You roll down your window while I’m crossing the street, your buddy’s backseat laughter barely audible as you yell out,
“Damn, baby, why you look so sad?”
There’s a brief frenzy of whistling and honking, feigned interest in the downward curve of my mouth just long enough to get a glimpse of the curve of my ass before you peel off and go about your day. My body is frozen mid-intersection, mind racing too sluggish to address your concern in due time, and though I didn’t see your face your voice echoes clearly the remaining blocks—
Damn, baby. Why you look so sad?
Well, you see, sir, last night I heard the news of a high school classmate’s passing, and I cried myself to sleep. I thought about his family and friends and that tattered ACDC shirt he used to wear, and I choked out sobs until the heaviness of my head matched that of my heart. I lay in bed motionless, imagining the marathons and competitions this strong, beloved, goofball of a man would never have the chance to run, and I wondered how “Sometimes bad things happen to good people,” could become so common as to be a comforting cliché when all it does is make me feel sick.
And if you really must know, sir, last week my mother called to say she can no longer afford to live in my childhood home. The mortgage is too expensive, the divorce too final, and I can hear her desperation as she replies to my incessant questioning with unintended derision, “Don’t be so stupid.” The cabinets cluttered with embarrassing elementary school poetry and doodles, the rock bed once the source of endless fairy kingdom adventures, the Birds of Paradise lining the kitchen window—all to be torn out, re-landscaped, coated over in a nondescript cream for the next middle class family of four. My very own Superwoman is struggling to keep it all together, and there’s nothing my admiration or meager paycheck can do to help.
I’m not sure if you’re keeping up with current events, either, but lately these headlines make me wonder how anyone can go around looking anything but sad—how any of us can step foot on a college campus or get lunch at our favorite sandwich shop or turn on the television without feeling overwhelmed by hateful stories with halfhearted solutions. Everywhere you turn people are more invested in protecting themselves than empathizing with others, and just when it all starts to make me feel hopeless and terrified and increasingly insignificant, here you are, sir, asking so sweetly about how I must doing.
You want to know why I look so sad, cowardly man harassing me from the shielded safety of his beat up car? Maybe it’s because I live in a world where being verbally accosted by strangers who couldn’t give less of a fuck about my emotional wellbeing is a standard consequence of going outside. Because somewhere in the fine print of my city apartment’s lease, the frown lines on my forehead, the instructional tags stitched inside my clothing it’s written, “Young woman walking alone; Do not handle with care.” Perhaps you noticed my upset expression because I am truly, deeply, irrevocably sad, and if you took longer to stop and think about how your lewd gestures and unwarranted hollering would make me feel longer than it took you to roll through that light, you might realize I should be treated not like your sister or mother or as a respected woman purely out of blood obligation but because I am a goddamn human being who deserves to grieve our perpetually fucked society however I please.
You drive off feeling powerful because you think I somehow care what you say about my body, as if there aren’t more important things in life than the fact that I have a vagina and you’re an outright asshole. You high five your friend and revel in the simple minded achievement of making a small girl feel smaller, proud your quick comments could have such a lasting impression, mistaking my silence as an inability to fight back when the truth is that my spirit was broken long before you passed by. You ask me why I am this way but aren’t prepared to hear the answer, the pain and suffering I haven’t felt personally but that feel so heavily personal, and it makes me so infuriatingly sad to think you’ll go to sleep tonight without even a care in the world.