Cold Hands

[NOT A TROMP POST. While this is a post-US-election piece of writing about the weird twists and turns of grief, beyond that, any similarities between my comments here and the Orange Cheeto-led sh!tshow that is our current political outlook is purely accidental. And sincerely regretted.]

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Alice, pre-trauma. Apparently very excited about milk.

One of the stranger symptoms I have discovered—as I claw my way back from the dissociative fog of PTSD that rotted out my brain over 25 years of squatting there like a toad, undiagnosed and untreated—is a limited ability to notice my body’s sensory input. I have to cook with overwhelming flavors, or I don’t taste my food. I must remember what I expect to smell, before I can detect an odor. If someone asks me whether a room’s temperature bothers me, without also specifying if they think it may be “too hot” or “too cold,” I often start to panic, suddenly aware that I have no idea what temperature the room is—and no clues from my companion to guide me.

But I noticed something interesting on my walk home this evening: I noticed my hands felt cold.

Continue reading “Cold Hands”

Recovery Is A Staircase

[CN: rape, self-injury]


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Nathan’s First Selfie #proudmom

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.

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When he is not the photographer, Nathan bores quickly.

[“Recovery Is A Staircase” is part of an ongoing memory project.
The entire series can be found here.]

We already know. We already don’t want to know.

[CN: rape, rape culture, police violence]


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In Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, Marco Polo describes 55 cities he has seen on his journeys to an aging Kublai Khan. His descriptions are lyrical imaginings of cities that are fantastical and impossible.

Late in the book, the Khan points out that the explorer has yet to mention Venice:

 Marco smiled. ‘What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?’

The emperor did not turn a hair. ‘And yet I have never heard you mention that name.’

And Polo said: ‘Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice. Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or, perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.’

Like Marco Polo, I never mention Venice.

And Venice runs beneath everything that I say.

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Three days ago, the Associated Press released the results of a year-long investigation of sexual misconduct by US law enforcement. Counting only those who lost their badges (how many did not?), counting only those in states that track it (how many missed from New York and California?), not counting those the states themselves did not count (how many headlines missing from the statistics?), not counting those whose misdeeds were never reported (how many fear reporting police to police?) — in six years, one thousand officers lost their badges.

1,000 officers. Not 1,000 violations.

How many victims does that math work out to?

Do you really want to know?

Two days ago, the trial of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw began. Holtzclaw is charged with rape, sexual battery, and stalking, among other crimes. He faces 36 charges, related to 13 victims. (care to revisit the math above?) When he was initially charged, there were seven identified victims; others came forward after seeing reports on the news. (how many do not watch the news?) The six-month investigation began with only one woman, reporting only one crime. The rest of the case built as police looked for other victims…and found them. (who already knew that ‘one’ always means ‘more’?)

The woman who reported Holtzclaw, a 57yo grandmother identified only as J.L., did not already have a record, as his other victims did. (rape or imprisonment, which do you choose) J.L. did not live in the poor neighborhood he targeted; she was only driving through. (blow job or death, which frightens you more) Holtzclaw is on trial today not because he assaulted women, but because the last woman he assaulted was less vulnerable than the first twelve.

When charges were filed last year, The Guardian reported: “All 13 of the victims are black; Holtzclaw is listed as Asian or Pacific Islander in court records. It’s not clear whether race played a role in the alleged crimes.”

How “clear” does something need to be, before we know what we know?

You knew before you read this far in my story, didn’t you, how likely that Holtzclaw’s perfectly-precarious, vulnerable victims would turn out to be black?  Continue reading “We already know. We already don’t want to know.”

On Jackie, UVA, and Why #IDon’tStandWith Rolling Stone as a Mouthpiece for Survivor Stories

I collect stories written by rape survivors. I find the details and textures of first-person accounts powerful antidotes to the homogenized, not-to-mention ubiquitous, stories offered up by media and the entertainment industry alike. Women and men who endure sexual violence — whether they choose to reveal their experiences or not — are all warriors, in my book.

(They are also, every last one, bad victims. In case you were curious.)

I know firsthand how the act of telling our own stories can be uplifting, healing, empowering, fraught, challenging, righteous, risky…and not the right choice for every person. The decision to reveal — including every what, how, and why of that disclosure — must lie with the survivor. I feel twitchy, not-to-mention occasionally stabby, at any indication that a particular survivor’s story has been taken out of hir hands to serve someone else’s agenda. Even an ostensibly well-intentioned agenda. (I am choosing the word survivor deliberately, by the way, though not to indicate self-disclosure as some empowered butterfly state that inevitably follows that of being a speechless victim. Simply put: the raped-and-then-murdered/suicided among us have not tongue left with which to speak their truths.)

So when I heard last month about Rolling Stone‘s immediately-viral blockbuster reporting of campus rape, which centered on the violent gang rape of a student identified by the pseudonym ‘Jackie,’ my skin began to crawl. When The Washington Post and others began to take issue with journalistic standards not met in the reporting — and the magazine’s initial response was to place all blame on Jackie herself (the statement by editor Will Dana has since been emended to remove the line about how they had “misplaced” their trust in her) — my skin crawled completely off. When I heard how Jackie ultimately asked to have her story taken out of the final article and Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely ran with it anyway — and then “was Jackie lying, yes or no” became a dominant discussion point in mainstream reporting — at that point, well…

According to its last postcard, my skin has boarded a bus and is now halfway to Puerta Vallarta.

Continue reading “On Jackie, UVA, and Why #IDon’tStandWith Rolling Stone as a Mouthpiece for Survivor Stories”

The Window Bangs

[TW for discussion of rape, PTSD.]


I write about my past in order to rebuild my present. I dredge my brain for what scraps remain, until I have enough pieces that something coherent emerges. When it does, I seize it in words like an lepidopterist pinning a recent capture to a cardboard tag, where it flutters briefly and then dies. Where it can then be studied.

I write things down so I can stop revisiting a past that happened. When I talk to friends, I am not remembering. I am telling you about a thing I wrote.

I have been repeating this process consciously since last October, and the day almost exactly a year ago when I sat on my therapist’s couch and said, “I think I remember the first time I dissociated. I know I remember hearing a pop in my head and then it wasn’t my body. I think it was a rape.” I told her the story that afternoon. I told other people, as many other people as I could find and trust, every day that followed for more than a week. Maybe for more than two. Until I had enough pieces to write it all down, at which point my retellings became less frenzied affairs.

I’ve been feeling rather smug about how well it’s working out so far. Not stop the presses! revolutionary, by any means — still, I have been encouraged at how well this whole writing-it-down thing works to quell the trauma echoes. Then last month, organizing a box of old files, I came across a bunch of pieces I had forgotten writing. It appears I have been telling and retelling the same story for decades. Every poem reads like the same poem. Almost from the beginning, and I never noticed.

In my words, I never leave that summer.

The earliest piece I found is from June 1990, the year after it all occurred. The poem begins:

The first thing I remember is a very loud noise.
Couldn’t describe it, not a gunshot
firecracker piano-falling,
just a noise like loud.

Continue reading “The Window Bangs”