VIOLENCE

by Elizabeth "O"

Multicolored blankets dotted the grass on the West end of the park. From the hill overlooking it, they made a crazy board-game pattern. Women lazed across the blankets, passing jugs of Kool-Aid and listening to the band bang out "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." It was a mild June day. I had expected frightened, upset people, but this looked like a summer camp sleepover.

I glanced sideways at my boyfriend, who was discreetly checking out women. I felt a grin spread over my face. Leave it to Kevin to try to pick up girls at an incest rally.

I spotted Stella under the Mad-at-Dad banner. She sat cross-legged on a fuzzy pink blanket, a bag of Gummi Bears at her side. "Seen anyone from group?" I asked her. The night before we'd tried to talk members of our incest survivors' group into coming to the Father's Day rally.

She squinted and raised her hand to her brow. "No, just us."

A thin middle-aged woman took the stage. She stood at the podium and read the names of women and girls killed by their husbands and boyfriends and fathers. I looked sideways at Stella. She was staring straight ahead.

Mary Jane Doe. Ex-husband stalked her for six months before shooting her outside the laundromat on Parkside Avenue.

Lucy Jane Doe. Boyfriend beat her to death after burning his mouth on the dinner she'd served him.

Baby Jane Doe. Father slammed her head against the rails of her crib. She died of a head injury before she even had a name.

Nancy Jane Doe. Sally Jane Doe. The list went on and on.

"I have to go get Judy," Kevin announced suddenly.

I startled at the sound of a male voice. Judy was Kevin's old girlfriend from California. He invited her out East after we had a terrible argument last month. She was my warning, I guessed. "Ok then," I said, almost too quickly. "See you later."

Stella watched him stand and brush himself off, as if the rally had left some sort of debris on his clothing. After he was gone, she stretched out on the blanket and chewed solemnly on a Gummi Bear. "Do you suppose he's fucking her?" she asked me.

I hesitated, and ran my hand over the grass. I watched two women on the next blanket pass a popsicle back and forth. "Yeah, I suppose so," I said. She nodded, and tilted her head back as she sipped the last of her juice. The skin on her throat was milky white.

Women began to stand in line at the gazebo. One by one, they climbed the steps to the podium, walked up to the microphone and broadcast the names of men who had violated them. Sometimes they even said what the men did to them.

Stella and I took our place in the line. Suddenly, it was our turn. There was a large red brick in my stomach. "You didn't do anything wrong," she whispered to me. "They did. You have nothing to be ashamed of."

I went first, reciting the names. My father - molested me. My brother - molested me. My therapist - molested me. Only I said their names. I was sick of protecting them and not protecting myself. As I said the words, I noticed a group of passersby staring at me. One man cocked his head as if he had suddenly spotted a herd of wild gazelle, right there in the park. I knew he had never met anyone like me before.

Then it was Stella's turn. She reached for my hand. My brother - molested me. My teacher - molested me. She was done. My knees shook as we walked from the podium. As I climbed down the stairs, I noticed the line of incest survivors stretched around the gazebo twice.

Two women moved from blanket to blanket spreading the word. "Stick around after the rally," they whispered. "We're planning an action."

Fifteen minutes later, a small crowd gathered behind the gazebo. "Ok, listen up," one of the women said. She was short and muscular, with curly blond hair. She looked like a high school basketball coach, except without the whistle. I liked her immediately.

"We're marching down to the Red Light District and we're going to occupy one of the porn shops." I felt my face turn red. My father had brought me down to the Red Light District when I was fifteen. I hadn't been back there since.

"Wait. Why?" someone asked.

"Because we're sick and tired of being victims."

"And what do you want to accomplish?" someone else asked.

The coach didn't miss a beat. "Personally," she said, "I want to see what they have to say to a hundred angry women."

Silence. I felt a laugh rise in my throat. I wanted desperately to go. These women weren't afraid of anything. "I'm going," Stella whispered to me. "Are you?"

The group set off. As we marched, the chant traveled backward from the front of the group. "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Pornography has got to go!" We sounded like a pack of demented cheerleaders, but I didn't care. It felt good to shout. We only numbered about fifty, but it seemed as if we were thousands. The pavement hummed as we stomped down Washington Street.

We stopped in front of the Nasty Girl Bookstore. A fat, middle-aged man grinned at us through the plate glass window. Our chant was loud and angry. "Pornography has got to go!"

"Fuck off," he mouthed to us.

Across the street in front of the Pussy Cat Theatre, a woman in a halter top and spandex skirt watched us attentively. She was smoking a cigarette and grinning. XXX, the marquee behind her read. LIVE SEX ACTS. "You go girls!" she shouted. "You just go!"

I was ready. I was finally ready. Something clicked in my head and the front door to the Nasty Girl Bookstore swung open. Fifty women piled in and crammed themselves between four narrow aisles. As I was propelled forward by the crush of the crowd, I noticed that there were no books in this bookstore, only racks of plastic-covered magazines. They ought to call it a magazine shop, I thought in slow motion as I glided down the aisle. The Nasty Girl Magazine Shop for Perverts and Pigs.

