Among the first books to emerge from the #MeToo movement, Indelible in the Hippocampus is a truly intersectional collection of essays, fiction, and poetry. These original texts sound the voices of black, Latinx, Asian, queer, and trans writers, to name but a few, and says “me too” 23 times. Whether reflecting on their teenage selves or their modern-day workplaces, each contributor approaches the subject with unforgettable authenticity and strength. Together these pieces create a portrait of cultural sea-change, offering the reader a deeper understanding of this complex, galvanizing pivot in contemporary consciousness.
The first man I killed was probably a sweetheart. He didn’t say anything dirty or try to start a fight, like some of the others. He just asked if I knew her, the woman in the picture. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Roxie used to tell me: you talk like whoever’s listening already knows what you’re about to say. I always wanted to ask: why shouldn’t I? Now it’s too late.
From what I understand, Roxie’s father named her Roxie—just Roxie, not short for anything—because he was Greek and in his language the name means star, or something close to star. He was a poet, possibly a bad one. On the day she was born he glared at her for hours through the viewing room glass, a baby among babies, and wrote a poem about the newborn who shone like a star in his sky. Later, his wife read the poem, and perhaps because she had nothing else to say, she offered they name the child after the title.
When Roxie told me this story—the red of her hair a dark brown that day, a color-trick it played when cut short, and her eyes made softer somehow by the new edges—I asked whether her father wrote the poem in Greek or in English. We were sharing ice cream that was supposedly made of lemonade, a hip new import from Switzerland or maybe Sweden. On the bench outside the fake ice cream parlor, Roxie gave me a look that suggested my question was dumb. She did that sometimes: at random moments all kinds of feelings from the previous week or month—perhaps feelings that had gone unexpressed because Roxie always worked hard to stay sweet—suddenly found their way to her eyebrows, her lips, the creases of her forehead.
She seemed unaware of her face whenever it responded before she did, so I learned early on to smile and wait. When her words caught up, they often changed the subject. There’s no way this is actually lemonade, right? Roxie said that day. It’s the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.
I made a pamphlet after Roxie died. The front features a picture of her and the two dates bookending her life. It says, This woman died of sexual harassment. The back cites statistics: Tens of thousands of women die of sexual harassment in this country every day, that sort of thing. Of course the number refers to deaths small and big, quiet and loud, personal and public, but the brochure doesn’t go into that sort of detail.
My point was to bring attention to the larger issue. Roxie would have been disappointed in anything less. The story of a woman is the story of a nation, she’d have said. When we keep our stories so small that people can’t see the world through them, we fail. Or perhaps she wouldn’t have said that at all, perhaps that’s just me assuming again that my listener knows what I’m about to say. But if I commemorated the life of one fatality without lamenting the larger war, who would I even be?
I still use my pamphlet sometimes: situate myself on a street corner not unlike the one in my old town where Roxie was killed, shout out some truths, distribute that carefully crafted piece of glossy paper to passersby. But not often. It causes friction with my new girlfriend, who believes it’s unsafe. There are men out there just waiting for an excuse to rape, she says.
She’s right, of course. We have seen our world turn against us. We have seen women’s bodies violated, then jailed for the crimes they suffered. We have seen laws modified to protect the strong. But what my girlfriend really means is, And then you’ll off somebody again and then we’ll have to move again. She’ll never say it, because she doesn’t want to appear jealous of a dead girl. Instead, she hides my weapons when she thinks I’m rageful. The good knife behind the meat in the freezer, the gun in the laundry basket. Silly girl, I say and pull her close. You think I need anything more than these? I show her my hands.
Roxie and I never even officially dated, but I would have thrown myself in front of that truck if it meant saving her. And one night I was dumb enough or drunk enough to admit that truth to my girlfriend. Why? she asked, assuming the casual tone of a woman not threatened in the least by her lover’s willingness to die for another lover. I said I didn’t know why, not to avoid an answer—though it did hit me, right as I confessed, that this was one honesty I would live to regret—but because I truly had no idea. I didn’t mention that I knew it right away, too: that my willingness to die for Roxie wasn’t something that developed over time, but something I felt the first day we met. That day, at the park where I used to play with my dog, I watched her with the two kids I later learned she nannied—twins, a boy and a girl, who kept shouting words they should not have been shouting, shit shit sex butt, Roxie’s gentle face looking at once appalled and amused— and thought: I would die to save this woman’s life. A foreshadow? A warning from my unconscious mind of what lay ahead? I doubt it. I think we all have people like that, walking the great earth, and if we’re lucky we meet one of them and we immediately know; it’s as simple as a pair of pants in need of laundry: I would give my life for yours.
