Given your neighborhood, this may have been a credible fear: rape. There is a van that sits by the park with blackout windows where prostitutes work. You fear more than anything disappearing into that van. You do not know what sex is, but you instinctively know what a violation would do: erase you.
How can a mother shield her daughter? When women transmit these messages to their daughters it feels like an act of desperation, reflexive, a recitation of what they were told when they were young. Do mothers wonder, if I had really heard what my mother told me, would I have been kept safe? And what of the lessons mothers neglect to teach their sons to shield their daughters?
These catechizations come at the same time your body is changing and your emotions a torrent. But these surging hormones can also make your mood go up and down — and sometimes it may seem as if your body is out of control. But no one told you the reason for your mood swings, or what they were even. You just thought you had come to the very real knowing that you were falling apart, losing your mind to a darker, expanded reality. He bursts out laughing.
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You are fourteen years old and you do not know the evolutionary function of your vagina. It is withheld from you, the why and how of your body changing. This takes something from you. Shame becomes part of the change of your body, becomes part of the new you. The biological explanation for what is happening to you is as unknown and mysterious as transubstantiation.
Your body is not an organism and its living parts. Instead, you are an unwitting trap, a parable of temptation. You learn that these changes mean your body has become a thing of danger. You pray all anyone saw of you before plunging into the deep blue pool was just a blur. You prayed to be just a blur.
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You do not know yet that a boy might be drawn to you, let alone find you desirable. After all, what is desire to a girl who is scandalized by Are You There God? Do not go to that mass. He will walk away, and you will stand there alone in St. The church is your favorite because of the music and the huge stained glass windows depicting the story of Lazarus rising and the Wedding at Cana, because its walls are covered with tiny squares of gold leaf and if you stare at the flecks of gold and then press hard on your closed eyelids the gold covers your vision until the whole universe inside you is shining.
Standing there in St. The lesson he has taught you is one you will hear again and again until you leave the Catholic Church: your body is at fault. After you start middle school at the Opus Dei school for girls that fall, you begin going to the Opus Dei Center on the weekends. There the numeraries in their ankle length jeans skirts and pale Laura Ashley blouses lead talks detailing the Opus Dei take on everything that might concern a young Catholic girl on the precipice of womanhood.
To assist in the goals of the ultra-conservative body of the Catholic Church, a numerary submits to plena disponibilitas , or full availability. You got to the Center because you had been invited and someone picked you and your sister up and drives you there. Was it at the Opus Dei Center that you told one of the numeraries about the day you temped a boy into sin? Or was it on that long car ride to Washington D. There may be a seamless way to ask how whiteness factors into your upbringing, but you cannot find it.
Your family, the core of your religious community growing up was white. As you grew into a woman, all that you learned of this new stage of life was fear: the threat to your body by men who would rape you and the threat to your soul and the souls of men should you provoke them into temptation. And it was the women in your life who shored up those lessons.
What you wonder now is, how much were the lessons you learned shaped by something that was so long invisible to you, your whiteness? In September Dr. Christine Blasey Ford comes forward and accuses Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in Sexual assault takes over the news, your thoughts. I text my sister, What did Mom tell you about when we had a fire in our house and went to stay with the cousins? I used to have this weird scar tissue over the middle of my vagina.
For some of us, it happens even before memories form. There is someone in your family, an uncle, who drinks himself to sexual violence against his sons, against his daughters. You come back home with an infection in your vagina. The infection goes unexplained or is explained away as neglect. What did your family doctor say, the same doctor who treated all your cousins after their assaults? Did a tear in your hymen occur then? Did something happen during those two weeks to form the strip of scar tissue over the middle of your vaginal opening? Hymen from the Greek word for thin skin, membrane.
A hymen can break easily, when a girl does the splits, when she is horseback riding, speeding down her block on her pink banana seat bike, colored tassels streaming from the handlebars. These hypotheticals belong to a girl who is not you.
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The story of the electrical fire in your house will be told again and again all throughout your childhood until the flames, the escape down Mr. But it is not. Along the edges of a damaged hymen a process known as re-epithelialization can take place. Epithelial cells migrate across the new tissue to form a barrier between the wound and the environment. Did my body, after it was violated, build an obstacle to protect itself from future abuse? In those dreams the bedroom you and your sister shared with your cousins is too dark to see.
You get out of bed and watch the sunrise again. Though you have no memory of this time, you discover what you think is a scar. The strip of flesh stretches over the middle of your vaginal opening and causes tampons, once expanded with your menstrual blood to become stuck inside you. You sit on the toilet in the bathroom for what feels like hours crying quietly, desperately, painfully trying to extract the fattened wad of cotton.
The toilet tank drips and drips, you re-read the Morning Offering glued to the bathroom mirror. Oh Jesus, I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day. That cord of tissue does not break. Not then. Not years later when you try to have sex for the first time. The hymen has variations on the theme. The microperforate hymen completely covers the vaginal opening and an imperforate hymen has only a very small hole and the septate hymen has an extra strip in the middle that creates two vaginal openings where there should be one.
I am tired of how guilty Catholicism makes me feel. You have your own room in your new house, and you start to use a small mirror to look at your vagina. Think back to that age. Can you still remember what that tissue looked and felt like?
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It was ropey and thick. Like a vine of flesh had trailed down from your clitoris and firmly embedded itself in the inferior portion of your vagina. How could it have been anything but scar tissue? Think of the hymen like tissue paper. It can stretch or tear or easily rub away.
Bridie: She ‘reached through the crowd . . . and tapped me’ – Rappahannock News
You stare and stare at the search images on Google. This was not what you remember from all those years ago. Though it was it was smooth and deepened pink like the rest of my hymen, that flesh was too thick to have ever been broken by a tampon or sex. I went home that night and used a pair of scissors to cut the ropey flesh apart. Here is another point of fear, another way your changed body could betray you and cast you into hell: abortion. All you ever understood about abortion as a young child was that it was murder. Birth control was murder also, only the baby killed was tinier, almost invisible, like the soul itself, seen by God but unseen by the mortal eye.
Babies were killed by abortion doctors because the women having the abortions had been lied to by those doctors.
Bridie: She ‘reached through the crowd . . . and tapped me’
And the murder of their unborn babies would haunt those women all their lives. You knew that much for sure. Premarital sex was almost unthinkable, but abortion was far beyond that. Abortion was an unforgivable sin that cut you off from communion, from the Church, from Jesus himself. The aborted babies were killed before they could be baptized, and so they were all waiting for the Second Coming in Limbo, a space somewhere between heaven and hell.
Limbo was not hell, certainly, but beyond the Gates of Heaven, beyond the touch of God, and so the murdered babies had been deprived of that sacred grace by the abortion doctors. As you got older, had your first kiss, a paralyzing fear gripped you. Would you become pregnant and have to choose between giving up the future you envisioned for yourself — making your way Ireland by working on a steamer ship, becoming a poet — and killing your own baby in a secret abortion?