Tag Archives: survivor

The Quiet Game

I started playing the quiet game when I was really young. I remember this one way I used to play where I would ride my bike up and down the sidewalk in front of my grandma’s apartment building and pretend the bike was a horse. The handlebars were the reins; the seat was the saddle. I’d had my first taste of riding real horses that summer I think, and I was greatly disappointed I couldn’t ride them every single day. So I made it work with what I had.

The point of the quiet game was, obviously, to be quiet. It was a silent purple and pink horse, probably a unicorn based off my knowledge of my obsessions at that age. I was a silent rider.

There were other variations of the quiet game. Sometimes I made up imaginary friends as I lay on my bed with hands on my chest and my eyes closed in the posture of a corpse, characters with awful lives that I would then write stories about. Sometimes I played the organ with headphones in and mouthed the words to songs. Most of the time I just read books.

I taught myself to talk when necessary, and it was hard because I wanted to talk all the time back then. But it wasn’t always right. That was a painful lesson to learn. There were some things not meant to be spoken out loud. I had to swallow them. I had to be quiet.

The quiet game proved useful in adulthood. Our marriage counselor told us to “never let the sun set” on our anger, so every night my then-husband would spend his traditional twenty minutes in the bathroom doing skincare and teeth cleaning before getting into bed and waiting, quietly. He too played the quiet game, only he played it differently. He played with expectations. I played for protection.

“I’m sorry,” I told him automatically, every single night. I knew what he wanted. I knew what would happen if I didn’t say it.

“Good,” he would smile, nodding his approval as we clasped hands resting on the mattress between us. The same routine every night before bed.

I never knew though what I was saying sorry for. I just knew that I was. Sorry. Or rather, that I was supposed to be.

I went to that other place in my head, to that little girl riding the bike-pony, that little girl playing organ and mouthing the words while everyone slept, that little girl who dreamed up fictional characters just to solve someone’s problems, even if those problems were only on the page and not in real life. I became that woman who would do anything to be quiet and I stayed her, because I had so damn much to say and none of it could ever be said.

There was so much I never said to him, so much that wasn’t appropriate to speak out loud, not then. Why was I always the one to say sorry? Why did he never apologize? What exactly was it that I was so sorry for, every night? Why was I automatically less than he was? Why did he claim so hard to follow The Bible in public but yet he never prayed a single time in private the entire duration of our marriage? How could he claim to be ruling me, controlling me, biblically when he never, ever prayed? What kind of person was he?

What kind of person was I for staying quiet, for playing the game, for never saying a word?

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We All Make Mistakes

I can still remember when Corey and Topanga broke up. I’m guessing many from my generation can. Boy Meets World; TGIF; quality thank goodness it’s Friday television programming. Topanga was crying; her family was moving to Pittsburgh, away from her childhood sweetheart, and what was the point in continuing a relationship when they couldn’t be together?
I had middle school play practice the next morning. Eighth grade, so it was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. So and so had kissed so and so. So and so had gone to the movie with a bunch of so and sos, all of whom shall remain nameless I remember so vividly though because it was the start of something for me–my friends were talking about real boys, and I was talking about Corey and Topanga breaking up as if they were real people, because, in a way, they were. 
I’ve written stories in my head for as long as I can remember, intending to inscribe them for the masses but never being motivated enough to publicize my fiction. Samantha and Rebeckah were (are; let’s be real, I still write them in my head as I fall asleep) my favorites. Both had terrible lives marked by notable happy endings, followed by more terrible, followed by more happy. Every bad is met with its match in good. And in my stories, they always met a boy, and that boy was what saved them. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that meeting a boy would save me too. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step one: Evaluate all possible choices. 

