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.

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I don’t Know What To Say

Annual Talya post.  

Five years.

Five years feels like some sort of milestone in grief time. Five years is halfway to ten years, and maybe at a decade you feel like you’ve officially moved on. A decade, after all is a different measurement of time entirely. You’ve kept living and healed while the person you loved just stopped. The pain becomes less about their absence, because you have grown accustomed to it. The pain becomes more of an occasional dull ache where your friend was. You wonder what their life would be like now had they chosen to continue living it. What would they have accomplished? Who would they have grown into? I think about Talya whenever I’m back home in North Carolina.  In the delicious humidity, listening to the cicadas sing, out with friends in the places we loved, I wonder what that precious time would be like if she was there?  What quirky, weird jokes would she make?  How would she have brought extra love and light to our time together?  Lucky for us, the years have cycled through to where she is able to bring such joy to that time together, even in her absence.

I loved Talya’s voice. In the days after her death, we all talked about her singing, and huddled together around the few recordings of her singing we were lucky enough to find.  I loved her weird ass humor. Case in point:  The time I convinced everyone that we simply had to watch the awful disaster movie 2012, with John CusackAmidst the ridiculous CGI wrought explosions, and cities breaking apart for no other apparent reason than it being well, 2012; extras for the film, useless to the plot aside from suffering indignant deaths onscreen ran around like chickens with their heads cut off. I drunkenly pondered aloud: “What would you even do in this situation if it somehow happened in real life?”  Without missing a beat, Talya replied “I’d run around yelling ‘help help!  I don’t want to die a virgin!’ and just see what happened”.  The room burst into bellyaching laughter.

I loved the way she would try to translate the nonsense phrases I got stuck into my head into German and say them back to me. Like the time we got fixated on the phrase “Honey I shrunk the Führer”.  Where the fuck did that even come from?  Were we watching World War II movies and Disney movies in the same day?  Talya started saying it in broken German, and I could not stop laughing.  ADHD children all grown up that we were, I forgot about it shortly.  In the following days, Tuesday absolutely forbade Talya from repeating it back to me, despite my insistent asking.  He knew that he’d then be dealing with both of us glitching out and repeating it into forever, or at least until we got distracted.

I loved Talya’s kindness. I am not sure I ever heard her say an unkind thing about another person, a true rarity in the world. I also cannot recall anyone having anything unkind to say about her; even before she died, which is even rarer. Talya was unique and so adored by everyone around her. At the end of the day was still in so much pain, that she chose a permanent ending to that pain.

Maybe I’ve finally come to respect that choice.  I hate saying that aloud.

Five years ago today I couldn’t imagine a future where Talya’s death would ever hurt less. Heather Talley and I sat in the garden outside of Rosetta’s at the wake and she asked “Where is the threshold? When do our hearts just finally break?”.  I thought maybe this was it. I couldn’t envision a life where we’d all moved on to the degree that we have. All that was to be felt was a big, awful, empty now. Like trying to catch our collective breath and figure out what deal to make with the divine to get Talya back from beyond the veil, or stumbling home drunk and sobbing up Lexington Avenue was just what we do from now on.

And then five years passed in a flash. Night still followed day and the world kept spinning. Life moved on, albeit a little darker. I sometimes wonder if I used Talya’s death as an excuse to continue down a path of hardening my heart, but I don’t know if I would have survived that year if I hadn’t.  When we talk about Talya now, it’s with an air of fond remembrance instead of soul-crushing despair. Because goddamn, she was so, so funny, and so weird, and just so kind. It is an overused phrase, but I’ll use it anyway: There will never be another one like Talya.  I’ll talk about the life she lived bravely, and the qualities she embodied until the day I die.

Maybe some day I’ll finally be done writing about her every August 9th.

Keep breathing.
Keep moving.
Keep shining.
Keep living.

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Annual Talya post.  

Spell for letting go.

A blessing:

A sanctification
Whispered to quiet rooms in
The afterglow of spells spoken
Balm for the bleeding and the bliss
That is the burden of letting go
Releasing love
To heal the hurt we hold
Breaking free from bonds
That no longer nurture our souls
The air holds a charge
Crackling lungs breathing in the dark
Soothing everlasting aches
Giving thanks for the strength
Of hearts that never break.

Spell for letting go.