Dangerous for Girls
It was the summer of Chandra Levy, disappearing from Washington D.C., her lover a Congressman, evasive and blow-dried from Modesto, the TV wondering in every room in America to an image of her tight jeans and piles of curls frozen in a studio pose. It was the summer the only woman known as a serial killer, a ten-dollar whore trolling the plains of central Florida, said she knew she would kill again, murder filled her dreams and if she walked in the world, it would crack her open with its awful wings. It was the summer that in Texas, another young woman killed her five children, left with too many little boys, always pregnant. One Thanksgiving, she tried to slash her own throat. That summer the Congressman lied again about the nature of his relations, or, as he said, he couldn't remember if they had sex that last night he saw her, but there were many anonymous girls that summer, there always are, who lower their necks to the stone and pray, not to God but to the Virgin, herself once a young girl, chosen in her room by an archangel. Instead of praying, that summer I watched television, reruns of a UFO series featuring a melancholic woman detective who had gotten cancer and was made sterile by aliens. I watched infomercials: exercise machines, pasta makers, and a product called Nails Again With Henna, ladies, make your nails steely strong, naturally, and then the photograph of Chandra Levy would appear again, below a bright red number, such as 81, to indicate the days she was missing. Her mother said, please understand how we're feeling when told that the police don't believe she will be found alive, though they searched the parks and forests of the Capitol for the remains and I remembered being caught in Tennessee, my tent filled with wind lifting around me, tornado honey, said the operator when I called in fear. The highway barren, I drove to a truck stop where maybe a hundred trucks hummed in pale, even rows like eggs in a carton. Truckers paced in the dining room, fatigue in their beards, in their bottomless cups of coffee. The store sold handcuffs, dirty magazines, t-shirts that read, Ass, gas or grass. Nobody rides for free, and a bulletin board bore a public notice: Jane Doe, found in a refrigerator box outside Johnson, TN, her slight measurements and weight. The photographs were of her face, not peaceful in death, and of her tattoos Born to Run, and J.T. caught in scrollworks of roses. One winter in Harvard Square, I wandered drunk, my arms full of still warm, stolen laundry, and a man said come to my studio and of course I went— for some girls, our bodies are not immortal so much as expendable, we have punished them or wearied from dragging them around for so long and so we go wearing the brilliant plumage of the possibly freed by death. Quick on the icy sidewalks, I felt thin and fleet, and the night made me feel unique in the eyes of the stranger. He told me he made sculptures of figure skaters, not of the women's bodies, but of the air that whipped around them, a study of negative space, which he said was the where-we-were-not that made us. Dizzy from beer, I thought why not step into that space? He locked the door behind me.