When Darla asked me to type her feminist paper on breasts, I replaced breasts with every possible alternative: bouncing betties, magic mountains, nipple cushions, lactation stations, and so onand it was I who got called into the dean. She asked where I thought such aggression originated.
I told her it had to do with my mother. I explained she breastfed me until I was six, that I remembered when she cut me off, as if it were yesterday.
You are not the victim here. She slammed her fist like a gavel.
I understood that. I wanted to make up for it. What was I to do?
The world turned women and their bodies into objects and commodities, made it seem like anything had a price, created violence when that thing couldn't be had, no matter the offer. When the dean explained this to me in her office, it still felt as if I were the victim of some force that inhered not in me, but elsewhere. I didnt tell her that.
Darla and I dated a bit afterward. She admired my courage, the sincerity of my apology. I was certain I was sorry. When she took her shirt off, the alarm in the dorm went off also, as it often did that semester. She told me to ignore it, and I thought about Pavlov, how for the future, alarms might give me erections. I thought about telling Darla this, but resisted. She cupped her breasts, asked me what I thought of them. I didnt know the right way to see them. I told her they looked yummy.
She giggled, stopped. Seriously?
Oh, I wanted so much to get it right. To see things as they really were. Jokes hide things. Didnt the dean say that, too? Dark, sick things that, if unaddressed, ripped into things and tore them apart.
The alarm, someone knocking on the door. You have to get out of here. She buttoned up. Things happened after that, an old boyfriend of hers, a dance for his fraternity, and I didnt see her again. I imagined running into her, twenty years later. Shed say, You never answered me, and Id say, Seriously? and shed stand there, akimbo, shirt open. This time Id answer with the truth, whatever that might be, not scared by what might lie beneath it all.