In 10th grade, I stopped padding my ass with stolen underwear, and instead I started to steal from high-end department stores. I hoarded satin and lace underwear that cost as much as an entire coat. Sometimes, I cut out circles in the back to show off my butt crack and took pictures of myself head-down, ass-up, and posted them in these forums for lonely people like me, but more so lonely men than lonely girls. The other girls who posted seemed fake in a way that I couldn’t put my finger on exactly, but I was real and because of it, men would send me messages like “Please babyyyy, I’ll do anything to have you right now,” or “I’m sending you a picture but don’t be scared to see me stroking myself. I just can’t help but touch it when I see your pretty face pop up in my inbox. I won’t send you more if you don’t like what you see.” The cautious ones always wrote, “R U REAL?” or “hunny you might be fooling those other guys, but this guy isn’t geetting arrested for a fake teenager, mmmmokay?”
Some guys sent me 30 messages in the span of a few minutes, like they were frantic for my response, like they were going to die without me. Sometimes they didn’t want to meet me in person, they just wanted to hear my voice. Sometimes they wanted me to say really normal things.
“What color is your room?” “Tell me sweetie, what are you going to wear to school tomorrow?” “Did you already take a bath today? Please tell me you like taking bubble baths.” And sometimes they were predictably dirty, like “Tell me you’re my hot slut and you’re going to take me in your dirty mouth.” And sometimes they wanted me to say I was Daddy’s little girl, or that I needed Daddy to spank me, and I would say it just to prove to myself that it was no big deal.
Some of the men had strange requests, like one who messaged me and asked me if he gave me $50, would I be willing to wear the same thong for three days straight without taking a shower and then stuff it into an airtight Ziploc bag and mail it to him in a padded, unmarked envelope. I wrote him back, “If you pay me 100 I’ll make sure it smells like my farts,” and to my surprise, he sent me a video of himself jerking off with a note that said, “you see what you make me do? so ok, 100. you are nasty and i like it!!!!!!!!!!”
I grabbed some dirty underwear from the laundry basket, sealed each one in a Ziploc, sent it to the address he gave me, scribbled out a note—“you can have them for free. have fun”—and closed my account.
No one came after me. No one tried to rape me. I’m OK and I feel like no one would believe me if I told them, I wrote in my journal. A few days later, I added, I should be scarred from this, but I’m fine. The next day, I drew an X over the whole thing and wrote beneath it:
I’m afraid someone will find my diary and think I don’t feel anything. I’m afraid that person will worry about me for the wrong reasons. They might think, This girl is crying out for attention, she’s acting out on some kind of repressed sadness.
I know I want to be loved by everyone, and I think that’s OK to want that. Take someone like my dad. He didn’t accept other people’s love. I loved him and he didn’t want that. My mom loved him and he didn’t want that. And you know what? To the hypothetical person reading my diary—what’s more disturbing? Someone who actively wants other people to love her? Or someone who won’t let anyone love him? You know my answer, anyway. I also want to state that it’s maybe OK to have a secret life. Doesn’t everyone have a secret life? I love my mom, but I know she has a life that doesn’t include me, just like I need to have a life that doesn’t include her. If I have my father’s genes then I might not have a lot of time before I fly off the handle, you know?
There’s so much I want to do. My mom says I can make my own timeline, but no other adult says that. I don’t care though. The only adult who matters is my mom. I love her always, and I wish sometimes we could live forever so that I would never have to miss her and she would never have to miss me, and if we got tired of each other, maybe one of us could take like a really long nap, like a 400-year nap, and then after waking, we’d have so much catching up to do, like so what happened these past 400 years anyway? Is it better to deal with the cards you’ve been dealt, or is better to be a dreamer? I want to be both, if possible. Love, Annalise.
Before my father was hospitalized, he went through this phase where he was afraid of everything. He felt that the world had become a trap and his paranoia took on the form of obsessively warning me against all the possible, infinite dangers that awaited me.
