When I first Monochrome by H.M. Jones, I felt like I met an author who knew my life story. H.M. and I hit it off right away when we began working together under the old Gravity Imprint with the now defunct Booktrope Publishing. That’s what it is like when you meet someone who has experienced the same kind of fear and sees the same kind of scenery out of her mind’s window. I feel so honored to have H.M. grace my pages today.
I lay with my legs open to the air, paper under my butt, over my legs, not covering, not safe from the cold. If I weren’t in pain, this visit wouldn’t happen. I don’t trust many people, especially those with a Mr. implied in their name. And no one can blame me for this, or they shouldn’t. But they will. Any time a woman fears the touch of a man because she’s had unwanted fingers on her skin, it’s always her fault, her clothes, her personality that let them in. That’s what we are told. Then we doubt our own experience, our own fear, our own pain. Because we are told these things are wrong; we, women, are wrong.
So I shake under warm lights, under pictures taped to the ceiling of butterflies and clear skies and things that are supposed to make me calm. But skepticism is my best friend. It is my safety net. I never assume I am safe, anymore. I never assume my daughter is safe, my son, my friends, my family. Most days, at least once, terrible scenarios will flash through my head and to keep anxiety at bay I will picture myself overcoming them, or dealing with them, in the very least. Sometimes I can’t see how to deal with made up fears and I will cry and shake and feel defeated, even though I’m safe.
A gentle rap on the door. A male voice. The tambour of it immediately sets me on edge. He steps to my side, away from my vulnerable space. He says, “Hannah, I am sorry you are in pain today.” His voice has a Hispanic inflection. It is soft and genuinely concerned. “I have my nurse right here. She will be with us today, okay? I will wait for her to get started.”
Then I know why the invasive form asks, “Have you ever been sexually or physically abused?” I understand and I’m no longer mad about having to worry about whether I should answer the question honestly. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want that conversation. I want it in the past, where it should stay. But I answered honestly all the same. Because I am always honest on my medical forms. I want the best care possible. And they’ve read worse. That’s what I told myself as I check yes.
The doctor reassures me the entire time. In his quiet, careful movements. In the way he always tells me when or if there will be pressure or pain during the procedure. He talks through what he’s doing. He asks if I’m alright. He tells me to let him know if I need a break or a moment to myself. The vice-like muscles of my thighs, my arms, my back relax a little more with his gentleness.
And I think to myself if all men were like this, I’d not feel the need to continually watch my back. I’d not fear necessary doctor’s appointments or evening walks. And it feels like this man, unlike so many, knows. He has seen it before—the anxiety leaking out of every pore. He knows where it comes from and the trust involved to allow him into my space. He treats it as sacred. And I can’t help but wondering if it’s his profession, a doctor to females, that has given him this nurturing tenderness or if he has always encompassed this. And if he has, why do so many men not have it? Is it societal? Is it hormonal? Is it experiential? Is it all of these things? What infects the souls, the brains of those who think women are not worthy of humane treatment?
These questions have been on my mind this political season, especially, but also most of my life. And I still don’t know why. I wish I knew why.