In the southwest corner of my college campus
stands a replica of Winged Victory, a classical Greek
statue with two enormous wings spread
perpendicular to her spine. There is nothing
above her shoulders but the hint of a neck
and the exact position of her upper extremities
is left to the imagination. According
to the oft-repeated tale, if a virgin ever graduated
Winged Victory would sprout a head and arms
and fly away. Sometime in my sophomore year
I became determined that if she did
it would not be on my behalf.
And then I met Betsy. Newly transferred
from a school with a reputation as a hot bed
of gay activism, the way she swaggered in
that leather jacket let me know she meant
business. Here was someone who could
take me in hand and show me the ropes.
The only trouble was, her confidence evaporated
as I ordered her out of her clothes and into
my bed. Timidness took over as I directed her hands
where I wanted them. And at the most intimate
moment, I felt like a puppet master manipulating
a marionette into lighting itself on fire.
I had triggered her into reliving sexual trauma
she could not name and would not talk about.
I knew it was more than I could handle, but I ignored
my instincts. Two years later I nearly asked her
to marry me, not because I was in love with her,
but because being in a relationship with someone else
was more important than being in relationship
with myself. She knew most of my faults
and was still willing to be seen in public with me.
Who could ask for anything more? The way she turned
our photographs to the wall when her family came to visit
meant we wouldn’t have to waste money
on a wedding photographer.
I don’t remember what it was that made me see
I was chasing something toxic, drawn by radioactive
expectations that were not my own. I had to force
myself to remain still long enough to hear
my own heartbeat, check the position of my head
and arms, feel the wings erupt from my spine
and fly away.
Tolonda Henderson is a poet, a librarian, and a Harry Potter scholar. She writes from the perspective of a queer African-American woman raised in New England and living near Washington, DC. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Freeze Ray Poetry, Big Lucks Journal, and Open Letters Monthly.