To go away


Santa Cruz, California. February 2008. When I get off the bus at the Metro Center and wait to cross the street, I notice two people.

A woman
is telling a man
to leave her alone–
but telling him to leave her alone
does not make him leave her alone.

My light turns green.
I keep standing there
until it turns red again.
Then I make a few slow steps towards them.

The man notices me
and tells me to go away.
He asks the woman to affirm
that I should leave.
She answers with stubborn silence.
So I stay.

Once she hits him.
He acts flabbergasted at first.
Then he lowers his head
and offers it up to her
for more blows.
With a gagging voice,
he whispers:
Hit me!
I deserve it.

He touches the woman’s belly
and says that
he will not abandon his child,
like his father abandoned him.
She snaps back
that she is going
to have an abortion.

He argues that
a few days ago
she said
that she liked him.
She interrupts him
by loudly sucking in a deep breath of air.
Breathing out,
she sings these words at his body:

She moves away,
he follows her,
and I follow after.
We move through a parking lot
and a little alley.

Not too far from us,
a policeman leans against his motorcycle.
The woman gestures towards him,
glances at me,
and murmurs something to the man
which I don’t understand.
I ask her if she
wants me to call the police.
No thanks, ma’am.
She says loud and clearly.
Suddenly the echo
of her murmur
forms a sentence,
and my vision
focuses anew.
She had told the man
to behave himself
so the cop wouldn’t come over,
or so that I,
white woman,
would not call
the cops on them.
I nod,
as loud and clear as a nod can be,
dazed by the movement of the echo in my head,
and the shift of focus in my vision.

The man still tries to shoo me away.
Get a LIFE!
he shouts, as if I am watching them because I am bored.
Go HOME to your man!
Or your woman—I don’t care what you are!
As if I’m watching them
for sexual satisfaction
because I forgot how to
find it the proper way.
THIS woman is my GIRLFRIEND!
He yells at me, exasperated.
I yell back:
THIS woman told you to leave her ALONE!
The words were still in the air,
I just spat them out again.
This woman. It was a powerful thing to yell at him,
and an awful way to refer to her.


It takes another while until
we exchange names.

The man has persuaded the woman
to let him follow her home.
He would just take his stuff and leave.
That’s the deal.

I ask her if
she wants me to
get on the bus with them.
She nods.

She sits down on an empty double seat.
I take a seat on the other side of the aisle,
a few rows in front of her.
Then he enters
and sits down next to her.
Why do you have to sit next to me?
She accuses him.
I wonder what would have happened
if I had occupied that seat
next to her.

In the open space of the street,
it was easier to counteract that boundary
that scares me into
not doing anything unusual.
All I had to do at first was
not walk across the street.
Once I entered the bus, though,
my body turned into a Tetris block,
descending the aisle with relentless speed,
and I was anxious to lock it
securely into a seat.

I want to text a friend.
Just in case.
So they know.
And I’m more safe.
I find my phone,
but not the words,
and the message never gets sent.

Off the bus,
the man is now more chivalrous with me.
No longer his manly duelist,
I am now a well-meaning, if annoying,
social worker.
Okay. You can go now!
he tells me, as if it were the first time.
I appreciate your concern, but our fight is over.
Look! he adds triumphantly,
She’s not telling me to go away any more!

I look at her.
She moves her lips, but I can’t hear her.
I look back at him.
I’m not leaving
unless she tells me to.

She signals me to follow her.
We make a few steps
to be out of his ear-shot.
Hi, I’m K. she says.
Hi, I’m Johanna.
Nice to meet you!
Nice to meet you too!
Precious small talk,
hard-fought acts of ordinariness.

The man complains
that he is cold
and wants to go home,
right now.

Just a minute!
K. shouts towards him,
then lowers her voice
to say thank you to me.
She tells me that I can go now.
and suggests
that I could call her later that night.

The man yells another complaint.
What can you have to talk about for so long?

As we save each other’s numbers in our phones,
K. tells me how to spell her name,
and I spell mine for her.


At home,
I read a text for school,
by someone named

He writes:
For me to be able to say, ‘This Woman’ I must somehow take her flesh and blood reality away from her, cause her to be absent, annihilate her.
I sense the pleasure and the pride
that glue his words together.
Without the glue,
the sentence crumbles into pieces.

I call K.
but she does not pick up the phone.
I try calling a few more times,
in vain. I wonder why
she doesn’t answer her phone.
I look some more at Bla Bla Blanchot,
who does not cease to court my hate.
When he muses with confidence that,
the struggle against evil which ends in evil is like the struggle with women, which ends in bed,
I finally put him down.

The next day, in class,
I promptly insult
my colleagues who think Blanchot is cool.
By way of apology,
I try to tell them
where I was.
They respond by talking about sexual harassment policies
at the university
and act as if this was the conversation
I had asked for.
I regret that I ever opened my mouth.

I feel relieved when I finally reach K.
She explains that
her boyfriend
and her
have been having
I forgot what else she said.
I can’t remember anything I said.
I just remember feeling
that my person
was putting pressure on her
to justify herself.
As if I had scolded her
for not succeeding
to make that man
leave her alone.

© 2010 Johanna Rothe

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