Designing my pamphlet was an elaborate process. The font choice alone took months. I kept staring at different letter shapes, tracing their movement on the page with my finger. Is this one Roxie? I would ask. Is that one? Or that one? Or that one? Sometimes I’d hear her pick a font, then laugh. Just kidding! She was taunting me because she didn’t believe my activism mattered. It’s over, she’d say in my head, meaning maybe her life, or maybe the whole world.
The street where it happened isn’t a busy one. I’ve always wondered what role the quiet played in Roxie’s death. Because, well, imagine this: the same Roxie, the same man, the same Come over here, baby, the same look at that ass move, the same guttural sound of a hungry animal. But one difference: cars roaring. Would Roxie still run away from him and into traffic? I try not to think about it.
Another thing I try not to think about is Roxie in the hospital. She was out of the ICU and seemed okay— bruised and shaken up, but not dying. Reality is a tricky force; its credibility allows it to get away with all kinds of deception. I was in the cafeteria getting a chai latte when she collapsed. A nurse came to get me. I don’t remember what this nurse said, but I remember she called Roxie “Rosie.” I remember the room looking pale, all the color sucked out. Are you okay? the nurse asked. She grabbed my arm, a tight grip that said only an asshole would let herself faint in this moment. I remember wanting to punch this nurse. I remember knowing she was the last woman I would ever look at without wondering if her body, like Roxie’s, might be hiding its quiet bleeding from me. This was how I learned: we are always dying.
My girlfriend pointed out that designing the brochure may not be the real challenge, that I may not be ready to take my story to the streets just yet. To prove her wrong, I blindfolded myself one day and chose a font. But on my first day out there I realized my girlfriend had been right. Anger is a tricky force, too; when coerced into disguise, it grows stronger.
Most people who approached me while I was distributing pamphlets—right from the start, before I ever killed anyone—tried to figure out what my deal was: why I was standing on a corner with a stack of brochures. Was I some kind of crazy woman? I developed strategies to redirect their thinking, to get them to focus on the issue, but I usually failed.
What happened on the day of my first kill was that I let my failure get to my head. In other words, I acted like a man. The man in front of me—skin the color of marshmallow, bones long and skinny—wore a tie but carried a gym bag, which I found strange. So was she your friend… or, like, how’d you know her? he asked me. I asked him what difference it made. I asked him what it meant, in his mind, to “know” somebody. It’s just a dumb thing people say, isn’t it, as hollow as anything made of language. Knowing another human being is impossible.
He considered this for a moment; as I said, he was probably a sweetheart. But I was already too worked up. I pushed him—not even hard at first, just hard enough. He folded, lost his balance. You see, the first move is special: what rises to meet you is never real muscle, only a man’s instinct.
Learning that for the first time made me smile.
The next moment is quite different—the shock on their face, the shame of being hit by a girl. He was on the ground now. If you’re skilled, you can use that shock, those milliseconds of inaction. I wasn’t skilled yet, but I’d seen some moves. I kicked his head hard. After that it’s pure intuition: you let your body lead you. My body led me to use the man’s tie.
Afterwards, I hovered over his body as it fluttered between worlds. It’s a war now, I whispered, and wars kill many innocents. I looked at him to be sure. He was gone. I closed one of his eyelids, left the other one open. We didn’t start the war, I told the winking lifeless man, but we will win.
When I come home bloodied, my girlfriend washes me up. She burns my clothes. Then she reaches for me, puts my fingers deep inside her and starts to move. Sometimes we’re upright when she does this, not even in bed yet, as if her body can’t bear the wait. I know she’ll cry when she comes. In the dark she’ll ask me to choose life, choose hope. What she means by life and hope is that she’s sick of hiding from uniformed men. She means that if I keep going, one day I’ll get caught. And then what, she asks me. Then what? When she asks me this, I take her words and turn them around like a mirror. Then what? I ask her.
My girlfriend knows what I’m really asking. I ask her this question every day. I ask myself. I ask the earth, the air, the nothing and everything in which we all swim. I’m asking you. What would it take for you to join me?