The first time I told the story—or, rather, tried to tell it—was in 2001, twelve years after the rapes themselves. I had a psychotic break afterwards, where I heard a voice in my head telling me it would kill me before I talked again. My left wrist still bears scars of the stitches I required before that day ended.
The second time I told the story wasn’t until October, 2013. Afterwards, I stopped being able to sleep in the dark. For the next fourteen months, the only sleep I got were catnaps at dawn and dusk. Sometimes I tried drinking myself to sleep by mid-afternoon, anything to make the day be over.
In 2014, the morning of April 30, I got a call from the rape crisis center where I’d put my name on a waiting list, informing me that my first appointment would be later that week. Panicked at the thought of telling the story to yet another new person, I ended up slicing my leg open, an inch-deep trough running up the length of my calf. I lost close to a pint of blood.
Tonight, I told a roomful of people an aspect of the story I have never said out loud before. Afterwards, I stood a long time in the hallway outside that room, afraid to come home. Afraid even to move.
And then I did move.
And then I did come home.
Once back at my place, I cuddled my cat. I ate a peanut butter sandwich. I wrote this post to share on Facebook. Then I decided to share it on my blog as well.
I’m calling it:
I did good tonight.
[“Recovery Is A Staircase” is part of an ongoing memory project.
The entire series can be found here.]
Dear Random Man on the Street Who Kept Talking to Me Until I Finally Looked at Him,
Thanks so much for picking me out of a crowded sidewalk of people to talk to. I was moved, almost really!
I mean, it sounded like you recognized me from somewhere, with all that babbling “hey, how are you, hey sweetheart, how you been doing.” As if you wanted to check in on what’s been up with me since the last time we talked.
Or rather, since the last time you talked to any totally random woman on the street. Because one thing I’m sure we agree on: who I am beyond “woman” doesn’t matter in this interaction.
In case you were wondering: no, I didn’t think you were dangerous (unless it turned out you were). And no, I didn’t you were going to follow me (unless it turned out you did). And no, I didn’t feel sexually objectified by our encounter (unless we’re gonna count the fact that it is men—always and only—who make this kind of you-owe-me-your-attention-cuz-I-called-you-sweetheart move on women. Also always and only).
I spent my afternoon, as one is wont to do, getting interviewed on my thoughts regarding vaginas and vulvas. (As one is wont to do, WHEN ONE IS ME, I should perhaps have specified.) I’ll share that piece with y’all when it’s published—but in the meantime, an observation: ain’t it wonderful how brains are pliable, and how writing plies them?
See, I wrote this post last fall about our cultural reluctance—and my own personal resistance—to using the word “vulva.” Today, what I found? Personal resistance gone! Another plank of internalized misogyny fallen! Appears I am now fully aboard the vulva-train.
And so I invite you to join me in raising a glass to the liberation of sexual bodies and sexual vocabulary alike, and to tell me about a time you wrote yourself into a different way of thinking.
Just please refrain from using the word “moist” in your comment.
In a revelation that will shock exactly zero readers of this blog, I must confess that I’ve always been obsessive about using words correctly. About knowing both literal and connotative meanings. About finding le mot juste for every occasion.
Add gender into the lexical mix? At that point, “obsessive” becomes, well…
Lemme put it to you this way. I still feel pissy about the idiotic joke made by some fellow Unitarians when I was 11 and the UUA was revising the official church hymnal to remove gender-exclusive language: “Maybe we should just call this new HYM-nal an IT-nal, since you hate men so much.”
[Picture here a tween-sized Alice, hands on her hips, fuming at her male peers. . . and more than a few grownass male grownups.^]
In those days, if I heard you call someone a “girl” who was clearly a grownass female grownup? Them were fightin’ words, far as I was concerned.
He cannot believe that the air-conditioned bedroom is truly the only comfortable space in the apartment, and so, every few hours, he marches to the door and meows loudly, demanding access to the rest of his domain. Perhaps five minutes later, he meows loudly from the other side of the door, demanding to be allowed back in—hotter than when he left, and somehow more indignant as well.
To be clear, I am just as pissed as the cat is about the heat. Almost as disbelieving, too, despite the fact that I am the only one in our shared home with access to weather reports, as well as the cognitive capacity for number sense.
Numbers which—if my sense is correct—hate me right now.
A friend tells me she is bracing for the inevitable ‘well why was she holding her child?’
Why did Sandra talk back. Why did Tanisha have a heart condition. Why did Yvette step out of her house. What was Miriam doing in Washington, DC. Why was Korryn holding her 5yo son, sitting with him on the living room couch in her own home.
Traffic tickets. This began with traffic tickets.
If a response to that (yes, of course, inevitable) question is “so they wouldn’t shoot her,” said in a tone of (yes, of course) scorn—my reply, simply: “yes, of course so they wouldn’t shoot her.”
So they wouldn’t kill her.
And still they did.
And still they did.
And still they did.
Traffic tickets and her baby in her own young arms. How small the humanity that looks at that scene and thinks he must (of course, yes) destroy it first.
Featured image: Instagram photo of Korryn Gaines, via The Root