A Sound Is Still a Sound

Cathy Linh Che


I love the hard, iambic insistence of in Fiona Apple’s “I Want You to Love Me.” It moves me, as a previously sexually violated body, to hear her sing of her body’s strident want for want.

Fiona Apple came of age in the 90s when women musicians were celebrated for being weird, poetic, and vulnerable. Tori Amos’ album Little Earthquakes was released in January 1992, when I was eleven and still being habitually molested by the cousin who lived in the bedroom down the hall. Once he sat me on the washing machine and asked if I loved him. It was the same machine I used to wash our family’s eight loads of laundry every Sunday while I mouthed the words to “Silent All These Years.” Its feeling was my high-pitched shriek inside a house that echoed with my secret.

April 1992: I was supposed to perform a dance called Dâng Hoa and lay roses at the feet of a painted statue of the Virgin Mary. While I was technically still a virgin, I felt not quite. I practiced for weeks as the tallest among the Vietnamese American girls and stood at the back of the ten-girl lineup. I had to miss the performance the day of while another tall girl tapped into my place. Instead, I played the strange role of flower girl at my child-molester cousin’s wedding. In the lead-up, I hoped he would stop touching me, since he had a fiancée, but he’d sneak me into his bedroom when his bride-to-be was in the kitchen helping my mother prepare dinner.

My childhood sexual violation stopped just short of my 12th birthday when my cousin and his new wife finally moved out of our home. At 39, I finally found someone to love who hadn’t crossed my sexual boundaries. My body, a sound. My body, my song of want.



about the author