Don’t tell me I’ve got my facts wrong. Or fall to the fallacy of Freud, imagining only sons can threaten a father’s throne, or evoke a mother’s passion. I know a hero’s plotline when I’m born into one.
The Sphinx first tipped me off. I had come with a riddle of my own: What is happening to the babies? My princely brothers each disappearing as suddenly as he arrived, my mother’s arms empty as her belly again flat. “Oracles can be misheard,” the Sphinx said, with a shrug and rustle of her wings, “or misbelieved. Daughter, son, child who shall—“ She bent to sniff my offering: half a lunchtime pb-and-j and a handful of goldfish crackers, then lipped one cracker and crunched it, open-mouthed. “What oracles don’t? Is misspeak. Gotta listen with the same precision.”
I left her growling happily over my sandwich, lion’s tail curled around her paws like a housecat. Considered carefully her words. Came to a decision. Plotted my next moves. A culmination years in the making.
Brief meditation on the current news and the nature of survival. (Heads up for topic of sexual assault/triggering/Epstein.)
♦ ♦ ♦
Yesterday, I read the charges filed against co-defendents Epstein AND Trump for their numerous violent sexual attacks on the same 13yo girl in 1994. It was awful, but I’m used to awful—and the almost-clinical tone of most legalese is generally easier to get through than more evocative writing on the same subject.
And then there were a few words, a halfway-rendered visual image in my head. . . suddenly I’m dizzy, light-headed : my arms are burning : : it hurts to breathe : : :
More than 12 hours later, I still can’t say to you what those words were. Not that I don’t know, you understand. I am perfectly clear what tripped the trigger, but they are surrounded by a giant bubble of silence and darkness that threatens to pull me back in each time I reach to pull those words out.
I’ve been here before.
Maybe you have too. In which case, we both know we’ll be here again, at some unpredictable time.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom very far from the sea, there lived a little princess who spent her days scooping up frogs and kissing them full on the mouth (though with very little tongue). This was the destiny bespoke her: that her lips would one day free a prince, who would come to rule her people with justice and grace and love her as deeply and true as only a man with a second chance at life can.
One day, the little princess noticed a strange thing happening. After each kiss, even as the frogs remained all entirely frog-like, a green splotch would bloom upon her fair skin. Then two splotches. Then three. No amount of lemon juice or pumice stone undid the pigmentation. Soon she grew quite mottled, her once smooth complexion pebbled and waxy to the touch.
“Well, no matter,” she thought to herself, “for isn’t this the essence of love? To transform ourselves without question into that which our Beloved will most desire?”
It has been exactly a year since we last communicated. I recognize our estrangement remains fully my choice, that I have only to pick up the phone and you or dad would without doubt answer. I think about that option every day.
I miss you—deeply—every day.
And, every day, I remember: sometimes we face decisions where all the options are bad. All that anyone can do then is choose the least shitty of the shitty outcomes.
And so I choose to orphan myself.
For me, losing you remains the least-bad option available.
* * *
I remember clearly that it was Valentine’s Day, the last day I replied to any message from you. One of the texts you sent, amid that final flurry of texts, simply said “Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you!” And I’m sure you thought that was innocuous. I’m sure you thought that, THAT, was a message I couldn’t possibly take issue with.
And so I would give you what you wanted.
But this is not how love works. This is not how anything works.
Other days, it begins with finding myself being equated to a Nazi mass-murderer by some random online stranger, who happens to disagree with me about the need and function of public protest in any functioning democracy.
So, yeah. That.
I wondered, as I stared at my computer screen this morning: why am I the one in this exchange feeling trapped and tongue-tied? Why this stab of pain at witnessing the shameful barbarism of another human’s ill-informed—and ill-intended—imagination?
I have been trying to write about shame for days, y’see. The way it clots the throat. The way it steals intent and stillbirths action.
When functioning properly, shame polices the edges of propriety. It’s the tool our social herds use to cull those whose behavior transgresses the untransgressable. But often when we speak of it this way directly—“Have you no shame?”—we are merely evoking the presence of its absence, trying to summon the effects of a boundary on someone who has long since abandoned our thought-to-be-agreed-upon rules.
Shame is a double-edged knife, sharpened even through its hilt. It cuts in unpredictable directions, as often burying itself in the flesh of the sinned-against as in that of the sinner. More often, perhaps.
Still unsure what I’m getting at? Ask any rape survivor.
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.