Amplifying the voice of every amazing woman

What We’re Not Talking About

Words by Penny Dearmin

Theme: Womanhood

Nominated by Monica Prince

This is our first real conversation after they are adult women, our first adult conversation around what we’re not talking about.

When I think of my daughters leaving me, they are already gone. One texts the other, states away, asking what emoji to use for vagina. She asks me what emoji I use. This is our first real conversation after they are adult women, our first adult conversation around what we’re not talking about.

This is not the essay I was writing for my twin daughters before they went to college, and yet it is. Away, one for years, nothing could protect us. Not then or before and not now. Power is what others want to take, what I decided to keep.


Open, nothing inside is how it begins. Almost two years of trying to get pregnant, an invitro cycle, then POP. They burst out of me like air from a kelp bubble crushed by a shoe on the beach. I will never forget that sound. Blood everywhere, a panicked doctor, room air, no oxygen. Their father saw the girls as mirrors.


Every year for our birthdays, all seven cousins would spend the night with our grandparents. Grandpa would bring donuts and flowers to show his granddaughters how to be celebrated. I licked the maple from my fingers and brushed aside my hair spun around pink sponge rollers. A simple bouquet of colored carnations sat next to my cousin’s matching set. Born two weeks apart in the same hospital room by different mothers with the same name, we were often mistaken as twins with our translucent white hair; they called us towheads.

When I was pregnant with twins, my doctor wouldn’t let me fly to my grandpa’s funeral. I sent turquoise-colored carnations instead. As we got older, my almost-twin cousin and I would get dressed up and they would take us to be waited on. We never talked about why he brought us flowers, or how he might be the model of a man worshipping his wife with tender care. I never saw the before that brought my grandpa here. Upon meeting the man who was to become my husband, I saw in him this interest in care for me. His worship was not always pure.

We may hold trauma in our bodies where it covers and buries, then unearths the truth, if tended.


The girls were toddlers when the tulip bulbs croaked through dirt surrounded by snow, a matching set of crimson. I opened the back door to our sloped suburban yard and turned to grab my coat as they scrambled towards the petals, opening. My favorite flowers, the last vestige of anything mine outside of my body, plucked. I tried not to cry. My deflowering took place without a whimper.


I awake to purple, the waves dull and building. I haven’t seen new in over a year and I forgot the air becomes wet by the sea, so dry is my life where I’ve lost what binds us.

Emojis are a vehicle like the vagina is a conveyance to bring others in and send them out and we are all one and vibrate together until we do not. We may hold trauma in our bodies where it covers and buries, then unearths the truth, if tended.


Lidia Yuknavitch tells us to “try thinking of sexuality as a real place of radical exploration.” Here, you are sacred, a place of worship. The inner walls that we go so far to protect, we must also bring others here without fear. Sex can be prayer and connection and frivolity and, and, and…

All of these are symbols others want us to be: open, empty, available for the taking. No one ever told me I did not have to give myself away, that I could decide who entered, who stayed, or who I should turn away. Even if they had, I would not have listened. The advice would not have spared us. I am here to tell you that what they take, they cannot keep.


Womanhood cannot be contained in the pearl sheen of a shell. An echo of a sound of another far away a time before— inhabited, womb-like, and safe.

Penny Dearmin is a loud Southern transplant from California. She is an Assistant Professor of English and host of the true crime podcast Blood Town. Penny holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia College and serves as Editor-in-Chief of Spire Light: A Journal of Creative Expression. Her creative nonfiction can be found in JuxtaProse Literary Magazine, Madcap Review, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @pennydearmin or check out her podcast at

Penny Dearmin nominates Jennifer Watkins


The purpose of Artemis is to increase the range and diversity of stories shared and written by women. Therefore, Artemis has one rule, nominate! To write for us you must either nominate someone or have been nominated, so if know you a woman who has a great story to share, fill in the details below!