Maurice Carlos Ruffin is a VQR columnist. His work has appeared in Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, AGNI, Kenyon Review, Callaloo, Massachusetts Review, the Bitter Southerner, LitHub, Pacific Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the winner of the Iowa Review Fiction Award, the Soto Speak Journal Short Story Award, and the William Faulkner Competition for Novel in Progress. His first novel, We Cast A Shadow (Random House, 2019), is forthcoming.
On Mother’s Day 2019, I take Mama to the home of her best childhood friend for dinner. Her friend’s family includes a sister, a brother, her friend’s father (still grinning in his midnineties), and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins. Over a dozen people all told. They’re an outgoing, good-looking bunch.
At a writing conference several years ago, I had gone straight from the airport to a reception held by an organization that had given me a prize the previous year. The event was in the side room of a restaurant and there was cake. I love cake, so I grabbed one of the slices that everyone seemed to be enjoying so much. I was perhaps two bites in when a man approached me as if he knew me. The writing world is a small one, and it is possible to run into someone you met briefly at an earlier conference but who failed to make an impression. This was not the case. I knew I didn’t know him, and he didn’t ask any questions. He did, however, make a statement, which I’ll paraphrase: I’m sorry. You can finish that, but then you’ll have to leave because this is a private event.
Perhaps the most surprising fact about the recent Women’s Marches is not that they have become an annual event, or that these marches sprung forth all over the globe from Washington, D.C. to Paradise Bay, Antarctica. No, if an alarm should be raised, it’s due to the non-committal response of the patriarchy: a grunt from the woods.
Male liberal politicians have offered lip service but spent little political capital pushing comprehensive legislation to eliminate the problems that bedevil women’s lives: domestic violence, insufficient health care, and unequal pay. Male conservative operators have predictably been dismissive or patronizing. Media coverage of the marches has consisted of male commentators talking while women are trapped in a small box at the corner of the screen, silenced.
The first time a police officer runs his hand up the secret space between my legs, I’m sixteen. I’ve just walked out of a dance. I’m not drunk. In fact, with one exception, I won’t even have a glass of wine until my midtwenties. I’m not high. I’ll never smoke a joint or do ecstasy. I’m certainly not armed. Even firecrackers scare me. But I am almost six-three in my boots. I’m over 270 pounds, which was useful during my aborted stint on my high school football team. And, yes, I’m Black.