“Don’t run or you might fall. Don’t jump too high or you might hit your head. Don’t stick your elbow out the window when I’m driving because another car might come too close to us and give you the drive-by amputation you never wanted. Don’t laugh when you’re eating because you might choke and die. Don’t wear pants too tight because it might cut off your circulation and then you might lose all feeling in your right foot just as a rabid animal starts chewing on it, and meanwhile you’ve lost all feeling and don’t even realize what’s happening until the thing has chewed off half your toe, and you think I’m being ridiculous but this really happened to a cousin of mine, and know what else happened to that cousin? He followed a shiny bird down a creek and then drowned, so don’t get into bird watching because you might drown. Don’t talk to strangers because they might be rapists, and don’t talk to people that you see me talking to because I might have friends who are rapists and either I am fully aware of that and don’t want you to go near them or I have no idea and still don’t want you near them. Don’t kiss boys, they might have herpes. Don’t fall in love, it might destroy you. Don’t wipe back to front, you might get a vaginal infection. Don’t let boys holler at you, they might think you’re easy and try to corner you the next time you’re walking alone. Don’t help homeless people on the street, they might be secretly rich and lying. Don’t give money to charity, they might financing a covert drug business. Don’t vote when you turn 18 or write articles stating your political opinion, this country might suddenly be ruled by a totalitarian regime, and you might be sent to a Soviet-style gulag on account of your political record. Don’t listen to music, you might blow out your eardrums…” and it went on and on and on like that. If my father could have had his way, he would have raised me in a box with a hole for air and food.
“The ultimate protection,” he said when I asked him if he wished it were legal to raise children in cages. “If only,” he said. “If only sensible things were legalized in this country.”
When my father was no longer my father, there was suddenly no one in my life to warn me against trying anything. My mother told me I was my own person, capable of making my own decisions, and she trusted me with whatever I wanted to do, so I ran fast and didn’t fall, I listened to music and my ears were fine, I said that ratifying NAFTA was such a fuck-you to our neighbors down south in front of the whole class and the secret police didn’t come after me, I kissed boys I met on the Internet and no one gave me herpes, and no one tried to rape me in the parking lot when I walked across it in cut-off shorts and a tank top so thin you could see my nipples, I followed a bird with my eyes and I chased another with my legs, and there was no creek and I’m still alive, and I gave my sweater to a homeless woman who, for all I know, could have been my father’s friend or even girlfriend, and a thousand gold coins didn’t tumble out to reveal her secret wealth, I said yes to Mr. Myrtle when he asked me one day after school if I wanted to go over his house sometime to see his collection of first-edition books, including a signed copy of Ariel, and I got into his car one afternoon when the leaves outside were crunchy, and I stuck my arm out the window as he drove, and my arm was still there when we pulled into his driveway, it was still there when I was in the bathroom, splashing water on my face, it was still there when he knocked on the door, still there when I let him come in and place his hands over my ears like he didn’t want me to hear what he was going to say but instead of saying anything, he kissed me, and I was still OK, standing there on my tippy toes, leaned over the sink like I was going to vomit, and I was still OK when he pushed my head against the bathroom mirror and I had my eyes open the whole time because I wanted to see and know everything, like what did it look like when a man was inside you and liked it, and what did it look like when a man was about to come, and how about when it’s happening, and how about immediately after it’s happened, and we continued to see each other for the entire rest of the year, and I fell in love but it didn’t destroy me, we became consumed with each other, but we were also gentle and honest with each other, which is to say, at the end of my junior year, when I told him I wanted an actual boyfriend, someone I could have a real relationship with, he didn’t try to be valiant and promise me that he could be that person, and I didn’t try to be valiant and promise that I wanted him to one day be that person, and it ended like that, and no one was destroyed.
Where was my father after I did everything he told me not to do? At the end of all my experiments, I was still whole, I was still happy to curl up next to my mother and fall asleep by her feet while she knitted and watched the news. At the end of it all, I was still the girl who picked wildflowers for my mother on my way home from school and rushed to the door when she came in from work and held out my miniature bouquet to say, “Look, Mom, these are for you.” Where was my father?
I wanted him to know that for all the opportunities I had to fall or trip or drown or lose my hearing or a finger or a toe or something indivisible and numinous like the spirit that used to carry my mother through her 14-hour double shifts at C-Town, I never lost anything. And for all the chances I gave this world to prove itself to be as big and bad and scary as it was for my father, it never did, and in the end, I emerged unscathed, as whole and stable as a number.