The Lecture

published in Futures (magazine)

Fiona slipped into her coat almost reluctantly. Her head hurt and she was tired. She would much rather hide under the covers than face the cold December wind.

She just wanted to sleep. But then that’s all she ever wanted to do lately. It was the only place she could escape the memories.

“Everything you’re going through is completely normal,” Chelsea had said in her Lea Thompson voice, peering at Fiona through those ridiculously big glasses.

Chelsea was the campus counselor Fiona had been going to ever since the memories started to become too intense to simply push out of her mind. The vision of her stepbrother bombarded her everywhere and, most of the time, unexpectedly. She wasn’t sure if the counseling was even helping. It sure didn’t feel like it. She cried more now than she ever had. And she was constantly sleeping and never felt rested.

That was why climbing back under her big black comforter and letting her long dirty blonde hair fall around her face seemed so appealing, but she wanted to go to this lecture. In some ways, she felt she needed to go.

The dorm was quiet, but that was typical for a Saturday. Almost all of the girls who lived there went home on the weekends or went to stay with their boyfriends. But Fiona liked it that way. At this point in her life, needless social interaction with random other women was the last thing she wanted.

Fiona walked slowly down the stairs while zipping up her coat and trying to brace for the blast of cold that would greet her at the door.

She walked slowly down the sidewalk toward Smith Hall. She had a little time to kill anyway. Her thoughts turned almost immediately to Jarret. She wondered what he was doing, if he was working or on his way to a concert. Most of all, she wondered why he didn’t seem to want to talk to her.

Fiona had convinced herself she scared him away by telling him she had been sexually abused. Of all people, he had seemed like the perfect friend to tell, the one who could be her anchor and talk her through the rough spots. But he hadn’t wanted to be or had been too scared to be anything but distant. That devastated her.

“How do you feel about what’s happening with Jarret?” Chelsea had asked.

“Abandoned,” Fiona said through her tears.

“Well, then that’s what you are. What he did to you was wrong, but there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to get through this on your own.”

That had been the last thing Fiona wanted to hear, that final confirmation that she was in fact alone and she could fight through this by herself or be forever lost in depression.

Fiona stuffed her hands in her pockets and flipped her head so her hair would get out of her face. She had arrived.

The house lights were dim and Fiona had to watch her step as she moved down toward the front. She noticed some people from her feminist philosophy class and gave them a small smile of recognition but took a seat off to the side by herself.

Most of the women in her class had been through a similar past but had already dealt with it. Fiona knew they probably could have helped her a lot but she wasn’t ready to open up to strangers.

There was a podium in the center of the stage with two small classroom chairs to the left of it. One was occupied by her feminist philosophy teacher. In the other sat a wild-eyed woman with frizzy orange hair. Her eyes were almost unsettling as they scanned the audience. They were like two rubber balls Fiona thought would pop out of her head at any moment and start bouncing around the room.

Fiona was trying hard not to stare at the strange woman when the lights went down and her teacher approached the podium.

“Hi. Thank you all for coming. We’re thrilled to have Melanie McCormik here to talk to us this evening. But before I hand the microphone over to her, I need to do a brief introduction although I know she hates it.”

The teacher glanced back at Melanie and smiled while Melanie rolled her eyes and rocked her head back and forth.

Fiona thought it looked like Melanie was staring right at her. Fiona twisted a little in her seat. She didn’t like to be stared at by anyone, especially with those kind of eyes. She forced herself to look at her teacher.

“…and a writer for the New York Times. Now without further ado, I give you one of my close friends and one of the great feminists of our time, Melanie McCormik.”

Everyone clapped as Melanie made her way up to the podium. When she stood, Fiona saw she was very tall and thin and walked sort of hunched over, her head sticking out and bobbing like a big bird.

“Hello,” she said to the audience. “Tonight I want to speak to you about religion as it relates to feminism.”

Fiona’s mind drifted during the first half hour of the lecture. She found herslef examining the paint on the walls and the intricate stitching in the upholstery of the auditorium chairs. She was mostly afraid to look at Melanie, afraid those eyes would find her again and make her want to cover head with her coat or get up and leave. But she wanted to hear about Christianity, so she glanced up at Melanie when she began to go into a deep discussion about the Bible.

“Now I know most of you here have heard of this book,” Melanie said waving a Bible in her hand. The audience let out a low chuckle of sarcasm and agreement like they knew exactly where she was going.