Step two: Evaluate all possible outcomes. 
*
It was hot in the church on the afternoon of June 2nd, a few years after I graduated high school. I sat in a pew, my annoyance marked with my traditional silent eyeroll that I hid from B with my then-long bangs. Just a few more things, they kept telling us. Just a few more, then we could go. It turned out wedding rehearsals were harder than they looked. It was a bunch of go here, do this thing, do that thing, go there, sit. Move. Wait. 
We were poor, so our after-rehearsal dinner consisted of a bunch of meat thrown on the grill on the backyard deck by B’s dad, who had left the rehearsal early to commence the cooking festivities. So far as we knew, everything was fine. Until the phone call: “So everything is fine.” Nothing is fine that starts with that phrase. “There’s just been a small fire on the deck.”
It was another event in a string of events that shaped a loud and clear broadcast stating it was wrong to marry B. We lost our church, our free catering, our pastor, our wedding counselor, all in the weeks before the wedding. But we kept plunging ahead. Or rather, I kept plunging ahead, because I wanted the happy ending I knew existed. I thought. I knew it was a mistake. I made it anyway. This one mistake set in motion many other events, many other mistakes, much more unhappiness. I kept thinking that I had done the thing I was supposed to–I had gotten married–and that this would be the thing to save me because it was always the boy that would save the girl.
That night, after the dinner, I sat on my bed, my last time without B in my apartment, and I painted my toenails with sparkly silver nail polish while my good friend sat across from me and told me not to do it. Not to go through with it. Not to marry B. But I did it anyway because I thought I was supposed to. Girl meets boy; girl marries boy; girl produces many children and stays home to take care of the family for all eternity. I wanted to do the right thing. 
But I made a mistake; my life was none of these things. When everything disintegrated, despite looking for someone else to save me, I had to be the one to save myself. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step three: Choose what you think is the expected outcome, the one that everyone else wants. 
*
I know this great dog who shall remain nameless, since that’s how the rescue game is played. She came to the rescue with her mother and two sisters from a backyard breeder in New Jersey that saw what was amazing inside the mommy dog and used it to make himself money (it’s no wonder I wanted to adopt the mommy dog then…). This puppy was my first real placement of a dog I loved. I drove her to the house, I dropped her there. I celebrated when she stayed, and I lived for the picture and video updates and the times I got to visit in an era of my life when I wasn’t seeing many rescues doing well. When so many dogs would act out or bite or never leave and sit Saturday after Saturday not finding a home, it was nice to be reminded that good homes did exist, that all dogs have good inside somewhere, and that they all have a place, like we all have a place. But then this dog made one mistake, and she came back to the rescue. Her return was the right thing for everyone, but right or not didn’t make it suck any less for any of us. The mistake was too colossal, too all-encompassing, to come back from, a permanent black mark on an otherwise impeccable record, and a black mark of the biggest sort. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step four: Do that thing that everyone else wants. 

Step five: Watch the results and know that you’re screwed. 
*
I think it was pack instinct that drove this dog to do the thing she did. “I must protect the pack, because the pack protects me/because the pack loves me/because the pack has brought me my happy and I must return the favor.” It’s impossible to know for sure though. But what I do know, both from my own life and the lives of those around me, is that we make the biggest mistakes trying to live up to the expectations of those around us. We make the biggest mistakes when we’re genuinely trying to be the best we can be. It doesn’t make us bad; it doesn’t make us unworthy; it just means that we have not found our place yet because we haven’t learned to define ourselves outside of other people’s expectations. 
Doesn’t this make us all just like dogs? We want to please so badly sometimes without a thought to the consequences that we plunge headlong into situations we can’t come back from. If you stick to the norms, follow the expected commands to their given outcomes, and don’t step out of line, everything will be fine. Right?
*
How to make a mistake:
Step six: Do not repeat; learn from the thing you’ve done. 
*
Queue the after-hiatus Boy Meets World Cory-without-Topanga episode that ended with Topanga outside the door in the rain, her hand pressed to the glass and her long brown hair slicked against her skin as she declared she was moving back to live with her aunt and would be together with Corey forever. I wish all decisions ended so happily. I am too old, have wasted too much time, to make the wrong ones. Writing stories, living with and in characters, does nothing when they always have a happy ending, because those endings do not exist through others–and it’s a mistake to believe they do. We write our own stories. We make mistakes we can’t take back. We live. We learn. 

