Interview: Jenny Forrester’s Obsession
Editor Matty Byloos, Interview, February 11th, 2016
"She wrote, 'Vern you used to hurt me in your truck.'"
NAILED MAGAZINE: Are you obsessed with anything, politically speaking? Maybe with a point of view on the world? Where did it come from? How did it come to be?
JENNY FORRESTER: My obsession with feminism was born of boys will be boys and broken animals and shame and steamed up trucks you can’t see into or out of and weekend adventuring men who say, “You can trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
Sitting around a stone-ringed fire, a man who saw himself as funny said, “Hey, I have a blonde joke.” I sighed. A man coughed his political position, a foot on both sides of whatever happens when someone tells a risky joke.
He said, “What is every blonde’s ambition in life?” then paused, “To be like Vanna White and learn the alphabet.”
I said, “Why are blonde jokes so short?” He didn’t know. He smiled all teeth. I said, “So men can understand them.”
“I’m a…hmm. Well,” and he jumbled words in his mouth until he put his lips together, defeated.
My extended family members laughed, their Coors in their fists.
“Why didn’t you warn me about him?” I said.
They spoke together, finished each other’s sentences. “We just thought we’d let it happen. We knew you’d handle it with your feminist wiles,” like it was a vain accessory, not my soul’s necessity.
Back in time and far from that fire pit, and my little brother, Brian, and I were children and Mom divorced, we moved hundreds of miles from the shame she felt. Our father went to California and didn’t come back – just as well for all the anger he dealt out.
Brian and I and our mother navigated her boyfriends and their second amendment rights, their jokes and commands where we lived in a rented trailer and sometimes got free lunch tickets at school.
My brother found kittens and he and another little child friend tortured and killed all but one that he brought home. He bit her paws for comfort like a pacifier. When the pads broke open, Mom dabbed Vaseline on them and tsk’d and hmm’d angry mumblings, and I cried she should stop him, but she said she couldn’t, “Boys will be boys, I suppose.”
Mom went out with the man who owned the gun and tackle shop for a while then she went out with Vern, longest-term boyfriend, father-like to us. She disallowed boyfriends from sleeping in the trailer in her bed saying, “Boyfriends are dangerous,” and she wanted us to believe in the marriage bed only, according to our religion.
I had a boyfriend, Paul. We spent our years together, 15 to 18, holding hands in secret between us on the benches of basketball games where we chanted the wreckage of The Visitors when we were Home. We ate the lamb and venison our families killed with their bare hands and ammunition. We parked on middle-of-nowhere-was-the-middle-of-our-world roads and in the alley behind the barn where the deer hung dead not far from the burn barrel. Paul didn’t know enough of gentleness, but if he had, it would’ve made him weaker. I sought the deer-eyed look in his eye when I pleased him – as close as I could get to gentleness.
Mom said, “He’s just a teenager, honey. He’ll grow out of it, and anyway, how bad could it be?”
When I broke up with him, I went out with Mustache Mike, bigger than Paul, but everybody feared Paul, so then I went out with Pretty Mike because if I couldn’t have protection, I’d have a good time. Back at school, the next Monday, I heard the words, “Trailer trash” in my direction.
Mom and I sat on the steps watching the sky and the mountains. I told her I’d reinvent religion like Joseph Smith of the Latter Day Saints who wrote a whole new scripture because he wanted to make a good woman out of every one he wished to have sex with. My religion would’ve allowed women to have multiple husbands, too, but Mom said she didn’t want even one.
She said, “I’m a feminist, but…” to my philosophical suggestions.
My temple for morality became television because I couldn’t stomach church anymore. The new Star Trek introduction said, “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” I made sure Mom stood beside me the next time the show came on. “Wait’ll you hear this,” so excited.
She said, “No! They still split the infinitive.”
“They got rid of the sexism,” I yelled, eyes to the starry rural sky and said, “You’re obsessed with grammar.”
“You’re obsessed with feminism,” she said. She meant it to hurt.
I didn’t want to be grateful for “it could be worse,” and for “at least it’s not the way it used to be.” I always wanted more, being ambitious like that.
My brother went into the army after the recruiter came to our trailer, sat at the kitchen table, handed Brian the pen and said, “Sign your life away.”
I said that if mothers would stop their sons from going to war, there’d be no more war.
She said, “If you can stop him, give it a try.”
A decade later, when the three of us had become one each, and we’d all left the small town of no feminists, but me, Mom went on vacation to Mexico and didn’t return. She died in an accident. She’d had plans to move into a house of her own, after rented trailers and rented rooms for more than twenty years.
I gathered up her life into boxes and slept in her bed, smelling her clothes – like roses. I read her journals. I know, please forgive me. She wrote, “Vern you used to hurt me in your truck.” Mom and Vern used to go two stepping on Saturday nights. They parked in the grassy field between the highway and our trailer for hours. I believed all those years they just had a lot to talk about.
My obsession with feminism was born of army recruiters and rented, impermanent home and long kept secrets. My obsession with feminism was born of boys will be boys and broken animals and shame and steamed up trucks you can’t see into or out of and weekend adventuring men who say, “You can trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
And my feminism is born of jokes.
Question: “How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
Answer: That’s not funny.
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If you enjoyed this interview, then you might also like to read about Suzy Vitello’s obsession, which you can read here.
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Jenny Forrester has been published in a variety of print and online publications including Seattle’s City Arts Magazine, Gobshite Quarterly, Nailed Magazine, Hip Mama Magazine, The Literary Kitchen, Indiana Review and Columbia Journal. She co-edited the anthology The People’s Apocalypse with Ariel Gore and features many PNW authors. Her essay “The Confession Jar” was published in the Listen to Your Mother Anthology (Putnam 2015). She curates Portland’s Unchaste Readers Series. [Cover Image by Anna McKay]