My father was a teacher, but he didn’t teach me, he only corrected. Uncapped his red felt-tip pen and scored me up until there was no clean skin left, and I was a throbbing red thing, hardly human. I wore long sleeves and long pants so no one would know how bad it was, how flawed I was, how much correction I required. Growing made my body stretch out, so my previous flaws became less noticeable and new flaws emerged. Red vines climbed my legs, my hips and my breasts before settling in as shiny white reminders that I was no longer a child. I could get pregnant. Not that anyone would want that, want me. I became horrified by the attention from boys I received. Didn’t they know? Couldn’t they see the marks? Caveat emptor, we learned in Latin class. Buyer beware. But that wasn’t right. I wasn’t trying to trick anyone. It made me sick to think that someone might finally see me, see the marks and then claim I’d lied about my quality. I knew I barely passed the test, any test. At dinner my mother asked me why I always kept my blinds closed. I told her I didn’t want anyone to see me. “You think anyone’s looking at you?” my father asked and guffawed at the idea that someone might find me attractive. I meant I didn’t want anyone to be accidentally scarred by seeing me through a window. I was sure that a peak of me unfiltered would destroy the viewer like I was some millennial Medusa. I couldn’t be responsible for that. Misunderstanding my blushing, my father unsheathed his magic marker and applied a fresh coat until I was as red and squat as a fire hydrant.

9 Comments

  1. Clementine Burnley

    Person as site of examination and correction. I really felt this piece, Chelsea. It contains so much.

  2. Karen Schauber

    Brutal, Chelsea! Love this piece. But where’s the retribution? – That killer first sentence sets the whole piece up perfectly. the title too. I also like how you anchor the piece by doubling down in the middle “You think anyone’s looking at you?” As a reader you think It can’t get any worse, but it does. – so well done.

  3. Dominique Christina

    Chelsea,

    This is brave and honest writing. Thank you for your willingness to go into the dark and pull things into the light. I spent an incalculable amount of time as a little girl fretful about what would happen when someone saw how broken I was. I created an elaborate hologram to throw folks off the scent, which became exhausting after a while. But the greatest harm by far, more even than what my stepfather did, was what I told myself about what my stepfather did. What I told myself about ME. And my value. The idea that I was flawed and damaged and unworthy was a far bigger hurt than the literal scars my stepfather left. At any rate, thank you for writing this.

    • Chelsea Stickle

      Thank you, Dominique. This class has been a wonderful exorcism. And your course materials really are top notch!

  4. Kristin

    First two lines…my mouth fell open, head dropped, and reflexively, I took a long deep breath.
    You got me. I see. I feel. I believe.
    Had to stop, and start again.
    Thank you for sharing this voice, for letting this girl be seen, for opening the blinds.

  5. Nancy Stohlman

    Chelsea!
    This story is heartbreaking. Powerful. Love the way it begins:
    My father was a teacher, but he didn’t teach me, he only corrected. Uncapped his red felt-tip pen and scored me up until there was no clean skin left, and I was a throbbing red thing, hardly human. I wore long sleeves and long pants so no one would know how bad it was, how flawed I was, how much correction I required.

    And this:
    Caveat emptor, we learned in Latin class. Buyer beware.

    It’s SO beautiful, honest and raw. It speaks to me, to the vulnerability in all of us. So gorgeous.
    xoxoxo

    P.S. A tiny part of me thinks it might want to be even longer? Another twist of the knife? hmmm….

    • Chelsea Stickle

      Nancy, thank you for your kind words. I did wonder if it wanted to be longer, but I wasn’t sure where to take it. My instincts say the middle might need a knife turn. I’m certainly open to suggestions!

  6. Rhyannon Brightwater

    I was sure that a peak of me unfiltered would destroy the viewer like I was some millennial Medusa. I love this line referencing mythology but also that so often in literature–and in reality—women are either virgin or slut, goddess or monster. This is gut-wrenching and so honest.

  7. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Chelsea, Heart rending. So many ways we learn ourselves, are taught, that we are unworthy, ugly, too ugly to ever be seen. Those markers contain so many layers of truth. I wonder how many millions are we, the marked? Thank you so much for this work.

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