Important Things

Roxane Gay

Important Things to Know About Loose Women

Who a Loose Woman Looks Up To
Never her mother. She is trying to kill her mother or at least, those parts of her mother lurking beneath her skin. When she spreads her legs she hopes the distance between her and her mother will gape ever wider. She does this because she remembers too much; she has seen too much, her mother pale and frail, cowed by the meat of her father, his fleshy body, his fleshy demands.

Where a Loose Woman Lives
Her apartment is clean and bright and well appointed though her home doesn’t look lived in. There are the suggestions of life, but nothing more. She never stays in one place long. She doesn’t need to. When gentlemen visit, their deep voices echo throughout all the clean and bright and empty space. There is a print, black and white, in the hall entrance. Sometimes, as they’re leaving a gentleman caller will study the print, try to make sense of it. She will watch him, standing nearby, her body wrapped in a soft robe. He’ll say, “This is beautiful, but what does it mean?” She will simply smile.

How a Loose Woman Longs To Be Touched
There was a boy she once knew. She was twenty-three and he was the same age. He was earnest and she didn’t know what to make of that. She had already learned the dangers of sincerity. He told her exactly how he felt. He asked her what she wanted. He touched her with purpose, his hands soft but strong. When she lay beneath him, she arched into his chest willingly, loved the warmth at the places where their bodies met. It was too much. She didn’t dare trust it. She broke his heart. When she closes her eyes, she remembers his fingers, tracing the bones of her spine.

How a Loose Woman Sits at the Bar
Smooth is what they call an ultra lounge, lots of low leather seating, dim lights, overpriced drinks. Electronica blasts through the speakers at uncomfortable volumes and there is a dress code, particularly for men, so they always wear their best jackets, sometimes a tie. Their shoes are slick and shiny, just like their hair. They have job titles that often end in the letters –er. Sometimes she goes to the lounge with people who might be considered friends though they know very little about her. She sits where she can be seen while maintaining an indifference about who actually sees her. She crosses her legs and keeps her calves touching. She doesn’t blink. She tries not to make it seem like she cares about anything at all.

What a Loose Woman Sees in the Mirror
Nothing. She doesn’t look. She doesn’t need to. She knows exactly who she is.

Important Things to Know About Frigid Women

How She Got That Way
In second grade, she skinned her knee walking home from school in a plaid skirt and Mary Janes. As she sat on the kitchen counter, watching her mother dab the wound with alcohol, to keep it clean she said, she wanted nothing more than to poke it, to see how much she could make herself hurt.

With Whom She Surrounds Herself
She has a husband and a child and she loves them in her way though they both like to gang up on her, call her cold. It is her against them. This infuriates her but she says nothing. She smiles coolly. At night, her husband often tries to reach for her but she turns on her side, or digs her fingernails into his wrist as she pushes him away. He misunderstands her motives and when he’s golfing with his friends, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, the stink of which he will bring home, he likes to say the old ball and chain never puts out. He doesn’t cheat mostly because he’s a busy man and he likes his child well enough but he does frequent strip bars and he brings the stink of that place home with him too. At night, there is always a burning in her chest as she tries to hold her breath.

What a Frigid Woman Wears
Every morning, she wakes up at five a.m. and runs until her body feels like it might fall apart. Everyone tells her she should run marathons but she doesn’t see the point. She doesn’t need to wear a number on her chest to feel validated. She lives in the country. She can run all she wants. She can go longer than 26.2 miles. She can do anything. She runs because she likes it. She runs because she loves her body, the power of it, how it has always saved her when she most needed saving. She loves to wear form-fitting clothing that shows off her musculature, the leanness of her legs, the gentle curves of her calves, the flat of her stomach. When she feels people watching her, she remembers the freedom of running and knows one day, she will just keep going.

What Happened When Her Mother Died
She was pregnant with her own child, due any day, her body swollen and unfamiliar. There was a phone call and she stood there, after, listening to the dial tone, unable to move. The water ran hot in the kitchen sink and she idly wondered if it would ever stop without human intervention. She drove to the hospital slowly, her belly pressed painfully against the steering wheel. She didn’t answer her phone when her husband called. She found her mother’s body, stiff and alone, draped in a blue sheet, so still. She ignored the nurse as she slid next to her mother, her belly pulsing against her mother’s cooling skin. So many people came and stared, tried to get her to move, but she did not leave her mother alone.

Where a Frigid Woman Goes at Night
There are places for people with secrets and she has secrets, so many of them that sometimes they threaten to choke her. She goes to the places for people with secrets and there she waits.

Important Things to Know About Crazy Women

Why Crazy Women are Misunderstood
It started with a phone call after a third date where she followed him home and they had sex, nothing memorable, but overall, adequate. They had breakfast at the diner next door. He ate eggs, scrambled soft. She had pancakes, doused in syrup and butter. “I can’t believe you’re a woman who eats,” he said. “You’re a goddamned dream.” She smiled at him, the scent of maple heavy in her nose. When they said goodbye, they kissed long and hard, bruising their lips together. It was hours later, in her own apartment, when she remembered she left her briefcase on his couch. She called and he didn’t answer and there were important papers, an iPad, she couldn’t just let it go. She kept calling and he kept not answering. He called his best friend and said, “This crazy bitch is blowing up my phone.” She went to his apartment and when he answered the door, he said, “I’ve got mad skills.” She rolled her eyes, said, “It wasn’t that good,” and pointed to her briefcase, exactly where she left it. His face reddened as she swept past him, grabbed her briefcase and walked out, head held high.

