This is not forgiveness By Michelle DeLouise

This is not forgiveness

my skin is brown, a nice shade
of kissed by the sun and my mother tells me
that i should be celebrating my skin,
that there are women who would kill
for my skin, but all i can feel is my skin,
on fire.
the first time i learn that i am not white,
like my parents i am eight years old
and my neighbor’s son is burning
a white cross in my family’s front yard
i put the fire out and i bury the cross
before my parents come home
and i do not tell.

two years later, i am riding the bus home from school
and the boys on the bus take turns seeing
who can reach their hands up under my skirt.
one of the boys tells me that my lips
are too big for my face but they remind him
of his favorite pornstar and he asks me how much i charge
per hour as he grabs my head
and pushes my face towards the crotch
of his purple and yellow basketball shorts. his friends laugh
as tears well up in my eyes and he spits on my lips
and shoves my head into the window of the bus.
i get off the bus and walk to my house
and clean myself up in the bathroom

when i am twelve years old,
i become friends with the quiet boy in my english class.
we share our snacks on the playground,
pass notes back and forth in class,
and he laughs at my jokes when no one else does;
i tell my friends that i think i might like like this boy.
when he hears this he tells them
that he thinks i’m kind of funny sometimes
but he only dates white girls.
when i get home i grab the container of bleach
from the laundry room and i fill the bathtub:
two parts hot water, one part bleach.
before i can dip my body into this brew,
my mother knocks on the door and asks
if everything is alright.
i am not sure how to answer.

at sixteen, i find myself
standing in the parking lot of my father’s church
digging in my purse to find my keys so that i can drive home
after wednesday night youth group.
one of the boys still hanging out
in the parking lot asks me why i won’t go out
on a date with him and he pushes me against
my car and he plants his lips on mine
and forces his tongue
down my throat as his hands begin
to explore the rest of my body
that he wants to claim
as his own. his friends walk out
of the church and they cheer us on.
after he removes his weight
from my body they pat him on the back
and smile knowingly at me. i find
my keys in the bottom
of my bag and i get in my car
and i drive home and i do not tell.

and today? where am I?
I am nineteen years old, learning about the word forgiveness
for the first time. so -what is forgiveness, then?
it isn’t surrender, blood pact, or bible verse. i am not sure,
but i think it is something like resting your head
on the pillow at last. it is taking off a pair
of poorly fitting jeans after a long and trying day,
pressing on the imprints left in your skin
(the places that are still bruised, after all these years)
it is a deep breath out when you didn’t even realize
you were holding all that in.

By Michelle DeLouise

Biography:

Michelle DeLouise is currently an undergraduate student at Hendrix College, studying English – Creative Writing. She can often be found tripping over her own feet and spilling coffee on everything she owns. She is currently working on finding her footing in the world of literature.

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