I don’t Know What To Say

I was six years old the first time I was sexually assaulted. I can recall the majority of the details with clarity and alacrity. This is a blessing and a curse, I guess because the memories have stayed strong and present with me all these for the past three decades. I have spent the majority of my adult life wrestling with them. Like many survivors, the memories often come bursting out of me with little warning, and at inopportune times. Sometimes during the summer if I am sleeping in a room with a ceiling fan, I wake up with a start thinking it is someone’s breath on the back of my neck. I have spent much of my life in and out of various states of dissociation and bottomless rage. I have spent much of my life like I still don’t know how to say no, and often find myself intimate with individuals who know just how to exploit that.

On the other side of that survivorhood, I distinctly remember being thirteen and my male friends and I figuring out that that there was a blurred line between persistence and coercion. To our young minds, the absence of physical violence somehow differentiated us from the individuals who assaulted me years earlier. Furthering that idea, when I was fifteen, a group of boys abducted one of my friends and took her to a party where they assaulted her. This crime was never reported, but served as singular turning point in the young lives of my friends and I; a reminder of sorts of the secret truth we had always known, encoded in our young bodies: The bad men were real, and they mostly got away with what they wanted. My best friend and I walked around school carrying knives secreted away in our pockets the rest of that year, swearing that we were going to stab the one perpetrator we could identify to death the first chance we got. We never did. He went on to live a normal life until dying in a car wreck on the run from the law ten years later. I was at a party when I heard, and I laughed audibly, comfortable in the certainty that my friends and I were so different from this sorry, dead asshole.

When you are a young person, especially when you grow up in punk, you define yourself by what you are and what you are not. You delineate everyone into a clear “them” and “us”. You surround yourself with other freaks and outcasts and convince yourself you somehow live outside of the unrequited-blood soaked horrorshow that is life on this planet. My friends and I naively believed we were somehow different, all the while shutting out the voices of the women and queers in our lives who have been imploring us to just fucking listen and do better. The few deeply intimate relationships with I have had with men have been with fragile boys with fragile egos, unable in varying degrees to examine hard truths about themselves, always wondering why their lives are perpetual disasters and their exes fucking hate them. Don’t worry. I am counting my relationship to myself in there too.

I wrote letters to two of the individuals who assaulted me at the beginning of my thirties, never having the nerve to send them. Two years back, I decided to send them while trying to reconcile and change my own patterns of abusive behavior towards intimate partners. I held the naïve belief that maybe these two men would hear me out and open a dialogue and that maybe we could sort out some of this mess together. One of them responded. I obviously could not hear the tone in their voice as they composed an email, but I am fairly certain it differed very little from Brett Kavanaugh’s as they berated me, simultaneously calling me a liar and weak for still feeling the effect of their actions thirty years later. They included their phone number in the email, demanding that I call them, which I never did. I have no doubt that had we spoken on the phone, they would have sounded *exactly* like Judge Kavenaugh did on television the other day.

This individual also came out to me as trans in their email. Two days later, they committed suicide. I blamed myself for the death of another trans woman, and wondered what kind of common ground we could have found had they just listened. I wondered how similar the paths we had walked really were. I spent the next week certain their ghost was in the room with me at night and slept very little. I left my room only to eat or walk my dog. I told my friends I was sure that they would be waiting for me in hell when I died. The crushing feeling of guilt stuck with me until I thought about what an utter fucking chump move it is to hurl yourself into whatever afterlife will claim you rather than take responsibility for your actions.

My heart feels ripped out of my chest this week. My heart is broken for all the people I love who are survivors (and that is almost everyone I know.). My heart is broken for all the people I love who are raising children, especially daughters in this thresher. My heart breaks for the kids who come after us, who were supposed to inherit a better world. My heart breaks for the people I love who live the duality of being both survivor and perpetrator this week, because every person I have loved the most has endured/is capable of/has inflicted some serious harm, and we have to live the lives we’ve made and pick up the pieces. My heart breaks continuously thinking about the people who I have done harm to. My heart breaks thinking about what it is to live in a culture that benefits you so intensely that your hard-learned life lessons usually come at the expense of the people you love the most, and that is treated as normal.

I am tired. We are all tired. We are all tired and heartbroken, and I have no optimism with which to end this post, only a small body filled with venom and unwavering love for my friends doing the best they can.

I am a liar.

I have been spending the last week working on my practicum for work/school. I had initially leaned towards doing a research project on adult basic education. I’ve been teaching a class of three 19-21 year olds every Wednesday for a few weeks now. I like the work.  I find it meaningful,  and it suits me well. I think that may be the first time I have ever written those two sentences in my entire life.  To give the reader context for that statement, I will be thirty-five in three months.

