It started with a puzzle. It was missing pieces and we couldn’t finish it. She was young, maybe 9, Bulgarian, unable to speak English, staying in a hostel with her mother and father. I was 23, American, only able to speak English, upstairs at the hostel socializing, preparing to get drunk. After the puzzle mishap she beckoned me to the paper on the easel, pulling crayons out of her small purse. With no words spoken we communicated: she’d draw an animal and make a noise, showing which animal it was. And I’d do the same, both of us smiling at the achieved communication, at the desire to speak through commonalities. Her smile leaked into her eyes, into my heart.
But there were things I couldn’t draw, didn’t know how to mock via a noise. There were warnings I wanted to give her that I simply couldn’t, experiences that she’d have to have as I thought about her, middle-aged, with the assortment of drawings we created still on my wall. I wanted to speak to her of womanhood, of how nothing seems so innocent after your own body sheds itself, pooling into a darkness more powerful than red in your underwear. I wanted to tell her that at one point your body will feel as if it’s betraying you, that you won’t feel at home in the protruding hip bones or rounding stomach. I wanted to tell her that at 19 she’d be swept under the hypnotism of a man’s lust, that she’d be utterly disappointed when nothing was at his place but a small, dirty bed and a sleepless night. I wanted to tell her that that disappointment doesn’t go away, that one day she’d be in a bar when she’s 23 in a foreign country and a man would say ‘let’s go back to my place’ and her stomach would still sink.
I wanted to tell her that womanhood has chased me through a maze since that day in seventh grade when my gray L.E.I underwear were ruined by a dark reality, that it has taunted me into not eating, has urged me to mistake lust for love, has pained me infinitely. But I wanted to tell her too that there is something beautiful in the bleeding of a woman, in the way it hurts to remind you of the power you hold within your body, the way you can handle it, the way it speaks to the moon, reuniting with her monthly. You see, Elizabeth, your stomach rounds because you are full of the possibility to create life, you bleed for the same reason. You are a tigress, and I hope you feel this statement every time you pull at your stomach wishing for it to shrink, every time you curse your body for bleeding, every time you cry on your walk back home from a man’s apartment or dorm room. You are a tigress, and you are powerful in your pain, in your body, in your love. You are a tigress.