Growing Up Woman | Nat Emerling

*This piece was previously published on author’s blog*

I am twelve years old
sitting with my legs stretched wide
and he says, “That’s butch,”
and I don’t know what that means,
but I cross my ankles
and close my knees.
__

He says, “You’re sheltered,
you wouldn’t know.
You’re naïve,
you haven’t lived yet,”
and I know that he’s right
and I know that he’s wrong
and I say, “I know more than you think,”
and he laughs.
__

They say, “He’s a nice guy,”
but I tell my mom,
“I might hate him,”
she says, “Hate’s a strong word,”
but I say, “I might. I might hate him.”
__

He punches my stomach as a joke
and I clench it to protect my insides.
I make it hard like a fist,
and he says, “Oh,
I thought it would be soft.
I thought you would be soft.”
__

I am tall at fourteen years old.
“She’ll be a babe when she’s 18,” he says.
And this is the year that a boy gets on one knee
as a joke, for the first time.
“Will you marry me?” he says
all sweaty and gangly and growing.
And he’s laughing at his joke
and his ability to make my face turn red.
__

I am sixteen
and I am sitting on a log by the lake
with my cousins and with my friends
and he says, “She’s the looks,”
he says it like a slap in the face,
like a compliment.
He says it like
she’s not the brains
and she’s not the talent
and she’s not the heart.
__

I am eighteen
and he is 35
and smells like beer
when he puts his arm around my waist.
He says, “Baby,”
and mumbles profanities into my ear,
but I smile because my friends are here.
I smile because it is supposed to be fun,
and we’re young
and we’re having fun, fun, fun.
__

I am twenty
and he wakes me up
in the middle of the night.
Practically a stranger,
we were stupid to stay at his house.
We were stupid, and I know it
when he wakes me up at 2 AM.
He says something that I can’t remember,
but I count my blessings
because it could have been worse,
it should have been much worse.
__

I am twenty-two
and I say, “We could be friends,”
but he says, “What would be the point?”
He says, “I don’t see the point,”
he says,
“I’m not going to waste my time.”
__

I am twenty-four.
I am 24 and he says,
“If you won’t, I’ll kill myself,”
he says, “you’re so beautiful,
you look like a prostitute.”
A grown man, he says,
“If you don’t, I’ll have nothing left to live for.”
__

And my mother says,
“You can’t hate them,”

and I say, “But I might.”

————
Nat Emerling lives in the frozen wilderness of Saskatchewan, Canada. Nat works at her
local post office to make a living, and is interested in seemingly contrasting ideas like
Christian Feminism. In a constant, and sprawling, attempt to find her identity, she has
sleepovers in the woods with other writer-sisters, makes grilled cheese sandwiches, paints
sunrises, and writes in various forms. Most days you can find her on the internet talking
about her life in cryptic prose-poetry via her blog. Nat has also been published on RiotGrrrl Mag and featured on Metatron’s blog.

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