After Bianca Devins, on How to Be a Woman

I want to tell a story. It’s probably not a story. Yesterday, I reported on a follow-up to the Bianca Devins murder. You know, the average 17-yo murdered by a(n older) man she rejected, who then posted photos on her social media telling other men they can’t have her. That one. People on Instagram are going crazy -- they’re collecting photos of her beheaded body like people collect flood reliefs, scrambling and collecting as many variations as they can, posting them on Instagram in exchange for followers. I don’t know what the right word for this is. Morbid? Dystopia? 2019?

I reported on her murder and beheaded body on Monday. Two days ago, I walked into my favorite Chinatown salon for a massage. They’re my favorite in the city, and always nice and kind. I bargained a bit for the rate, and they settled with mine. There was a young lady sitting across from me in the waiting area. She struck up a conversation with me. She said she never realized you could bargain with stuff like this until she heard me. And so she, too, decided to do it. She was so happy. If childhood was a color, it would be her. She was just happy. We ended up chatting. She was in the city for work from LA; she hated the subway, and how New Yorkers tip. She was so excited to learn about what I do, “Do you always run around with stories?” Omg!” I saw her eyes light up, my dream career a reality, at least temporarily, in the eyes of a stranger. She said finance was boring; I wondered if she has to worry about health insurance. Probably not. I smiled along.

She wanted to look for my work. When she came across my Daily Dot author’s page, even more excitement. “So many stories! I’m gonna read the murder one.” She read through Bianca’s story, her widened eyes narrowing a little by little. I am watching her learn how to be a woman. There are so many ways. You could be cushioned with a steady job & health insurance, or bargaining at a Chinatown salon, or ending up a dead body on someone else’s social media. It’s a spectrum, but at the root of it, our feet are chained. No matter where.

“You went through the murder photos?” she asked, part-horrified, part-intrigued. Yes, I have to, in order to verify it. “So you saw her beheaded body’s photo?” she asked again. Yes.

“Wow you must be having nightmares!” she said. That’s the moment I took it in. I reviewed, numerous times, murdered photos of Bianca, blood splattered on her face, her mouth half open, her throat slashed. Why wasn’t I having nightmares? I’ve never been the tough kind of person and frankly, I’m happy not being so. I’m learning to love my own softness, own it, because it is home -- has been for three decades -- I don’t plan on “being tough” -- not for this job, not for love, not for life. I’ve survived my softness, and I’m good with it.

But why wasn’t I having nightmares?

“Oh yeah, it’s crazy” I lied. The truth is, the nightmares I’ve been having are of my own hell, man holding me, on his terms; man who lay next to me but wouldn’t let me sleep; man who entered my home, my bedsheets and set the clock on his terms. My softness giving in to his whims. The truth is, as women, we can prepare our whole life for a man to not do to us what we hear them do to others -- but an entire lifetime’s preparation won’t save us from a man who does what he does. In this room, in the bedsheets, my own home, I lost a country. That is what men do, come in, conquer, and occupy. That is what they’re historically taught to do.

But why wasn’t I having nightmares? With this stranger’s question, and wonder, and sadness, all in once, I noticed myself learning how to be a woman. Soft and numb. Let it scratch you, but don’t let it hurt you. Because the wounds, if they start opening up, they could swallow the sun whole.

Last evening, I read at Sakhi’s event honoring women and survivors. I read one poem about the men we love who break glass, and one poem about the women who survive. Survival is a choice -- and every woman makes it. Not everyone is allowed to see it through, but we make it.

The thing that makes me sad about Bianca’s murder is she had her struggles with mental illness. She fought herself, to live her life. She survived her own self. But she couldn’t survive Man.