Tag Archives: sexual violence

How to Fix Your Face

I was eight when I first discover how to close the gap between my private and public face.

It started with cold, damp paper towels pressed against my eyes in the school bathroom. I sat on the toilet, face to the sky, letting the water pool along the swollen skin. It stung. By the time I can leave the stall, most signs of my panic attack had slipped into my normal features – save the swollen, cherry-colored downward crescent of my mouth. I quickly learned how to escape from rooms while drawing the least attention possible as I ran away – to bathrooms, to empty classrooms, to my mother who had to rearrange her life and work in the school office for my health.

From there, it became an art. I prided myself in putting everything back together – in rearranging my face to hide the roaring distress – in settling the surface of the water and allowing the piranhas, with their snapping jaws and glassy eyes, their freedom beneath the stillness.

But fuck if it doesn’t get harder. Maybe it’s that the wounds got worse, the damage more visible.

A bad hookup led to covering bruises, hiding burst blood vessels along and inside my eyes. It looked like someone had thrown paint in my corneas. When I caught others looking, despite the hours I had spent with ice packs over my eyes, I tried to smile. I can’t remember if my lip was split or if something else made my mouth ache. No one asked about the red-tinged bruises lining my throat. But I remembered them every time I swallowed.

I covered the raised, patchy mess of my face with plain Greek yogurt. I left metal spoons in my freezer, then pressed them against my eyelids. I wish I could say I had seen stars – instead I saw nothing.

When I opened my eyes, the room struggled to take shape before me.


I’m older now.

My private face has shifted almost entirely inward – the river has frozen over just enough to allow safe passage. I swallow panic and it is sharp against my tongue. But sometimes I find myself locked in a bathroom stall, chin tilted skyward, cleaning the saltwater from my cheeks – reducing the swelling with paper towels as cold as I can handle. I feel so small in these moments… as if I’ve stepped out of time and I’m eight again, somehow equally privy to the horrors to come and surprised when they arise.

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Look ma, no hands.

don’t touch me. please.

stop.

but you won’t stop. I know that about people like you. Rarely do I even get a chance to say anything before your hand is grating against my body – unwanted, unwelcome.

I don’t know why it keeps happening. I don’t know what about my body makes it seem like communal property. I just don’t understand. But it always hurts, it aches, I feel every single goddamn hand from every motherfucker who violated me before you. I don’t sleep for awhile. I leave a little too often to get sick in the bathroom. I cry in my boyfriend’s arms and try to piece the night together.

Maybe it’s time for a change.

Maybe this time, when you touch me and my skin burns and my mind goes blank, maybe this time I’ll repay violence with violence. I’m granting myself permission.

If your hands are on my body without consent, I will take them. I will unhinge my jaw and swallow you whole, I will yank you into the nightmares that keep me up at night – of hands and loss and fear.  I will take no prisoners. And then, when I have made myself unforgettable, I will fucking leave. Let me crawl the road to your childhood home with your hands in tow. I will bring them home to your mother, all skin and tendons and blood, and I will tell her about the monster she has raised – that she will bury. And I will go home and I’ll sleep soundly at night.

let this be your only warning.

don’t

fucking 

touch me.

 

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Queen of Sad Things

I’ll be the first to say it: my body of work is largely depressing, a sea of sad stories that stretch far beyond the horizon. It isn’t often easy to read, nor is it meant to be, because stories of bodily assault should never be easily tolerable. Their very nature insists on being difficult, tragic, scarring.

As a species, we tend to deal with trauma in a few specific ways. We can let it engulf us. We can swallow it. Or we can cut off its head and parade down the streets, blood dripping on our shoes as we refuse to stay quiet.

There is no right way to do it. I have tried staying silent. I have tried being swallowed. Only now, in this age of unrest, do I feel comfortable demanding to be heard.

I was eight and her name was Andrea. I was eighteen and his name was Niko. I was twenty-one and their names were Audrey and something I didn’t quite catch.

I was in school. I went home with him. I was at a party and everyone else was drunk.

I went back. I went back. I burnt everything down.

And now I speak – no, I shout. I scream. But why?

