This Political Body | The New Engagement
This Political Body essay art

This Political Body

By Erin Roux

On the day of the 2016 election, I woke up and decided to get another tattoo. It would be on my ribs, in the “traditional American style”, a fox curled into itself, sleeping under a bushel of flowers. The idea was comforting, and alleviating for my anxiety; I would rest under the whir of the needle, curled into myself like the fox that would accompany me on my skin.

I got my first tattoo when I was in high school, almost immediately when I turned 18. It was the Venus symbol, sitting on the ribs on my right side, pointing proudly to my hipbones that were slowly being covered with more fat and muscle during my recovery from an eating disorder. I stroked it proudly and swelled with feminine pride.

I have been a proud feminist since middle school, when my incredible and almost controversial history teacher introduced a debate about abortion and I was assigned to defend Pro-Choice. I hadn’t thought about abortion before, or much about autonomy over my own body. Now, it was mine. I read The Feminine Mystique before my junior year of high school, and I loved how the weight of the book felt in my hands. 

I wanted my fox to be on the left side.

“I’ve done this before,” I thought. “The pain isn’t too bad. It’s a hot pinch, a thousand times over.”

I laid down on the table and was introduced to my artist, a Russian man named Nikita, or “Nik”, who had just moved to town a week before.

“Are you ready?”

“Of course. I’ve been here before!” I laughed.

The needle came hot and fast into the curves of my waist. Immediately, I felt overwhelmed. And extremely alone. It poked at my ribs and into my hip bones, and penetrated the dip in my side.

I writhed for about an hour until Nik asked me if I wanted to talk. I gladly squeezed out a breathy “yes”.

We talked about school, the apartment he lived in in Florida when he first moved to America, tattoo parlor politics, and finally American politics.

I knew he couldn’t vote, but I just wanted to ask: “What do you think about the election?”

He laughed over the monotonous whir of the needle.

“Honestly, I am very scared. Donald Trump, he is like Putin. That is why I left Russia. I am afraid that now I will have to go back.”

After that, we were pretty silent.

I got home after a couple of hours and happily patted my bandage. The election had been on my mind all day, but I wasn’t worried about the outcome. I had voted weeks earlier. I had been pushing it out of my mind for so long, I finally let myself think about it on November 8th. I could see nothing else except for the possibility of having the first woman president. I climbed into bed with my parents and little brother as they watched the votes coming in and I breathed deeply.

Red. Red everywhere. This is something I’ve seen before.

It was 7:30 at night.

I scrolled through my social media, liking cheeky posts about moving to Canada, or stumbling upon an orange Alec Baldwin portraying an orange Donald Trump.

It was 8:30 at night.

Red. Red everywhere.

My heart was beating, and I put my hand on it to make sure I was still alive.

“I’m seriously searching for my passport,” tweeted a close Muslim friend of mine.

A Latina friend posted a conversation between her and her mother expressing their fear.

My black friends made jokes about slavery, and I could feel their pain under the noise of the jokes. We were all terrified.

As time went on, it was 11:30. My dad left the room to go to sleep.

“It’s over,” he chuckled. He is a smart, liberal white man. I saw nothing funny.

My little brother rolled off of the bed to go to sleep. He had school the next morning.

I stayed in bed next to my mom, curled into her body wrapped in a soft nightgown and I couldn’t help but think about being in the womb. The hours went on and my eyes grew heavy. I woke up at 1:00 a.m. to see incomplete results, yet feeling something so sharp, hot, explicable, and so terribly complete.

He had won.

He had beat me.

I couldn’t get to sleep until around 4:00 a.m. on November 9th. I sat straight up in bed and stared out of the window, surrounded by thick darkness. Every time my eyelids became too heavy for their own weight, I saw my rapist from my first week of college standing at a podium, his words muffled by cheers and shouting, an American flag pin winking at me from under a lapel, a Cheshire cat smile like piano keys waiting to be played.

I realized, I knew, that he would be fine. This thought stabbed me hot and fast as a tattoo needle.

Maybe he will be the president.

The next day, I woke up and touched my side. The bandage crinkled under my fingers; I peeled it off and tossed it onto the floor. My skin had begun to scab over, the lines of my tattoo risen, dead imitations of the tattoo itself. Suddenly, I was angry. I had hot, fast flashes of anger behind my eyes.

I started to peel at the scabs, pulling off the spurious pieces of my body. I started at the tops of the flowers, working down to the stems, picking at the fox’s face, ending at the tip of the tail, leaving thin pieces of black littered on my bedsheets.

The fox, she was sleeping, always sleeping, always planning her next move, her next feat. But for now, she was sleeping.

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