“I want to read a little bit from this book that I think is the basis for patriarchy as we know it today. In the book of Genesis, right near the beginning it says, ‘And the Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone.’ You see, God decided to make man first then didn’t want him to be lonely. But here’s the good part. You all know the story, God took one of Adam’s ribs and made a woman. Then Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.’ Taken out of man? Last I knew, I came out of another woman who came out of another woman and so on and so forth. And you know what? Men come out of women too! Of course the Bible has an excuse for this as well. It says women are forced to bear the children because Eve did a bad, bad thing and tempted poor stupid Adam into eating some fruit he shouldn’t have.”

Everyone laughed.

“But here’s my point. Here’s why these few words are the basis for Patriarchy. Number one: men were created first and so they think they’re the most important. And number two: women came from men. We’re part of them.”

Melanie was silent for a second.

“No wonder so many women are treated like possessions. No wonder men think they can treat us anyway they want. We belong to them.”

Fiona looked around and noticed almost everyone was nodding their heads. It reminded her of the church services she used to attend where everyone nodded and shouted “Amen.”

“That’s why they beat us. That’s why they rape us.”

Fiona’s head snapped back up and she stared in Melanie’s direction, but she wasn’t really looking at anything.

Rape. She always hated the word, but until a few months ago, it was a distant word, a horrible violent act that happened in dark parking lots and alleys, with guns cocked and loaded and no heard the screams or cries of the victim.

But Fiona had learned rape was much more than that. Rape was in fact in her bedroom with her stepbrother mad because he had gotten in trouble or had been asked to be “more like Fiona.” For that, he felt she needed to pay. She needed to give up that power over him and she did. Again and again and again.

Fiona’s vision blurred as the tears began to gather around the outsides of her eyes.

“And for this, so many women go through life lost, beaten and feeling as if they can’t go on anymore. And some of them don’t. Some of them just pop some pills or pull a trigger and that’s the end.” Melanie was no longer at the podium but was sitting down at the edge of the stage.

“But what those women don’t realize is that when they do that, those men who tried to make them powerless have succeeded. Those men have won. But it’s not a game. It’s a fight for life, yours, mine and every woman’s in the future.”

Fiona sat still and stared straight ahead. This was how it had been happening. Something would trigger it and she would be consumed by the memories.

After the lecture finally ended, Fiona rushed home, almost running down the sidewalk. Her coat was unzipped and the cold wind was making her thin shirt balloon up but she didn’t feel it. The tears were coming, and she had to get home before they made their first real appearance.

When she reached the dorm, she had a hard time getting her key in the lock because her hands were trembling. She sprinted up the stairs and into her room. She threw her coat off and sat on the bed, hugging her arms around her chest.

The tears came all at once, not slowly like usual. She couldn’t get away from the image.

She had been studying for a chemistry test. She could hear her parents yelling at her stepbrother about his grades.

“Please don’t say it. Please don’t say it,” she whispered. But they did.

“Why can’t you be more like Fiona?”

They didn’t realize those words would mean her destruction.

Later that night, it happened again.

“Why didn’t you ever tell anyone?” Chelsea had asked in their first session.

“I don’t know. He threatened me, but I don’t really think that was the reason. I think I didn’t want to believe it was really happening.”

That’s why she had all but forgotten about it until things started to go wrong with Jarret. Now, here she was curled up on her bed with all the intensity of years of memories crashing down on her.

“It’s all your fault.”

She kept hearing him say that, seeing the anger in his eyes as he thrust himself inside of her.

Fiona got up and paced around the dorm room. This one was bad. She needed to talk to someone. She couldn’t get through this one alone.

She picked up the phone dialed Jarret’s pager. The sound of his soft voice was comforting, but only for a moment.

“Hi. You’ve reached 382-7654. I’ll be out of town until January, so please try me back then.”

“No!” Fiona cried and fell to the floor, curled up like a baby with the receiver still in her hand. She rocked back and forth and even pulled at her hair, trying to hurt herself to give her something else to think about but it didn’t work. She kept hearing her stepbrother’s harsh words and feeling his weight on top of her.

She got up and grabbed every bottle of pills she had in her room and dumped them out on the desk. She grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and picked up a handful of the pills. She looked down at her palm.

The different colors of the pills blurred together through her tears. She stared at them for a long time, standing completely still except for the slight trembling from her crying.

“He’s won?” she asked herself. “He’s defeated me, made me powerless?”

She sat down on the bed and said the word over and over. Powerless.

“No,” she said. “I refuse to let him win.”

She carefully placed the pills back in their bottles and took a drink of water. She sat back down on the bed and wiped the tears from her eyes.

Copyright 2002 Nicole Tanner

Leave a Reply