@
Stephanie Austin STEPHANIE AUSTIN's short stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, American Short Fiction, Washington Square Review, the South Dakota Review, Eclectica, fwriction: review, and Extract(s), among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in the New England Review,'s Digital Series "Secret Americas" and at Used Furniture Review. She is a Community of Writers at Squaw Valley alum and has an M.F.A. from the University of Nebraska.

Recent Work By Stephanie Austin

TRS 1

 

My friend gave my pages back to me. He said, “If you’re saying this is rape, you need to make the scene clearer. You need to make us hate this guy and feel shit for this chick.”

I attempted to explain. “What is not rape about it? He put all his weight on her. He took off her clothes. She did not have a real opportunity to protest.”

“She went out to his house. She talks about how he’s hot and how she’s into him. He’s nice to her for awhile.”

Yes. And she wanted to be wanted. She needed men to want her. That’s how she felt good about herself. She wasn’t looking for sex. Maybe at some point, but not on that night. Sex was not her agenda. I know these things.

My friend pressed. He said, “That’s not how it reads. You wrote a sex scene. All I read here is sex.”

He stripped her, and held her down, and said, let me feel you, and then started fucking her. She didn’t have time to protest. It was one thing and then he was fucking and consent should not be passive.

My friend shook his head. He didn’t buy it. Didn’t buy her. Didn’t buy her motives. He did not believe her. He wanted more booze, maybe. More rape.

“We’re going to need more rape.”

stripper-pen-3

 

In the strip club, we watched the girls dance and Ben told me they were molested as children. Ben will move soon to study law in Virginia. He was above it—all those dancing girls. He said that without saying it. What he did say was that he couldn’t get into it about them, because he just knew what most of them have been through. No need to discuss. Then he bought his friend Dave a lap dance. Then he began to rub my leg.

“I don’t even know how we ended up here,” I shouted.

This was how I expressed feeling uncomfortable in a strip club—one that we had walked into through an alley. The alcohol wasn’t wearing off but it was turning inside me. The lightness of the first part of the night always gave away to the dread, the magnification of all the bad things. We did more shots as all the others bars had closed up shop. We smoked cigarettes. We were in the club because we ran into people who had better ideas than we did about where we should be.

IMG_7228 (1)

 

I don’t know how to write this essay. It’s smarter than me. I’m overthinking every line, every angle. I write it, and I take it apart. I hold a broken piece and try to fit it in somewhere else and stare for a long time and take it out again. Writing about family is complicated. Reading what I write about my family is complicated. Write, delete. Hold back, unleash. Delete, delete. I’m exploring the idea of family because I have some sort of family identity struggle going on because I always have a family identity struggle going on. Is this what happens when your parents get divorced? When your parents break do you break too? Divorce or separation doesn’t equate brokenness—doesn’t have to but usually does. People don’t get divorced because their relationship is going well. Divorce means something is wrong—so wrong the animosity between my parents is still palpable after twenty-five years.

I want to tell you stories about my parents, and I want those stories to reflect me with big psychological terms. I want to contain my identity in a manageable, cohesive space. This essay. I’m starting to think this is impossible.

preggers no

 

Chapter 1  – “The end.”

When I—we—struggled to get pregnant, and I’d read a story about infertility, I’d skip to the end to find out how an individual or couple resolved their infertility. If you want to skip to the end, then yes, I got pregnant. I had a baby who is now a happy, healthy, bright one-year-old. It took three years, and it was super fucking hard.

 

Chapter 2 – “We can’t make a baby, but we can make our own language.”

A brief set of terms you’ll find in this essay:

IF – Infertility

Infertility is known as IF in online support lingo. (Can we send that back to committee? Of all acronyms, is this the best we can do?)

RE – Reproductive Endocrinologist

Fertility doctors make a shit ton of money.

TSH – Thyroid Stimulating Hormone

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped thing in your throat that controls multiple functions in your body and if it’s off in the slightest, your body is fucked.

