top of page

April 25th, 2014 - Becca Hayes

I’m in Michigan where raising one’s right hand, as if swearing to tell the truth, and pointing with the left is common practice for orienting others to your location on the lower peninsula. I would point to the center of the triangle on formed, a palm reader might tell you, by my life line, my money line, and my head line to indicate where you’d find me on this day when spring might be beginning, the the second year of my doctoral work is ending, and I am buying a house. 


I sign, initial, X, and date on line after line until I’m grateful I do not have to lift my tired hand to show where the 1935, 2 bedroom, 925 square foot buttery yellow ranch house with its backyard abut a protected wetland is. I don’t know yet that the respite that wetland provides from human neighbors brings a cacophony of spring peepers and bullfrogs so sound in their lesson: when we think the world is quiet, we’re not really listening. 


I stop short from signing at this legalese: 




In my head, I yell back: WHAT THE FUCK, HETEROPATRIARCHY?! 


But I stay quiet because I know what happens when I question the patriarchy: men’s emotions to get out of line. 


Someday I’ll tell you about the day in Wednesday Catechism when Mr Headley hoisted me by my t-shirt against the church basement wall for my too many questions about the Catholic Church. 


I’ll tell you about clicking my pen in junior high math class. Mr. Nelson told me to stop. Then he told me to stop or come stand in front of the class. I taught him a lesson about power struggles with adolescents that day.


Maybe I’ll tell you about the trigonometry class when I—head down, eyes on my paper, hand scribbling furiously—explained the Pythagorean theorem. Suddenly Mr. North hauls my ass out in the hallway and reads me what my mother would call the riot act because he believed I was cheating. I look past him at my classmates, as his face gets closer and closer to the red of his YHS Golf polo. 


We’ll never have time for the litany of street harassment incidents, except maybe the one when a carful of drunk men launch half-empty bottles out a car window and scream “BITCH!” at my audacity to walk alone at night.




Now I can acquiesce that, yes, it was technically true, I was not married. Thankfully, I had been released from that legal contract three years earlier. But I certainly didn’t feel deprived of anything, as that prefix in unmarried might imply. 


Last line signed and keys in hand, feeling liberated like it’s 1974 and President Ford has signed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act so I can finally get a mortgage and a credit card without the husband I don’t have or want, I visit the new house alone that day. I find an old towel in the dryer. I lift the lid of the outdoor hot tub I don’t want (not the cost or time for maintenance) but the seller, a local tennis pro, refused to remove. I find a used bandaid and damp pair of swim trunks; I am repulsed at the things men leave behind. 


I finish up the semester and my 10 year old daughter and I, with the help of my girlfriend, start to make the house our own. She picks a light blue paint to cover the lime green horror in her new room, we pull carpet from the bedrooms and hallways and living room, wondering, like so many homeowners: what kind of person covers beautiful oak floors like that? Prying up tack strips with a crowbar til our hands blister; sanding and polishing them til we can see ourselves reflected in the wax. We peel and scrape the hideous floral wallpaper from the kitchen walls. We turn the old sandbox into an 8 x 8 raised garden bed—planting rows of kale, ground cherries, tomatoes and so many greens from my girlfriend’s small-scale organic farm. A friend says I am living the dream, well, a mid-Michigan one anyway. I clear a corner in the yard for an herb garden—chop and dig out the volunteer trees growing through the handle of a left behind broken-down lawnmower, I find a corner of black tarp sticking up from the dirt– I pull and pull, certain I’m about to unearth a true crime mystery, only to find bug carcasses and rodents in that tennis court-sized tarp. We plant sage and lavender, rosemary and thyme. Soon smell of lilac wafts in my daughter’s windows, too. The three of us visit the local native plant nursery. The owner welcomes us only to inform us they’re closed on Sundays. When we mention rhubarb, he walks us to his home adjacent to the nursery, digs up a some of the red stalks and green leaves, dirt clinging to their roots, tosses them in a cardboard box, and sends us on our way. The rhubarb takes the lawnmowers’ place. The kid perfects her climbing route up the tree in the front yard where she will perch and read spy novels and, when the autumns come, launch herself into piles of leaves.


When the sun has set, we sit on the back deck and by the light of fireflies, marvel at the bats swooping low to snatch mosquitos out of the air. We don’t know yet a chicken of the woods mushroom will bloom all orange and yellow, begging to be roasted on the grill my girlfriend bought me as a Mother’s Day and housewarming gift that year. 


I can’t see it then—the way that house will become a sanctuary for so many people in the three short years it’s ours. The friends’ birthday parties—one with only salads (not the leafy green kind but the Midwestern ones full of mayonnaise that puzzle my California friend, linguistically), another when we hang a piñata over a branch of my daughter’s tree and laugh and laugh as her little hands pull the rope to make fools of the guys, blindfolded and stumbling, swinging a bat at nothing. Friends will bring their baskets of dirty laundry and I feed them homemade pizza topped with garden veggies and a runny egg while we wait out the wash cycles. When academic conferences come to mid-Michigan, I host friends from North Dakota and New York. There are bodies on the couch and the chair and every inch of the living room floor like the sweetest slumber party where our boxer coaxes one friend out of her fear of dogs, if only for one weekend.


Then came the Friendsgiving when the man I am unmarried from flies to town and he and my girlfriend spend the afternoon laughing and cooking together in the tiny kitchen, while our daughter makes placards, laboring carefully as she handwrites each of our guests’ names. I watch them all, thinking: this, this is what it means to be unmarried.


Becca Hayes (she/her) is an assistant professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the English Department at the University of Missouri. 


  • Facebook B&W
  • Twitter B&W
  • Instagram B&W
bottom of page