Why I’m Angry ~ fiction by Brooke Brannon

After Richard Thomas’s story “Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave”

Why I’m Angry

Because at 5, my father leaves, becoming someone I see maybe once or twice a year

Because at 6, my brother starts blaming my mom for this

Because at 7, on a camping trip with my father and brother, I overhear Dad warning my brother about “sob sisters.” I cry a lot. Does that make me a sob sister? I am afraid to ask

Because at 8, I find my dad’s stash of Playboys and, reading the comics, realize that once you get old or fat, you become horrible to men

Because at 9, my brother tells me girls aren’t as smart as boys because their brains aren’t as big, and that’s why they have boobs

Because at 10, I invite a boy I like over while I’m babysitting; he sits on my lap, and later tells everyone he felt me up, and my brother says I’m a whore

Because at 11, standing on a beach, two men in a hot rod circle me repeatedly, asking if I want a date

Because at 12, a family friend gropes me in a swimming pool

Because at 13, a car salesman mistakes me for someone older and hits on me relentlessly until I show him my ID card from middle school

Because at 14, I am walking home from a friend’s and a guy in a long coat flashes me, working his penis up and down with his hands. I have never seen an adult’s penis. I sprint back to my friend’s house as he pounds along behind me, almost catching up

Because at 15, I lose my virginity in a damp basement, and instead of trying to make sure it feels good to me, I do what I think I’m supposed to do: moan and writhe and fake an orgasm, which sets the tone for my sex life for the next 25 years

Because at 16, a different family friend—an adult, a man—tells me I am growing into a beautiful young woman, and for some reason, it makes me feel ashamed and like putting on a really big sweatshirt. My brother says “Just enjoy the attention”

Because at 17, a 34-year-old man takes to calling me at home, trying to get me to go away with him; he calls me the Virgin Queen. It is my mother who finally tells him to stop calling. Not my father, not my stepfather, not my brother

Because at 18, when I cross the street to get away from a man who may or may not be following me, he yells, “What, you think I’m going to rape you?” I tell my college boyfriend about it, and he takes his side

Because at 19, I realize I am the butt of most of my boyfriend’s jokes. I ask him if he thinks I’m smart, and he says “Why does that matter?”

Because at 20, I ask him if he’s been sleeping with someone else and he says I’m a turnoff because I’m so negative. Later I realize he has given me genital herpes

Because at 21, when I break up with the next boyfriend, he keeps me on the phone like a filibuster until 5 a.m., when I finally tell him I’m “confused” just to get him off the phone

Because at 22, a different boyfriend sleeps around on me, after telling me he wants to marry me and buy me a house. I pine for him for two years

Because at 23, the 5 a.m. boyfriend is still stalking me, applying to work at every newspaper that hires me, and my brother says I should just give him a chance

Because at 24, I come down with a urinary tract infection and my mother—a nurse—looks disgusted with me. I have no idea that you can get a UTI from sex

Because at 25, my father blames me for not being close to him by quoting Indiana Jones: “You left just when you were getting interesting.”

Because I am so stunned that I can’t even point out that he’s the one who left

Because at 25, I answer an email from the 5 a.m. boyfriend and he uses it to find out where I live

Because at 26, my brother says it is his wife’s duty to have sex with him whether she wants to or not, and tells me he hopes I don’t become one of those women who trap a man and then get fat

Because at 28, I have an abortion, not understanding that it is my one and only chance to have a child

Because at 29, I accept a marriage proposal and then, for weeks after, feel vaguely angry and resentful: why did it take so much work? Why did he have to be convinced to marry me? Will he still love me if I get fat?

Because at 30, we buy a house on a cul de sac because he says it’ll be safer when we have kids, and I practically swoon

Because at 31, I spend two hours a day in the gym so I don’t get fat, and end up with one injury after another from running marathons with a body that was built for plowing fields

Because at 32, I say, “I think I’m ready to have kids,” and he says “I don’t want kids, I never wanted kids, I never said that about the cul de sac, you’re confused”

Because at 32, I don’t feel confused, I’ve just never heard the term gaslighting

Because at 33, I don’t iron his shirt—because I don’t even iron my own shirts—and he doesn’t talk to me for two days, leaving me to guess what I’ve done and why he’s mad

Because at 34, he tells me anger is never OK, and looks askance at me when I put both butter and jam on my toast

Because at 35, I start having knee surgeries because I spent so much time running, trying to keep from getting fat

Because at the same time, I stop having sex with him, instead masturbate in the bathroom late at night, when he’s asleep

Because at 36, on a business trip, my colleague sees me bending over to get out of a London taxi, takes a good look at my breasts, and says “Thank you, Brooke,” which makes me want to put on a really big sweatshirt

Because at 37, I lean over in bed to kiss my husband and he draws back, repelled

Because at 38, when my husband takes up photography, he refuses to shoot me, saying I’m “not at my best,” which is code for: I’ve gotten fat

Because at 39, I realize I’m happier when he’s not around

Because at 40, I realize I dread hearing his car coming up the drive

Because I don’t actually leave him until I’m 41

Because at 42 I date a man who threatens to “kick me into the next county” when I tell him I don’t like the way he’s treating me

Because later that year, my brother shoots and kills a man for sleeping with his wife

Because friends of the family—all men—say they understand the impulse

Because my father refuses to admit that my brother is a murderer

Because at 43 I date a man for a month and when I break up with him, he tells all my friends I’m crazy, tells my manager I’m having a mental breakdown, and then tells me I’m “just confused” and he’ll “take me back”

Because at 44 a man I am sleeping with takes a cellphone video of me while I am giving him head, which I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t looked up at just that moment

Because at 45 I live with a man who steals painkillers from me and then blames it on the housekeepers

Because it takes me until I am 46 to realize that I only come in one size, the one I am right now (whenever “now” is), and that has to be OK with whoever I end up being with

Because it takes me until I am 47 to find a man who loves me like I deserve to be loved

Because it takes me until I’m 48 to stop being pathetically grateful for him

Because at 49 I have to tell a colleague to not hit on women as they walk down a hall at a tech conference

Because I speak up, I’m the bad guy

I’m the sob sister

The fat bitch

Because at 50 I read a popular, much-awarded book in which the main character is portrayed as a loser because he fails to kill his girlfriend, who is then killed by someone else

Because that’s still considered funny

Because women are still killed every hour of every day, all over the world, by their lovers or their would-be lovers who feel thwarted

And that’s still considered funny

Because even now, good men who love me will say things like “He’s not that bad” and “Give him a chance” and “Men just can’t change” 

Because I can finally write this

but I will still get flack for it

and I will still worry what men think of me.

Brooke Brannon is an American writer who lives and works in England.