Fall semester one year ago, I took what I to this day believe to be the worst class in the world. It was an environmental science class. Science is not my forte to begin with, but the concept sounded interesting so I went with it for my science gen-ed. The last class before our first exam, the professor passed out a sheet labelled “Exam 1 Study Guide.” Common logic would assume that the things on the sheet should be studied for Exam One. Rather than stick with my normal study habits of flashcards and highlighting/annotating the textbook, I decided to study the study guide instead.
It turned out that absolutely NOTHING on the so-called study guide appeared on the exam. And for the first time EVER I (literally) failed a test.
I grew incredibly frustrated with the course. I skipped quite a few days; I stopped paying attention in lectures that I did attend, except when I had to take notes for a friend who was absent. I didn’t really study. I got A’s on the homework, but not on exams. The course gets the honor of my one and only B minus. I don’t believe I’ve ever had one before, in college or even high school. The thing is, I brought it on myself. I gave up. I stopped trying.
I am mad at the world right now, and it’s bleeding through into my life. I have heard the phrase “you brought this on yourself” one too many times, and I’m officially feeling horrible. There is a difference between bringing things on yourself and having them happen to you. As much as it hurts, and as much it feels like it sometimes, we really aren’t magnets. The excuse was made that it’s men and that they don’t know any better. That isn’t true, and the idea is a shit show. I KNOW that there are men out there who know better. I know.
I can count the number of people I legitimately trust on one hand. For real. I tried to let a new person into this circle (though only because I was forced to.) He asked me a series of questions.
“How was your day?”
“What brings you here?”
“How do you sleep at night?”
“You lost a child?”
“How was your relationship?”
I answered in one-syllable answers. Fine. Sleep. Okay. Yes. Meh. And then.
“Tell me about the sexual assault.”
I took precautions to make this work; I asked for the things I needed like I thought I was supposed to do. The door was open. I could see out into the hall; I could see that I wasn’t in trouble. But hell if it didn’t feel like I was going to die. Because there is no one-syllable answer for that question. There is no one word that can sum up my feelings. There aren’t twenty, or even a hundred. It isn’t possible. This is as close as I come to accepting these things as part of my past.
I didn’t answer. So he filled the silence. He asked if I knew that I need to be “normal.” I need to be able to be in a room with a man with the door closed. I need to be able to interact with all members of the universe without fear. I need to snap out of myself. “You should be able to do it,” he told me, with an emphasis on the should that implied I was a massive screw-up. Here I was, proud of myself for showing up at all, and here he was proving my worst fear.
I will never be normal, or okay.
There is a guy at school with whom things have become…weird. He asked me out on a date once, but it became very apparent that I was not (nor will I probably ever be) ready to be in any kind of relationship. Not only is he significantly younger (ten years) than me, we’re very different people. This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with either one of us; it just means that we don’t fit. I’ve tried to explain this to him, and I flounder at the idea that he doesn’t understand. I don’t know how I could have made it more clear. I just want things to not be awkward. I want us to work together like grown-ups. But I don’t know that it will happen, and that’s not a fault of mine. I’ve tried.
Did I bring this on myself? Because I was hurt in the past and scared and not in want or need for a relationship? Is it my fault that it’s a stressor now? Entirely possible. I know people who think so. I just wish they wouldn’t say it. It only reaffirms what is already tangled up inside my head.
That it is my fault. All of it. This. The past. The assault. Even the marriage. All of it.
We talked about captivity narratives in one of my classes today, and about fault. What it means to be captive versus what it means to be free. The first one in the book (that we read) was by a woman named Mary Rowlandson. We got on the discussion of why the Indians in these narratives didn’t rape the women. (Not all Indians raped women; that’s a horrible stereotype.) The question bounced around the room several times. The professor pointed out that Mary was bound and not allowed to make her own decisions. She was captive to the choices of other people and to God. She didn’t choose to go. She didn’t want to be kidnapped. She didn’t bring it on herself. I cried. It was short and brief and no one saw. But I cried. On day four. I let myself down.
Did I bring this on myself too, this struggle to handle certain course materials? I stayed in school. Does the fact that I actually SPOKE in my classes today balance out the fact that I cried in one? Is it okay to sometimes be okay and sometimes not? I don’t know how to answer this. I don’t know that there is an answer. I don’t think anyone is normal.
By accepting the suggestion that the triggers in the after are brought on by, well, me, I am (at least in part) taking responsibility for everything. The assault, the loss, the marriage. I am negating the progress I have made. And the people who say it, the people who tell me “you brought this on yourself,” they don’t know the implications of how much their words spiral inside my brain. I can’t be mad at them. I can wish they would know differently. I can wish I could explain it. But I can’t be angry, because part of me knows that the words don’t have a grain of truth in them. I didn’t ask for any of my past to happen to me. I didn’t ask to be hurt. I am not a magnet with an on button that allows me to draw the shit to me. These things just happened. They happened to me. And when people say “you brought this on yourself,” it’s my choice what I choose to do with that, just like it was my direction which way to go after.
Sometimes it feels like I can’t do it, like I don’t fit, like I never will. And other times I know the answer and I’m me again. Those confident times are emerging more and more. I’m pushing through and I’m trying; I’m bringing them on myself. It is, as always, my choice.
Today, I cried. Tomorrow, I keep moving forward.