Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

When I was a 17 year-old college freshman, I went to a party and I drank too much.

I woke up bruised, bloody, and naked next to one of the two men who had abused my body while I was too inebriated to resist. I could have easily woken up strapped to a gurney, or not at all. My last semi-coherent memory of the night, I’m stumbling up the stairs. I’m standing in the dark entryway of the warehouse on the outskirts of town where a friend’s boyfriend practices with his band. I’m grabbing a girl I don’t know by both hands. I’m begging her to take me with her. She shakes her head. She smiles, just a little, looking sad. She leaves with her boyfriend.

After that, only flashes. Darkness, and bare skin (mine, theirs). An overwhelming desire to sleep. Laughing, and bro talk, and animal grunting sounds. Pain, but somewhere distant, my body blessedly numbed by alcohol and cold and shock.

In the morning I’ll discover the bruises. A bootheel mid-spine, the tender goose egg on the back of my skull. Thumbprints and thumbprints. A gnash of teeth around my inner thighs. Abrasions along my low back and shoulders.

In the morning I’ll retrieve my pile of clothes from a corner of the room where somebody has soaked them in beer and potentially urine. Stooping to pick them up makes my ribs scream.

In the morning I’ll find my missing purse and emptied wallet, and laugh that somebody stole the prescription bottle full of thumbtacks I had borrowed from a dormmate, likely thinking they were Adderall.

Shivering in my damp clothes, I’ll accept a ride from the man it will take me years to label “sexual assailant”. He will laugh about a wild night, and sing along to the radio, and I will make myself small and smaller in the passenger seat of his car. I will find my way back to the dorms where I will crawl into a friend’s bed without explanation, reeking of beer (and potentially urine), and cry myself back to sleep in her arms. A week later, I’ll realize he programmed his number into my phone when I get a text from “Rockstar Mike” asking if I want to “hang out again”. Those words on a screen like a kick in the stomach; a bootheel mid-spine. I block his number without replying.

This autumn marks 10 years since a 17 year-old girl was sexually assaulted by two men in their late 20s. This morning I used the word rape and felt it sink cold into the pit of my stomach. Heavy like shame. The shame that kept me from calling the cops. The shame that kept me from turning to my parents. The shame that made me block his number without replying instead of raging. Instead of telling him my age. Instead of pushing back. Instead of coming forward.

I wanted to make him sweat. I wanted to do damage. The truth is I was afraid of the backlash. 

The truth is I’m still afraid of the backlash.

This week, reading the accounts of Brock Allen Turner’s sexual violence and lenient sentencing by Judge Aaron Persky, I have felt heartsick and angry. Because entitled pieces of shit like Brock exist in the world. Because a “young man’s promising future” is valued over a woman’s emotional and physical personhood. Because victim-shaming/blaming. Because we exist in a broken and dishonest system. Because 20-25% of women will be raped during their college career, and this is only one of thousands of instances receiving media coverage. Because only 5% of attempted or completed rapes will be reported to law enforcement. Because even when we do report rape, assailants are rarely convicted or punished.

But this week, I also saw something else. I saw women getting angry. I saw women sharing their stories of abuse, from daily microaggressions to rape and survival stories. I saw men and women alike coming together to rage against the broken and dishonest system. I saw an opportunity to share my own story, hoping it will fuel the fire. Hoping it will chip away at the shame that keeps so many assault survivors bound in silence.

Rape affects the people we know and love. I repeat, rape affects the people we know and love. It is not a statistic to gloss over. It is not a dark alley aberrant behavior by a few violent offenders. It is never something the victim was "asking for". 

Each and every one of us are surrounded by rape survivors.

We can drag the Brock Allen Turners of the world through the mud (only figuratively, unfortunately). But until we begin to dismantle the system and society that created him and men like him, we will not enact real change. Until we begin to acknowledge and validate the lived experiences of women, we will not enact real change. Luckily, you can start today by signing this petition to remove Judge Aaron Persky from his ELECTED position of power. Luckily, you can share your story; join your voice to the collective until we’re too loud to be ignored. I stand in solidarity with the woman who wrote this letter. Will you stand with me?

All my love, dearhearts.