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We March

I was in Union Square today for our weekly dog adoption drive, holding a monster pittie puppy with an affinity for nomming my hands, when one of my clients came by. 
“Oh hey! I’m surprised you aren’t marching!” She and her friend stood there in their matching pink pussycat hats and black “nasty woman” t-shirts, avoiding the adorable dog in my lap who clearly wanted a little puppy nibble of their fingers. 
“Oh, well I’m here,” I said, “which is important too.” And then my chomper dog bit my cheek. 
They laughed. None of it was funny though. Make no mistake, Trump is not my president. He may be THE president, and I can respect the office and the country without respecting him in it, but Trump is not MY president. I don’t march. There’s a lot of reasons why. 
Marches can start peaceful, but a few over the toppers can turn that tide. Passionate people can occasionally become angry people. And I’m sensitive to that. He took from me my ability to be in crowds that huge without worrying, without wondering, without watching over my shoulder. He took a lot from me. He made me a different person. But I got myself on my feet again. By myself. I wrote a book. I wrote another. I found myself, and then that self got lost for a while when Trump got elected, when an overwhelming portion of the country said violence against women is a-okay. 
News flash. It’s not. 
It’s an awful thing, to be a survivor and to be in a world that invalidates this thing that has happened to you. To realize that in order to be your own person, to carve your place and hold your ground, you will have to fight every single day. It should not be this way, but it is. The world says we are nothing, but it’s up to us to tell the world we’re not. 
I read an article tonight about the women Trump sexually assaulted banding together for the Women’s March in DC. Part of me wishes I had done that, automatically feels less than because I didn’t. I’m not though. Many of my friends marched, but I held a dog today, a dog that desperately needs a dog experienced home if anyone is interested. And to me that is just as important. It’s important to show that life goes on, that just because a despicable man accused of sexual assault can become president does not mean that the world stands still. We do not stand still. We march.

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You Can’t Sit With Us (Rough Draft)

When I was in seventh grade, the big project of the final quarter was to create a magazine. We’re not talking crayon doodles on construction paper bound with yarn here; we’re talking an actual magazine. The project stretched across all subjects. In English/Language Arts, we learned about writing articles and essays. In math, we were given Monopoly money to use for purchasing articles from authors, designing the layout, printing, advertising, etc. In social studies, we practiced analyzing current events that we could write about, and in art, we practiced drawing, both on paper and on the computer, as well as worked with layout. They wanted us to be well rounded, educated, individuals. The idea was that we would help each other; we would use the fake currency to buy articles, art, and other things for our magazine.

I don’t remember a lot of specifics about the project. I think the magazine layout board I turned in on the last day, when we all presented our projects, was neon pink? It may have been green. But at any rate, it was done. The articles on it? They were all mine. The art? That was mine too. When it had come time to buy things for my magazine, no one would sell to me. No one would buy from me.

I can’t say I was surprised.

*

A few weeks ago, I read about a dog named Hank. Hank was happily living with his family in Ireland, enjoying snuggles, squeaky toys, and long joyful walks, when the government seized him because he “looked like a pitbull.” They cited their local “dangerous animals law,” coining Hank as dangerous simply because of his looks. A simple Google search makes it obvious that Hank is anything but dangerous (unless you’re a stuffed toy!). Hank was a victim of his breed, his label. He’s not even listed as a pitbull—on paper, he is a lab mix.

Hank’s story has a happy ending. His owners went to bat with him, and after several weeks apart while Hank was quarantined in a shelter, he was reunited with his owners and they’re a family again.

Unfortunately, that’s not the story for many dogs.

*

Middle school was pretty much the worst. Things went along fine, and I did pretty well socially, all things considered, until about fourth grade or so. Fourth grade was the year that practically the entire school got head lice, myself included. Rumors circulated that I had started the head lice epidemic (I had not), and I tried to discourage those rumors by saying that I hadn’t had lice at all (I had), and that my itchy head had been from an allergic reaction to shampoo. After that, not only was I the head lice queen, I was also a liar—the entire school was at lunch the day the school nurse marched me out of the building to meet mother to get my lice treatment. Everybody knew.

