper memorial. I will only live once. I do not want to die without allowing for the best head I can get.
In the piercing parlor, a straight couple dry humps on a bench. They call the man’s name. Will he get a Prince Albert or a Jacob’s Ladder? I tell the woman at the counter: right nipple and VCH. I pick a silver barbell and a J-curve bookended by yellow diamonds.
The piercer says the first time wasn’t deep enough. He leaves room for scar tissue, the way I wish my girlfriend would. I take off my thong. The man says, “Your clit is tiny. It’s too small to pierce. I am so sorry.”
The first time I saw a woman fuck on-camera, I wanted a piercing like hers. My body cannot hold the jewelry in place. I know what it means for a man to have a small dick. He overcompensates. Fits into my mouth more easily. But there is no blueprint for a small clit woman.
I have missed the funeral. I leave with half of what I came for. The Father and Son, but no Holy Spirit. A man dies and I pursue the impossible. A hard no after years of what ifs. And isn’t this too loss?