The Face of a Woman

Her face today, she can feel it when she closes her eyes. As though with fingertips, she can trace its ridges, feel the softness. Her face today reflects a knowing, something most of us feel at some point being a woman.

Then, how many years ago doesn’t matter, her face had been open and far away. She hadn’t been able to touch it, to linger there. Her face scared her a little then, she believing it to be ugly. It shamed her, and it was nothing to hide behind. People did see a beauty in her, not ugliness at all, and something scared them too, though she didn’t know it.

She usually fell for sullen, suicidal boys who needed a lot of holding and shared crying. Sex was no big deal to her. Her virginity wasn’t something she guarded. It wasn’t really an issue. She enjoyed lips on her breasts. She enjoyed the soft joys she could give, and the sounds of early love.

A girl then, feeling ashamed yet powerful, ugly yet beautiful. To say she survived, is it somehow just an insult? To call her a victim, but only really, in being a girl, a woman.

She can look back now when she chooses, and not cry, not even flinch or curl up anymore. What makes her flinch now, is the continuation of it, this story, to her daughter… to all daughters.

There was one boy, and she cared for him, who wanted to – well, maybe if she knew what he wanted she could somehow help change the world for her daughter.

What she can think of, is that he had wanted to break her down, to her smallest pieces, until he found her center, because her center troubled him so much. And he could take that center, like a ball, or a stone, and turn it around in his hands, examining it, figuring it out, owning it. He didn’t realize that had he found her center, it would not have been a ball or a stone. It would have melted, and flowed like water. He could not have grasped it.

He did try though. With a razor he cut her, across her wrists, her breasts, her belly. He reached into her and over her, looking for that small piece to own. He thought he could get it. By trying hard enough and doing enough hurt, he would break it out of her.

She could have died that night. Probably after he realized he would never get to her center, he held a knife over her chest and brought it down fast. She says it was probably the guardian angel, the one who always held back her own hand when she was close to giving up, who got her out of the way in time.

He didn’t own her, never did, not even a small piece. Because, she found, she was after all, whole. And she survived. But to say she survived… she is a woman, then and now. Her face is still open, but now she lingers. She traces it with a quiet eye, and sees reflected there, a knowing, the face of a woman.

Originally published in W.I.G. Magazine, Winter 1997
© Nellie Levine