Memory Dissection: A Statue, My Father, and a Camera

The Victim

The bronze statue looked almost alive—a young girl, life-sized, or nearly. Her small breasts and slim hips placed her at the start of puberty, around twelve or thirteen—we were about the same age. Her mouth was open in a perfect oval.

I have looked extensively online, but I find no record of this statue anywhere. Perhaps the fact that she is untraceable, nameless, and lost to me makes her more poignant, like a commentary on young faceless women waiting to be victimized.

I realize that some will find my use of the word “victim” in conjunction with a statue hyperbolic.

The Incident

My father was attending a conference for the American Academy of Pediatrics in Washington, DC, and my brother and I joined him.

Dad liked photography and carried a camera bag everywhere he went, which he called his “purse.” It contained his Olympus camera, wallet, sunglasses, stethoscope, a complete first-aid kit, including pre-threaded sterile needles for emergency stitches, and an empty can of Spam to use as a prop. He liked to pose his subjects.

We came across the statue in an outdoor garden, somewhere near the Smithsonian strip by the Mall. There were no guards or docents to protect her, no security cameras or alarms, not even a “Do Not Touch” sign. As if she were asking for it.

My father pulled his camera from his bag and he asked me to cup the statue’s breasts and stick my tongue into her open mouth. I refused. He mocked my prudishness. I felt dirty, bad, vulnerable. I told myself that I was probably too sensitive, as he insisted, but still I refused.

A dozen years later my father took my stepmother to this same garden. He asked her to stick her tongue in the same statue girl’s mouth. I know because I saw the photograph. “He asked me to do this, too,” I told her. My stepmother said she felt wrong, dirty, and ashamed that she acquiesced, but she didn’t know how to refuse my father. She, too, suspected that she was just being too sensitive. There is a line between appropriate and not, but that line undulates around my father.

An Interesting aside

After my mother and father divorced, my mother remarried a woman. After he and his next wife divorced, she also chose the companionship of women. The fact that two out of his six ex-wives are now lesbians wounds my father. I find this inexplicable. They did not leave him for women, they left him because of his infidelity. What came afterwards is not his concern. I don’t know why it bothers him so much. Would he really prefer to think of them with other men?

After both of my divorces, my father asked if I were a lesbian, like my mother. When I said no, his relief was audible through the phone. A lesbian daughter would be too much for him to bear.

There is something here about women who don’t need men, or who don’t respect men’s position of authority over women that is trying to come to the surface. Something about subservience and humiliation. Something about asking a woman to molest a statue, instead of asking us to hold the camera while he did it himself.

Fearless Girl

A bronze statue of a young defiant girl by Kristen Visbal was installed on the International Day of Women opposite the famous Wall Street Bull. A man in a business suit humped the statue and was caught on film, spurring public outrage and condemnation of rape culture.

Some men, including my father, feel a stir around frozen, voiceless girls. Some men rub the bull’s testicles for luck. It seems to be about what you can get away with. A statue, after all, has no feelings to protect, no ability to call for help, doesn’t bruise and sheds no tears. Molesting a statue is not a crime. It just feels like one.


Lara Lillibridge is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. In 2016 she won Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s Prose Contest, and The American Literary Review’s Contest in Nonfiction. She also was a finalist in both Black Warrior Review’s Nonfiction Contest and DisQuiet’s Literary Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She has had essays published in Pure Slush Vol. 11, Vandalia, and Polychrome Ink; on the web at Hippocampus, Luna Luna, Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, Airplane Reading, Thirteen Ways to Tell a Story, Weirderary, and Brain, Child magazine’s Brain, Mother blog. Lara’s memoir will debut in November of 2017 with SkyHorse Publishing.

 

 

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