“I’m still learning to forgive myself for the misogyny of my youth. I’m still learning to destroy it. When girls are raised in working-class towns, where men are defined by their jobs and women are defined as mother and wife; when all girls have access to is the work of men, the music and movies and writing of men; when they are told that men make the money, that men are the heroes; they internalize it. In places like where I grew up—even when one is raised in an open-minded family, where girls are told they can do anything they want—sexism is as indoctrinated as the importance of hard work and independence, as a love of guns and land, as the worship of God and beer and football and hamburger casserole. It builds up in us like a fortress, and it takes a very long time to dismantle.” Read more.
“It was a warm night in early June—the Midwestern kind of warm specific to spring, the air so thick it’s hard to breathe, so wet it feels as if you’re swimming—when a tornado struck and destroyed a small town just eight miles west of mine. I was a little over a year old. My mother, who was younger than I am now, came into my bedroom as I slept and looked out the window into the darkness of the west. It was the same window out of which I would look for years to come, whenever the clouds began to build—face and fingers pressed to glass, cranking open the pane to get a better look at the sky. But that night, it was my mother who watched. She looked at the clock and waited. It was just after 11 pm.
Maybe the wind was howling. Maybe there was thunder. Maybe, more likely, there was only silence—that still, strange calm Midwesterners know so well, the kind that precedes the most violent of storms.” Buy the issue.
“It was a perfect summer day, the sky a cloudless blue. From forty stories above the street, shredded paper fell in bursts from office windows, waterfalls of confetti glittering in the sun. The sidewalks were packed, thousands of New Yorkers and tourists of every age and ethnicity, some in shorts and some in suits, crammed in tight with necks craned to see the parade as it passed. And when it did, the crowd erupted. Preceded by the New York Fire Department’s bagpipe band, three floats carried the team, twenty-three women who waved and cheered, pumped their fists in the air. At the helm, one of the women, her short blonde hair bobbing as she jumped and danced, held a golden trophy toward the sky.
As Megan Rapinoe, captain of the 2015 U.S. Women’s Soccer team and newly minted Martin Ambassador, passed through the “Canyon of Heroes” with her team that day, throngs of journalists and fans snapped photos, attempting to capture the historic moment. Up and down the street, the crowd surged and swelled together, their cheers rising up with the skyscrapers. At the center of it were thousands of little girls, some hoisted on their parents’ shoulders, some jumping into the air, decked out in team jerseys and face paint, waving American flags, screaming their favorite players’ names. One girl, no more than twelve, held up a handmade sign that read, ‘Thank you for letting me dream.’” Read more.
“In the summer of ’89, it barely rained. More than fifty days passed without a drop. The corn dried up, the crops didn’t yield, acres of farmland turned brown in the sun. Cows and horses died in the heat, wildfires tore across the plains. But we were too young to worry, to know what the word drought could mean to a small Midwestern farm town like ours. We spent our days in the fields and woods, the sun bright and high through the leaves. We traveled in packs; we wandered alone. We were great in number; we were two at a time. We scuffed up our jeans, scraped up our knees, tore holes in shirts that got snagged on branches. In the woods we climbed ancient oaks and maples; in the fields we ran for miles, the dry summer grasses cutting our shins, trying to find the place where land met sky. We hiked through the goldenrod, up to our waists, our eyes swelling and legs itching, and lay down in the weeds to watch the clouds move east. We yelled into the wind and no one heard but us, our voices rising up and out and then carried away on the snow of dandelion seeds. And we walked back the way we came, the sun making its slow descent, to get home in time for dinner. Outlines of our bodies on the ground behind us, bright yellow dust on our skin.
We were girls, the lot of us. But this was before it mattered.
We were small. We were nothing. We were taller than the trees.” Buy the issue.
“As Johnson digs deeper into the recesses of her memory, we discover that her story is also one of womanhood: of the female body as object; of powerlessness; of the way that so many young women use sex to try to repossess their bodies—to both submit to cultural power dynamics and simultaneously attempt to subvert them. ‘From childhood I was taught to survey and police and maintain my image continually,’ she writes, ‘and in this role—as both surveyor and the image that is surveyed—I learned to see myself as others see me: as an object to be viewed and evaluated, a sight.’ She looks at a photograph the man once took of her on a train between Prague and Berlin, one of many adventures on which he whisked her away, then abused her physically and emotionally: ‘This is how he sees me: a mirror that reflects his power always.’ Read more.
“As a kid, I dreamed of being a storm chaser, charting the paths of tornadoes in some banged-up Jeep, à la Helen Hunt in Twister, in an attempt to seek out destruction. During warnings, I was the one to gather supplies -- flashlights, blankets, a battery-powered radio -- and herd my family to the closet beneath the stairs, where I'd insist we stay until the storm had passed.
Three years ago, I moved from Madison to New York. Compared to the Midwest, this city doesn't see much in the way of storms. Gone were the days of late-spring thunder, those huge cracks of sound that shook the house of my youth. No more were the eerie green skies; no more were the sirens -- those long, low cries that stretch across counties, igniting both anticipation and abject fear.” Read more.
"For some months now, my apartment has been infested. Not with bed bugs or cockroaches or silverfish—those slick, sickly creatures that have plagued apartments of my past, and the apartments of so many in this huge, sprawling city by the sea—but with moths. Small, crawling, fluttering things, whose full-grown bodies look strikingly like butterflies, and whose larvae look devastatingly like maggots. The moths live not in my linen closets or dresser drawers, where one might expect them to live, nor in my curtains or clothes-hamper. I do find them in these places sometimes: when I draw my curtains back on a rainy morning or when I pick through a pile of sweaters on my bedroom floor, they'll flutter out in a billow of dust, frenetic and wild, their wings flapping frantically as they attempt to figure out where they are." Read more.