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

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, more than a thirty years ago. My memory is that the last two tercets are pretty much an exact quote. 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 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 changed me; and that last but is why I think the lines ultimately don’t work as a poem. You get no access to what’s at stake for me in them—not as a writer, not as the person to whom Ruth told this story, not as a man. The lines remain, in other words, a generally faithful, but decontextualized rendering of an unfortunately all-too-common story that a girl told me a long time ago. I can still see her face and I still remember her last name, even though I have not thought about her in a very long time. 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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