“Are You Ok?” and Other Wrong Questions


All morning I’ve been sitting in my green chair
wondering what happened to the woman I saw last night
standing naked at the edge of a downtown parking lot in this city
that only qualifies as a city because it’s the biggest thing going
for 300 miles in any direction. We have a river and a symphony
and a well-known sports team from a college also known
for harboring sex offenders, by which I mean that priests
who’ve abused the women and children they were sent
to minister to, as well as their power and hundreds of people’s
trust, come here to live out their golden years among the brick
architecture and ponderosas and young adults who walk
through campus like they’re invincible, and no one makes
a fuss about it. But I like it here, so I don’t know why
I’m giving the impression that this is some godforsaken
backwater where pedophiles leer from their third-story cloisters
and women stand naked on street corners, and not in a let-it-
all-hang-out, happy-to-be-alive, high-on-something way.
With her arms, she made what little cover she could
for her body. When I say I’ve been wondering what happened
to her, what I mean is, I wonder what happened in the hour
before I drove past, and I wonder what happened after. I’ve never
stood naked in a parking lot or been raped by a priest,
and as a middle-aged, middle-class white woman who mostly
minds her own business and doesn’t stop to ask naked women
if they’re OK, chances are I’ve dodged both those bullets.
In a game of “Would You Rather,” would you choose exposure
or hidden shame? I thought about stopping, but it was 9 p.m.
and dark and I wasn’t even sure I was seeing what I thought
I was seeing. For a split-second, it felt like I was looking
at myself through the window of dream, that I’d wake
with my sweat-drenched pajamas knotted on the floor
beside my bed. “Naked” is a word we so often modify—stark
naked, naked as a jaybird, naked as the day God made her—
but why clothe a thing that requires no embellishment?
Those priests should be in prison. Someone give that woman
some goddamned clothes.