I am the only girl child in a line of thirteen. My father, Jacob, did not allow me to be seen by a man outside of our immediate family. His tenet seemed severe, until I lay beneath a pitiless stranger, his hand clutching my throat.
In a moment of naive defiance, I forfeited love from a good man for that of a rabid assaultist. One fanciful false judgment gifted me a legacy of shame.
*
My brothers patrolled our land for unexpected company, foreign men looking to dishonor our women. Our women do not step foot inside Shechem, the pagan city nearby, without fortified male family escorts.
My mother, Leah, says this Hivite city of Shechem is a sinful place, unsuitable for our kind. But father insists that is it a holy place, however wayward the inhabitants, for it is the very place that Abraham received the divine promise for our people. And we cannot leave, he says, for a well has been dug by our slaves, bringing great fortune. Our fields and livestock flourish, and we depend on no one but our God for sustenance.
But I see the city in the distance from my tent, lit up with torches until the morning. I beg my brothers to take me to the city market, for I long to smell the spices. I asked my mother how I might be a good wife to someone if I have no knowledge of food. She replied that beautiful women have no need for cooking skills for they will inherently marry well. But I have no prospects for marriage, for I am restricted to my tent most days and evenings, as if leaving my tent to relish the tiniest morsel of freedom would bring ruin to us all.
I have not even met my Uncle Esau. It was at my brother Simeon’s urging that my father locked me in a wooden box during my uncle’s recent visit. I have difficulty forgiving Simeon for this, although my displeasure with him is only known to myself. To speak against my older brother is mutinous, for I am younger and a woman.
Until the box, I thought nothing of my brother, nor he of me. We spoke very little, which was fine as he has little good to say in general. Simeon is quiet, the definitive warrior of our clan, broad and venomous. He takes the reputation of our family far more personally than even Reuben, the eldest. The way Simeon looks upon me is unnerving… as if he studies my flaws.
He ignores me when I speak, looking away, as if I were nothing. How can I help my ignorance? I am not privy to the male pursuits of language on animal skins or tablets of our history. They keep me, the girl child, mindless and silly.
I had never seen or been seen until the night the women drummers came from the city to our camp. I had retired to my tent after helping Aunt Rachel clean and polish the golden vessels that Father eats from. She is his favorite wife, his treasure, and it was her turn to have him for the night. I knew this because she sings when she is happy, and that afternoon, there was no quiet to be had.
His look for Aunt Rachel is unique among his facial expressions. He is prideful of her. Father boasts of her beauty, second only to our God’s divine perfection (and boundless providence). My mother and his two other wives know they are loved less. But after so many years, each has resigned to the pecking order assigned them, happy to get whatever affection my father has left. My mother, Leah, often tells me that I resemble Rachel.
I often wonder how my aging father divides himself between so many women. If I ever belong to a man, will I need share him? My older brothers are of age as well. I hear them tease each other… and mother has caught Dan behind a tent by himself. Father laughs. Why was this funny?
Simeon, nearly seventeen, had never been to my tent without Levi. But he came that afternoon, alone. He did not smell of animals as he usually does. His hair was made smooth and his clothing looked similar to Father’s.
Seeing him look so well indicated either impending business in town or that perhaps he planned to ask for my maid.
He stood there, still and silent, so I addressed him, unsure of which possibility might warrant such a formal visit. I also seized the opportunity to point out my distaste for wooden quarters.
"Have you news from our father? Or perhaps you wish to hide me in a box again?"
"Sister, we protect our women from certain men for good reason…"
"And I shall protect a certain woman here from you for good reason. You are cruel, brother." Simeon cracked a smile but did not answer, so I continued to query. "Then do you go to Shechem this day for business affairs? May I come?"
"No, and no. You need nothing Shechem offers," he snapped.
"Are you here for something else? Someone else? Brother, I beg you, do not take her from me. I have no sisters, no friends, no prospects…"
"You do not labor as women from lesser families. You are a spoiled girl of thirteen years who has no demands made of her. Be grateful, sister."
"You take me nowhere and lock me in a box when visitors come! Am I such an embarrassment?"
"You have been kept from the eyes of men for your beauty. I asked Father to hide you from Esau because he would no doubt desire you–"
"Desire me? I do not tempt a dog with marrow!"
"Dinah, I wish to be joined with a woman of our faith. Esau was here to discuss the possibility of a cousin for me, but, I declined… out of my hope for you."
"As a wife? How can this be?" I was confused and nauseated, yet curious in the same breath.
"I did not want to share my intentions until you graduated into womanhood… and so you have now. I wish you to be my wife."
"Did you tell anyone?" I asked, astonished.
"Only Levi."
"Yes, of course you told Levi," I teased. Levi and Simeon were inseparable, having been born only ten months apart. They are also of my mother.
Simeon stepped deeper into my tent, his eyes looking into mine. He was close enough to touch me and so reached for my cheek, sending a wave of warmth through me. Those calloused hands, so eager to fight, were surprisingly gentle, as if holding a new child. I could feel my skin pinking under his fingertips and a balmy sensation upon my chest.