Boys

By Stephanie Austin

Essay

 

Image

 

My first sexual experience happened with a popular neighborhood boy when I was five and he was six. We huddled under the covers of my twin bed. He goes, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” He showed me. I showed him. After, we went back to what we did in 1983, which was listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller on a record player and running back and forth across the room. My poor mother downstairs watching a Dennis Quaid movie unaware of her daughter involved in a glorious right-of-passage cliché.

Discovery of a boy’s attention. Discovery of the body. Discovery of worthiness.

Stephanie's T-Mobile Phone 120

Do you know that two-thirds of all the divorces that are filed in our country are filed by women?—Michelle Weiner-Davis[1] 

 

Do you know how fast I got married? Less than ten minutes. Six of those minutes involved me standing at the back of the “aisle”—we were married outside, upscale casual—with my dad. When I was younger, I always said I’d walk my own self down the aisle because I was the one who earned the privilege, not my dad.  Too chickenshit to go through with a statement like that so when the time came, I opted for tradition. My dad wore a suit jacket over a nice pair of pants and made a joke he didn’t look this nice for his own wedding. He married my stepmom on a beach in San Diego. She shared the same first name as my mother prompting the family to refer to her as Linda 2. My cousin and I drove to the Linda 2 wedding together, and on our way to California, we stopped off for tattoos. We smoked cigarettes and listened to Madonna and stopped at every rest stop to peek inside our bandages. When we arrived, my soon-to-be stepmother greeted us and suggested we store our suitcases in the closet because her family would be staying at the house, and she didn’t want our things in the way. Linda 2 didn’t have children, and at the rehearsal dinner for their wedding, her sister told me she didn’t like them. I’d just turned 21, so I bought a bunch of booze that weekend—in that gross, blustery way most 21-year-olds on the brink of being out of control do—and drank until I couldn’t walk. My dad’s only response to the tattoo-binge-drinking-too hungover and sick to go out to dinner with them on the last night-attention-seeking behavior was to remind me not to drive when I was fucked up like that. Growing up under the umbrella of alcoholism means eventually those who you enable will come to enable you.  Circle of life.

My dad, six years later and teary at my own wedding, told me he thought I’d make a good wife. This was his way of telling me he thought I looked nice. We side-hugged. He walked me down the aisle and handed me over to my soon-to-be-husband. The ordained minister asked us if we did. We did. It was over.

“May I present Mr. and Mrs., etc., so on,” the minister said.

My husband leaned over to kiss me, and I turned away. Why did I do that? My husband asked the same question. Everyone was looking. My nerves felt like they’d been chewed up. I said I was sorry, and I laughed, and said sorry again. It was hotter than it was supposed to be that day, and I was thirsty.

Sick

By Stephanie Austin

Essay

Sick1

At age 11, I became Peggy Ann McKay in my elementary school talent show. Though I couldn’t sing, dance, or play an instrument, I could speak from my diaphragm and memorize words. “I cannot go to school today….”

Shel Silverstein’s “Sick” was my ticket to the top of the hierarchy. My costume was an unflattering but humorously mismatched pair of pajamas. My prop was a teddy bear. To make sure I was playing sick authentically, I messed up my hair. From my spot backstage, I watched other kids perform. One of the popular girls So You Think You Can Dance?-ed to Mike and the Mechanics’ “In the Living Years.” She wore a white flowing tutu and did graceful things with her arms. I was solid with the poem, but that first swirl of negative self-worth crawled up my leg. At the last minute, I worried I’d panic and forget, so I taped some notes with cue words to the front of my teddy bear.

I have the measles and the mumps.

After my performance, some of my teachers were like, “good job” because that’s what teachers are supposed to say. They’re adults. Encouragement is their game. This kid David, one of the kids from the gifted class, came up to me and said, “I saw you looking at your bear. Did you have notes?”

