“Safety” by Kimarlee Nguyen
I do not know where I can go.
When I was eleven, I climbed to the top of the concrete shed in the backyard and looked down. The dirt was in a pile a few feet below me but I imagined it as the end of a deep, deep valley. I was wearing a hand-me-down dress from my cousin who is much skinnier than I was (or ever will be) and the elastic waist cut deep into my stomach. I pulled down the straps, knotted twice so that my chest wouldn’t show because I already had boobs that was big enough to make all the neighborhood boys next door call me a slut.
I was eleven and already I hated myself.
The day before, I rode my bike for over an hour along the boardwalk of the local beach. I rode fast, faster than the driving by cars with the men with their too loud mouths and all the women who told me, watch what you eat, watch where you walk, you’re already too goddamn fat.
Two days before that, I got my period for the first time, a deep red rose of blood blossoming all over my yellow shorts and my oldest male cousin pointed and laughed and laughed until Yeiy found out, slapped him upside his head and told him to shut the fuck up. She made me take a long bath and when Ma got home, she told me never to play with the boys at night anymore.
I was eleven, but I could be fifteen, twenty-five, forty and I sat on top of that concrete shed, ankles crossed. I wanted to be flat, flatten all my curves so no one would notice me. I wanted to still be a girl, just like my baby cousin, just six, just a girl screaming and shouting and dancing at night.
I cannot breathe. I walk home from art club or when Yeiy and I take the train home from Chinatown, I carry a razor blade in my pocket, I look around every corner and hope that today is not the day when it happens.
You are a woman now, they all say. You have to watch everywhere and anywhere.
Today, I read the news. It is not safe for women, men, old, young, black, yellow, red, straight, gay, poor, rich. It is not safe.
It is not safe and I am holding onto anything because if I look down, there is dirt and it says my name, it says come here, it’s the only place where it is safe.
I am thirty years old and I am holding on to whatever I can because if I let go, if I try to let go, if they know I am letting go, if letting go is the only way to be safe, then the concrete shed crumbles and headfirst, I am burying myself in the cold, deep dirt.
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Kimerlee Nguyen’s Artist Statement: Kimarlee Nguyen was born and raised in Revere, Massachusetts to a family of Khmer Rouge survivors. She received her B.A in English from Vassar College and her M.F.A. from Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus. She is a full-time English teacher at The Brooklyn Latin School. Her fiction has previously appeared in Drunken Boat, Hyphen Magazine, corium magazine, flash fiction magazine, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and forthcoming from The Adroit Journal and an anthology published by Third Woman Press.