I did not intend to respond in such a manner, but my traitor hand left my side, pressing his palm to my cheek as I closed my eyes, dizzy with unfamiliar sensations.
I caught a cautious gaze from my maid. She knew such an exchange would be seen as imprudent. A brother may visit a sister’s tent, but not if his intent was as Simeon’s. Only adding to the awkwardness was my very recent petition for Simeon to not look upon my maid as a wife, before jumping into his arms myself.
My response was all that Simeon needed to move forward. Because we were of the same parents, there would be no contest, no dowry, no compact. Simeon would need only ask permission from our father.
"I will find him a prize in the wilderness tonight, something worthy of your beauty. In the morning, I will present it to our father with my intentions."
But I wanted him safe, close by. "Beloved, he will grant your request without such a gift! The moon comes soon. Do not put yourself in danger to prove your devotion."
"I will leave the lions for another day, little bird," he replied with a wink, mocking my worry. "I seek a horned ram… much better for a wedding feast! We will be married at dusk tomorrow if our father agrees. You will have a great celebration with music and dancing!"
"And I will see the city?"
"Yes, soon you will see the city."
"Is it beautiful?" I asked enthusiastically.
"There is more beauty in this small tent then the whole of the city," he disclosed, grinning. At that I leaned into him, nuzzling in his chest, taking in his scent. It was so strange, so wonderful, to be wanted.
Simeon had always seemed too prudent for joy, but he smiled as a new baby does, squeezing me tight and burying his face in my hair. His hand lingered on my cheek until my maid suggested he leave.
I would be his wife tomorrow, so I reluctantly let him go. He kissed my hand intently then begged off.
Many hours later, nearing the last hour in the day, I heard music. Woman drummers from the city neared my tent with a rhythmic melody of love and longing. They spun in circles, their garments rich with color, whipping in the wind.
I was sure that Simeon had sent them to me as a gift to celebrate for our union, a successful hunt, and to bring a sampling of the city’s flair to me since I could not leave the camp. But our camp was captivated by the entertainers, following them, so I joined in the revere, my maid following behind.
They beat their drums and pranced about, swirling their painted bodies in the torchlight. I was caught up in my small sum of freedom before realizing that I had left the confines of our family plot. Simeon’s warning resurfaced in my mind as I looked around and saw no familiar face. I could see my family’s compound behind in the distance, and turned to head back when guards pulled me from the crowd, pressing me past the city gates.
Shechem, son of Hamor, who was named for the city, was waiting for my delivery. His house was flanked with ominous carved wooden doors that were hastily closed and locked behind me.
I stood there, frightened as I’d ever been. Never once had I been in the presence of a foreign man.
He circled me as a predator does, then held my chin, turning it from side to side, scrutinizing my features with a stinging, invasive gaze.
As he touched the belt at my waist, I scanned that vault of a room for an escape. But all doors were guarded, the uniformed soldiers snickering at my fate.
I saw a window at the end of the far hall. When he dropped my belt, I sprinted as if I would be torn apart otherwise, leaping forward to the window before his grasp found my neck and threw me to the floor.
And torn apart, I was. In silence, I begged my God to kill me so that I might not be forced to endure Shechem, again. He was cold and violent, nothing like I imagined a man to be. But even in the dark was a solitary memory worth salvaging. Something to think upon between torments–a fueled flicker and my unsteady breathing at the touch of Simeon’s hand.
My feelings of guilt increased exponentially when I realized that thinking of one man while with another must too be a cardinal sin.
*
In the morning, I was in his bed with nothing but stained linens to cover myself. Shechem was pacing the floor but stopped when he saw that my eyes were open.
His tone was different in the morning. Perhaps he felt regret or remorse, or fear of retaliation by my family. He sat down beside me. "You were as you seemed, unlike the women of the city, touting their false modesty and naive pretenses. I am pleased with you. I will call for your father and arrange an agreement between our families so I might keep you here as a wife."
I remained silent, for I did not wish to be his wife, no matter his station. He had stolen away my union with Simeon. I had fought for us, but was wholly vanquished. Simeon would never forgive me for leaving my tent, even though I truly believed the dancing musicians were an engagement gift from him.
Simeon and Levi arrived at the palace early morning, but were not announced to me. Shechem intended to bring them to his sleeping quarters where I lay, to see that I had slept with him. He conveyed that our night together was result of mutual fondness, a growing love.
When the door to his chamber opened, I shuddered at Levi’s shock and the acute scorn on Simeon’s face. He was boiling over, and did not mask his degree of contempt for me.
The hardness of Simeon’s face made me reconsider my options. I feared Simeon’s wrath even more than that of my tormentor. I was certain from Simeon’s face that he no longer desired me, but rather wished me dead. He had come to deliver me to my father, but I wondered if I would even make it home.
Levi spoke, "Dinah–get up. We have come in place of Father, who is agonizing over your safety." But I was too afraid to move or speak and could do nothing.
