*Trigger warning: this piece includes references to sexual assault*
1. The boys in my class taunted me about it. Whenever we moved as a class to the computer lab, the cafeteria, music or PE, we formed a line. I would always try to be at the end of the line, which had the effect of placing me furthest away from a teacher and making it even easier for the pack to circle, separating me from the rest of the herd.
They would gather, bare their tiny white teeth, point at it and laugh. “Look at Cindy’s flat duke! Her butt is so flat, it looks like a pancake! Flat duke! Flat duke!” They would continue relentlessly until the lump in my throat formed, strangling my ability to speak. As I absorbed their insults, I would walk sideways, or backwards, or sometimes slide along the wall. I would do anything to spare my anatomical deformity from the view of my tormentors. Because I was continually turning as I walked every day at school that year, I took on a wide-legged gait. It didn’t matter. I had a flat duke and walked like a duck. I couldn’t win.
2. I move deeper into the elevator at work to allow a group of fellow public servants on board. As I shuffle backwards, I catch sight of something behind me reflected in the mirrored panels of the elevator. I turn, half-expecting to see a small child or a dwarf but you don’t see many of those in Parliamentary Triangle. It is my own ass. It’s huge, and it occupies its space in a way that I can’t control. I peer at my reflection—first my butt and then up to my face. I see the reflection of the backs of the policy officers in front of me. They are long-limbed and in control of their asses in space. They are dressed in perfectly tailored suits like extras from an episode of The West Wing. I am cold with new awareness of just how un-flat my butt is now.
3. My husband worships my ass. If we are together when I’m washing dishes, making dinner, or walking, he is probably touching it or thinking about rubbing it. It’s his love language. He always makes a kind of humming sound, the way a child does while eating his favourite ice cream: ‘hmmm.’ He has a sixth sense about when my pants are off. He just appears out of nowhere. Closed doors are of no consequence to my husband. He bursts in and says, “Oh there you are! My beautiful wife! Hmmmm.”
I’m so used to him doing this that even when I’m home alone if I need to undress, I hold my breath to listen for the sound of his motor scooter. I expect to hear it like a determined fly, buzzing up the hill to our house to that he can find me there attached to my fat naked ass. At night in bed, he begs me to allow him to spoon it and when I’m feeling generous, I do. But, I’m unable to completely relax until he turns away from me. I am most secure simply in his solid warm proximity. But I prefer to not be touched when I’m sleeping.
4. I’m a little kid who gets teased at school during the day. At night, I sleep on my stomach like a baby with my arms out beside my head. I’m in the shape of sleep surrender. I wake up to feel someone on top of me. He is rubbing his penis up and down the crack of my butt. It feels pleasurable for the first few minutes and then it doesn’t feel so nice. I don’t move or make a sound. I decide in a split second that this is how a girl with a flat pancake duke is meant to be used. After he is gone, I pull up my clothes and blankets. I tell myself it was a dream and I go back to sleep surrender. The only problem is that this is not a dream. It happens night after night, and I never tell another living soul.
5. Dr C is standing on the threshold of my apartment with a shiny black doctor bag. He insisted on making the house call even though it has only been a few hours since I last saw him in his office in a suburban strip mall. He treats a soft-tissue injury in my neck and back by applying a topical anaesthetic to my skin and then making numerous injections of saline solution into deeply knotted muscles, called trigger points. He follows me into my modest little apartment. Instead of sitting in the place I indicated on the sofa, he is on his knees reaching for the gusset of my control top pantyhose.
I insisted that since he was clearly hungry, he should buy us dinner first. He drives us to a fancy Italian restaurant. I sit at the table next to him frantically imagining what would happen when we got back to my apartment. The antipasto arrives with whole cloves of garlic and he ate greedily with crusty bread. I was right. He was hungry. He licked his finger and pressed it to the white table cloth to collect the breadcrumbs.
Back at my apartment after dinner, the muscles in my pelvis contracted painfully to deny entry to this man. Adding to the absurdity of the whole episode, I fall off the bed, landing heavily on the floor. There is a searing pain in my coccyx. I sit naked on the carpet, silent and stunned until the good doctor demanded that I get back into the bed. His voice floats down to me in the garlic-scented semi-darkness. Eventually, he searches for me over the edge of the mattress, his eyes small without his glasses on, his face flushed to a reddish purple. I’m on my hands and knees peering into the now gaping black bag. It contains only an industrial-sized tube of KY jelly and a box of Viagra tablets.
6. Yin is a gentle floor-based Yoga practice. The poses focus on the hips, thighs and back and are held for up to five minutes. The idea is to stretch the fascia, the chainmail like tissue that covers muscle and bone. Bodyworkers understand that emotional tension and trauma can remain trapped there; suspended like an insect in amber. The fascia stores what we try to forget.
I lie on my yoga mat with my back resting over a bolster, creating a slight back bend in supta badha konasana. My legs are folded so that the bottom of my feet are touching and tucked close to my pelvis. My knees are open. The longer I hold this pose, the closer my knees get to the ground as the powerful connective tissues between hips and butt start to relax and extend.
Suddenly, I feel a flush of impatience with the whole exercise. ‘What is this yoga shit?’ I think to myself. I suck my teeth audibly at the sound of the instructor’s voice. I decide there and then that the next time she walks past my mat, I would grab her ankles and bring her down to the floor with a crash. I feel the sides of my mouth turn upwards at the thought her shock and bloodied face. In my mind, I wreck the place. I’m like a rabid dog, biting, barking and ripping up yoga mats and bolsters. I was flushed with anger. It sluiced through my veins and tasted acrid in my mouth.
I believe that my body chose that moment to release anger more visceral than anything that I’ve ever experienced.
7. Ever since that weird night with the Doctor, I’ve had the butt and back issues. It is my Achilles heel. I reinjure it while doing everyday things–working around the house, or garden. I am reminded of it when my husband saddles up behind me and sings his little tune. I get a lot of work done: acupuncture needles, burning hot suction cups, heat pads. You name it; it’s been done to my butt. I get the most relief from massage. These days, I pay diminutive foreign-born women to crawl on it, using their impossibly strong fingers to knead my ass cheeks like bread dough. They also use their knees and elbows to release the deeply knotted tissues. I imagine the knots like a string of glass rosary beads.
Somebody whose name I don’t know is standing on my butt holding on to a pole securely anchored to the ceiling. I know that she’s broken a rosary because memory is released again—like the day in the yoga class. Behind my closed eyelids, I see the face of my dead mother. I see her deep brown skin and feel her full warm lips and eyelashes against my baby skin. I imagine the sound of her sewing machine in the next room while that person is molesting me. She would have come and saved me if only I had called out to her. I release a sob and tears and flow through the doughnut hole where my face is wedged. I’m grateful for the jasmine-scented bowl of water under the massage table with little cut flowers in it. I imagine that that bowl is full of the tears of those who have laid here before me.
The masseuse keeps walking, her tiny feet shattering the glass beneath. I see my child-self, duck walking down the hallway to shove wet pyjamas bottoms into a pile of laundry. I want to hold her and tell her that it will be OK. But I’m flat on my stomach with someone on top of me.
Image: Krista Manguisone
Cindy is a social entrepreneur born in Tuskegee, Alabama. She is inspired by the writing of Flannery O’Connor, Joan Didion, Toni Morrison. She is married with one daughter.