The man with the power didn't put his hand on your knee at drinks.
He put his hand on the knees of other women ordering other drinks.
He asked them questions about careers, boyfriends, ambitions, hopes,
Questions punctuated with that hand,
another kind of "?"
Never yours, though.
He asked questions at your face, his hands asked nothing of your knee.
After a while, your knees grew comfortable, at ease, even proud.
They reveled sitting there, untouched.
"This must be what men's knees feel like", they thought.
Those knees (who in most rooms expected they would go untouched)
Liked how the man with power might touch other knees but certainly wouldn't touch them.
Maybe deference is more fun for knees than respect.
"What fun it is to be the ones who got away" they smirked, imagining a rom-com instead of a fox-hunt.
The man with the power had you jump through hoops.
It felt good except for when it didn't, like most workouts.
You were maybe even a little proud of what you accomplished.
To be fair you were executing complicated acrobatics.
Only agonizing on the occasions where you missed, toppled,
Splayed on the carpet.
“How’d you end up there?” he’d ask, genuinely baffled, hoop still in hand.
These workouts are never something you want to do, but rewarding afterwards, when you’re done.
It feels nice to do well at something you’ve practiced so often.
This is what they don't tell you:
When you have trained for something your whole life, and that hoop appears -
It is almost impossible not to jump.
It doesn't feel violent to jump. It feels like hitting snooze.
Not jumping through the hoop, in fact, means ignoring every instinct for self-preservation.
Not jumping means refusing to accept a cookie.
Life is so hard already, why deny yourself a cookie?
The man with the power reads your recent work.
He says it is good. It is very good.
You knew it was good but it feels even gooder if he thinks it's good.
"I was afraid to share it with you, to let anyone read it. This play is what actually scares me" you say.
"You should be afraid to share this" he confides, "And that's how I know you're a real writer and I'm not. You're brave enough to write down what actually scares you. I've never written anything that scares me like this."
You wanted notes on this early draft but he wants to produce it, wants agents to see it, it's a vote of confidence,
He is pushy because he believes in you.
A wave of relief rumbles over you, the confidence that comes when a man with the power aligns his self-interest with yours.
The man with the power comes to care for you, and you for him.
His arms grow too tired to hold the hoops. Something is up with him.
This is a relief. You’ve grown too busy to jump.
Except for every once in a while,
Old habits, you know.
You take care of each other in small ways over coffee meetings.
Here is the space he gives you to talk about your breakup.
Now is the time you allot him to feel odd about therapy.
Hands can touch arms now, small brief punctuations.
The "." at the end of phrases like,
"That sounds hard." or "I’m not sure what to do next." or “Yeah.”
Hands are so far from the realm of knees it's almost funny to imagine one there.
The image does not compute.
The man with the power is outed.
He is removed.
He is publicly shamed.
You kneel and throw up all the cookies.
This hurts your knees.
All of the women hold hands.
You weep for them.
You weep with them?
You wonder if you're allowed to weep with them.
You'd imagined their knees. You'd forgotten to imagine their faces on their way home from drinks.
You wonder if a few things had gone differently, if you knew something different about his hands,
Would you have been weeping this whole time.
You touch your own knee.
You imagine all the knees of all the girls who went to all the drinks.
You decide to write down what actually scares you.
You think of the man with the power, alone somewhere.
He was always regular scary to you. Not real scary.
The normal, low-grade hum of terror emanating off all of the men with all the power.
Will they pull out hoops at any moment?
Best to stretch beforehand, perform your mental aerobics, track those hands in your periphery without breaking eye contact.
You trained for this, remember?
You were used to regular scary.
You were good at regular scary.
"It is me" you write
"I scare me"
"I scare me"
"I scare me"