Simeon stormed over to the bed and grabbed me by the arm, dragging me to the floor, naked in front of them all. That humiliation was worse than what Shechem had done, and more than I could bear. I curled up on the floor at Simeon’s feet and begged him to leave me there.
Simeon’s face momentarily grew tender. He crouched down to me and brushed my hair aside to find bruises the shape of fingertips circling my throat. His eyes drew thin. He pulled sheets from the bed to cover me, wrapping my shoulders first, then draping the linens around and below my midsection before inspecting my limbs. He took a jagged breath at my swollen knuckles, knees, and wrists before observing further bruising at my thighs. He looked again at Shechem, finally noticing negligible swelling on the man’s face.
"Did my small bird fight a prince?" Simeon whispered as he lifted me, tucking me into his chest.
"Does it matter? Leave me here. No one would have me now but Shechem," I murmured.
"Do you wish our father to suffer further, sister? We will take you home and rectify what has happened here," he assured me.
"I cannot go home," I whimpered before Shechem impatiently interrupted.
"She will stay with me. I desire her here," Shechem protested.
Simeon addressed Shechem with a deafening authority, "I will return her to you for marriage when the men of your city are circumcised, cleansed and grafted into our tribe. I will accept no other means for her hand." Shechem, though unfamiliar with our painful custom, agreed. He no doubt feared that all my brothers resembled Simeon, and did not venture to cross the house of Israel again.
Upon returning to our camp, Simeon placed me with the women. He did not wish my father to see me so defeated, still reeking of a Hivite.
They were quiet and empathetic, all but my mother, Leah. "Girl, you were warned of this. Shame will come to us if you do not marry Shechem."
Aunt Rachel was the most forgiving. She said very little, but washed me and prayed over me, pleading with God to pardon my poor judgment and restore my reputation.
My maid came to me in the evening, after I saw Father. I asked her, "Did you tell Simeon that I was kidnapped?"
"Yes. He knows."
"Will he give me to Shechem so easily after his own proposal? My plight was cursed the day my mother asked God to make me a daughter in her womb rather than a son. My line would be renowned as my brothers have been promised!"
I fell asleep as the sun descended into the far valleys. But later that night there was great wailing in the city. Voices carried across the river, through rich fields and over the lands where the sheep slumbered in the twilight. There was moaning and shrieking, as if the city were ablaze. I thought I was dreaming, perhaps rebuked for what I had said against Mother.
I fell to the floor and asked my God’s forgiveness–not just for negative thoughts toward my mother, but also for leaving my tent and for being curious about a pagan city. Lastly, I asked that I might, with His grace, endure marriage to a man who stole my innocence and ruined my chance at a life with Simeon, a good man, whom I love.
After praying, I sat outside of my tent in very modest clothing to see the painted early morning sky. I leaned on a post and closed my eyes, nodding off until the sound of sand and crushing rocks underfoot disrupted the quiet.
I stood up to see two men in battle gear coming towards me. As they grew closer, a current of fear struck me. It was my brothers, Simeon and Levi, stumbling toward the camp, covered in blood.
I approached them. "Brothers, what news? What has happened?"
"Shechem is dead," Simeon said in a staid voice.
"You have killed him? For my mistake?"
"Not just Shechem, the man. All of Shechem, the whole of the city. Every grown man is dead. Let no man lay hand on a daughter of Abraham."
"And of me, brother? Am I never to be made honest?" I asked quietly.
"You will be my wife, as I promised. But our father does not know of our plans before Shechem took you from me. He will not approve of my jealousy or revenge on the city. It will be best for us if I tell him that I take you as my wife because you are sullied and no one else will have you."
"You will have me after another?"
"You are but thirteen, a child. Your youth and inexperience is partly to blame, but you knowingly went without escort." His face was pained and his heart broken by my disobedience, but I tried to make him understand.
"I thought the celebration was a gift from you… for our union…"
"Sister, would I send harlots to remove you from the safety of the men here? Would I wish you to dance with the naked, beating drums, singing of sinful lust and mocking the modesty demanded by our God?"
I had no response. I was just as he said, a silly girl of thirteen, self-serving and defiant.
Shechem was dead and I would be a wife, yet I felt far from vindicated. Because despite Simeon’s jealous rage and Shechem’s assault, I would carry the whole of the blame, for I am but a woman.
As he left to explain what had happened to Father, I asked, "Then shall I gather my things for your tent, brother?"
"I will send for you when I wish to see you."
*
Yet Simeon did not wish to see me for many months after we were joined. I sometimes wondered if he stayed away so that I could heal, but it was more likely to be sure that I wasn’t pregnant.
Later a child, Saul, was born. The birth of our son softened Simeon’s heart. I did not fully doubt his love, but he never again touched me with such unmatched fidelity. He remained ever-cautious, wounded and distant.
It was recorded that our son was "Saul the son of a Canaanite woman," and so he was. Canaanite women are immodest, and I was remembered as such.
To solidify that legacy, Simeon buried me in Canaan. For even at my death, he could not forgive me.
*
Check out the first honorable mention in this contest, Status Report 1247 by Wayne Martin!