P.S. Male survivors of sexual assault. I see you, I promise I do. I acknowledge you. I know you exist. I know you hurt too.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Brief & Incomplete List: #5

Things I consider exercise that probably aren’t exercise:

  1. Sitting on a yoga mat in any capacity for any amount of time. Somehow this includes napping in my backyard.
  2. Walking up and down my stairs seven times before leaving the house. Because I forgot my water bottle. And my phone. Wallet? Probably upstairs. Oh wait, no. It’s in my jacket pocket. What about the keys… definitely upstairs…. Or definitely not upstairs. Obviously they’re on the bathroom windowsill. Where did this stain come from? When did I even eat mustard last? Dammit, shirt. How dare you pretend to be clean when I was getting dressed!
  3. That thing where I’m really thirsty, but also lying flat on my back in bed, so I just kind of contract my abs enough to pick my head off the pillow while tilting my water bottle towards my face hole and hoping for the best.
  4. Walking the 0.6 miles to and from the beer airstream on Foster. Or the 0.8 miles to and from my favorite breakfast sandwich. Really just walking anywhere to consume anything. See also: thinking about walking somewhere, but then the weather looks like it could turn at any minute, so I stand on my porch deliberating for a few minutes, and end up driving even though its only a few blocks.
  5. Showering. I understand showering doesn’t require much actual exertion, but it requires an exercise-level amount of ambition.
  6. Standing on one foot.
  7. Driving with a manual transmission. Using both feet to operate a vehicle is pretty much identical to those stupid toe press machines at the gym, except I’m not paying a monthly membership fee, and I can use my “toe press machine” to get drive through tacos. Also my right arm moves a lot, which has to count for something.
  8. Thinking about exercising. See also: saying things like “I should probably go for a run”. See also: dreaming about moving my body in any capacity, including flying.
  9. Vigorous stirring.
  10. Picking up/putting down anything that weighs more than 2 pounds for any amount of time. This may or may not include moving my wet laundry from the washer to the dryer.
  11. Watching sports.
  12. Being really cold. Conversely, being really hot. I assume both shivering and sweating require a comparable amount of calories.
  13. Just, whatever. Everything. You guys, life is hard and it all requires so much effort. We're just ambulatory meat sacks animated by a constant input/output of energy, and thinking about existing too long is exhausting. Can that count as exercise? Contemplating the mundane details of living as a human being in a body. Yes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Climbed a mountain and I turned around.

This week in a melancholic fit I taught myself the chords to Landslide. I laid my body out on my bed, held the guitar close to my chest and really belted out those lyrics. Let the reverb knock around in my chest. I ate a family-sized bag of Ruffles potato chips. I almost bought a pack of cigarettes. I was standing in Plaid Pantry and when she asked if I needed anything else the lighter was in my pocket and the “yes” was on my tongue, but then you texted me and I said Nope, all set and handed her my debit card. I’d left work early to cry in my car, and I’d left my car to cry in the forest, and I left the forest to drink beers in your sun-drenched backyard pretending nothing was wrong.

The forest took all the things I wanted to say. When I get to you I am out of words.

Have you ever seen a butterfly drag itself out of a chrysalis? There’s no sudden flurry of color as the former caterpillar bursts fabulously from its entrapment. First they use a gland in their proboscis to moisten the inside of the shell, softening it. Then they claw their way out. Tediously they emerge, sticky with their own fluids, wings soft and useless and crumpled. It takes hours for the circulatory system in their wings to become functional. The wings slowly expand and harden. They become useable.

You asked me once if I’ve ever been depressed. Not just sad but, I’d-kill-myself-if-I-had-the-energy, “Depressed with a capital D”. I don’t remember what I answered, but I know I didn’t tell you about stepping into a river at the tail end of Montana winter. I know I didn’t tell you about the night I invited cheap tequila and a bottle of dilaudid into bed with me. How we flirted all night, but the next morning those pills were still in that bottle. I didn’t tell you about the nights I self-soothed with visions of self-harm. I can’t explain how imagining the blade kept me from using it. I can’t explain how knowing I could leave kept me from going.

I honestly don’t know what I said. When face-to-face with such obvious pain my experiences felt invalid, like I’d been playing dress up; trying on different degrees of distress to see which one fit me best.

