When my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I lie.
In the passenger seat of his car, I shrink myself to conserve space for my father’s words. Slowly, as I watch the moon ascend to her throne, those words become the only proof that time still stretches on. That ugly car, too long and too wide, sits in our driveway. I sit in my discomfort. My father is radiant as he expels word after word, vibrance diverging from each syllable. I reduce myself to grey tones so he can speak in color; I’m expected to accept his words like a gift. As the remnants of our conversation linger in the air, I watch the night around me darken, and darken still.
When my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I try silently to escape my body—my body that tethers me to this earth, my body that will fail him, my body that has betrayed me and has been betrayed. Father, how can you expect me to give up my body—something that was never mine to begin with? Father, how could you ever want a child born from my impurities? Father, may I read to you the stories embossed on my skin—stories without happy endings? I’ve scrubbed the slurs from my flesh, but only after the words seeped into my bloodstream. I’ve scrubbed and scrubbed until I bled. Was my blood not adequate atonement?
My father’s words—part question, mostly command—slither into my ears and sink their teeth into my mind. I succumb to my body’s surrender—the tightening of my throat, blurred vision, shaking, hitched breathing. These tears, born from confusion and shame, snake their way down my face, splattering onto the leather seat. I stare at my hands to stop the tears, meticulously tracing the blood from my thumb I’ve picked raw. I’ve forgotten how to handle discomfort without causing myself pain.
When my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I shatter the truth into shards that splinter and skewer. I nick myself on this broken reality as I hide the fragments of me he can never piece together. I don’t tell him that I will never bear children because I can’t bear the thought of a man inside of me. I don’t tell him that the thought of someone being attracted to my naked body, wanting to touch my naked body, is something inexplicably vile. I don’t tell him that my body is the epicenter of shame or that a grown man once grabbed me between my legs or that I’ve promised a boy my virginity to make him happy. I don’t tell him that I’ve been dismembered by men, that by the time I’ll be able to legally consent, there will be nothing left from me to take. I don’t tell him that my body collapses in on itself at the touch of a hand, but why would he care? Maybe my troubles with intimacy are his fault.
As I allow my gaze to wander upward from my bloodied finger, I lock eyes with the glossy girl in the windshield—a girl trapped in glass staring back at a girl trapped in her body. I didn’t know reflections could exist in such darkness. I ask myself if she’s even real; she looks too fragile to be. I want to soothe her, to reach out and caress her face because I see the eyes of guilt and despair and regret. But I also see my father. In my reflection, I see what I am to him, and what I will never have myself. I’m sorry, father, I’ve failed you.
When my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I can’t bear to tell him that I’ve never been attracted to a man in that way, or a woman, or anyone at all. For a moment, though, I feel the slip of my tongue, and I almost allow the facade to implode. I almost do. The forbidden words curl in my mouth, but when my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I can’t bear to tell him that maybe there is something wrong with me, that maybe I need my hormones checked, or maybe all I am is the result of my trauma.
I concern myself with the girl in the glass—watching the fear in her eyes, the sporadic expansion and collapse of her chest. I think she’s forgotten how to breathe or she can’t fight the words that suffocate her or she’s trying to suffocate her body.
When my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I want to ask if he cares about the girl who lives in this body. I want to ask how to interpret his indifference toward my sexual harassment. Maybe he expects me to be happy he doesn’t punish me for being such a slut. Maybe his silence is merciful, or maybe it is meant to choke me. Maybe, in this moment, I choke on both silence and noise, on every thing said and every word gone unspoken.
I abandon the girl in the glass, leaving her to watch me struggle in silence. I turn toward my father with a conviction unfamiliar to me, in a way that I’ve never looked at any other man.
When my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I want to ask if he cares about my body. I want to ask him what it was like watching me slowly kill myself. Did my starvation inspire your dieting regime? Did you notice at all? I want to ask him if my body is just a vessel, an empty room meant to be occupied and abandoned—because I’ve tried, father, to hollow myself out for the convenience of men, but how can life spring from me if I am dead?
I inhale, at last, claiming all the oxygen I know isn’t mine, all the oxygen that my body needs to sustain its own life—and nothing else. I exhale and unclench my jaw to speak.
When my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I frantically stitch together the fragments of my shattered truth. I turn truth into lie.
“I don’t want children because children don’t ask to be born.” That is all I can manage without falling apart.
“Well, I suppose, but you can’t assume that children don’t want to live.”
How foolish of you, father, to assume that I want to live in this body—this body that means nothing to you yet you still expect to perform; this body that is meant to produce life but not live on its own; this body whose single destiny is predetermined. Perhaps, father, I asked for life, but you gave me this body; I asked for the freedom that my body obstructs; I asked for immeasurable worth that you numericize.
When my father asks me why I refuse to have children, I want to ask if he knows how to value a woman, and if he does, if he could please teach me how to value myself because, father, if I am to have a child, God forbid it be a girl.
Naomi Carr is a writer and high school student from California She is passionate about unlocking the power of language in all its forms. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she studies French, art history, and obsesses over cats in her free time.