by Linda Summersea
The first thing I saw upon entering my professor’s studio was a discarded tube of cadmium red paint. Its depleted remains lay in a trash bin atop a broken Kolinsky #12. The brush’s ferrule was rusty, its stiff bristles tipped in blood-red, coagulated paint. The room was quiet. The light was dim.
He was Colombian, my Drawing 401 teacher, and thirty-eight-years-old, although his beard and paunch made him appear older. If you had told me he was forty-five or fifty, I would have believed you. He was a respected artist, married, and had a well-known reputation for seducing students with his soft Latino accent.
My sandals flip-flopped across the hardwood floor to the table left bare for my work. The shades were drawn on a bank of windows, blocking the luminous north light. I placed my portfolio on the table, unzipped it, and turned around at the sound of a click.
I saw his hand drop from the deadbolt. Our eyes met, mine questioning, his confident. He strutted slowly and deliberately around the studio like a fighting cock awaiting his opponent. His machismo was on full display, preening as he pointed out his various drawings hanging on the walls. I followed him to where he stood before a charcoal and pencil nude in progress on an easel.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
I nodded. The nude female was almost life-size. His style was tight and sparse. Thin lines, sharp hipbone angles, nipples that were barely there on small, half-round mounds of breasts. A pubic area tight with wiry curls of brown.
“I want to draw you,” he said. “Like this.” He gestured towards the drawing.
Seconds later, he had laid a blanket on the floor, stood on it, and began to strip. Slowly, he unbuttoned the black cotton shirt that matched his curly black hair and beard. Dropped his jeans and peeled off his BVDs.
My eyes never left his. I stood horrified, lips sealed, as he stepped closer and proceeded to undress me, pulling my t-shirt over my head, slipping my blue jeans and panties from my hips.
Could this be happening? I was repulsed. It was as near an out-of-body experience as I have ever come.
Did he not notice my perplexed expression?
I told him I had my period.
He immediately reached down and deftly plucked the bloody tampon from between my legs. Thunk. It popped like a champagne cork, and he swiftly tossed it in the trash.
This man was not going to let a little menstrual blood get in the way of his conquest.
He reached out his hand. “Join me.” He gestured to the blanket on the floor.
I remained standing, motionless, a paper doll with parts unfolded, expressionless, in shock, passively observing his flaccid penis beneath the paunch of his bloated belly as he pawed at me. I was naked and vulnerable.
The ceiling fan circled overhead as I joined him in the slow dance of contenders facing off. I took a step backward. He took a step forward. It was his lust versus my lack of passion, and it ended as quickly as it had begun.
“You are so cold.” He spat the words at me.
“You make a man impotent!” He was disgusted.
Seduction aborted, he retrieved his shirt, bringing the plackets together, each button sliding smoothly into its empty hole. All the while, blood trickled down my inner thigh.
I was wounded, but safe. I dressed and fled the room with my portfolio, not giving him the benefit of my thoughts. The last thing I saw was the tampon. It lay upon the discarded tube of cadmium red and the #12 Kolinsky brush.
My heart began to beat faster as I walked to my car. Once in the driver’s seat, I took some deep breaths, and thought about what had just happened. I knew I hadn’t done anything to encourage his actions, but still… There’s an unspoken communication between predator and prey. If I had not shut down his seduction with my disgust and passivity, would seduction have turned to rape?
I drove to the apartment, still upset, but shook myself off and went inside. My roommates were in the midst of preparing their dinners and I joined them to do the same. I didn’t have the courage to share what happened in the Colombian’s studio until now.*
*On October 16, 2017, Alyssa Milano created #MeToo following the exposure of widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein. I wrote this chapter that day and read it aloud the next evening in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Body of the Book manuscript class in Portland OR.
After earning a BFA and MFA in Art Education, Linda Summersea (pen name) enjoyed a long career as an art teacher and especially appreciated being able to work with Youth-at-Risk given her own background with neglect, abuse, and psychological suffering. She has published in NPR’s Tales from the South, and produced ArtBreak, an award-winning children’s art program on Community Access Television in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Her current work in pre-production is a free-verse narrative regarding her husband’s Vietnam experience for Voice of Vashon Radio, Vashon WA. She’s a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the EPIC Writers Group and is active on social media. She blogs about life, writing, and travel at www.LindaSummersea.com.
Although each of Jenny Offill’s books is great, this is the one we come back to, both to reread and to gift. Funny and thoughtful and true, this little gem moves through the feelings of a betrayed woman in a series of observations. The writing is beautiful, and the structure is intelligent and moving, and well worth a read.
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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option