This is not an empowerment essay

By Jennifer Brennock

(Reader advisory: explicit language throughout.)

This year, there is no bootstraps vignette. “Oh, she found her power on her own. Ain’t that sweet.” Hard no, 2021.

If you are sensing my tone is acerbic, you are underestimating it. You know that thing people say about a woman who’s been betrayed? You know that thing they say about redheads? About a Sagittarius? Yeah, if I were this man, I might hide from me too. 

I think we’ve been tricked into receiving relief through a nice story. I’ve said it myself. “In these times, we need to focus on the good.” But, at this point, I’ve been screwed over, and I am fresh outta fucks. 

Here’s why: It’s not just about heartbreak and a selfish, lying, aging fuck-boy to whom I naively gave my heart. Again. No. It’s that everything is getting worse. I mean everything.

Do you know that the environment has been so completely violated that the moon can’t spin straight anymore? Yup. The big cheese is actually shaking its head at us, doing the only smart thing left for a celestial satellite to do. It’s starting to peace the fuck out. 

Credit: Kym MacKinnon

What happens next? Sea-level rise. Flooding. Death. Habitat loss. Lower fish count. Destruction of homes and artifacts. Homelessness exacerbated. Social and community problems ballooning. Further division of world view and understanding. Less compassion, more cutting in line. 

Just think of the worst possible scenario from the most horrific dystopia imaginable. Yeah, we’re on our way. 

I acknowledge that here I am, writing words on a page. I am lucky to be asked to share them. I have an education that allows me to do that effortlessly. I get to have a nice glass of wine while pounding out furious, indulgent words. I get to admire the bartender’s tattoos and uninhibited self-expression. I get to express without fear of retribution. I get to say “fuck” a lot cuz I need to right now. I am in possession of twelve million things others dream of having. 

But in this shitshow of a year, there is a better way to get temporary relief fast. Anger. Unbridled rage. That’s the way we are going to get through this pile of total monkey diarrhea. Good old-fashioned fury. 

I took my son to the railroad tracks with a box of glass bottles. I told him we needed to get shit off our chests. 

I picked up a bottle by the neck and threw it as hard as I could, overhand, flipping end-over-end through the air until it combusted against the brick barrier wall. A cascade of green shards fell as if gravity’s still a thing. I bent from the waist and screamed as violently as I could, shaking my head and closing my eyes, hands in fists stretched out behind me. My voice possessed the burn of humiliation. Of chopping the boyfriend’s wood and buying him vitamins while his bed was still warm from another. Of believing him when he said again, again, again, “Love, love, love” and “I don’t want anyone else” just to let him run over me with a tractor the very next day without remorse.

At the wall, I bleated the volume of a lost future. Right then, I could have stabbed him in the throat without a second thought. I would grip the blade hard and pull through the vocal cords, just like I watched him kill a deer once. I would mute his singing, take away his best quality, and silence his bedroom voice forever.

I breathed heavily. Raised my shoulders and let them fall again. Neighbors poked their heads out like gophers, stopped preening their lilies and sipping IPAs. I didn’t give a….you know. 

“Now you.”

I handed my teenager a bottle. 

“I don’t want to.”

“Come on. It’s okay. We all gotta let go. We’ve been through a lot of shit this year.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Are you kidding? Come on. Do it.”

I pulled out some real eighth-grade-girl-group manipulation, yet the strongest peer pressure I could muster would not move him to break a bottle.

Miracle human. 

I did the only thing left to do. I picked up every one of those motherfuckers and smashed them. I did over-the-backs. Overhand dunking. A through-the-legs, two-handed, three-bottle granny. Followed by a, “Fuckkkk, yeahhhhh. Suck ittttt, you fat bastard” while flipping the bird with both hands. Each throw had excellent brick contact. I spun glass guns on my palm, Eastwood movie pistols, and sidelong pitched them into the wall. One. “Pew pew.” And two. “Pew pew pew.” I reached into the box for the next while the glass was still raining like glitter at a strip club. Beautiful violence. Music. Perfect reverb. A landing puddle of rainbow shards. 

If a bottle made contact but was not completely destroyed, I’d pick that shit right back up and fuck it up again. 

My kid stood stoic. He has already learned to do this. (Not from me, obviously.) He has absorbed that expressing emotions, saying the words that make the feelings alive, is not what a man does to remain strong. Instead, he contained. 

I imagine he was thinking something like, is this normal? Is there someone to call? No. Of course. There is nobody to call. That’s part of the problem. And even if there was someone okay enough with this brand of tiny mom mayhem — someone who wouldn’t tell her she should stop because we know how that would turn out – how could the torrent of Natural Born Killers enactment be interrupted in order to get at her cell phone? Not possible. 

Credit: Chuttersnap

At some point, the box was empty. 

Now what?

What the fuck do you think happened? I picked up the box. We walked home. 

The catharsis was temporary. Uninhibited glass breakage was no longer an exit for pain, and it soon returned as the weight of an elephant sitting on my chest. My son and I did not speak. The evening was uncomfortably light. Soft, cotton candy sky. Kids still on the damn trampoline. Shouts of joy. 

My son was in step with me. He hesitated but put his arm around my shoulders. 

“Okay?”

“Sure.”

A sliver of moon could be seen. A small, thumbnail crescent. It’s still up there. For now. A few more blocks to home. 

“It’s gonna be okay, Mom. Can we get ice cream? You can pick.”

I started to cry. That fuckin kid slays me every damn time. 

Jennifer Brennock: wordsmith and bottle-slinger.

Jennifer Brennock, “JB,” lives, writes, and swears a lot in Portland. 

Editor’s note: Twelve years ago this August, I walked into the public library on Orcas Island and nervously joined several local residents who’d signed up for a Writers’ Roundtable. It was my first time dabbling with writing fiction. Jennifer was the discussion leader during the two-hour workshop. When we met later for coffee, an enduring friendship followed.

Tomorrow: On second thought | George Rede

31 thoughts on “This is not an empowerment essay

  1. Dear JB, I could never forget how well you write, or how mightily you sling the fucks together. But I did forget — for a little while — just how fierce you can be. I send a big hug to that giant, wounded heart of yours.

  2. I’ve endured a lot through the decades but never infidelity, which is probably a good thing. I’d like to think at least one of those glass shards would have cut … something.

    I’m sorry this is your story. You, and collectively we, deserve so much better.

  3. Contaminating our mutual environment with broken glass because her ego is bruised
    That’s 2 minutes I’ll never get back.

  4. Not sure what to say. I hope you got it out of your system, at least for a few. It’s hard to lug all those fucks around.

  5. I wrote this awhile ago, and because this audience has become an evolving group of friends – thank you, George – eh, I’m okay. I am actually having the best summer of any season I can remember and experiencing more wonders than I have in a very long time. But including that bit would make it an empowerment essay, right? I was committed to staying on point in content for this one, to NOT write the-everything-will-work-out essay and purposely reveal a voice that you have not heard from me before. We are all made of many voices.

  6. Don’t think I’ve ever said this in reaction to a piece of writing: Fucking awesome.

    But then there is only one person with the singular voice of Jennifer Brennock.

    I’m so sorry that peckerhead let you down. But that son of yours is one helluva kid. You done good, JB.

  7. While it has been a hard year and I suspect there will be more the near future for all of us. From you son’s point of view, the sun will come up tomorrow and a new day will start. We all need to start cleaning up our mess, maybe by picking up some broken glass.

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