With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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Never touch your body. Never touch anyone’s body, and never let anyone touch your body.
Why are you walking like that? Can you please stop sticking out your bottom and walking like that?
For the last time I’ll tell you this story — for the very last time — if you promise you’ll never ask me again.
I was very, very sick when I was pregnant with you. I wanted you so much, but I was thirty-five years old, and it was extremely late to be having a baby. I was sick all the time. I couldn’t even keep down a saltine. When they wheeled me down the hospital hallway, I could hear other women screaming, moaning, carrying on. All that drama. What a show. Please. I’m not one of those women. I vowed not to make a sound. And I didn’t make a sound.
Honey, I don’t remember any of it. They knocked me out. I fed you with a bottle. It was better for the mother, better for the baby. I trusted my doctor. He was a brilliant, brilliant man. Honey, please. You promised. No more questions.
The first thing your father said when he saw you was that you looked like Rocky Marciano. He’s a famous boxer. Your face was somewhat mashed in. Especially the nose, I guess. I thought you were beautiful. I think he did, too.
Where did you hear that? No. We don’t need to be getting into all of that.
When you are older. When you are older. When you are older.
We can call those rosebuds, but I would rather you not touch yourself there. Don’t let anyone see those parts of you. They are private. Don’t pull. Don’t touch. We say “girl part.” We say “boy part.” There’s no need to discuss these things. Not ever.
Put your clothes on. Keep your clothes on.
You’re small. You can be easily taken. You must be vigilant. There are people who want to take you, and they will harm you. There are men who will snatch you, and you don’t want to know what will happen to you then. I hope you never know. Child-snatchers will pick up your small body and take it away, and I will never be able to find you again. You can’t let this happen. They are everywhere, these snatchers. They can look like anyone. They can look like the nicest person. They often have candy. Don’t ever take candy — that’s a sure sign of a snatcher.
Don’t hang on me. You know I don’t like it when you hang on me.
Run. Run for miles. Your body will thank you. Work your body. Sweep the driveway. If you work more, you won’t complain of aches and pains.
I’m flat as a board. Flat! As a board! My hips are huge. This stomach. This pooching. These thighs. Ugh. Men do not like this kind of body. They go for a fun woman. Busty and fun. I’m not fun.
Oh, what’s happening to my thighs is terrible. When did this happen?
Let’s do leg lifts. Let’s go for a walk. Let’s do arm circles. Honey, try these calisthenics with me.
Where did you hear that word? Who told you that? You’re never, ever to talk to those children again, do you hear me? I’m serious, Heather. We do not allow that type of talk in this house.
Your body is sacred. Your body is your temple. What do you mean what does that mean?
Terrible things have happened. I was walking down the street. I was fourteen years old. I was passing by some parked cars. And then . . . Please stop asking. I will never tell you.
You need to get back to swimming. You need to play tennis. I’m certain my old racket is somewhere in the garage, unless you left it outside. You need to take care of your body and get outside every day. Stay out of the sun. Protect yourself from the sun. They said I could have gone to Wimbledon.
You do not have cramps. That’s invented by women who want attention. We don’t go in for that kind of malingering — that’s what it is. You have cramps because you eat too fast. You don’t chew.
I don’t want to talk about this again. You can’t shave your legs, not as long as you are under my roof. You aren’t old enough for that kind of thing. There’s no reason for you to shave your legs. Why would you even want to do that? Underarms are meant to have hair. Do you think you smell?
Men care a lot about sex. It’s really a shame, but they do. That’s what they want.
Women invented “hot flashes” and the “monthlies.” Dying their hair, preening, buying hope in a jar. Don’t get suckered in by cosmetics.
Honey, your figure. You are gaining weight in your hips. You used to have a beautiful figure.
Lotion? Lotion? We are not the kind of people who have time or money for those things. That’s ridiculous to even ask me.
Why do those women go on about “hot flashes” and “menopause”? It’s all hype. For heaven’s sake. What some women will do for attention. Spare me the histrionics. Get a job.
Here’s why I lost your father: I was not fun. One night, when you were little, he wanted to go out to this fancy theater, and I was trying hard to be a “good wife” — because you have to do that, you know, and that’s where I failed. So I went downtown and got a makeover, because he insisted, at Jordan Marsh at the Estée Lauder counter. I tried so hard. But it wasn’t me. When I came home and saw my face in the mirror, I washed all that goop off. And I refused to go out that night. We had a big scene. That stuff is a waste of time and money. All that money.