The cafeteria each day was a nightmare. I would take my tray on the days I got hot lunch, or my little brown bag on the days I carried something from home, and stand on the outskirts of everything, staring. Wondering where to sit. Dreading going to my so called friends’ table and finally hearing “You can’t sit with us.” I was constantly waiting for the day when they would see me the same way that everybody else did, for the day when there would be no more chair for me at the table. I elected to lunch in my English teacher’s room each day so that I could read rather than negotiate middle school politics and try to be something I wasn’t.

*

BSL, or breed specific legislation, is a set of laws that restrict and/or ban certain dogs because of their appearance, or because they’re commonly thought to be a “dangerous” breed. Breed restrictions can require owners to muzzle their dog in public, spay or neuter, contain them in a kennel, keep a leash of specific length or material, maintain liability insurance, and post vicious dog tags and signs on both their property and the dog itself. Breed bans are even worse. A breed ban will mandate that all dogs of the specified breed have to be removed from the area. After the “by-when” date on the ban, any dog not removed can be killed by animal control.

These laws simply look at the dog as they are on the outside, without consideration for things like the way they were raised, trained, and handled by their owner. These laws do not look at the actual behavior of the dog in question, rather, they look at what they imagine that dog to be, the worst case scenario.

BSL has a lot of issues. For one, it’s prejudice. There is no such thing as a bad dog. Bad owners? Yes. A dog is the result of how it is raised. Dogs want nothing more than they want to please their people. BSL does nothing to improve safety; it punishes people who are responsible dog owners and does nothing to hold irresponsible owners responsible. It requires that each and every dog have a label, a breed, something is pretty much impossible to do accurately. Dogs that are targeted become more desirable to irresponsible people simply because of the bullseye on their back. Dogs of any breed can be great dogs. Dogs of any breed can be dangerous dogs. BSL is the worst. I don’t understand it.

And yet, I do.

*

High school was better for me. There were still people who dropped the usual insults—“Her cats pee on stuff,” “She smells like fish,” “Her clothes come from Walmart,” but I was old enough to better know how to deal with it. My haircuts when I got them weren’t cutting edge. My sneakers actually came from Kmart. I didn’t do brand names. I didn’t mind. I liked who I was, but the world told me not to.

I was in an acapella group with (I think) seven other people. They never wanted me to be part of the circle, and I struggled to stick up for myself even though I was just as good a singer as the rest of them. It was such a little thing, but so telling. I let them circle by the piano; I let them whisper about me. I always stayed slightly behind.

*

We have to talk about Lennox. Hearing his story was the first time I really became aware of BSL. It was 2010, I believe. Lennox, a lab/bulldog mix was five years old and happily living with a family in Belfast. (The same area where Hank is from…hmmm….). Lennox did nothing wrong; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time with a head that made him look like a “pitbull type.” The government went so far as to measure the size of his snout in order to declare him a pitbull, and then they seized him and sentenced him to die. His family fought for two years to get him back, to save him, or even to send him to America where dogs who look like pitbulls are allowed. But when all of their appeals expired, Lennox was put to sleep.

Lennox, the bulldog/lab mix, was put to sleep because he LOOKED like something else. Lennox, the family dog, a child’s pet. A good boy. Dead.

*

I walk a dog now named Tubs. I see almost every day. She’s grown a lot since I first started walking her. In the beginning, we couldn’t even walk in the direction of the dog park without Tubs displaying crazy aggressive antics. Tubs was never socialized with other dogs, so they were a terrifying prospect. Now though, after over a year of training and love and many, many walks, Tubs can walk by a dog on the path in the park and not care. That dog will never come over to her. She will never be friends with it. But the dog can exist and not be scary.

Tubs is a pocket pitbull. She is the sweetest pitbull with humans and wants nothing more than to sit in your lap and cover your face in slobbery kisses. But when we’re walking on the street, people move out of the way as we come close. They cross the street. They avoid her, just because of her breed. Because of what she looks like. And if she barks at another dog, it’s all over. “Look at the pitbull,” they say. “She’s so mean.” No. She’s not.

I’m convinced that, like Tubs, the world set me up to be in the place I ended up. Christianity told me that I had to be married. My social education told me that I would never be married because no one would love me because of how I looked and who I wanted to love. I learned to shut up, be quiet, do what I was told.