First and foremost, I write for myself. I write to process what has happened, to glean meaning from the wreckage, to find peace in the aftermath. Writing is a wonderful and healthy alternative to being dead, so I write. Additionally, these events have shaped the manner in which I interact with the world. To ignore them is tantamount to erasing my past and, without this context, you will not understand how incredible my existence is today.

I share my writing for four reasons.

  1. I didn’t know women could be perpetrators of assault. I did not know a woman could hurt me this badly. When I was first assaulted in a classroom at school, I didn’t even realize what had happened. I didn’t have the language for it. For years, I felt like I was a monster, like there was this consuming darkness in my lungs. I felt like it was my fault. When I was researching data for my thesis, I couldn’t find much about female sex offenders – and if I can’t find it, that means other victims can’t find it either. It is vital that other survivors hear me. Being able to articulate your experiences cannot happen without vocabulary, without language, and I am here to scream for them, too.
  2. I am not a ‘good’ survivor. It is important to be seen exactly as flawed and imperfect as I am in conjunction with my experiences – because the police asked me why I went to Niko’s house alone, because people told me I shouldn’t have gone to Audrey’s party, because people keep finding ways to tell me that the assaults were my fault. “you shouldn’t have… you could have… you didn’t…”

    No more. I am not a ‘good’ survivor. I didn’t follow the rules that people rubbed in my face afterward, and by no means does that translate to fault. I want survivors to know that. There’s nothing you can do that justifies sexual violence against you.
    It was never your fault.

  3. I want to be more transparent with my mental illness. There is so much stigma around people with PTSD – how we function, what we look like, what we’re capable of. We’re not all soldiers returning from war, but my diagnosis is just as valid as anyone’s. I want to reframe the conversation about mental illness. This past Tuesday, as I sat in a training room, the speaker told us how to deal with ‘brain sick’ patients. They spoke to us as if no one in the room could relate to a man dissociating in a lobby – as if we had never had nightmares we couldn’t shake. And I felt such shame in that moment, like my illness was always going to make me an Other, like I couldn’t belong here. They can’t tell that I’m sick, but only because they have a very clear idea of what sick should look like. I’m here to tell you that, unless you live with a mental illness, your perception of the mentally ill is probably incorrect. I want to change how we are seen – I want to change the limits people think we can reach –  I want to excel and grow and become successful enough to educate the masses: we are sick, but we are capable. Furthermore, I want other survivors to see that it really does get better.
    {I promise.}
  4. There are still assholes in my life who make rape jokes – who make PTSD jokes – who spread rumors about my sexual promiscuity to excuse their flippant disregard of my safety – who told me I deserved it – who basically make time to announce to the world that they are trash. I write to remind them that I am ill, that I am conquering, that I refuse to be quiet in the face of their cruelty. I write to stick in their brains. I write because the next time they open their mouths to say they totally raped a guy on a video game, the next time they expect me to laugh at a joke where I am the punchline, I want them to picture me as a child.

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    Picture this little girl crying herself to sleep – refusing to sleep alone until she was eighteen – throwing up in the dorm room showers for three hours afterward – entering a psychiatric hospital barely a month after turning nineteen – spending years wanting to die. I want them to see me. I want to be inescapable. I want them to feel guilty. If you picture and you choose to make that PTSD joke anyway, I hope you fucking choke.

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And now, a brief note for those who know me outside of my blog. Please do not ask me for details about the assaults. If I want to talk to you about these situations, I will initiate the conversation. Otherwise, let me be. Do not ask my other friends and family for details. If you’re worried about me after reading this post, please know that I am healthy and happy. My life is exceptionally beautiful right now. I am okay.

If you read this post and you recognized Andrea, Niko, or Audrey’s name, absolutely do NOT talk to them about me, do not ask them about me, do not share this post with them, and do not talk to our former coworkers about my assault. I did not include their last names for a reason. I do not want to speak to them, I do not want to speak to you about them, nor do I want to be spoken about to them or to anyone. My assault is not a circus act, it is not a gossiping point, it is a tragedy and they have taken enough from me. Please respect that. I take my safety very seriously and so should you. If you cannot, you will be cut out of my life so fast that you’ll get whiplash. If, however, you have also been assaulted (either by these individuals or someone else), and you want to talk survivor-to-survivor, then I am absolutely here for you.

As always, thank you for reading.

It really did get better. Really.

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