Alma Sheppard-Matsuo artwork

Girl, Interrupted

By Denise Miller

There are some days I don’t feel like a woman. Actually, most days
I don’t even feel like a girl. I know these breasts and hips are mine,
but there are times I completely miss them. Miss them like the elephant

in the middle of the room that everyone talks around or miss them like
the homeless man in the middle of a downtown street that everyone
walks around without seeing. See, that’s how I see my girl self, as if she’s

something I’ll stumble over if I acknowledge her. Case in point: second
grade. On the playground I played football. I looked for opportunities
to catch boys below the waist just right so that my shoulder would

Original art by Denise Miller

meet them in the curve above their thigh and my head would cause
a fumble so I could watch them mumble about being beaten by a girl.
Until this one day, a boy grabbed my arm and twisted it behind my

back like a wishbone. He was wishing it would get me to like him and I
was wishing he would leave me alone. And so I bit him. Between tears
and shouting. Then I hit him and stood astounded as the teacher yelled

at me. See, I didn’t want to be my girl self then, didn’t want to know that
a boy’s tough touch sometimes meant love instead of hate. I was seven,
maybe eight and I was interrupted by the elephant in the room and this time he

wasn’t layin’ down. His trunk was trying to wrap around my legs so my
straightforward sidestep around the trunk of societies gendered precept was
suddenly scripted by my female teacher as she instructed me to bend over

and grab my ankles while I cycled through what I had actually done wrong.
Wrong. Nothing. Wrong. Nothing. Wrong. Nothing, but the moment just before
the first strike of the paddle then the rattle of the classroom door as it closed

behind her. Nothing in between. Just the beginning and end of a type of touch
I didn’t earn. I could have learned my womanhood many other ways, but those
kinds of days were just the beginning. There are some days I don’t feel

like a woman or a girl, but there are too many days that I still feel like the child
who feels the fear of the fullness of their own muscle morphing into maleness
because the masses might name me masculine or lesbian or queer, but I am here

and simultaneously 42 and nine again, and at both ages my first instinct is to
detest my own skin. The elephant’s in the room again sitting on top
of my chest this time, making me feel like my only crime is being boy and woman

and girl and so I interrupt myself. The child in me gives whole parts of their childhood
to forgetting and the now in me has a hard time letting myself look in the mirror
long enough to see beauty a lover once swore to me was there, not just under layers

of extra pounds or right around the corner of a five day a week 60 minute workout
to bring the thin back out. No, the beauty’s there now, she whispered. Now. While I
looked in the mirror and thought I saw ugly, she whispered now, beautiful now.

While I fought for breath at night she loved the elephant off my chest. Now. Right.
Now. Right. Now. Right now. She interrupted the girl to call her woman. Whispered,
Right now and interrupted the whirlwind of fear and, right now. And right now,

I am simultaneously nine and 44, but this time it is because we have moved
the elephant that I am young again. Young like a child lucking into
love like the stumble of a toe over a penny tail side up. Young like kid quick

hands changing fireflies to lamps on bedside tables. Young like shooting stars, skipping
stones and four leaf clovers. I am learning to interrupt myself now. Learning that my
childhood of grandfather’s getting out of child-beds to exchange mattresses for barstools,

or women’s cries crashing louder than fireworks in June don’t have to be my mantra.
I am gone on to how she started a revolution in me when she dove deep unafraid to bring
my soul back. Now, I am beyond twisted arms and punishment, societies gendered precepts

and the elephant because she started a revolution in me when she let me be my
self, and now my eyes are rimmed with the recognition that we recognize me.
Now my soul is able to connect girl and woman easily and uninterrupted.

Denise Miller, born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, and raised in Cadiz, Ohio, is a Kalamazoo Valley Community College instructor, artist, poet, and community activist. She received a BFA from Bowling Green State University in Creative Writing in 1992 and an MA from Central Michigan University in 1995. Her work has also been funded by an Emerging Artists Grant from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo and the Gilmore Foundation. Miller is co-owner of Fire—an arts and culture non-profit in Kalamazoo that has as its mission to encourage and respond to people’s desire for authentic expression. Fire reflects Miller’s belief that social and cultural awareness generate and sustain social justice. Miller believes that it is the poet’s job to tell the truth no matter what the cost. Visit her website at

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