I’d like to think that my kids (I call them my kids, because they are still basically teenagers.) like me.  I tell jokes with them, and I swear in class. Sometimes they tell me that they think a reading we’re working through in the text book is boring.  I sympathize with them.  I can see the frustration on their faces.  The reading isn’t challenging.  Maybe they feel like it insults their intelligence. Maybe just want to be somewhere else. I don’t take it personally. I just do my best to try and remember what it was like to be 19 and have that feeling like your whole life was just somewhere else.  I remember that feeling so well.  Maybe I remember it so well because it has persistently followed me since I was fourteen years old and stuck in a rust belt town in rural Pennsylvania.

I wrote a draft of a paper about my kids and I scrapped it.  I wrote a second one and scrapped that too.  I think I just couldn’t actually translate my enjoyment of working with my kids to paper.

I think it’s because it’s just that.  Enjoyment.  I’m so lucky for that, that my work is something I enjoy.  I’m aware of that.

I found myself abruptly switching topics to writing as therapy, something I fall deeply into.  I wanted to talk about writing as a means to heal, and work through our old traumas and horrors.  I related my own story as a childhood sexual assault survivor.  I talked about how a “trusted adult” encouraged me to write stories about my abusers where I was a victor, not a victim.

There is my first lie of the night.  Referring to my mother as a “trusted adult” gives me a hearty chuckle.  Of course, that part of the story is true.  My mother actually encouraged me to write those stories.  She gave me a black and white composition notebook to just that.  I wrote those stories for a few weeks and then gave up on it as winter gave way to spring and I began to feel more calm in my ten year old body.

Of course, I left out the parts where my mother grew tired of my crying and my nightmares around a year or so after disclosing my abuse to her.  I left out the part where after a move to a new state far away from my abusers she told me one night when I was eleven that it was “time to get over it.”.  I left out the part where as adult, my abuse has been written out of the history of our lives.  I left out the part where my mother attributes my bottomless anger and depression to the early death of my father.

I feel dishonest as a writer.  I can’t just turn in a practicum to my colleagues where I say:  “Yep, I was molested.  My mom sucks too.  Whatever.  Long live nihilism.”

Even further into my practicum, my lies get deeper.  I talk about writing as a means to heal.  I talk about the power of the written word to transform our lives.  I talk about it like writing has saved me.  Maybe it has.  Right now, I’m not so sure.  I feel like the same fucked up kid I always did, even three months shy of my thirty-fifth birthday.  I talk about writing as a force for positive personal change like I can ever concentrate on it for more than ten minutes at a time.

I talk about writing like it’s actually brought significant light to the darkness that lives in me.  I talk about writing like it has brought any sense of functionality to my life.  Maybe it has.  Maybe it’s harder to see right now.  It’s getting late here in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s been dark for goddamn hours now.

I don’t know.  It’s all the same words.  It’s all the same stories; the ones I’ve told myself year after year about spending most days feeling like the living dead, or about trying to shape nihilism into a life.  They are everything I know but goddamn it, if I’m not tired.  Maybe I should shut up and take my own fucking advice.

I’ve spent years writing, filling up journals that I never share with anyone, writing blogs, zines, whatever else I can think of.  I pour my heart and soul into staining pages with ink, and still feel empty, and empty handed at the end of the day.  I don’t know what to show for it.  I’ve got a zine that I constantly let out of print, because the shit is so filled with pain that it’s almost embarrassing.  What did my bestie say when she was proofreading it for me?

“God, your honesty is almost uncomfortable sometimes.”

It’s true.  Except right now I feel like I’m lying like I’m healed, or don’t have some vicious shadows crawling around my head and heart.  Twenty years of writing it all the fuck down hasn’t changed that.  Maybe it never will.  I’m not gonna stop filling up notebook after notebook with black ink until maybe one day I’ll wake up one day and feel like the shadows have shifted a bit.

Tonight though, I’m a liar.  I write like I’m healed.  I write like I trust any of my feelings.  Tonight it’s like most nights I feel like I’m stuck in a room where the January wind is howling outside my window and I’m fourteen years old and hopeless, and it’s 3:23 AM forever.  Fuck this.  I’m not even going to proofread this shit.

Edit:  I lied again.  I totally proofread this an hour after I posted it.  Ha fucking ha.

Photo from a photo shoot/writing Project with Mike Belleme.  The prompt was to pick a song that was meaningful for me.  I picked Black Flag’s Damaged II.  That song changed everything for me when I was fourteen years old.