After listening to my defensive explanation, he asked, “And don’t you think my face looks green?” Then he laughed. It’s a line from the poem.

David was super smart. Super talented. Super everything. He was sixth in our graduating class with accolades in wrestling, band, and clubs like FBLA. We all knew he would change the world, it was just a matter of time. He almost proved us right. In 2002, he went to get his doctorate in molecular biology, but killed himself before he could change any world other than his own.

flgcy_main01

In the box where I keep this story, the woman in the doorway of the hotel room was tall and blonde. She had swept-back bangs in the process of growing out. At 2 a.m., the Flagstaff air was crispy outside. Jacket-weather already. Winter was on deck with its frost threat. Besides the front desk staff I passed on the way to the room and this blonde woman who was in my way, I hadn’t seen another person since I’d arrived. Most people were done for the night. I stood in front of room 234 of a Courtyard by Marriot waiting to be validated.

I was 20-years-old, and believed in terrible things. I thought Savage Garden made some pretty good music. Folgers made some pretty good coffee. And Drew loved me. Love, like lust-love, like he needed me in the middle of the night because the middle of the night is when you truly realize what you want, like it was crazy but understandable how he’d always burned or bit his tongue and that’s why he couldn’t ever kiss me.

“Drew is sick,” this woman said.

Not sick-sick. Drunk-sick. Curled in a ball while his body expressed poison. The metamorphosis. Toxic to non-toxic.

“He called me,” I said in the key of I don’t know who I am, my voice rising in pitch.

Good Sister

By Stephanie Austin

Essay

austin 5

My sister rocks a 90s scrunchie like no one’s business and still loves The Lost Boys, her knock-off Crocs and silk shirts. She cannot rock adult conversation, the processing of complicated information, or general emotions. She is retarded, if you prefer that horrid little word. She is disabled, challenged, slow like dial-up. You hear the connection trying to start, you know eventually the connection will start, but in the meantime you’re sitting there sighing loudly in frustration, waiting because this has been your whole life, waiting for Sandy to get something. And sometimes when the connection happens, you get a  happy story about the wedding she wants to have at Disneyworld, the bakery shop she wants to open in downtown Phoenix and all the free cookies she’ll give her family, or sometimes you stories about her bullies in high school, her sadness hiding under irrational anger that involves swearing at people under her breath, stalking around, crying in the corner, locking herself in the bathroom because she is different and doesn’t quite understand how she is supposed to fit into the world.

Zoom Zoom photo

That’s my life in 2009: my Mazda 3, my new landscaping, my maroon curtains I thought went well against the cream color I’d chosen for the walls of the room downstairs I made into an office. The office my ex-husband (sans ex at the time) used to walk into and spread his arms and say, “Look what I gave you,” and say, “How much money can you contribute this month?” and say, “I’m posting an ad for a stranger/roommate on Craigslist to make up for your lost income.” If you looked through those curtains, you’d see me slumped over my computer, unemployed, drinking my fourth cup of coffee, submitting resumes and/or writing my novel I used to believe in, and/or posting on Facebook and/or feeling depressed about my depression.

The City of Mesa paid us $500 to replace that grass with desert friendly shrubbery. Removing grass is a horror. Annihilate it with chemicals. Wait for it to die. Rip it out by its roots. Cover the ground with black plastic so it can’t push back through. My father-in-law, taking a break from schizophrenia to help with our landscaping project, shoveled the remains of the grass into the back of his white van and drove the dead pieces out to the desert where he dumped them. The same white van he used to park down the street and watch our house in an attempt to catch the kidnappers who’d taken my husband. The same white van he called from asking my husband if he was safe to talk, if he was safe to signal from the window, if he was safe to use code words so the kidnappers didn’t catch on. When we planted the Jacaranda near the walkway, we imagined how beautiful it would look in springtime, how magnificent it might act as shield from the sun. When I left in 2012, the support beams were still in place, holding up that scrawny trunk like two men carrying their drunk friend out of a bar.