illustration of medusa's head

Learning to Throw Axes

by | October 7, 2022

Medusa, the Seventh Kalvary, and Roe

When my tripas stopped twisting and the feeling of wanting to vomit subsided after hearing the news of Roe’s overturn, I had a brief moment of clarity.  I looked back on all the events that led us to this point. Then, a thought landed like a bomb:

Fuck, this is just like “Watchmen!”

In the HBO series “Watchmen,” a white supremacist group, the Seventh Kalvary, wages war against minorities and infiltrates the US government through careful planning and strategy spanning genertions. While I eschew conspiracy theories, it’s hard not to equate this plot to what is happening in America today. Under an agenda of intolerance to “Make America Great Again”––led by racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia––a wannabe dictator became president. In Trump’s America, three conservative Justices were appointed to the Supreme Court, sealing the fate of our rights. The most consequential of these appointments, for me, was that of Brett Kavanaugh. 

Back in September 2018 I tuned in to the news in a way I’ve never done before, wanting not to miss even a second of what was unfolding. I recall Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s words puncturing my chest as she recounted how Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both teenageers. I never doubted Ford’s accusations. Strangely, I felt I was her. I understood the pain she felt while giving members of the Senate Judiciary Committee her harrowing testimony in raw detail. As a victim myself, I understood how vulnerable Ford felt then and how (in her own words) “terrified” she was to be in front of this committee (made up of mostly men who questioned her credibility and attacked her dignity). 

During these hearings a fear started to grow inside of me, pointing to something more nefarious at play. It wasn’t only the dread of having a reported sexual predator as a Supreme

Court Justice (we already had one of those); instinct was telling me that the repercussions of this appointment, (plus that of Gorsuch in 2017 and Barrett in 2020) would be catastrophic for many Americans––specifically women, BIPOC, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people. 

In the era of Trump, during which conservative Republican agendas have built momentum, during which white nationalist groups have come out of the shadows to play dirty, and during which insurrectionists nearly dismantled the country’s democracy (sounds like the Seventh Kalvary, doesn’t it?), the devastating outcome of Roe was to be expected. But I felt violated no less. In the same way a predator can make their victim feel powerless, SCOTUS’ recent rulings––Roe and all the other disastrous decisions––left me feeling abused and impotent. As a woman, a Latina, an immigrant, and a mamá of two girls, this was a personal attack. 

I needed a way to cope.

It was serendipity that brought me to see Medusa Reclaimed the weekend following the Roe news. In this one weekend-only play, performed at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I stepped into a world of sisterhood, of shared experience and understanding. 

The play took on the Greek myth of Medusa and turned it on its head. 

In Ovid’s original story, Medusa is a virginal Athenian priestess who is raped by the god Poseidon in Athena’s temple. She is blamed for Poseideon’s violence and is transformed into a snake-haired monster as punishment. She is later beheaded by Perseus, a son of Zeus, who uses her severed head as a weapon to defeat a sea monster and rescue the Athenian princess Andromeda who he then marries, becoming king of Athens.

Talk about patriarchal grandiosity, victim-blaming, and the dehumanization of women! In reckoning with a male-dominant society that demonizes and devalues women, Medusa Reclaimed explored a different story arc of reparation and redemption. In a scene when Andromeda asks her mother: “Why should a city that is named after a goddess be ruled by a man?” the audience erupts in uneasy laughter. But most affecting however, is that Medusa (we find at the end) isn’t the monstrous Gorgon we have known her to be. Instead, the goddess Athena tricked the other gods and made Medusa head priestess of the cult of the omnipotent Snake Goddess, mother of the earth, and as such, Medusa was given immense power. In this story, Medusa reigns with justice and dignity. 

While I was moved to tears during the play, it would be dishonest to say that this story, with its imaginative twist, made me feel better about the devastating loss of a fundamental right. It didn’t. But what it did give me was a renewed sense of hope. And hope can light a fire. Still, anger and hurt continued to scorch my tripas. Rage threatened to consume any hope I had gained. 

Weeks later, as news stations saturated the airwaves with coverage of women with their own heart-wrenching stories of abortion, I invited a friend to try axe throwing with me. I had come across Urban Axes in Union Square some years ago, wanting to try it ever since but never having made a real effort to go. The constant reminder about old white men, and possibly a sexual predator at that, controlling my reproductive rights seemed like the perfect excuse. 

Having bad shoulders, I expected the pain to prevent me from handling the axe properly. The first few throws landed right on the floor, missing the target (and the wall) entirely. But I reminded myself why I was there. I needed a release, to redirect my fury, pain, and powerlessnes. Gripping the axe with both hands, I raised it over my head, inhaled deeply as I envisioned Kavanaugh’s hysteria during the hearings, and let it go. Bullseye! The axe landed perfectly in the middle. On my next try I summoned the image again––Kavanaugh’s grotesque facial expressions as he fumed––wanting to punch him with my bare fist. I threw the axe. Bullseye, once more! This happened a number of times. Not always dead center but close enough to help me rack up my points, even surpassing my friend and the other four opponents in our group. It felt good to throw an axe. Wielding the wood handle and metal blade, heavy in my hands, reminded me I was not weak. It reminded me I had an inner strength I could call upon whenever I felt fragile. I had done so countless times throughout my life––when I was sexually abused, when I had run from bullets while growing up during a time of war, when I experienced the adversities of immigration. This brief experience of empowerment helped me remember that while I cannot change the (for now) irreparable damage of this ruling, I can change how I approach a changing world.

Lorena Hernández Leonard is a Colombian-American writer, storyteller, and filmmaker. She is a Pauline Scheer Fellow and graduate of the Memoir Incubator program at GrubStreet and now serves on the program’s board. Her writing has been published in Corporeal KHÔRA, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, and received an Honorary Mention in Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition. Her debut memoir Salsipuedes: Leave if you Can, for which she is seeking representation, documents her experiences growing up during the Colombian drug war and immigrating to the US. Lorena has appeared on WORLD Channel’s television program Stories from the Stage and performed on the International Institute of New England’s Suitcase Stories, a program featuring immigrant stories. She is co-producer of the award-winning animated short film Demi’s Panic which has screened at film festivals around the world and was long-listed for the 94th Oscars.