To the man who left a penis on the windshield of our van (an open letter):
After the race and celebration, we returned to the van, and there it was: a big, chubby penis on the van windshield, drawn over the driver’s side in purple chalk marker — with shots of cum dashed from the tip, like bullets in a video game.
My teammates and I, six strong women, had collectively run 203 miles in the Ragnar Relay Reach the Beach event — 203 miles through mountains and valleys, through heat and rain, through fog and pain. From the Bretton Woods ski area to the sands of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Through nausea and self-doubt, we had run.
And yes, we wore our technicolored pigtail headbands so we could find each other in the crowds — because all of us are mothers and we think about these things — and we cheered loudly for one another at the exchanges because we were a team of six instead of twelve, and were therefore running twice as much as most of the people in the crowd. Including, I suspect, even you.
Were we too loud? Too proud? Too exuberant in our mutual support?
Or was it because we rolled our eyes at the testosterone-driven teams who tallied their number of “kills” — the people they had passed during the course of their legs (a somewhat infantile statistic, considering the staggered start and the number of runners on Ultra teams such as ours who were running twice as far)?
At one exchange, a man belonging to the van parked next to ours walked up after his run and announced, with his arms held high in a victorious reach: “Seventy-five kills, you guys! Wahooooooo!!”
(To which I uttered not so much to myself, but at least with my back turned toward him: “Really? You are making me so hard right now.”)
Yes, we all agreed. There’s some dick-swinging going on.
Here’s the thing:
We all passed people on our runs, every one of us on our team. Except that, instead of silently shaming the other hard-working souls who chipped away at the 203-mile pursuit a little slower than ourselves, we said, Looking good. You got this. You’re almost there!
That’s a difference between you and me — besides, of course, what we carry below the belt.
What does your penis even mean? Your micro-essay, your little piece of flash nonfiction?
Does it seek to elevate your team’s accomplishment by diminishing our own? Even you must be aware that your after-the-fact purple penis doesn’t have magical powers — doesn’t negate or un-do the fact that we still ran all the miles, just the six of us forty-something mothers with our party headbands on.
Are you worried that this fact somehow compromises the terms of your own team’s accomplishment? As in, maybe it wasn’t that amazing if these six women were able to finish it, too? Hey, I think any team of any number running 203 miles is amazing. So that would be your narrative, certainly not mine.
Or did you intend for your penis to be an act of violence, like a Swastika, or a gun? Was it your Trump card?
And what, exactly, did you mean when you scribbled the word, “SLOT” on the side window of the van, next to our decorated names and the checked boxes for all the miles we had run? Is this another slang for the opening between our legs? Like some kind of restrained, passive-aggressive way of calling us cunts?
Or did “SLOT” mean to kill? An in what manner did you mean?
Or were you instead suggesting that we were lesbians in this van — that being in close quarters without the company of a man somehow skewed our collective sexual preference toward vagina — and did you assume that, in between all the running and re-hydrating and nausea and muscle pain, we were hanging out in our rented van “playing the slots”?
Is it your belief that the fact of a woman is unfinished and incomplete without the imposition of a penis, like an uncrossed ’t’ or an un-dotted ‘i’?
Or is a van-full of strong feminist women who have also accomplished your goal simply some kind of a threat to your inflated idea of you?
Maybe you did have something to fear. Maybe you were worried that we indeed had the power to turn the fact of a penis — penis as a noun, that thing on the windshield — into something lesser, something less required for the completion of a sentence. An adjective even, a modifier to a fact — as in, That insecure person just made a dick move. He must be one of those Trumpy, penis-kind of guys.
Then again, we really didn’t do anything but run a bunch of miles. The reduction of your penis? Yeah, you did that to yourself.
I am an East-coaster and a West-coaster. I am an academic and a creative spirit. I am an environmental scientist who always wanted to write, and a writer with a nagging nostalgia for the complexities of environmental science. Above all, I am a mother — so whether I’m writing about the natural world, family, or place, I like to consider my work as environmental advocacy in the broadest sense.