What a Crazy Woman Talks About in Therapy
The therapist’s office is small, so small it could drive a woman crazy. When she and her therapist sit across from each other on small couches, their knees practically touch. This makes her cringe but it can’t be helped. She needs someone to talk to. She needs someone to hear her, to understand. She needed help. She has seen many therapists. One told her she was too pretty to have real problems. Another told her to find herself a good man. She knew this therapist wouldn’t last long. At the end of her first appointment, after a recitation of all the things that would make anyone crazy, he handed her four pieces of stapled paper, self care worksheets, and this, after she had explicitly told him she didn’t believe in affirmation-based therapy. It was the second visit. He asked her if she had completed the worksheets and she said, “I put aI for everything.” He leaned forward. She could see a pattern of dryness on his bald scalp. “You mean to say it never occurs to you to eat regularly?” He stared at her, an eyebrow raised. She never looked away.

What a Crazy Woman Thinks About While Walking Down the Street
She tries to walk not too fast and not too slow. She doesn’t want to attract any attention. She pretends she doesn’t hear the whistles and catcalls and lewd comments. Sometimes, she forgets and leaves her house in a skirt or a tank top because it’s a warm day and she wants to feel warm air on her bare skin. Before long, she remembers. She keeps her keys in her hand, three of them held between her fingers, like a dull claw. She makes eye contact only when necessary and if a man should catch her eye, she juts her chin forward, makes sure the line of her jaw is strong. When she leaves work or the bar late, she calls a car service and when they pull up to her building, she quickly scans the street to make sure it’s safe to walk the short distance from the curb to the door. She once told a boyfriend about these considerations and he said, “You are completely out of your mind.” She told a new friend at work and she said, “Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.”

What a Crazy Woman Eats
It is hard to remember the taste of cream, of butter, of salt. In her kitchen, she has a shelf of cookbooks, Light Eating Right, Getting Creative With Kale, Thin Eats and one very worn copy of The Art of French Cooking she only opens when her hunger is so gnawing she can only be sated by reading of veloute and bouillabaisse. On Sundays, she plans her meals for the week using her cookbooks. It is a dreary process that leaves her tongue dry. Next to the stove there is a small scale she uses to weigh everything. She understands the importance of precise measurements.

What Happens When a Crazy Woman Snaps
She is sitting at her desk, working late, when her boss hulks his way into her office, sitting too close, on the edge of her desk, taking up space in the way men do. He stares down her blouse and it’s the presumption in the way he doesn’t hide his interest that makes her hold the sharp letter opener in the cool palm of her hand.

Important Things to Know About Mothers

What She Sees in Her Child’s Face
From the moment the boy was born, he was the spitting image of his father. “Carved right out of that man’s ass,” her mom, prone to vulgarity, said in the hospital room as she held her first grandson. When she was finally alone, her husband in the cafeteria looking for something to eat, she held her firstborn child and stared at him, eager to see some mark of herself, eager to feel like the nine months of carrying him, the bed rest, the way he tore her all the way open, was worth it. She never found what she was looking for.

What She Says to the Other Mothers at Her Child’s School
One Wednesday a month, she has to bring a healthy snack to her son’s classroom and serve as a helper. Her husband serves on Thursdays. She takes time off from work to do this and makes up the hours at night after she has put her son to sleep. They call this arrangement flextime, but really, it’s stretch time, she has never worked more hours than after she had her son. It’s hard to know what healthy means anymore. That’s what she thinks each week. She brought peanut butter and crackers once but one of the other mothers frowned, her lips drawn in a tight line. “Peanut allergies,” the other mother muttered. It was all very confusing. For several months she brought only orange wedges until yet another mother pulled her aside and said children need variety to thrive. She said, “Don’t they get variety during the other days of the week?” It was soon after that she was told she was no longer needed as a classroom aide and on Wednesday, in her office, when she might have otherwise been in her son’s classroom, she felt triumphant.

What She Thinks About Raising a Boy
Throughout her pregnancy, she was convinced she would be having a girl. She was ready for that. She was ready to love someone who would have something essential in common with her. When the doctor laid her bloody, mewling son on her chest, when she realized he was not a she, it was such a shock she couldn’t speak. She warmed to him because he was a fat baby boy. Everywhere on his body, rolls. She loved to trace them and put powder in the folds of his skin to keep him dry and sweet smelling. Even his wrists had rolls and she would kiss them whenever she could. Her husband didn’t approve, said too much affection made a boy soft, but she ignored him because she often spied him doing the exact same thing as he changed the boy’s diaper or put him down for a nap.

Where She Went When She Realized She Was Pregnant Again
After work, nauseous and irritable, she went to the bar where she and her colleagues liked to congregate because the martinis were stiff and made with gin the way martinis were supposed to be made. She sat alone, though her friends urged her to join them. She drank one martini after another until she was so drunk she had to call her husband to come get her, which he did. He carried her upstairs and undressed her. He gave her water, two aspirin, and held her close, tried to figure out what was wrong. As she fell asleep, she murmured, “I cannot do it again.” He wished, very much, to know what she meant.

How a Mother Loves
She and her son like to watch documentaries about wild animals. Mothers are often vicious when protecting her cubs, sharp teeth bared and shiny wet. She wishes she could feel that way about her own child, who she liked well enough. She understood people would never be as true as animals.

Important Things to Know About Dead Girls

Death makes them more interesting. Death makes them more beautiful. It’s something about their bodies on display in final repose, eyes wide open, lips blue, limbs stiff, skin cold. Finally, it might be said, they are at peace.