What Would All Right Feel Like? Honor Moore Tells
On the Private Moments That Lead to a Public Movement
It’s all too much, she is saying, she has such misgivings, so many, you know, questions. This does not surprise me, as she is a contrarian.
But I am surprised at how quickly I begin to sweat, to feel woozy.
Well, I disagree. I mumbled this, looking across the table into my friend’s implacable eyes.
You know, she says, all those men fired and no due process.
Has it ever happened to you? I ask her.
No, she says.
It is 1969 and I am a graduate student. I am being escorted by the handsome department head into his office. He looks over his shoulder at the young men lounging in the anteroom: If we’re not out in ten minutes, he says, bring the ice water. They all laugh.
It happened to me four times, I say, expecting she will ask what it was that happened, but she just looks at me.
But you’re all right, she says.
Not really, I answer. And change the subject.
What would all right feel like if, when I was five, the male babysitter had not put his penis into my mouth? If when I was 23 and nude, the male student photographer had not also fucked me? If when I was 24, the snow hadn’t turned to blizzard, forcing an overnight stop when I gave a professor a ride to the city?
One room, he said, returning from the motel office.
Also one bed, all night me fighting him off in the sour dark.
Was it true there was only one room left?
I was 14 at the movies when anonymous fingers wormed into me, fedora and overcoat sliding away like a shadow.
My sister suspects her experiences were fewer because she is over six feet tall.
What if the married man had not picked me up off the snow at an artists’ colony and flirted with me?
If I had been all right, would I have fallen in love with him?
Or did she say, You turned out all right?
And which one of us changed the subject?
As I begin to write, I become the subject.
I wish I had kept count of the women killed, maimed, raped, or abused since I began streaming video about seven years ago.
I thought that when I became sophisticated about sex, I would learn how the ice water fit in.
More like a comedy, 1969:
I was 22, walking to my car across the summer theater parking lot, carrying at chest level a big office typewriter. I was wearing a mini-dress. What are you doing with that tonight? he asked. (I thought he meant the typewriter!)
He was staying in a hotel with other actors, and when we got to his room he took me to bed. There came a loud knock at the door and we disentangled. Another actor came in, sat down in a chair, and the two of them had a conversation as I lay there, silent.
When the actor left, we fucked for hours, said nothing. Decades later, he became an Oscar-winning movie star, and I ran into him somewhere.
It’s been a long time, he said.
The typewriter, the silence, the sixties.
Another of my sisters, not the tall one, thanked me once for recommending a very old chiropractor. Such a relief, she said; he doesn’t ask me to take off my clothes.
My father’s mother told this story of her girlhood:
She was a bridesmaid, standing in a receiving line after a wedding. One of the groomsmen, instead of shaking her hand, embraced and kissed her. She hit him with her fist, knocking him to the floor.
The year was, say, 1906.
I remember the beginning of Women’s Liberation. I don’t remember particular conversations, but I remember the confusion I would feel when a friend said she didn’t need a women’s movement.
Be careful how far you go with freedom, the old woman said; men can be violent. The year was 1971. The woman was the anthropologist Margaret Mead.
A professor, when I was a year out of graduate school—this was before email, even answering machines, maybe 1969:
I dreamed you had become a very strong feminist and I would like to see you. I have called you many times and have not been able to reach you, so I am writing you a letter. I have read your poems and at least one of them is very good.
I remember talking to him at the table in my apartment, maybe about my poems. I did not move from the table until he left.
He is long dead, and I never saw him again.
Did he care one whit about my writing?
I am wearing a pink cotton Marimekko dress, short and sleeveless. It is spring and I am 23, and my lover is eighteen years older. I had pursued him. I believed he was a genius. He wore Italian cashmere turtlenecks.
I don’t know about those black underpants, Pussy, he said. Better pull the skirt down. Pretty dark up there.
In the dark of memory, I turn toward the future.
A million pink pussycat hats in the snow.
Indelible in the Hippocampus: Writings from the MeToo Movement, edited by Shelly Oria, is out now from McSweeney’s.