I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream

by | January 2021 B (Day 1)

There is a town at the edge of things where the women hold in their screams. Previous generations died young. High blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, cancer. The women watched their mothers and grandmothers and aunts all fall into graves where no one would see them again, not even in dreams. Their childhoods were marked by the long limousine march of funeral after funeral. They decided things would be different for them and adjusted accordingly. The women know what’s expected of them. Smiles that reach their eyes, deference, laughing at unfunny jokes, starving their bodies and ambition until they’re small enough that they threaten no one, their hair long and eye-catching so no one notices the bared-teethed fury flashing across their faces. They can do that. For the most part. The women who can’t, leave. But the women who stay have barometers in their bodies, lodged in their guts so they can judge just how close to exploding they are. When they feel the shaking, when their bodies feel like empty vessels except for their repressed screams, they make an excuse and bolt to the outskirts of town. In an abandoned field they reclaim the bodies they’d disassociated from. They raise their backs, clench their fists and unleash what’s built up inside them. Holy expressions of hell. High-pitched, low-pitched, louder than anyone could’ve expected their compact bodies could project. Wordless desolations. Cursed names. All the things they couldn’t say at home. The ones who can’t stay, whose skin itches with what can’t be scratched away, cut off their hair and throw it down where blood poppies grow later. They drive and drive and drive searching for a place where they don’t have to scream in a field. A place where they can be angry and imperfect and the world doesn’t fall apart because of it. In the meantime, they drive from town to town eating gas station mini powdered donuts, six to a package, and slurping energy drinks like a lifeline. Their mouths and fingers covered in white dust, their eyes on the road, always reaching for a place that doesn’t exist.

8 Comments

  1. Nancy Stohlman

    Chelsea!
    Love this story and I especially love the way you have written it in one tight paragraph–creates such glorious urgency with just syntax alone.
    Love: starving their bodies and ambition until they’re small enough that they threaten no one,

    I love the subtle shift here: “But the women who stay have barometers in their bodies, lodged in their guts so they can judge just how close to exploding they are. When they feel the shaking, when their bodies feel like empty vessels except for their repressed screams, they make an excuse and bolt to the outskirts of town.”

    The ones who can’t stay, whose skin itches with what can’t be scratched away, cut off their hair and throw it down where blood poppies grow later.–so beautiful!

    Their mouths and fingers covered in white dust, their eyes on the road, always (reaching for a place that doesn’t exist.)–what if you cut the last part here in parenthesis? Especially since it’s the very last sentence–let it echo with that implied meaning instead?

    Beautiful and strange–just the way I like it! xoxo

  2. Dominique Christina

    Chelsea,

    Your first line drew me in right away. Your deft touch as a writer and the conjure in the story, kept me in. You name a place “at the edge of things” where women who cannot or will not vocalize their anguish or their rage, die young as a result. You name a place that names the bruising constituency of women who do not bleed out loud. Whew! I can relate to that. I come from such women. It almost felt like you were describing the origin story of my mama to me. I knew the place you curated in this story. I knew these women. Women who are unzipped from themselves. Women who drive and drive looking for a place where they can be “angry and imperfect.” That’s conjure. That’s the witchcraft wisdom of women, isn’t it? We are always looking for a place that can hold us. I loved this story and your writing. It really was a pleasure to read.

    • Chelsea Stickle

      “We are always looking for place that can hold us.” I really love that. Thank you, Dominique.

  3. Kristin

    Chelsea, this is captivating. So many powerful lines that each become an experience and story unto its own. There is a new twist and fresh feelings given to the constant messaging society perpetrates on women. You craft the different experiences of woman with a surprising neutrality, or at least absence of judgment. For me this keeps them in community with each other, even if they are separate and disembodied from everything else.

    And, thank you for the reminder to exists in a place so expansive that angry and imperfect aren’t too much for it.

  4. Karen Schauber

    how very sad – you capture the pitiful existence of so many who are held hostage by their own fear, and ineptitude. I wanted to scream – so what, who cares if you leave it all behind. None of it is worth you denying ‘Yourself,’ your essence, your right to be a whole person. – your writing is powerful, believable, evocative, Chelsea – a testament. “The women know what’s expected of them” and “until they’re small enough that they threaten no one” – painful to imagine women still being caught this way unable (unwilling) to extricate themselves. – A perfect title.

  5. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Chelsea, What lucky woman can’t relate to this story. I love the lines and the smooth tone in which you capture those screams held within, well, yes, us. Thank you, from those of us who travel to places free from the urgent necessity to scream, a place from the edge.

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