I tell the trees I am hurt, and I am angry, and I am confused. I tell the trees I am scared. I tell the trees I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this, I can’t. The trees keep their own counsel, but they nod to indicate they’re listening. “What if we didn’t know about wind?” You said once, forever ago. “Would we assume the trees were dancing?” I don’t know how I answered that either.

My horoscope says see everything that hurts through the eyes of kindness.
My friend says you should just get more Xiao Yao Wan it'll help.
My therapist says so what if it’s an ultimatum?
My head says Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. My heart keeps its own counsel but nods to indicate listening.

The last time I see you I won’t know it’s the last time. In my yellow bedroom I write the words and they feel like only truth feels. I hold the landslide in my mouth, the taste like birth; like slow struggle. Outside no such thing as wind, the trees are dancing.

Friday, March 18, 2016

This is my body.

Lately I have felt like a stranger in this skin. I’m not saying that metaphorically. Literally, I feel as if I am just meeting this body; estranged by the shape and texture of the thing.

The mottled melanin of these forearms, the sudden spattering of red pinpricks across the backs of both hands. My fingernails growing thick and strong at an impossible rate, somehow always dirty. Somehow always carrying a bit of each day close, so close to my skin. There are scars, and scars, and scars. The purplewhite stretch marks across breasts and hips. I am amazed by all the woman of this body. All the soft.

All the pale.

Portland sunlight has leached my skin lighter than its ever been. Just beneath the surface, all those bluegreen highways so visible. A fine splay of veins rooting in the hollows of the pelvis. The hours, and hours, and hours spent beneath fluorescent lights. The late nights and little sleep. Brow struck somewhere between concern and amazement, like my forehead is constantly either crumpling or testing its uppermost boundaries.

So unfamiliar, this skin.

And yet this is the body that used to tear full-bore around the corners of our Montana backyard, hands and knees, caught up in a 6 year-old’s intricate world of fantasies. I was a dog. No a bear. No a lion. Something with claws and teeth, something fiercely independent.

This is the body that bled at 9. Cotton child panties stained black and tarry, stuffed into the bottom of the hamper where my mother found them a week later. How she held them up questioningly and the only thing I recognized as blood was the rush of heat to my face. Shame. My first lesson in woman.

This is the body that huddled in cheap plastic chairs, spending lunches in the high school library. Too afraid to brave the cafeteria. Devouring books and baggies of Goldfish snack crackers smuggled in in my pockets. This body, learning the backache of lonely.

This is the body that knelt on a friend’s bedroom floor, brought the lips to her lips for those inexplicable minutes. I’ve never kissed a girl before, have you? A memory of a boy, the dark parking lot where I kissed him. His mouth like a car crash, all twisted metal and confusion. His wet tongue groping and desperate. Her mouth so soft, no demands, just curiosity. Isn’t it strange to be kissing and feel absolutely nothing? My head nods agreement. My body thinks nothing feels an awful lot like something.

This is the body that lost the bet. This is the body that lost control. This is the body that woke bruised and naked in that basement on the edge of town. Clothes in the corner soaked in beer and piss. A barrage of angry text messages when I recovered my phone from the front lawn. I can’t believe you let him fuck you. His fingerprints bruised into my arms for a week. The ache of pinned wrist memories. This is the body that took a pill purchased by a friend’s mother and given as a birthday present. This is the body that bled at 17, purging a night of Stupid bitch, you had it coming from the hollow of me.

This body wouldn’t drink whiskey again for years. This body learning survival. Something with claws and teeth. Something fiercely independent.

But this is that body that has loved, and loved, and loved. Soft under so many hands. The memory of breath stirring between shoulder blades. Warmth. The weight of this body draped sleeping across or beside another human.

The skin so soft. The skin cold. The skin feverish, furnacing lovers into meltdown. The skin clammy, and most comfortable under a layer of cotton. The skin sweatslick and gliding easy.

Lately I have felt like a stranger in this skin because it as been so long since I sat down and examined it with anything but a fleetingly critical eye. I pause long enough to flash a smile in the mirror, then turn quickly away. Afraid of all the things I might find if I let my gaze linger. Afraid of the ways I have aged and changed. This body, this skin. So many stories held in the tension of my shoulders, in the softening of my belly. Waiting to be read. Waiting to be written. Look at the ways I’ve survived.

Look at the ways that I live.