“Stirrups” — a chapter from my memoir “whitegirrrl”

“Let’s adjust these so they are perfect.”

Daddy is saying this as he hoists you up onto the pony.  He’s been teaching you to ride at the Pony Rides by the beach.  Horses are your favorite thing at seven.  You have all the plastic statues and your grandfather has built you a temporary corral for all of them.  The real pony is golden and it trots around the little track.  Palominos are your favorites, their blond manes dancing in the sea breeze — almost caramel.

He adjusts the stirrups so they fit your feet perfectly.  You slant your heels down in the Western saddle, and he teaches you how to hold the reins for riding this way.  In one hand.  The scent of the stable rises in horse dung and sweat and burnished old leather and you click your tongue softly.  Off you go, trotting, around and around the ring.  Later this ring becomes a metaphor for your life as a woman.  The sorts of tethers you will wear.  Or traces.

“I think what I’ll do is give you the Pill,” he says.

You are nineteen and this is the first exam you have gone to.  He adjusts the stirrups and you lie before him splayed open.  It’s horrible to lie there like that in front of a male doctor.  You look at the ceiling.  You look anywhere not to have to catch his eye.  These are the years before there is a nurse in the room with male doctors.  During the exam he had managed to press himself against your foot and you felt it.  You knew what he was doing, because you had just begun your first relationship ever.

Your mother had taken you to the appointment.  The most she had ever told you in your teenage years was that she would take you herself to Planned Parenthood.  But the subject never came up again because this wasn’t the sort of subject women actually discussed in the late 1970’s.  At least not in your family.

“What they want is to see you barefoot, pregnant and under the table,” she’d said.  It was the only time she broached the subject.

“When the times comes you let me know, and I’ll see that you have the Pill.”

You lie on the table like a piece of meat, raw, while he continues the inspection.  He moves over your prone form and there isn’t any privacy at all.  You dig the nails of your palm into one of your hands until it hurts and the pain distracts you from the way he pressed himself up against your foot.

“I think you might be pregnant,”  he says.

“If you are, the Pill will cause a miscarriage.”

“Call me if you need to,”  he says.

You’ve left with the prescription in your hand, and now you have a little plastic circular case full of tiny white pills that you are supposed to take everyday.  It’s just like your mother’s was.  You’d seen it in her bathroom many times but that was all he said to you during that appointment.

It was at the house in Hollywood where you miscarried.  Years later you realize that what that doctor had done was something called malpractice and you thank your lucky stars that women became doctors after the 1960’s and after feminism made its mark.

You crumpled to the floor on the cool green and black tiles afterwards.  You were bleeding and in agony.

You were only nineteen and there was no one to call, not even your mother because she disapproved of your relationship with your boyfriend in the first place.

You were lying in a crumpled heap for a week in a sea of endless blood.

A miscarriage was what the doctor had called it.

“One more day and you would have been dead,” the nurse in the hospital said.

She smiles at you as  you lie in the hospital bed.  The interns all come in and stand around you as if they haven’t seen anything like this ever before.

He hadn’t know what to do with you.  Your boyfriend who was 36 and an actor.  He hadn’t thought about birth control at all.

For some reason your grandparents pick up the tab for the hospital bill.  But nobody ever talks about what happened except to say, “she must have been in some kind of trouble.”

No one ever mentions the incident again.

* * *

Daddy adjusts the stirrups on a different horse the next time he’s in town.  He teaches you to grip with your thighs no matter whether you are bareback or in any kind of saddle.

Brandy rears but doesn’t manage to throw you at fourteen.  He rears like men will also rear across the pages of your lifetime.

Daddy slaps his rump and off you go cantering around the ring.

“You just wait until next year,” he says.

Your proper English boots fit perfectly.  Mommy got you this riding habit.  She wants you to learn to jump, like she did, down in the arroyos.  You’ve learned how to post perfectly during the trots.

They send you up to the stables when they want to be alone together, the weekends Daddy manages to arrive.  You breathe in the smells and it’s like heaven.  The leather, the ceanothus, the mountainsweetness of it all.  The clouds dance across the sky as you curry Brandy’s damp belly.  You rest your cheek against him gently.

Years later your mother’s best friend will tell you tales of the 1960’s.

“I was pregnant,” she says.

“I couldn’t support another child because I was divorcing him.”

It never occurred to you to think about the women in your mother’s generation and what they might have gone through.  Hearing her tell it to you in the year 2009 feels strange. Her history.  What the feminists call herstory.

“I saw him too,” she says.  “Schultz.”

“The same doctor you saw.  He was my doctor in those days.”

“I had to go before a committee,” she says.  “It was all men.”

She breaks down on the phone into tears as she tells you the rest of the story.  She tells you that the committee at the hospital decided for her.  She had to plead her case about the divorce and the husband who was physically abusive to her.  She had to get the permission of an all-male committee at the hospital.

“I’ve never really told anyone this before,” she says.  She’s crying and she was one of your mother’s oldest and best friends.  She’s in her 70’s.

You hold the phone against your ear tightly as your own tears fall, listening.


“Stirrups” ~ copyright 2010 by Valentine Bonnaire ~ all rights reserved.