I ended up in a adult relationship that clearly didn’t fit me. I came away more demolished than I came in. But I don’t think I would change it. Trying to fit the mold made me realize that the mold isn’t real, that it’s a cat eternally chasing a tail it will never catch. I had to be in the mold to break the mold, and I wonder if that’s not my job here as a writer—to break the mold. To show there is no normal. To dismantle our own human forms of BSL.

I was bullied as a kid, and I let that define a lot of who I was for a long time. I’m a lot of things, but I’m more than what you see when you look. I still don’t wear brand names, but that doesn’t make me bad. I like it this way. I don’t always brush my hair, but I walk dogs all day and there’s really no point. I don’t have a lot of money, but I have enough to live and have a little fun. I don’t talk a lot, but I want to make what I say matter. I’ve been hurt, but it doesn’t last forever. I’ve been raped, but I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor. The world says I should look a certain way, that I should be broken. I say differently.

As I try to find more ways to write about my life, I’m realizing that I am more than my surface appearance. And so is Tubs. And so is Hank. And so was Lennox.

So let’s end all BSL, okay? Both the human and the dog forms.

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On Being More

Sometimes my life doesn’t seem real. It happens at random moments, different times. I’ll be walking my favorite dog client, Tubs, around Tompkins Square Park. We’ll stop at the dog park outskirts for a little redirective rehabilitation. It is bright and sunny and 72 degrees on this hazy blue day, and it occurs to me that there is a very large possibility that I’m not really here. That the last time was really the last time, that I am lying in a hospital bed somewhere in my hometown in a white washed hospital room in a coma from which I will never wake up. It is easier sometimes to think that than to think that this life I have now, writer, dog walker, extraordinaire, in New York City is really mine.

I blink, and I am brought back to where Tubs sits on the edge of the enclosure that is full of her greatest fear—other dogs—her tail wagging as she waits for her chicken jerky treats. Tubs does not speak dog. I think that’s why we get along so well; she doesn’t understand her species, and I don’t feel like I understand mine. As we’ve gone through months of working together, Tubs is learning to confront her demons by associating them with good things rather than bad. As we’ve gone through months of working together, I am also learning to confront mine. I am more than rape; I am more than abuse; I am more than any bad word ever applied to me, because I am my own construction. I am my own person.

Tubs is not afraid because I am not afraid.

I am not afraid.

I give Tubs her treat and release her from the sit, and we walk all around the perimeter of the dog park, a feat we could not have accomplished without issue six months ago. I know that it is possible to learn to be okay because I see Tubs being okay, and I believe that Tubs is okay because she sees me being okay. Our relationship goes two ways, and even though she is just a dog, I am certain that she understands this.

When I take Tubs back to her house, she doesn’t want me to leave and flops in front of the door to try and stop me. I give her a scratch behind the ears and promise her I will see her the next day, and the next, and the next. I am a natural at dog training because I let myself understand her feelings, and I know that Tubs loves me. By reciprocating that love, I have gained Tubs’ trust—it’s just like relationships with people work.

I picture that other woman as I walk to the bus stop, the one I thought I might be, lying somewhere in a quiet room, alone, and I vow to say goodbye to her because when I let myself get stuck there, it holds me back. I am not sleeping; I am wide awake; I am in this life and not the other, I think, for the very first time.

To be a survivor, to be more than what happened to me in the past, means being awake.

Tubs is awake.

I am too.

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On Agency

I was asked today about what my writing says about where women obtain their agency. I struggled with how to answer the question, because I know what I would like my writing to say, and it’s always my deepest fear that I don’t say it appropriately. Simply put, I believe that rape (and rape culture) destroy the survivor’s agency. But it’s really a lot more complicated than that, because it’s not just the act of rape itself. It’s a litany of factors.

Perhaps to answer the question, I should first define agency. I don’t mean agency as in a physical place or organization. I’m referring to agency in a sociological sense, as the capacity a person has to act of their own accord and make their own choices, freely. A person’s agency is limited by the influences, or structures, in their lives, like gender, race, religion, culture, class, etc. I firmly believe that agency is learned, that these structures and our experiences alter our ability to make choices. I believe that people alter these choices. I also believe that we, personally, alter these choices.

Which brings us to my writing.

My writing has evolved this year, yet again. My first voyage into trauma literature was a collection of rather abstract essays. Then I started graduate school, and decided I wanted to learn to be specific about my experiences, and tell a very specific story—and only that story. I wore that story as a patch to hold myself together, and crafting it was the thing that was going to make me whole. But then I started to write and got several chapters into the work—and attended several frustrating revision meetings—before I realized that I was going about the project the wrong way. My story is not one story. My story is a construction of many different stories, of many different pieces and times and structures. I was ready to give up my book and find a new project to work on, as I became more and more convinced that I couldn’t get my message right. That I had no business communicating with other survivors. I asked for a sign to tell me what to do, or, at the very least, to show me I was doing the right thing.

I found my sign in a book. Lacy M. Johnson wrote an incredibly powerful memoir entitled The Other Side. It opens as she flees the basement of The Man She Used to Live With, breaking out of a soundproof room where he had intended to kill her, and then follows a winding and not always chronological road to tell all of the pieces of Lacy’s story. The choices that she made, and the ones that were made for her. I devoured her book, and a handful of interviews she did afterwards as she was nominated for awards. I came across this:

“I discovered that I really, strongly objected to all of the rhetoric about how writing about trauma could, in effect, make a person “whole” again. It took years to articulate why this sentiment bothered me, but eventually I realized that it reinforces what I consider to be a flawed notion that after some kind of trauma … a person is somehow ‘broken.’”

I realized that I was, in fact, writing to make myself whole, when in truth, I was never broken. I let my trauma define who I was, when I needed to be the one to carve out my place in the world in the after. I looked to others to tell me what to do, to give me agency, when I needed to be the one to make that agency for myself. I let people take my choices away, because I didn’t feel like I deserved to make them on my own. I didn’t want to take my own agency, but claiming it was the solution to everything.

How the heck do we do that? Take our own agency? Whaaaaaaaaaaat?

We so often look to others to tell us how to exist. We listen to the world when it tells us we are weak. Lost. Ugly. Not good enough. We listen to the world when it tells us we are wrong, broken. But the truth is that we heal at our own pace. We are okay when we are okay. We are never broken. We are simply changed.

The original question was what my writing says about the way that women obtain agency. The answer is that the narrator of my book, the me of the past, has no agency. And she should. What took her agency? Religion. Sex. Rape. Years of never being good enough. A broken tape of thoughts on a repeat cycle that never ends. It absolutely absurd the way people tried to make my choices for me—the person (people) who hurt me, the justice system, the people who knew and assumed that I was less than because of my experience. I was desperate for someone, anyone, to tell me what to do. I stopped trusting myself to make my own decisions; I’m not sure I ever trusted myself. In my writing, in the telling of my lack of agency, I want to show how absurd it was. I think a lot of women let their agency be directed externally, or entirely taken away, when they should be telling themselves how awesome they are while doing their own thing. The social structures we have created are horribly unfair. So many times, we are chasing a mold that we can never fit into. We are all different; we should all make the choices that are right for us. And if I can show that to one reader, if I can wake just one person up, then my writing is successful. I had no power, both because it was taken and because of my own choice, and if my story helps one reader to see in themselves that all that have to do is claim their agency as their own, then that’s my writing for the win.

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On Rape

“I’ve always thought that under rape in the dictionary it should tell the truth. It is not just forcible intercourse; rape means to inhabit and destroy everything.”

― Alice Sebold, Lucky

Why did I want to go to grad school? I don’t know. Lots of reasons. It seemed like a natural continuation from undergrad, which was the first place I really fit in and thrived. I was (am) an excellent student, so I did what excellent students do and kept going. I want to be a writer. I want to be a BETTER writer. I maybe want to teach (we shall see about that). But more than that, I have a story. And I think that the real reason that I came to grad school was because I wanted to learn better ways to tell it. I had this idea in my head that I wanted to write a book like “Lucky.” I wanted to give a message and pack a punch, and make sense of a senseless thing that happened to me. 

Here’s the thing. There’s no sense to it. I can write on it until kingdom come, and I won’t find sense. Rape is senseless. And I’m not Alice Sebold. I’m me. And everything is different for me. This time of year, I’m not my best self. I’m not happy all the time. And while it might be frustrating, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m entitled to my bad moods along with the good, especially because the good moods are now much more plentiful. Right now? I’m struggling with my work. I’m struggling to write this book that I know needs to be written, because there is an underlying current within it that I don’t like and I don’t fully understand. I can see another survivor and say “It’s not your fault.” I mean it, wholeheartedly. I know it to be true. But it’s harder to say to myself. Two million percent harder.

I did some research on rape statistics for another piece of mine, as well as the origins of rape as a word:

“Every two minutes, someone in the United States is raped. Each year, there are about 207,754 victims. Forty-four percent of rape victims are under the age of eighteen. Eighty percent are under the age of thirty. Fifty-four percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Ninety-seven percent of rapists don’t even spend ONE day in jail. Two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone the victim has met previously. Thirty-eight percent are committed by a friend, acquaintance, or spouse. It’s this on one hand, this horrible indescribable act; it’s a yellow plant on the other. It’s grapes. It’s soap. It’s sex.”

Rape is an ugly ugly word. Sebold was right. It inhabits and destroys everything. It’s an herb, at the same time as it’s this horrible act of complete violence. An act that way too many people have been through. In short, there are a lot of survivors out there, male and female. A lot of people who need to know that it is not their fault. That, while rape may inhabit and destroy everything, we WILL survive it. We WILL regrow. We WILL be okay.

How can I write these chapters, this book, and do justice to the horrible act that is rape? It is so so important to me to make sure that the reader knows it is NOT shameful to be a survivor, but how can I deliver that message when I can’t always personally say it to myself? When I can’t even say the word rape? When I’m asked to read things out loud and I edit them in my head to avoid the word? When I generally don’t even incorporate it into my writing if I can get away with it? I feel like I should be able to very clearly say “This is not my fault” in order to convey to my reader “This is not your fault.” It’s easy to say. Harder sometimes to believe.

In the back of my mind, as I read that last paragraph, I wonder if every survivor feels this way. If the act of being hurt, being broken, being violated, is just so senseless that we can see how it is most definitely NOT everyone else’s fault—but that we can’t always say those words to ourselves. That we blame ourselves. We shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. And we know that. I know that. And yet, we do it.

In grad school writing workshops, we share our work. This semester, we share a LOT. We go through it sentence by sentence. We rip it apart, and we put it back together. It’s not just our work that’s getting ripped apart either, but also us as people. Our feelings. It’s so weird to hear my words come from other people’s mouths, to talk about how the choices I made both in life and in my writing. It’s weird that I’ve gotten to a point where I can do it, where this time even last year this would not have been the case. It is interesting to me to push my challenge line as a survivor, to see how far I can go. How much I can handle. The answer? I can handle a lot. And I am DAMN proud of that fact. I’m not so proud of the thoughts that linger in the back of my mind sometimes. I want to be this strong person, this one who can always concretely have the right answer. Who can say, “The man who did this is an asshat and it’s totally on him.” He is, and it is. And it pains me to say it, but some days I feel it on me too. Shouldn’t, but do.

As a survivor, as a writer, I suddenly find myself expected to speak. My words will reach other survivors. It’s what I wanted. But it scares me. I don’t always know what to say. I don’t know how to put my story down in a way that makes it say what I want it to say.

Maybe it makes me more relatable, more authentic, to admit that I’m not perfect. That I hate what happened to me, and sometimes I am ashamed. Maybe it makes me a hypocrite. I’m not sure. But it’s the god’s honest truth. Some days are not okay, and that’s okay. If that’s you as well, if you feel that way, well…It’s okay for you too. It’s okay to not be okay, just as much as it is okay to be okay. It is okay to feel however you want to feel.

It is not your fault.

It is never your fault.

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