Mary Heather Noble’s “Things I (Shouldn’t) Have to Tell My Daughter” in The Fem
The lyric essay is a form that lends itself to the subjects of discovering sex, learning what does and does not constitute sex, and what does and does not constitute consent. The interrupted lines and blank spaces let the reader follow Noble’s train of thought at she considers what her daughter may perceive and what she will need to be told.
Noble effortlessly drops into child logic, describing her mother catching her rubbing her naked Barbies up against each other, while retaining the narrative authority of her adult-self as she considers the boundaries of a recess game of “tag.”
“I secretly enjoyed his arms around my waist, the thrill of our bodies panting in sync. Then I’d work my fingers against his grip to open the lock and run away. One recess, though, he pulled me into the tire structure while his friends blocked the tires’ open mouths. Memory holds the taste of fear, an acute scent of rubber.”
As the stakes increase, the words to a “naughty playground song,” a modern interpretation of which is a depiction of non-consensual sex, are woven through the narrative. The question of “what is consent” is presented with every encounter, explicitly so with a high school classmate: “was it rape or just regret?” This essay of one woman’s experiences is a needed encapsulation of the problematic perceptions of consent and rape.
Lena Waithe’s “Finding My Fashion Identity with One Old T-shirt” in Lenny Letter
For most adolescents, there comes a crystalizing moment when one or more of the following truisms are realized: I am different from my parents and don’t have to do the things they tell me to; I can match how I feel on the inside with how I look on the outside; and clothes don’t have to come from a department store. Being a teenager can be confusing and weird, trying to find balance between how others see me and how I want to be seen. Lena Waithe has those moments in this essay “Finding My Fashion Identity with One Old T-Shirt,” and you can’t help but cheer for her younger self.
Waithe describes the first time she steps into a thrift store and it’s almost like Charlie walking into the Chocolate Factory: she’s overwhelmed at first, but soon understands she’ll find the best things there. It’s a fun essay that captures the futility of shopping, teenage insecurities, and accepting yourself as an individual.
“This purchase was more than just a lucky break. It was the first time I bought a piece of clothing that actually meant something to me. It made me think of all the hours I spent watching Mary Tyler Moore reruns on Nick at Nite. I was in awe of this magical woman who was such a boss that her production company produced her show. The shirt wasn’t expensive. And unless you were a TV buff, you wouldn’t understand its significance. But it made me happy every time I put it on. It said something about who I was… At 21 I had finally figured it out: my fashion should help tell my story.”
Victoria Barrett’s “How to Build a Nursery for a Dying Baby” in Maximum Middle Age
This bittersweet essay illuminates just how extensive and long-lasting the pain of losing a pregnancy can be by showing us all the work and excitement that went into planning for that life. This piece is short, and Barrett’s writing is sparse yet highly emotional and dripping with symbolic detail. Pregnancy loss can feel somewhat abstract to others since it involves losing a person whom you have never met, but yet, as the pregnant mother, you were already intimately aquatinted with them. It is a loss of potential, of all the things that will never be.
Love is a verb. A practice. You will never hold this child, never soothe her with a hand on the forehead, never touch her soft curls. It will never be okay. Instead, you will want to pull the loose strand at the unfinished end of the afghan, ravel, unravel, back to the beginning, to the idea of her, the image of you brushing her hair, twisting it into braids or barrettes or bouncy pigtails, tying them with those puffy yarn ribbons you haven’t seen since your own mother tied them into your own braids in 1979.