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Lines That Didn’t Make The Cut: Ruth’s Story

Trig­ger warn­ing: These lines describe the sex­u­al exploita­tion of a young woman.

Ruth’s Story

It was­n’t like I showed him any­thing
he had­n’t seen before. Besides, he took
the ones with clothes, the good ones, only if
I did a few from the waist down. Once,
we had­n’t been togeth­er for two years,
because I promised my friends I’d score, I posed–
one last time I told myself–for a hun­dred
dol­lars worth of coke. One hun­dred dol­lars.

When I said I did­n’t want to end the shoot
the way we always did, he offered more:
a twen­ty dol­lar bill to fuck. I walked out.

I know if he called right now with fifty
bucks worth of cocaine, I’d con­sid­er pos­ing.
What scares me is for twen­ty-five I would­n’t.

I wrote these lines, which tell a true story–my mem­o­ry is that the last two ter­cets make up pret­ty much an exact quote–more than a thir­ty years ago. I was an under­grad­u­ate in col­lege at the time (I think it was my junior year), and I was work­ing part-time as a youth advi­sor for the local Jew­ish Cen­ter. I remem­ber think­ing when I wrote them how impor­tant it was to tell sto­ries like Ruth’s, and I tried unsuc­cess­ful­ly for many years to get the poem pub­lished. Over time, though, I came to real­ize just how much of Ruth’s sto­ry is miss­ing from the poem: how “he” got her to pose nude in the first place, for exam­ple, or the fact that she was not old­er than six­teen when it hap­pened and that she was only sev­en­teen when she told me about it.

The Ruth in the poem of course is not the same per­son as the Ruth I knew in real life, and there is noth­ing in the poem that hints at why its Ruth has cho­sen to tell her sto­ry, or to whom; and there is no explo­ration of how telling the sto­ry changes her or how hear­ing it changes her audi­ence. The lines remain, in oth­er words, a gen­er­al­ly faith­ful ren­der­ing of a dis­turb­ing sto­ry a girl told me a long time ago, a girl whose face I can still see, whose last name I still remem­ber, whose trust changed me, but a sto­ry which–I think this might have been the first time I tried to write about a top­ic like this–I was not able to trans­form into art.

I have not thought about Ruth in a very long time, but this morn­ing, as I was pag­ing through the drafts of poems on my desk, try­ing to decide which one to work on next, I took the time to read these lines all the way through, which brought her back to me. I hope, wher­ev­er she is, that she is hap­py and ful­filled.

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