As She was Saying
As She Was Saying
by Jo Scott-Coe
Take that moment in the café, for example, when he had just explained what a great listener he was, he grew up with sisters and had a mom and, by the way, he called out all the friends on saying pussy, saying tits, and get this: They really heard that and it has been quite a change around here in the joking department but hey, keep up with the times, right?
Just past that point, maybe exactly then, as she withdrew a smile and also reached for her phone. There: when it seemed slightly rude in his estimation, this woman (whom he had assessed to be young old middle-aged vaguely pale notwhite definitely dark-skinned prettyenough notpretty interchangeable fuckable notinamillionyears) glanced down at her wrist/watch/text messages. It was a quiet signal, like yeah: this chat is going a bit long. Then her purse was in her lap, then on the table, as in look at how the day was going, going, gone, going. Perhaps she had to go, too. No: wanted to leave. Wanted to leave and didn’t need a reason. Not actually. Other than maybe lunch plans? Other than work to do? Perhaps she said so.
She even pulled on that greenish puffer vest, she scooched the chair to turn her boots outward, she started to start to stand up.
Right when awareness might’ve intruded, given all this history of sisters and moms and wives and girlfriends and daughters and girl cousins and yes, those woman writers he said he liked so much because they had won prizes: He remained a portrait in Still Talking and So Anyway. Spine and torso not moving as a spine or torso moves when positioning to stand up, to shake a hand, to say thanks and bye, seriously thank you, then mosey.
She got on her way somehow, a kind of mystery in self-extraction, a skill she had honed out of necessity.
True, in proportion, the scene was Not That Bad, was Practically Nothing. We can agree: not rapey, not human trafficky when compared to, say, Game of Thrones. (A title which, had she brought it up, could have invited another hour at minimum to the monologue.) In reality, in total, we’re only talking about an extra forty-or-so minutes taken from her day, and she was, after all, free to leave. She was grown. She was professional. Actually, come to think of it, she had offered her help.
Zooming out, though, zooming broadly: so many other coffees and lunch breaks and stop-n-chats and ordinary daytimes and nighttimes, so many different women he would never say pussy or tits to except to tell them how he did not like those words.
Like in the car when he tailgated through the turning-red signal: don’t tell me how to drive. Like calling from the overstuffed chair: just a sec. And from the dining table: just a sec. And from some other room: no answer. When he let the phone go to message, and message, and message. Because important meeting he would complain was stupid later. Even though it was different when she didn’t answer her phone: what is it with you? Making her repeat herself again: I can’t carry the phone in my pocket at work, it’s in my purse not on my body. And him saying, we have talked about this—why do women even need purses?
Other scenarios. Where he said I like strong women, and why didn’t you tell me sooner? Said speak up, you really should own your voice. Said don’t you think you’re a bit uptight/obsessed/OCD/taking too long/trying to control everything? Said Relax. Told her giving birth should make you not afraid of anything. Being a mom is its own reward. Doing a good job is its own reward. Said just talk to me. Said all that work was awesome but it just wasn’t necessary. Said it was So Much Easier than she was making it.
But she had made it easier, prepping for dinner, with the kid, or the two kids, or the three kids, or the seven kids, or the neighbor’s kids, or the guests who had gathered around the fridge for drinks. When she secured the plane tickets, scheduled the movers, negotiated dates with the plumber, the taxman, the doctor’s office, waited for the test results and the meds. Drove his drunk ass home. When she was trying to fix the slide projector and the outlet while he watched and cracked a joke to the audience about how she was the featured speaker. She went on to the next and the next and the next and so forgot to summarize and fill him in and naturally the phone kept going to message and life went forward like the kids and the calendar and the wilting lettuce and the sticky dog dish because there was all the normal everything to do. She made the online payment. Ordered the gift certificate. Picked up the kids. Frosted the brownies. Went ahead with cocktails when he messaged: 5 min late. Just write me a list. Send me an email to send an email. Remind me to call my parents, would you.
That night she suddenly laughed too loud at the pub. In bed, when he put a finger to her lips: literally shhh. When she was taking a bit longer to get her boots on, and he said aren’t you ready yet, and what should I do with this bottle of wine, are we taking it? this present? were you going to sign the birthday card? You better call ahead. Did you text them? Did you text them?
She is so good with people usually. Strangers say so, as a compliment to him: She has a knack for cooking things up, it should be easy for her. She has a knack with words, it should be easy for her. But a knack isn’t a credential, let’s be honest. And she never really reported the problem, so. She never told the officer, so. It never rose to that level, so. She didn’t write it down, so, not in so many words, nothing viral, so. And what she did write down—it’s not like her words were printed in the New Yorker or in The New York Times. It’s not like they were printed in New York Magazine. It’s not like they were printed on Page Six.
As if she seriously wanted to be heard, to be quoted, to be cited or credited, to be part of the public record family record faculty discourse citizen panel. She must have some ego on her. (Given all his history, he recognized the phenomenon.)
When she scorched the fudge, overcooked the turkey, spilled bleach on the carpet, bumped the fender into a city lamp and he said it didn’t matter babe, no big deal. When she was interrupted for the umpteenth time and tried to explain and became—a word she used herself—hysterical for lack of the terminology she wanted. And he said calm down, there’s nothing wrong here, babe you are all good.
Suddenly her crying or was it illness or was it rage or was it superpowers morphed into something like heat, something like a force of rocks trembling from underneath a canyon only seen in photographs, something like all the muffled sounds of deep space joining to crash into an atmosphere of oxygen. All this time she had been telling, she was saying she had told them, told him, told her, told you. As in the ancient tales, there was a fierce orange coal slipping from her lips, her eyes fixed on a vanishing point past him, as if staring into a window that was really a doorway to a thousand churches on fire.
Jo Scott-Coe’s second book is MASS: A Sniper, a Father, and a Priest, a first-time exploration of the relationship between the UT Austin Sniper of 1966 and his priest mentor, Rev. Joseph Leduc—a priest subsequently named as “credibly accused” of abusing children. Scott-Coe’s work has been published widely in venues including American Studies Journal, Tahoma Literary Review, Talking Writing, Catapult, and Salon. She is an associate professor of English at Riverside City College, where she was named 57th Distinguished Faculty Lecturer in part for her work on the epistolary history of Kathy Leissner Whitman. Scott-Coe also facilitates community writing workshops for the Inlandia Institute. Find her on Twitter @joscottcoe on FB @teacheratpointblank and on the Web, joscottcoe.com
Notes from the author
Think through the above essay with us, and, if moved, share your thoughts with us and other readers in the comments below.
Speak up, we say. Speak out, we say. No matter how “woke” we think we are about sexual violence, we don’t acknowledge how casually men still lay claim to women’s time and undercut women’s voices. Intersect this reality across race, across class, across religion, across age and sexual identity, across individual pathology. Women have had enough of this poison to last a hundred lifetimes. And we seriously wonder why rape kits pile up? Why women take decades to tell the truth about their lives? While many never do?
(Hear that voice in your head, just offstage? Well, actually…)
The subject of women’s authority, women’s authorship and testimony, has consumed my work for nearly twenty years. This essay came through in almost a single piece, and I was surprised to discover the soft reference to Peter Gabriel, “a thousand churches,” at the very end. I do have hope. The work of finding real mutuality may be imperfect, but it is not impossible.