Written by Kristin Shaw

Photo by Jason Arber

What is wrong with me?

This is often a question tumbled about women’s tongues, late at night, in dark rooms clouded with anxiety and distrust for him, them, the world. This question is felt through gritted teeth and sore gums, through nasal passageways and a jumbled mind.

What is wrong with me?

These women, these strong and beautiful women, run their hands over their collar bones, breasts, abdomen, hips, and thighs, feeling curves of imperfection and folds of self‐doubt. They crane their necks and arch their backs to flatten and tuck each jutting miscreant of flesh, forever contorting to reach an unreachable pose of compromised grace.

What is wrong with me?

Sometimes they twist sheets over their naked bodies and spill coffee beans to smell its deep and salty richness. The women dig the tips of the knives into hollows of their wrists and writhe in delicious pain. Or they pry flakes of skin from their temples and stack them carefully over one another and screech like banshees in the night. These women, they need to feel something.

What is wrong with me?

And sometimes the women, they kneel in their plastic vegetable gardens and say goodbye to their husbands with a kiss and a wave. And the husband would fold himself into his luxury car and dip his briefcase in the front seat.

From afar he would smirk at the wife, his clueless little wife, and the engine would growl all the way to another house two streets away. He would disappear into a trim cottage with a white picket fence for an hour and reappear, dress shirt tousled, with ruby red lipstick squashed into his neck.

And the wife, the clueless little wife, would get up and scrape the dirt from her knees, slip into the kitchen, and into the arms of the tanned young man who came on Tuesday mornings to trim the rosebushes.

What is wrong with me?

These women, they love their children. But sometimes not enough. They marvel at the pretty young things that preen down the streets like peacocks, stomachs unripened by seed.

The women envy those unchained lives and unchained hearts, no purpose or schedules or conflicts. They have no spit stained mouths to feed, no milk to produce from their firm little breasts and no peach bottoms to wipe.

The women stare at their babbling offspring and realize how easy it would be to make them disappear, how strangely untraceable. No one suspects a grieving mother. A few soft twists, a squeeze, faint cries then silence.

What is wrong with me?

But those women, they grow up and twist into a united forest of unshakeable strength. Some have hardened and aged into the fire‐resistant, drought‐resistant, longest living, unbreakable Baobab tree.

Some have become the nourishing and fertile coconut palm, providing sustenance to those around her. And some become the celebrated olive tree, a quiet strength that can withstand nature’s hardest trials and thrive where others perish.

Opposite to the olive tree, some women are the fig trees, an untamed force, wild with unconquerable desire — the ancient Olympian symbol of strength. And then some are the redwoods, who soar over all, unmatched in height and ferocity.

But with greatness comes the cycle of rebirth. And as these women perish, and their bodies return to ash and soil, they leave their seedlings and fruit and wisdom for another generation to thrive on.

What is wrong with her?

Everything and nothing.