The Writer Dreams of Rivers

[CN: rape, self-injury]


winter-river

“Survivors understand full well that the natural human response to horrible events is to put them out of mind. They may have done this themselves in the past. Survivors also understand that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. It is for this reason that public truth-telling is the common denominator of all social action.”
–Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

In a dream, I come across a toad in the woods. Squat, warty, with flat blank eyes. He belches up a stone that clatters over my feet. A ruby, I recognize when I bend over to look: big as my fist and red as death. I reach out to pick it up, to pop it into my mouth for safe-keeping, and grab the toad instead. I do not realize my mistake until I feel the toad sitting belligerent on my tongue, plumping up his blotchy abdomen to fill the space from my lips to my throat. When I look back for the ruby, it is already gone.

I wake up choking.

* * * * *

Most of the photos I have from my childhood live in a large document box, clustered together chronologically in clearly-labeled archival folders. My mother—trained historian and daughter of a news-photographer—made just such a careful box for each of us during the years after my grandfather’s death, merging countless stacks of inherited photos with her own files as she worked to organize his legacy. An inch into the box, in a folder simply labeled “GRADE 2,” one finds not photographs but a carbon-copy report typed onto two sheets of onion skin paper, preprinted with the words: CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.

I remember this report, even though I’d never read it until recently. Or, more precisely, I remember taking the tests that led to it.

And I remember Mr. Morley.

Continue reading “The Writer Dreams of Rivers”

A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen

[CN: sexual assault, incest]


pexels-photo-26750

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Once upon a time, a beautiful maiden in possession of all her limbs [so every version of the Armless Maiden begins] lived in the forest with her father the woodsman and her mother, the woodsman’s wife. [Or sometimes her mother is already dead, depends on which version you choose to retell.] The woodsman is seized with sexual desire for his beautiful daughter—or perhaps greedy desire to trade her to the devil for wealth—or perhaps marital desire to replace his dead wife with similar product already close-to-hand and convenient.

[Such surface details of a father’s lust often shift, the critics agree, while leaving the underlying incest motif intact.]

Angered at her strong rejection of his plans, the woodsman chops off his daughter’s hands with an ax. [Just above the wrist, or a bit below the elbow, or let’s say he takes the whole arm—at this point, you really wanna quibble details with me??] He may even demand that she cleaver them off herself [though I am fuzzy on the mechanics of how this would be done]. She flees from him into the woods, to eat fruit from the ground where it has fallen and, in general, to survive like a brutish animal.

Now, since this is a fairy tale, you and I both know what’s coming: a handsome prince, true love, and marriage. [Still that tricky “look, ma! no hands!” issue, though. Happily ever after is harder with a princess who can’t hug her spouse, care for their babies, or even wipe herself after a late-night visit to the chamber pot.] So the story hiccups into a second half, during which our handless heroine flees back into the woods, communes with herself and with nature for a number of years, and becomes such an overall loving spirit, inside and out, that her arms and hands grow back entirely. 

At which point, the Armless Maiden—armless no long—reunites with her love, scoops up their baby [grown surly preteen, no doubt, in her absence], and takes over all the housework, allowing everyone to Happily ever after, for ever after…

Do you know this story? Have you come across it elsewhere? Can you perhaps then explain to me, because I really don’t understand, why our heroine comes back to herself all sweetness and light and not, for example, royally fcking pissed the fcking-fck off?

Me, I think I might pick up the first ax my new hands could carry and go hunting myself a woodsman.

[Or maybe I just like to think I might.]

[Me being me, I’m much more likely to pick up the first available pen.]

[Which is another way of saying: I’ve been having a lot of trouble figuring out how I want to write today’s post.]

Continue reading “A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen”

Writing in a Time of Plague

The first time I wrote on this blog in my truest voice, it was a declaration of independence from audience. “I am done speaking to the bodies of men,” I pronounced; “To the helpmeets of men.” I decided to write first and foremost for myself and, as a distant second, to address an imagined audience of other women who had survived sexual assault. Anybody else who wanted to listen? Was certainly welcome to do so, but I would make no adjustments for their comfort.

