The Seed or the Soil?

Shannon Frost Greenstein


Part 1

I am 38.

My libido frightens me. I find it unpredictable and terrifying and wild; it lies dormant until it does not, when it sparks alight and sex suddenly means the same thing as love. Dopamine and destruction and my fundamental Darwinian drive collide, everything shrouded by a heavy pall that makes me seek kink and pain and power and pleasure until I end up feeling filthy. I do not like to be touched for weeks after. I crave human interaction but shudder at human contact.

I am 38, and I don’t know what to do.

I am 23.

I am at a club in Philadelphia, an evening in the city with a BFF, weak drinks in our fists and pocketbooks over our shoulders. I accept an invitation, leaning against a handsome stranger while lights flash and the bass line booms and I dance with abandon and revel in endorphins. The handsome stranger, without warning, roughly penetrates me with his fingers; I freeze as my brain goes blank and my hands fall limp by my sides and the familiar voice of my inner monologue screams at me that I am disgusting, that this is my fault.

I am 23, and I do not date again until for a year.

I am 20.

It is a fraternity party, and I am learning how to drink beer. My shirt is not low-cut; I am there with close friends looking out for me; I keep a safe eye on my drink. I am raped anyway. We kiss in his bed until I ask to stop, until I remind him I am a virgin and intend to stay that way, until I fall asleep and then wake up with my wrists pinned to the bed and the realization that he is taking what he wants regardless.

I am 20, and this is my “first-time” story.

I am 13.

I am at Chick-Fil-A, because I have not yet awoken to the fact that gender is a spectrum and that love is love and that I can protest narrow-mindedness by withholding my almighty dollar. Sights and sounds surround me, the stuff of sense memories that still pause me momentarily in my tracks—the smell of waffle fries, the din of mall shoppers, the bright purple of the flowers on my favorite denim shorts. A man gropes me as I pass by with a soda, cupping my behind as our paths meet, squeezing my flesh and muscle and prepubescent heart and then gone in an instant.

I am 13, and don’t feel comfortable wearing the shorts again after that.

I am young.

I am too young to recall my exact age, formative years stained by trauma I interpret as reality; as normal. I am living the memories I’ll later repress, the flashes I’ll get in dreams, the stirring of anxiety at the waft of a breeze or the sound of bacon frying or the touch of a hand.

I am young, but I am already broken.


Part 2

Q: Which counts for more, heredity or environment?

A: They are interdependent. This question is almost the equivalent of “Which is more important, the seed or the soil?” – A Eugenics Catechism, American Eugenics Society, Inc.. 1926.


Part 3

I am 38.

I am insatiable, and abhorrent, and lustful, and disgusting. Nothing is enough; enough is too much.

I am married. I am a mother. I am in love. I am in chains. I am addicted to my own dopamine. I am repulsed by my own needs. I am wracked with guilt. I am plagued with shame.

I am created by trauma or poisoned by the world, damaged from the start and eroded over time, born and made, destiny and chaos, the self and the other.

I am the seed and the soil.


Shannon Frost Greenstein resides in Philadelphia with her children, soulmate, and cats. She is the author of “More.”, a poetry collection from Wild Pressed Books. Shannon is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, a Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine, and a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, STORGY Mag, Lunate Fiction, Door Is a Jar, and elsewhere. Follow Shannon at or on Twitter at @ShannonFrostGre. She comes up when you Google her.