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ESSAY
Ten-Year-Old Strung from Her Underwear on a Cross
Shannon Hardwick

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It can be something as simple as how my jean shorts fit one day. Driving my daughter to school, I notice my right thigh fits tighter into the pant leg and extra skin spills over the edge of the rolled jean more than it did yesterday.

As a teen, this betrayal would be enough for me to want to cut into that skin. To say, Fuck you, body. I’d call Reed and we’d talk each other through each cut. He’d describe his and I’d describe mine. We would make a pact to use this as a sort of foreplay one day. We never did.

As a child, I went through a phase where I was too afraid to sleep in my own room. I’d plead with my mother to let me stay in the guest bedroom. It was closer to her room and less secluded than mine in the back of the house. Running across the living room, heart pounding, I’d imagine if I was quick enough, I could outrun the Big Bad Wolf. He would duck behind the armoire and the Steinway. It was thrilling and terrifying. I was fast. My body, high on the adrenaline, had trouble falling asleep. Nightfall meant insomnia and a distinct feeling of being “dirty.”

One night, sleeping in the guest bedroom, I decided I could squeeze out the dirty feeling with a much different sensation. I took my underwear into my hands and pulled up as hard as I could, creating a wedge in the front. I imagined I was like Jesus strung on the cross except instead of Mary and Mary in front of me, there were “those” men, a rotation of them. Each came to touch me and pull harder on my reserve-wedge. It was the first time I felt in control of this dirtiness. I wasn’t all bad. I was, in a way, worshiped. I pulled harder and harder. It hurt. It felt good. I was ten years old.

The first time it progressed to more, I was twelve. My brother had done something to piss me off. I ran into my room and locked myself in the bathroom. My brother, as often older brothers do, came in to taunt me more. He turned up my radio’s speaker full volume. It was enough stimulation to send me over the edge. Crying, I picked up the newest utensil added to my bathroom routine. I slid the razor as hard as I could over my forearm. The first time I bled, it made my brain explode into happiness and awe. Finally, I could stop my body from feeling dirty.

In college, I had a series of reoccurring dreams. I’d freeze in the middle of my sleep. Men would come and touch me. I’d stop breathing. I’d be spun around in their hands. My body a sort of top or marker on my Ouija Board.

By the time I decided to stop hurting myself, I found a man to do it for me. I chose him, subconsciously, to be my hand. I was no longer the one cutting into my own body. He was taking that load off for me. It was only in the area of sex, where I needed it most, that he would bulldoze his body into mine, slapping, punching, spitting, violating.

Finally, I said, No. Finally, I said, I’ll take it from here.

Once, I climbed a mountain so hard and so fast that my body felt like it would break open like a bleeding rock. I asked it to go harder. I asked it to take me further. It asked me to forgive it for being a body in a world where coked-out men get off on touching ten-year-old girls.

I think the wisest thing I ever did was turn that new, blooming shame into a scene where I was celebrated on a cross, where those men came to worship me.

I think the sexually abused child tried to get it right before the shame overtook her.

Still, there are times I want to cut off any site of thigh-fat. There are times I want to lose forty pounds because I can.

As an adult, I decided to run so far that I broke my bones. Just four months ago, I broke my femoral neck due to stress fractures sustained from overtraining for a marathon.

Sometimes wish I could break open their body instead of my own.

I limp from the broken hip. It serves as a constant reminder that there are never perfectly healed wounds, just varying degrees of healing tissue.


Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick's work has appeared in Salt Hill, Stirring, Versal, The Texas Observer, Devil's Lake, Four Way Review, among others. She is listed as a contributor of both poetry and prose in A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assualt published by Civil Coping Mechanisms. She has chapbooks out with Thrush Press and Mouthfeel Press. Hardwick serves as the poetry editor for The Boiler Journal and her first full-length, Before Isadore, was recently published by Sundress Publications.