The prospect of writing the words “me too” on Facebook has filled me with dread each time I’ve gotten close. This morning I read a friend’s post expressing similar feelings and it made me recall this essay. I’ve decided to share it here.
That woman is me
by Jillian Myrom, Minnesota Women’s Press, July 29, 1992
I’ve never seen a dead body before. I didn’t expect that feeling of numbed comprehension, the awe that comes over me as I stand at the window with the other secretaries looking out at the scene at 8 a.m.
Any other day, we have the best view in the building, looking up a sloping grassy hill with the St. Paul Cathedral looming over the top. Majestic. Idyllic.
Today there are several policemen lining the road at the top of the hill. The body is at a distance from them, lying at the foot of a tree. Behind her is a low wrought-iron gate which scales the hill; behind the gate is a forest.
The scene is like one from a movie, like Antonioni’s “Blow-up,” in which the protagonist has a rare opportunity to see a slain man lying in the exact position in which he fell, as yet untouched and uncovered by the police.
“For God’s sake, why don’t they cover her?” the woman next to me mutters.
But I don’t want them to cover her. I don’t mean to indulge in voyeurism: The one look I did take was enough to imbue the image in my mind. I can conjure up the scene now as though I were recalling a photograph.
To cover the body would only mask the reality, would remove the scar from our once lovely view. The reality is that a woman was murdered last night, literally in our own backyard.
She is not a statistic: She is the black shirt and pale legs that are all that we can see of her, due to the way she lies and the way the hill curves. No blood, no mess; shirt unwrinkled as though smoothed down. Perhaps this is the most disconcerting effect of the vision—the likeness of life in those legs, as though she might yet rise again.
I find it heartless to turn from the scene on the hill to memos and calendars. I owe her more than that.
My thoughts inevitably turn to my own close calls, my narrow escape from an accoster in France. I do not dwell on what happened to me; I recall instead the woman who was not as lucky as I was on those same rain-wet, late-night streets, the woman who met a similar fate to the one on the hill. The result is the same, only the setting is different. Did she lie in my place, the French woman in the parking garage? Does the woman on the hill lie there for me?
A man in my office has an implicit answer to my unasked questions. “I went up there. Up close,” he says. “I heard she was a hooker.”
The immediate response I have for him freezes before I can form the words. What is the motivation behind his comment? Sensationalism? Slander? Justification for the murder?
Other than this one man’s comment, I hear no gossip today, no talk about our corpse. Are we, the women of the office, denying the fascination and simultaneous horror of the event? Or in our silence are we acknowledging how close to home we have been struck, how easily that corpse could be not that of a stranger but one of our own young, female bodies?
The pain of the sight eroded yet a little more of my trust in those who share my hallways, sidewalks and city streets. I try, too late, to hold onto an illusion of the sundrenched grass, to return to preoccupations with typing and the tangible effects of work.
But the vision is indelible. That woman is me, she is you, and we lie uncovered for all to see.
Jillian Myrom recently completed a master’s degree in English at Bucknell University, where she started a feminist newspaper called “Tapestry.”