As last year began winding down, however, I started itching to leave this stance for greener, less plundered, pastures. Tired of five years of filling-in-the-blank “current occupation: rape survivor-in-recovery,” bored with my own intimate overexposure and the incessant “I… I… I…” of confessional writing.

I wondered what else I might want to say, if I no longer felt compelled to foreground the issue of violation.

And then my country elected a rapist as president.

ratking

Continue reading “Writing in a Time of Plague”

#NotOkay

After the Trump video released last Friday, writer Kelly Oxford tweeted about her own experience—at only 12 years old—of having a strange man grab her crotch. While she may not have expected more than a few friends to respond to her invitation to “tweet me you first assaults,” she has now received hundreds of thousands of stories (a million on Saturday night alone), and the tweets are still pouring in, under the hashtag #NotOkay.

I find myself among those unwilling to join this conversation openly. Not because I do not have such memories in my past, but these are encounters that I either have already shared or have reasons to hold private still. So I am thinking instead about the ubiquity of not only sexual violence in girlhood but also the threats of such violence—and how these twin forces shaped the early years of so many women I know, and continue to color our daughters’ experiences today.

With all that in mind (both the said and the unsaid), I decided to revisit and revamp this piece I wrote a few years ago:


parked cars

My Body Is a Car Door

He and I are drinking coffee together, sitting
each in our own maturity and marveling
the kids these days!
when he says:
­    ‏                      ‏ ‎‌‍“I always thought puberty
was so much worse for girls. Breasts, menstruation—
like living inside an alien.
Boys have nothing that compares.”

“Boners,” I retort.

*** Continue reading “#NotOkay”

Brief Political PSA Regarding the Inadequacy of GOP Responses to Most Recent Evidence that their Presidential Candidate Gleefully Engages in Sexual Assault

Quick reminder:

We as a society are no better served by benevolent sexism than by overt misogyny.


[Relevant background, for any who may have missed and wished to view the latest “bombshell” evidence that the Republican candidate for President—a serial adulterer who raped his first wife, stands accused of raping a 13yo girl, and sexually harassed scores of women employees, in addition to those he outright assaulted—is less politician, more rapey, racist, bigoted mass of sexist pond scum. NB: while the video clip released by WaPo does contain “vulgar language,” far more problematic is the sexual violence Tromp (sic) describes and enthuses over.]

***

Yo.

GOP Leadership?

Take note:

I have no more interest in being “championed and revered” by my government than I have in being crotch-grabbed by it. [1]

“Hitting on a married woman” is not on par with sexual assault, not even close—a point easy to miss if your primary concern is with insults to “our wives and daughters” rather than to half the American citizenry. [2]

And when you express your concern as “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner”—then spend the rest of your weekend huddled in presidential debate-prep with the man who so described us—you confirm that window-dressing matters to you more than substance. That you are willing to see me as a p***y to be grabbed, just so long as that p***y-grab is not talked about. [3]

In sum:
Do not revere us.
Do not pretend to own us.
Do not clean up your language in our presence.

Just stop pretending you are not an equal sh!tstain on our polity to your man who would be king.

To borrow the words of Jessica Valenti:

SEE YOU ON NOVEMBER 8th, ASSHOLES.

/PSA


[1] Thanks but no thanks, Paul Ryan.

[2] Swing and a miss there, Mitt Romney.

[3] Awww. The feeling of disdain is mutual, Reince!

Manifesting

Anybody know a writer’s equivalent to the old saw about conquering stage fright by picturing your audience in their underwear? Hmm…

I am deeply grateful to The Manifest-Station for publishing my essay “Body Lessons,” about girlhood, shame, sexual violence, and recovery (revised from a earlier blog post). Also deeply grateful to any and all who read and support my work.

Please know I am picturing all of you in your underwear at this very moment.

After my divorce, I began a long and agonizing journey to reclaim my own sexuality. (continued…)

alice_neck