This piece was developed during the second Bartimaeus Institute Online (BIO) Study Cohort 2016-2017. These pieces will eventually be published in a Women’s Breviary collection. For more information regarding the BIO Study Cohort go here.
In the cave of a great sanctuary, a granite womb full of light and bones, I sat among songs of the annunciation next to a new friend. Listening next to me, she didn’t know that I was having a holy moment of uncertainty. Each apex was an almond reminder of sacred arches, gateways of birth and body: seen, sacred, secret and silenced. I was considering, fiercely and privately, a surgery that would open my thick sealed hymen, a birth defect known as “Virgin Mary.”
Should my womb be opened like Elizabeth’s? Should it stay closed like the Virgin Mother?
As a little girl in Catholic school I kissed Mary’s pink feet, always floating somewhere above the floor. Our diminutive devotion saw no dancing legs to break her folds of flowing blue, impenetrable and unstained. She was a lovely mermaid mother, wordless and always alone. She was the goodest good girl, poured into plaster perfection by the white words of patriarchs. We left her offerings of daisy chains and soft clay rolled round between our fingers. Her shrines hung cherished and tended by teacher nuns in sagging flowered shirts. They went about teaching us multiplication and chemistry, but nothing a good girl did could be as holy as obeying the Lord and making impossibly pure babies without even trying….
Generations swore her hymen was a veil, a mystery impossible for even her own hand to enter. Ever-virgin, contained in herself, her closed womb was her integrity, her power. Who was I to challenge such a mystery?
Who was I but child of women birthed and bleeding, lover of friends who did not get a say in the matter. Who was I but one who had prayed and begged and wept to no avail. No healing change to my body was going to happen without choosing.
If only God could announce a better future, a healing way. The angel never asked Mary to be a virgin, but to bear a child.
I thought like this in priest’s terms and then saw how the holy mother herself stood, on the tip of a nipple, on the peak of a pedestal, her arms outstretched like a bawdy seagull. The woman in the pew behind us giggled, “She’s standing up there like she’s saying, “Come all ye!” Behold, our lady comes!”
I whispered my question to the friend beside me. Me too, she whispered. I had that same surgery. It was simple. I’ll hold your hand.
Two months later, she held my hand as they put me under. I dreamed not of being conquered, broken, taken, but of standing in a tearful crowd singing. We were shouting with my brilliant neighbor Jayanthi, voice lifted loud for love and freedom. Baby in one hand, microphone in the other, her hair draped in scarves of blue sky.
Now I’d paint Mary surrounded by lovers, friends, hands in the hands of her people, wearing the clothes she made, the signs of her culture. No man could own her, because she found her own hands to hold–angels, cousins, sons, friends. Delivered from one man, gatekeeper, owner of the story. Delivered not into or out of this body. Womb open–in the womb of the community.