The Hard Small Fact of Men
by Lynn Steger Strong
I wish he’d held my ankles, pulled my hair. He was twenty-three and still a virgin, had never left the small town where he grew up and would later raise his kids: clichés were all he had. It was summer; I was seventeen and working in Wyoming. They called me jailbait and sent me off with him because he was so sweet and safe and good. He took me home to meet his parents and they cooked me deer and moose and served no vegetables. He taught me how to hold and shoot a rifle, out on a hill overlooking miles of farmland. He warned me about the kickback, but still it almost knocked me out and left a bruise. I thought he liked keeping me safe in the face of all the other slicker, meaner boys we lived with. I had crushes on those other boys sometimes, the sort of distant far off crushes that can happen when you know they’re not allowed. I drank too much. I drank constantly. I blacked out almost every night and he took me home and didn’t yell or make me clean it up when I threw up in his car. He had to carry me out of the bars where they never carded but asked finally that I leave. I was so small then and the cowboys flipped me, twirled me, threw me, and I let my body go all limp and floppy and held my breath, trying not to puke. Who knows how someone chooses to do something they have so far chosen not to. He was good and sweet and caring till he wasn’t anymore. And then he was again right after. Maybe he did it other nights when I’d blacked out. There would have been some kind of remnants. But then I woke up sore and dry-mouthed, dirty, desperate, no matter what had happened in all the hours just before. That night, though, I was fully sentient. I was drunk enough to go limp just like I did the nights the cowboys threw me. I held my breath then too; I wished maybe I would puke and he’d be too grossed out to keep doing what I knew he couldn’t help but doing. He held my wrists, and I thought this is dues for my protection. This is how I know he will continue to be nice and sweet and good.
Lynn Steger Strong was born and raised in South Florida. She has an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University where she currently teaches freshman writing. She also teaches at Pratt Institute, Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop and Catapult. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, their two daughters, and their dog. Her first novel, Hold Still, was published in 2016.