I turned to share my revelation with Stella, when a shelf of magazines came crashing down on the floor. There was a whoop of joy as the message traveled through the air - we were going to close the Nasty Girl. Magazines were ripped from their plastic sleeves and tossed into the air. Another shelf was shoved over and two women jumped up and down hard on it. Bits of paper flew through the air as bits of women's bodies - breasts, crotches and backsides - were thrown and trampled and torn. I Fucked My Cousin, one magazine was called. Horny Coeds was another. I surveyed the shelves and fixed my gaze on one called Daddy's Little Girl. On the front was a small blond child, her hair tied back in pigtails. She wore a red pinafore, and an oversized lollipop rested on her lips. She was fully made up. She was no more than five years of age.

I felt the magazine between my hands. I clenched my teeth as I tore it in half and tossed it into the air. I began to laugh, nervously. I had never done anything illegal before. Now, for sure, I was breaking the law and would have to pay. It occurred to me that my father was right - maybe I would go to jail for telling other people about what we did in secret.

There was a loud crash in the front of the store. I looked up to see the basketball coach wielding a chair. I watched as she lifted it over her head and brought it down on top of a display case. Inside the display were handcuffs, hoods, and pacifiers shaped like little dicks. For an instant, I felt pride.

"Look at this shit," she shouted. She grabbed a fistful of pacifiers and held them over her head. "Just look at this shit!"

Behind her, the fat man reached for a whip tacked up to the wall. His face was twisted in anger. He wanted to hurt her. "Watch out!" I shouted, hearing my own voice echo in my chest.

The coach turned quickly and grabbed the whip. The two struggled, but she took it from him. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a pocketknife. She cut the whip in pieces and let it fall to the ground.

The floor was littered with penis pacifiers, and the crowd crushed them under their shoes. The handcuffs were taken outside and dropped in the sewer. We were done at the Nasty Girl. Not a single magazine was salvageable. It had taken only five minutes.

Above the din, I heard the faint squeal of sirens. "Split up!" the coach yelled. "Go in different directions!"

Stella grabbed my elbow and we began to run. "Wait a minute," she shouted as we turned the corner onto Washington Street. "Don't run or they'll know it was us!"

I stopped, and we stood together catching our breath, fighting the urge to bolt. I began to walk with her, my knees shaking, face frozen in a nervous grin.

"You liked that, didn't you?" Stella teased me. "Let's do this again next Father's Day."

That evening I called Kevin. I was beside myself. Kevin was not home, so I tried calling everyone else I knew. I got a mixture of taped messages and silence.

The next day Kevin turned up for breakfast and I recounted the details of the action. I felt exhilarated by the retelling, and gestured wildly as I told about the coach and the chair and the racks of magazines. He listened, quietly.

"I read the morning paper," he said when I was finished. "It said you did thousands of dollars worth of damage."

I felt my jaw drop. "Yeah. To pornography," I said. "We did thousands of dollars worth of damage to a pornographic book store."

He wasn't impressed. "And what do you think you accomplished by doing that?"

"I feel empowered," I said. "Like I'm not a victim anymore." My voice sounded high and tinny. I felt my eyes fill up. You're a feminist, I told myself, gritting my teeth. Don't cry when you argue.

"Yeah, but you victimized someone else."

"No, I didn't. I fought back."

"The paper says you poured kerosene on a social conflagration. The headline says 'Feminism Breeds Violence'. Is that what you wanted? Was that your goal?" His right eyebrow was twitching slightly.

I met his stare. He seemed flat, colorless and a fat vein was bulging on his forehead. He looked like somebody's father.

"You destroyed property and broke the law and violated the First Amendment. Are you proud of that?"

The word "violate" rang in my ear. He was using it incorrectly. Fuck it, I thought. Judy can have him. "I think you better go," I said.

That night, I called Stella to see if she had seen the papers. She hadn't. "It says there were a hundred of us," I told her.

She laughed. "The fat guy had to say that. He's probably embarrassed that he couldn't handle fifty women. I suppose a hundred women would become a thousand."

I let the silence settle in the wake of her laugh. She was so calm. I wanted to be that calm. "How do you feel now?" I asked her.

She didn't answer at first, and I could hear her breathing on the other end of the line. It sounded slow and steady. "Well," she began. "I don't think we'd get away with it ever again."

"No, that's not what I mean. I mean, do you feel ok with what we did? Do you think we made a difference?"

She sighed. "It depends on what kind of difference you mean. If you mean did we put a pornography shop out of business - then no, I don't think we made any difference at all. They'll file an insurance claim and be open for business in a week. But if you're talking personally - did that action make a personal difference to me - then yes. Smashing up that bookstore made a huge difference to me. It changed my world."

I sighed loudly. I felt relieved, as if a thick root had been pulled from my spine.

"It's not about destroying them," she continued. "It's about not letting them destroy you."

I went to bed late that night. As I slept, images of my angry father bled into my dreams. The rage, the beatings. The way he stuttered, red-faced as he whipped his belt from his pants. The choice was the same as always: his belt or his dick. Either way, I usually got both.

But in my dream, I am afraid of nothing. The women from the rally are there, off to the side, reading my name over and over. My father is above me, his hand raised in the air, the belt wrapped tightly around his fist. Blood and rage have gathered in his face. "You said my name," he roars at me. I watch the arc of the leather strap as it cuts through the air.

I clench my teeth, and raise my arm to meet the belt. We struggle, but I take the belt from him. I reach into my pocket, and with my knife, I cut the belt in pieces and let it fall to the floor. "You don't own me anymore!" I tell my father, my face pressed up against his. "You can't destroy me any more." He disappears, evaporates into his own rage. In my dream, I join the women in the park.


Copyright 1998 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved