Tag Archives: trauma

The Chair

I threw the chair first.

I’m not proud of that fact. But it is. A fact.

I remember precisely how the fight started. I was 200 miles away from home doing a store changeover, I didn’t mind the traveling. My hotel room was great. I got a king size bed all to myself, and there was even a jacuzzi. When I got the phone call, I was standing in the battery section fixing a merchandise diagram to the empty gondola with masking tape.

“S wants me to travel with him,” he told me before I could even say hi. No ‘I love you/I miss you/hi.’ Just ‘S wants me to travel with him.’

I fingered a torn package of Energizer AAs. “Where to?”

“On their tour! It sounds exciting, right?”

“That’s one word for it.” It didn’t occur to me as I replied that maybe he needed to leave home for a while just as badly as I did. That maybe he too sometimes pretended he was single.

“We’d be gone for a year. Maybe two. All over the country. I’ve never travelled. I’ve never seen anything.” His words were rushed, almost frantic in their excitement.

“What would I do?”

He was quiet. I knew then he hadn’t thought of me at all. After a minute he said, “You don’t want me to go.” It wasn’t a question.

I hung up on him. I didn’t know what to say without being angry.

I finished the merchandising job I was on a few days later and headed back home. It was a Friday night; where else would he be but his parents house? The family was watching a movie in the basement when I came in, sat on the stairs. No one said anything to me at all. I knew what that meant. If I couldn’t be happy for him, couldn’t celebrate his success, I didn’t matter.

After the movie was over, he walked up the stairs and into the kitchen, gestured for me to follow. And I did, because he was what I had.

“I told S I couldn’t go.” He sat down in one of the dining chairs and looked up with the expectation I’d do the same. But I didn’t. Couldn’t.

“You want to leave me that badly?”

“It isn’t–”

“Stop!” I interrupted with a double slap down on the table. “Just stop! Neither one of us is happy and you know it.”

“You aren’t happy?” He stood up, leaned towards me as he pressed both palms flat against the table in a match to my posture. “How long have you not been happy?”

I just shook my head. “You…You didn’t even think of me.”

He grabbed my arm then, his fingers sinking into the tender flesh, pulled me towards him until we were eye to eye. “I’m not happy either.”

I looked down to the basement. They weren’t coming. The “family.”

“You’re hurting me!” I tried to pull my arm back, but his grip only latched on tighter.

“You hurt me when you wouldn’t let me follow my dream.”

His dream? He had never once told me he wanted to travel with a band, not in the entire time I knew him.

“You stole mine,” I whispered before I realized what I was saying.

I had had dreams. I’d dreamed of owning a house with a white picket fence, of having a little boy and little girl, of owning a golden retriever, of not having to work so hard any longer in a job that I hated. I’d dreamed of being loved, of loving back. I’d dreamed of a happy marriage, a storybook marriage. I had had dreams. But I settled. I settled on him, and I gave those dreams away.

When he gave up his grip on my arm and slapped me, I stomped on his foot, in tears. And then I threw the chair, hard, right at his chest, and I wished that he would die.

I threw the chair first. Not him. And this memory, this time, is the one I always forget–because it was my fault. Because I went first. And because, I believe, it led me to believe I deserved everything that followed.

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The Next Woman

Dear A,

You don’t know me. I don’t know you. I’ve looked you up online, of course. Who wouldn’t in my position? I wondered what it was about you. Were you prettier? Smarter? Better in some way I couldn’t see? Or was it that you were available? I’m not. Not anymore.

I wonder if you’ve looked me up too. I would, in your position. I’d want to know the crazy I came after if I was you. But note, I’m not crazy. He just likes to think I am.

You’re not either.

I watched an episode of a tv show last week where a woman had to deal with the fact that her rapist raped another woman after she didn’t report him. Silence is more comfortable, sure, but it comes with its own set of ramifications and that is one. You don’t know who will come after you. You don’t know who else will get hurt.

I didn’t think about the possibility of you at all. Not until I saw you that day in Subway so many years ago, holding his hand, waiting in line to get a sandwich like it was any other day. I realized then what I had done. I’d spent my entire life thinking about others before myself, but I never thought about you. And I’m sorry.

I considered emailing you. It would have been easy, what with your contact info on the website, to send you a message and tell you to drop his hand. To run. Now. I never did. It’s a few years later now and I saw this tv show and watched this character cry for the thing she did that was both her fault and not at all her fault in the same breath. And I wanted to cry for you. But I didn’t, because secretly I’m glad it’s not me. And I’m sorry for that too.

See, I have power now. I didn’t want to give that up. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. I hope you understand. I didn’t set out to hurt you. I honestly just never considered you.

Stay safe. Watch for the ticks. When he pushes his glasses up his nose and turns away for a beat before suddenly turning back. When he sits back in his desk chair and crosses his arms over his chest by spinning around. When he leans against the doorframe/wall/counter just a hair too close to you so that you feel his breath on your neck. When he takes one too many beats to stare out the window. When you ask him a question and he closes his eyes before answering. Watch for these things. Watch for more things, because I’ve begun the process of forgetting and I know there are more.

If he ever brings you flowers, writes you a sappy love note in the most ridiculously cheesy romantic card ever, think twice about why.

And remember that this is him. Always him, and never you.

Never apologize.

And please tell him I’m still writing, and I’m coming for him.

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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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The Leaving

The night I left the husband, I sat in the Walmart parking lot, slid my ring off my left hand, and dropped it into the car cup holder that was slick with spilled energy drink. It was an act of freedom, in a way. I had been bound for years by something I didn’t understand. We didn’t care for each other. Not really. When we said our vows, we quoted the Bible verse about love being eternal. Love was not eternal. Love was not real. Love was a piece of shit.

The next day at work, I punched the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom so hard that it came off the wall and sliced my hand open from ring finger to wrist. I told my coworkers it had fallen and I’d tried to catch it; this seemed like the right thing to say. The cut was so deep I should have gotten stitches, but I didn’t. I wanted to see it, the blood. I wanted to see that reflection of my pain. I wanted to see that punishment, the sentence handed down by the universe for forgetting my vows and removing my wedding ring. I wondered if he’d taken his off yet. I wondered when he would.

I’ve worn no rings since on either hand. Some days, like today, I’ll be walking and the sun will catch the aged scar, a few inches long and curdled white, and I’ll remember how much it bled. How much paper towel it took to stop the bleeding. That was the real act of freedom. The bleeding. I’ll look at the scar and I’ll think about how much my heart bled. How much effort and work and writing and pushing myself it took to stop that bleeding. How he made me feel worthless. How I needed to let that go.

I’m glad to carry this scar. I pawned my ring the first year I was in the city to pay my rent. I wasn’t sad. My heart didn’t bleed. That wound was already scarred.

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What I Didn’t Say

I had never been to the baseball diamond in our town before. It was a night right before our wedding, and reaching backwards in memory, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been on any baseball diamond. Except for one time, in seventh grade…

His hand was in my pants.

In seventh grade, my gym teacher tried to teach our class how to play baseball. I couldn’t get past learning how to grip the bat, and I never hit the ball that year, no matter how hard I tried. I was that kid nobody wanted on their team; I was the one who got booed every time I went up to the plate.

He wanted me. His hand was in my pants, and I didn’t know what to do, and all I could think about was standing on that baseball field in seventh grade. He felt his way inside of my underwear. Yes? No? Other? I didn’t know what to say. I never knew what to say.

The more I got booed in gym class, the less I wanted to play. I sat on the bench behind home plate, and I cried because I knew my turn was coming and I would have to do what was expected of me, but I didn’t know what that was.

One finger grazed my skin, pressing down, and it hurt. I wondered offhandedly if it was supposed to. I did not say yes, but I did not say no. Was there something wrong with me? Had my childhood irrevocably fucked me up in terms of liking sex?

No, I knew what to do, I just wasn’t an athlete. Stand behind the plate. Plant my feet. Grip the bat, not too tight, not too loose. Swing. Hit. Run. I knew what to do, but I couldn’t do it.

He wanted to touch me, but I had no interest in touching him. I became certain that I was broken. I did not say yes, but I did not say no. I didn’t know I could say no.

I wanted my classmates to like me, but I wasn’t good enough and I never would be. I gave up. I took detention after detention rather than go up to that plate. I almost failed gym. I didn’t care.

“Why don’t you ever do it back?” he asked quietly. “Don’t you like me that way?”

I didn’t know what to say; if this was how love worked, I wasn’t sure I loved him back. But I needed to. I needed him to stay. So I did not say yes, but I also did not say no.

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The Hardest Thing

I did all the right things after I was raped. I drove myself to the hospital; I had a rape kit done. I tried to file charges. To this day, I don’t know how I did those things. Blind courage? A desperate carnal need to survive? To win, for once? It was not the first time I’d been raped; it was the first time I’d tried to fight back. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and I lost.

Two days later, I returned to my regularly scheduled life, already in progress. I spent the day hidden behind a curtain of hair and a ratty gray sweatshirt hood. I thought that everybody knew, that everybody could see me. I didn’t want them to see me. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Yet I wanted to scream it, I wanted one person to hear me, truly hear me, to understand. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone, I wanted someone to tell me it would be okay, that I didn’t have to cut it, cut him, out of me. 

But I screamed nothing. I said nothing. I was nothing. No one would ever understand; no one would ever feel the magnitude of the weight I was carrying.

A friend put a notebook and a pen in my lap. She looked at me, tried unsuccessfully to hide her tears, and told me to write it out.

Write it out.

I had never written much by way of nonfiction before then; I didn’t think it was a craft I could master. I’d written stories, sure, but all fiction. Writing about myself, my real self, was different. I found myself there, again, with that paper and pen. I made a decision to cry my tears and then stuff them inside and not talk about it, but I wrote about it. No one would hear me, but I knew that people would read. For me, writing was talking. In many ways, it still is. But I found it hard to write, to say, rape. It’s such a powerful word. I’d see it and my hands would start to shake. My breath would grow stuttered. My body would grow cold.

But rape is just a word. A noun. I decided to look it up, to take it back. To make it mine, in the only way I could–by writing it down. Webster Dictionary has several definitions for said noun, including:

  1. Unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person’s will
  2. An outrageous violation
  3. An act or instance of robbing or carrying away a person by force

Rape is also a verb.

  1. To commit rape on
  2. To seize and take away by force.

And at its best, an agricultural term:

  1. An Old World herb of the mustard family
  2. A plant related to mustard that is grown for animals to graze on
  3. Rapeseed; bird food
  4. The pomace of grapes left after expression of the juice

That last definition is my favorite; the idea that the use of the word rape as a sexual assault term came from the concept of squeezing a grape so hard that you force the literal guts out of it.

The grape didn’t ask to be raped.

I didn’t either.

Once upon a time, I wrote a story about a coyote and a little woodland creature. A rabbit, maybe? I can’t find it now, but it was your basic fairytale–the rabbit happily ran through the forest with all of its rabbit friends, oblivious of the existence of the coyote. The coyote loved the rabbit, so he followed it everywhere, always careful to stay at a distance. One day, the coyote tried to eat the rabbit. The rabbit got away, survived, but it always remembered what the coyote howled after the rabbit jumped from its gaping maw: Say nothing. Trust no one.

It’s obvious. The coyote is my rapist, and the rabbit is me. But I couldn’t say that then. I can say it now. Because rape? It’s a verb, it’s a noun, it’s a thing that happened to me, but not a thing I asked for. Not a thing I deserved.

I have written so many pages of material on being raped, about rape, about surviving. I will never grow tired of writing about it, because I think that the issue needs to be talked about. The most important thing I’ve learned through my writing is that I need to make myself show up. Not just be physically present, but really show up, let my walls down, present myself, my story, with no apologies, and be there to be with it. To sit with it. To own it. Because that’s the most important part of my experience–not how well I write it, but how well I own it. How well I use it to help others over feeling sorry for myself.

Every time I’ve kept silent, hidden myself, my story, every time I tell myself I’m not worth as much as other people, every time I think about giving up, I am giving my attacker what he wanted all along. I am letting him own me. I am letting him win. It’s important, I think, to own the word and therefore the experience, to draw the map of that violation on our bodies, to write and speak our stories to reach others who share our stories so that we all know that we aren’t alone.

We aren’t alone.

I learned that being abused was normal. I learned that my attacker had the power, that I had none of it. But the word rape belongs to me now, and I own the power over all of these experiences. Someone important to me told me today: “We have to wrap them up and store them and start over. Consider it like moving. When you move from one place to another, you pack up what you need and want to take with you and leave the rummage behind for the pickers. LEAVE IT BEHIND. It is a mental choice to move forward, and it is the hardest thing you will do.”

It took me a long time to find one person who truly understood who I was, what I’d been through. One person who I could be myself with, no apologies. I found that friendship through writing. I kept writing, and suddenly I had two people. Two people who understood. And then more. I don’t know where I’d be without them now, and I wish that everybody could have this. A safe space. People to talk to, that they trust. This week, I stopped using my pen name. I started being myself. I wrote my experience, I owned my experience. I put my name on that experience and I sat with it and proudly said, “Yes, this happened to me. And I survived it.”

I want to create that safe space, here. Together, we write. This is how we speak. And as we speak, we pack things up. We command them, we control them, we bend and shape them to our will, and no one else’s. And then, emotionally, we leave them behind. We write, we move forward. It is a mental choice, to move forward, and it is the hardest thing we will ever do.

 

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Now You See Me

You are the faintest image on a backdrop of a million people. The man in the corner of the train car with headphones and a green hoodie (I used to wear your green hoodie so often just to breathe your cologne that you hid it from me); the man at the stoplight with spiky hair (you spent more time in the mirror perfecting yours than I ever did mine); the man on the bench in the station playing guitar (you loved that guitar more than you ever loved me). You are everywhere in every piece of everything. And some days I ignore it. But some days I don’t.

You are an ever present tape that plays on repeat inside my head, and I think you always will be. And I’m sad. And I’m sorry. About a lot of things. But not sorry about what you did to me, because that was all you. Rather than sorry, I find that I’m actually angry–and I’m strangely okay with that. I’m angry that you still have this power to put me in a funk, no matter how far or how long apart we are. I’m angry that I let you. I’m angry that I allow you to control me, still, after all this time, from wherever you sleep tonight when I don’t, from whoever you’re with now. I’m angry that you can’t take it back; I’m angry that you don’t want to. I’m angry that I still think about you sometimes, that I can’t forget you. I’m angry. With you.

Marriage doesn’t equal ownership, and all rights of any kind were dissolved when you forgot our vows to begin with. You had no right of any kind. I never said this to you, but I should have had to–silence is not consent. You had to know this. Your payment? It’s small, too small. Don’t tell me that you’re sorry, do not ever tell me that you’re sorry. Don’t say that you love me. You couldn’t possibly.

Yes, maybe you stripped me of something, but you also gave me something. I am strong, powerful. Connected. Brave. And this, this is what you are up against when you fight inside my head. And it’s time for you to lose.

So get out.

Get out of my head. Get out of the backdrop of my life. Stop talking to me. Stop saying that you love me. Take a second and actually see me. See what you’ve done. And then walk away.

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The Dog

We were a couple built on routine. We would go out to dinner and a movie, but always so punctual that we had a gap between the two. So we’d go to the mall. We’d go to Starbucks. That day, we went to Petland. I’d worked there, once upon a time (before I knew how awful they were about where they got dogs), so I knew that we could always go in and play with puppies. We met one, a husky. He was maybe 12 weeks old or so, a traditional black and white. I offered it a red plastic squeaky toy and it was like YES and exploded with puppy joy from corner to corner of the meeting room.

The ex got down on the floor and the puppy climbed on top of him, mouth open and grabbing anything it could. The ex laughed. I could see he loved the puppy. “We could get him?” I offered. I liked dogs.

“We can’t afford a puppy,” he replied.

The dog peed on the floor in response. I mean, it was true, in retrospect. We had barely been married a year. We were living largely off my salary. He was trying to start an audio business. But I wanted that dog, so much. I wanted someone to pay attention to me, to actual me.

I didn’t know then all that would come in the years after, how we would fight, almost break up, not break up, have sex in front of the living room tv with HGTV on so I could watch as he moved up on top of me, get pregnant. Get NOT pregnant 37 weeks later.

I was afraid to call him and tell him the baby was dead. I thought back through everything the past 37 weeks–the times I forgot my prenatal vitamins, the times I worked maybe a little too long, the times I ate the wrong thing or laid the wrong way in bed. The times we fought. I remembered cleaning out my car, remembered setting up the crib, remembered carrying all of the baby shower gifts up our flight of stairs to the condo by myself. Remembered falling at work. Remembered failing my glucose test. Twice. Everything flooded me, every single decision, good and bad. It had to have been on me, somehow, the terrible thing that happened. It was my body that hadn’t done its job. I know differently, now. I know so little about what happened, but I know I couldn’t have done anything.

Tell me, I wanted to say. Tell me that I am a failure. That I’m not a good Christian, that I’m a terrible wife, that my baggage and my damaged bruised body did this. Tell me that you’re leaving, tell me that you’re not, tell me that we’ll try again, that you’ll be gentler. Tell me that you forgive me. No, don’t tell me. Tell me that it’s my fault. No, don’t tell me. I already know. I know all of these things.

I was in labor, maybe hour nine or ten? It’s Me or the Dog was on tv. It was my favorite back then. I wanted to be a dog trainer even before I knew I did. And I watched the tiny hospital tv, and he watched, and he said “we should have gotten a dog. Even you could take care of a dog.”

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Today You’re You, and That’s Enough

Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why, because today, today at least you’re you, and that’s enough.

I don’t remember a time I didn’t construct my identity around something (or someone) else. When I was in high school, I decided food was an optional life choice. I met this teacher, Mrs. L, somehow. We shouldn’t have ever crossed paths; she taught in the special ed wing, and I was on the honors accelerated path. But we met, and I reminded her of her daughter, Amelia.

Fuck, Amelia was pretty. I went with Mrs. L to her house one time during lunch. She’d forgotten a book, a paper, a something that’s inconsequential now. But I stood in her hallway and I looked at her beautiful daughter in photographs, so skinny, her collarbone clearly visible. My collarbone was not THAT visible. She reminded me of that character in Girl, Interrupted, the one who hid the chickens under her bed and screamed that 88 pounds was the perfect weight. I remember thinking, “well, this is what pretty is. I want to be this.” I didn’t realize I’d said it out loud.

Mrs. L cried and told me she didn’t want me to be Amelia. Ever. And after that, she dedicated a lot of time to making sure I wasn’t. She was instrumental in getting me into residential treatment. She even visited me there.

The difference between Amelia and I was that I wanted the help. I don’t think Amelia ever did.

I met my ex when I was 19. He was the first man to ever tell me I was pretty, pretty as I was, without my collarbone bluntly protruding from my skin. I believed him, because I needed to. When the girls around me in high school dated, I sat on the sidelines, watched, never joined in. (Except one notable exception, a blind date doubling with another friend, a dude who owned a parrot that attacked my head). I watched these girls get boyfriends, many of them, dress up, wear makeup, and I didn’t go along. I wanted a guy to notice me. As everyone paired off I thought back to my ideal of pretty, that stick-thin girl, and I just wanted to be noticed not as a little girl grown men on a power trip could literally fuck with, but as a me who had every right to take her own power back and be normal and try dating and maybe make something of herself. I never did, until my ex.

He took me to the baseball diamond, in his car, and he stuck his hand down my pants, on date two. And I knew then–no one else was going to want me; I was too damaged; I was too much of a bruised peach. He was it. He was all I’d ever find.

I was 19 and I gave up trying to find anyone else. I married him. And he told me that I needed him, that I would be nothing without him. I believed him.

I stood in my bathroom at maybe 22, a curling iron in one hand and a makeup wand in the other. He leaned against the doorframe, watching me get ready.

“I kind of want to wear my hair straight today.” I put the curling iron down and went to unplug it.

His hand closed on mine, and not in a friendly loving way. “I like it curly. I like you pretty.” It wasn’t a request. And so I curled my hair while he supervised, so I slapped makeup on my face, so I went to church and I stood behind him and I smiled and I nodded and I played at being his pretty little toy because there was nothing else.

Only there was. I just didn’t see it. It was too hard.

Maybe a year or so after we divorced, I was standing in my new bathroom with my curling iron and a makeup wand and I looked in the mirror and I had the funniest thought–“I don’t think I like curling my hair.” Did I have to curl my hair? Who made it a law? He made it a law, and I followed along. For years, I let myself follow him because it was too hard to figure out who I was on my own. Who I was was complicated. I’d never known her because then I’d have had to admit how I felt towards her. How I hated her.

I’ve been divorced and on my own seven years this September. And I still get things wrong a lot. I’m not always sure how to do the friend thing, how to invite people over, how to present myself, how to interact. I don’t know a lot about going out; I struggle to discuss anything that doesn’t involve a dog. I’ve wasted so much time trying to force my square peg into round holes instead of fitting myself where I go naturally. I’ve tried to be normal, but there is no normal. So I’m out there now. And I screw it up regularly. I try too hard to do the “right” thing, but I’m working on it. I am trying. I am me. And that’s enough.

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The Bite

I can still feel the dog’s teeth hooked into my calf, can still hear the sound of huffed breathing through his snout intermingled with the weirdest most inhuman growling I’d ever been privy too, can still smell blood. It doesn’t smell like you’d think. When I close my eyes, I remember what it felt like, that moment when I realized that he wasn’t letting go, when I realized that this job I had only just realized was so truly important to me could actually kill me.

I remember the sound his head made when I hit it with the fridge door, the clunk of skull against metal as he reset and grabbed my boot. I remember the blood that trickled down, that still stains my right boot two months later, remember the rip up the jeans leg of the pants I had just purchased two days before.

I remember going back in, after, to see the dog’s tail wagging, but the instant I moved, his eyes regressed back into whatever aggressive mode had overtaken him. He’d forgotten me. I slammed the door on him; I tried to forget him.

I can’t.

He has left me afraid.

I remember thinking why me, back then. I think it now. Why did I move across the country, why did I come all this way into this job that I loved only to be scared of it? And I can talk about it until I’m blue in the face, for lack of a more creative expression, but people don’t get what it’s like to default to a state of fear. To see a dog running at me with its teeth out and automatically assume it’s going to eat my face. I would have been different, before. I would have turned my back, dropped into a neutral position, taken that possible nip on my fingers when I offered my hand. But everything is different now. I am different now. Now? I freeze. And dogs sense that. They seize on it. I’ve had more bites in the last two months than I have had in nearly four years.

I can clearly label them, the squares that make up the quilt that is my fear, and I use them to hide behind so I don’t have to make myself be better.

I see a knife against my throat in the backseat of a car, feel a seatbelt in my back, smell the scent of garlic, feel the winter cold on my naked lower half as this man I hate presses hard against me; this is every time a man gets too close on the sidewalk, on the train, every time a man even looks at me strangely. I feel less than for being afraid.

I see my dead son, any time I try to get close to someone, because I know that eventually everything ends. Everyone dies, and we go in a fridge, and that is the end of that. I fear relationships, so I treasure the ones I do have.

And I see this dog, this damn stupid dog, at a time in my life when I thought I conquered all the things. When I thought I was not afraid.

I’ve been challenged to publicly demolish my fears, to tell myself that one bad event doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, doesn’t mean I deserved all the events, doesn’t mean I should be afraid. I think I owe this dog a thank you, honestly, that I need to look at what happened as a reminder that I can actually handle a lot of bullshit. Because name a major traumatic event, and I’ve probably survived it. And I can survive more. I can survive divorce and child death and abuse and rape and I can survive being mauled by a dog because I am absolutely more than all of these things.

So the next time a dog runs at me, or a man sits weirdly close to me and leers creepily, or someone I know has a baby, I will make a choice–a choice to not be afraid, a choice to remember that my personal quilt actually makes me better, stronger. I know I won’t always be successful at this. But I will try. And that’s enough.

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