I don’t like the way you are walking. You’re poking your bottom out. You’re trying to attract attention — the wrong kind of attention. Stop doing that. Stop walking like that. Don’t sit like that. Are you wearing makeup?
Brush your hair. You’ve gained weight, honey. Can you not see it? You’ve gotten so heavy, so fast. What are you eating? Have you been snacking? You do not take care of your body.
Take care of your body, take care of your body, take care of your body.
Oh, you’re so smart, so wise. I know. You’re in college. You know everything. But you are going to get diseases. You could get cancer, behaving as you do. Cancer. Do yourself a favor: read these articles.
Cover up. Cover up, Heather. For crying out loud, please cover up your body. I can see everything. People can see everything.
You need to do something about your hair. Can you braid it? Get it thinned? Can you get your hair cut shorter, honey? It might be more flattering to your face.
You need a slip.
You need a bra.
You need pantyhose.
You should be wearing support pantyhose. Where is the pantyhose I sent you? You’re going to get veins; they run in our family.
You get too much sun.
Please don’t sit like that.
You can’t wear that in public. You aren’t even decent. When was the last time you were decent? Why don’t you pull yourself together and look as nice as I know you can?
Those girls, painted up like that. Spending all that precious time and money on their clothes and hair. Staring at themselves in the mirror: Oh, look at me, look at me.
Women who dye their hair — who do they think they are fooling?
You can’t come in my house looking like that.
You can’t leave my house looking like that.
If you have this skirt taken in, are you absolutely sure you aren’t going to gain the weight back? Are you going to be able to discipline yourself, stick to a diet? Are you exercising? I’ll pay for golf lessons. I wonder if there’s a driving range near here, where you could go very early in the morning. That’s the best time. Just hit balls. You don’t have to talk to anybody or see anybody. It’s more about being outside, the smell of the grass.
You can’t really wear green. It doesn’t look good on you with your skin. You have your father’s skin.
You can’t really wear cream. It washes you out.
You can’t really wear blue. I’ve always thought of blue as my color.
Before I had you, my friend Margaret told me I didn’t look good in black, and I was so hurt. It still stings. I’ve never worn black again, and I never will. I don’t know if you should wear black. There’s the temptation, because it’s slimming.
Can you help me find a dress? You know I hate my legs.
You have a beautiful backhand. You are so graceful, Heather. You look good in clothes. You’re lucky you are tall. When you dress nicely, you can look so beautiful. You really could be athletic if you set your mind to it.
Your father is not an athletic person, but he’s a brilliant man.
You have nice arms, honey. You should take care of your body. We all wish we had more of a chin.
Why are you walking like that? It’s like you’re poking out your bottom on purpose.
I’ve never been sick a day in my life, because I take care of my body.
You are a beautiful swimmer. I will contribute half to a pool membership if you will sign a statement that you’ll go swimming three times a week. Will you keep your word? Stick to a program?
You are getting so heavy, and it’s such a shame. You could be beautiful.
I will pay to have your teeth fixed. I’ll pay if you think you can find a good dentist. I’ll send the money directly to him.
Did you get the support hose?
You used to have a perfect figure.
You take after your father. You look like his side of the family. So you have to be careful. Those women on his side of the family, those are big, country women.
You could be such a beautiful girl. I hate to see this happening to you, my beautiful daughter.
Come here. Come closer. Come on. Don’t be like that. Come see your ole daddy.
Give me your finger. Put your finger in my mouth. I don’t bite.
Oh, come on now. That didn’t hurt; that was a love bite.
You’re not hurt. You’re fine. Oh, come on now.
That couldn’t possibly have hurt; it was a love tap.
I didn’t mean that to be so hard.
Come here. Stop being that way. Come on now. Come here.
You’re my daughter. My girl chile.
It’s just a squeeze. It’s not that hard.
You’re just like your mother. Why can’t you just be happy?
Look at that one. Lord. Would you get a load of her. Now that is a woman.
Look at the caboose on that one.
Look at the rack on that one. Look at that! She’s spilling out!
I’m a befuddled person. Maybe you have some insight? Why do women do the opposite of what is clearly in their own best interest? Maybe you can explain it to me?
What do you got on your face? Wipe off that goop.
You’re getting broad in the beam. You’re losing your shape.
Let me feel you.
Come here. I can’t reach you.
I am a rape survivor, a teacher, and a mother of three girls. I felt like I was reading excerpts of my life in Heather Sellers’s essay “What I Heard” and Maggie Cheatham’s essay “The Feminist Club” [June 2018]. I’m scared to define myself as a feminist, but I feel moved by the strength and bravery of these authors.