*authors note:  My mother and Uncle both loved jazz and they introduced me to Billie Holiday when I was just a young teen.This is one of my favorite pieces of hers.  So is “All of Me.”

16 thoughts on ““Stirrups” — a chapter from my memoir “whitegirrrl”

    1. Yesterday, no — today yes!
      tough to write that one, and there are other tough ones coming.
      Truth on page. Like Updike. This memoir will speak for my generation of women.
      hugs, you.
      miss you.
      ps: when I am by pool I always think of what you say on patriarchal things.
      Ingrained there.
      Cannot believe the healthcare deal for women. Unbelievable and all the more reason for the memoir.


  1. “Cannot believe the healthcare deal for women. Unbelievable”
    Which aspect of the new deal in health care do you mean? This seems to me worthy of an essay.

    You cite Henry Miller and Anais Nin as influences; I suppose you refer to their ability to write very well and explicitly about subjects then taboo. I recall carrying them to school to share with friends, hidden in my brown paper lunch sack when they were smuggled in by sailor friends of my mother, along with Lady Chatterly’s Lover and other banned books. Frankly I read them all during the war years, and still rate them as fine art. Of course I, being a slow reader who sounded out new words, took so long with them that I merely scanned the classics designated by the schools. My first reading of Hemingway was in Across the River. . .and I enjoyed it, though it got poor reviews. That sort of truth in fiction is so hard to write because of the emotions called into play while dredging it up. I’ll bet it would be even more debilitating if one wrote it in first person pov. But it might also have more impact on the reader. Just my opinion; I’m dealing with the same sort of stuff at present and agree it is tough.


    1. Well, health care for women has just been trounced by the current admin. I refer you over to http://www.riverdaughter.wordpress.com and you can read what women are thinking. These are pretty much Hillary Democrats — women of my generation who went to college and work in the post Roe climate.

      Anyway, I have written a ton of literary erotica precisely because it is a taboo subject especially in the heterosexual realm. That’s why I did it. Like you I grew up on Lawrence’s stuff and read Nin in the late 70’s. On the writer’s list I was on hardly anyone wrote hetero? So I did. This memoir will not be erotic. Instead it will look at relationships as experienced by women post Roe in my gen. Actually along a three generation spectrum? If you want to follow it, it’s in my blog from time to time. “Stirrups” was very difficult to write. There are other harder parts to come. But, once Script Frenzy is over after next month I will be turning my attention to the memoir. My purpose in writing it is to illuminate feminine themes as experienced by my generation.

      Or at least one “whitgirrrl.”


    2. Excuse me sir. did you read this? who gives a shit what you read or think. You must be dead of something. did you.

      It was wrenching. You need to crawl back into your paper bag you sonofabitch.


      1. Furthermore who cares what you read? Who cares? You are reading a person’s work. And when you do that, you comment accordingly.

        Bonnaire you do not have to post these two responses. And I won’t be bothering you anymore.

        I have helped you as best I could.


      2. Song. To women it will be wrenching? Men have not seen inside our experiences yet. That’s okay, and that is the reason I will write this one.


    1. Song. When I was on the writer’s list I told you about? Sometimes men had comments on things that they knew nothing about before they read the pieces. It’s like that. It’s that 3rd thing like Jung was talking about that transpires between reader and writer. Don’t be upset!
      ps: I didn’t see these comments until just now!

      Really. Okay, back to work. Going to write “moonstones” now for “whitegirrrl”
      Also, remember all you have said about matriarchy and patriarchy and what you yourself wrote?


  2. This has to do with ignorance, and self aggrandizement, and that seems to me to be sexless as far as I am concerned.

    I see very clearly here.

    I am insulted by your condescending answer for the sake of appearing understanding to that which is not and never will be understandable. It is a human response to have feelings. Not male. Not female.


      1. Last word?

        Dear Stupid Sonofabitch,

        Don’t be surprised if you offend someone if you share your favorite banana muffin recipe when the post is about starvation and famine in Darfur.





      2. Okay. That was the last word! I was not intending to be condescending at all to you Song. You are my friend and a woman. We “know” in a feeling sense what the piece Stirrups is about.

        When i was on that writer’s list not everyone reacted to the content of the pieces in the same way? They really didn’t. What infuriated me no end about some writers didn’t bother the others in the least. It’s true. Thank you for all you said in your comments and also the defense of the piece. If the visuals were on film?
        People would get it. Because they could see it.

        Don’t be mad at me! Okay? I wasn’t trying to hurt you. The piece is VERY hard to write for me. I had to get off the computer totally over the last two days and I should have today as well. You knew that? The first thing you asked me was was I allright? You did.
        I thank you for that, okay. I do. You are also a woman who is a Cancer. With a deep, deep moon. No sign feels more deeply than yours does?

        Anyway, he was an ass over at Rodg’s. I was being honest with Rodg in what I said. Anyway writers tend to duke it out? They just do.
        It’s part of it. Thank you for your support of my writing. Tough subjects.


    1. I highly doubt he will be back anyway. He is from Rodg’s circle of writers. He just showed up over here the other night when I was talking to Rodg on his blog.


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