Art by Ann marie Houghtailing

They were always in packs
Loose-limbed with curved spines
And a gait like a hyena

Their thick, pink tongues
Wagged with threats and desire
I escaped packs of hyenas every day when I was just a girl

No one tore me open
No one murdered my future self

I was lucky
But I knew a lot of unlucky women

I was small
With a tongue like a razor blade
Language is its own weapon

When you say FUCK just right
It’s like a warning shot
Fuck you
Go fuck yourself
Don’t fuck with me motherfucker

My voice was steady
But my heart beat in my chest like an ancient drum
My blood rushed through my veins like a wild river

Waiting to see
If I would be ripped apart

If those boy hands would find their way around my neck
The way a man wrapped his hands around my mother’s neck
And tried to crush the life out of her
In front of my small doll eyes
He was in love with her

I can still see my mother’s mouth torn open
Like a wound
Black hair falling over the balcony

Terrorizing young women on public transportation is ordinary
I’m not special

Everyday domestic terrorism
Exists in every city and town
Made possible
By silent bystanders

A woman’s body
And peace
Are always under threat

I know if they pull apart my legs
They will tear through my body like a wildfire
They know from my razor tongue that they will get burned too

Maybe lose an eye
Or some of their precious manufactured dignity
Tender as a baby’s fontanel

I’ve hit back
When an unwelcome, unwanted, strange hand touched me
An explosion of rage all force and no thought
Molten lava

Of course they could kill me
I know that
They know that

I make it out every day
They don’t take anything from me
Or maybe they do

Maybe a diet of terror wrenches away something precious
Something tender
I’ll never know what it is

I only have the idea of tenderness
The notion
The thing itself can never be known to me

It’s buried deep
Under the hardness
Of rough, jagged rock that has kept me safe
Thus far

You can follow Ann marie on Instagram at trailsnotpaths

Ann marie Houghtailing is the co founder of Story Imprinting, a communications firm that teaches clients the art and science of storytelling.