[Content Warning: Sexual Assault]
Here is an inventory of what surviving sexual assault is like:
Hair: Fell/ is falling out in droves. I sweep my room and think, anyone want to weave a scarf?
Eyes: crusty when I wake. Grey and blue half moons overnight and are so far here to stay. Blurry with tears often.
Skin: My thirteen year-old self is here for a visit, acne everywhere, as is the embarrassment for the red blotches splattering my face and back. Rashes and hives on particularly difficult days. Over Christmas I thought I was bitten by an army of spiders from the welts that pelted my legs, hands, elbows. Turns out my parents' condo does NOT have an infestation.
Back: Muscles made of steel. Like bullets. Like the places he touched have turned to stone, crushing down hard on my bones. My back that feels like it betrayed me, its grumpy tissue what got me here in the first place.
Chest: In knots, the kind that burn your hands when you try to unravel them. Like a child's tug of war rope that gives grip to pull the enemy closer. Like the tangled necklace I got for Christmas that keeps scratching my neck.
Troubled, and interrupted by the following: dreams about running away, dreams of fleeing, dreams of men in my life being too close, too intimate, too near. Dreams where I am just screaming. Dreams that I have a child I cannot care for. Dreams where I am stuck in a building and can't get out. Here is the worst: waking and being back in that room. There are nights where the darkness crushes me. There are nights where I want to be held. There are nights when sleep never arrives. There are mornings that I wake and have to remember the reality to which I have awoken.
QUESTIONS/COMMENTS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN HELPFUL (ALTERNATIVE TITLE: QUESTIONS / COMMENTS THAT ARE FUCKING INSULTING).
"So are you still upset about that?" "Do you think you're catastrophizing your assault?" "At least he didn't rape you." "What did he do to you? Tell me all the details." "Do you think you're overreacting?"
PLACES/ TIMES I THINK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED
When the house is quiet. Putting on underwear. Feeling my muscles tense. Getting into an Uber (where is he working?). Getting on the Subway (which neighbourhood does he live in?). Sitting at dinner and not wanting to be a buzz kill. Second guessing if every person I make eye contact with is looking at me with pity. Any uninvited touch. Any invited touch. Any place that feels safe; it reminds me of a place that was unsafe. Noticing men looking at my chest. Any news on Donald Trump. When I consider going on a date. Overhearing a co-worker call another girl a whore. Any phone call from an unknown number. Walking on College Street.
WHAT BRINGS COMFORT
Smashing right through the awkward "should I say something or should I not say something," putting your arms around me, and saying, "I know something terrible happened, and here I am in the trenches with you." Tight, tight hugs, 10 seconds plus, please. Tags on any and all puppy videos on Instagram. Snail mail. Bottles of WINE in the mail (!!!!! Thanks, Harloffs!). Invites to coffee, morning walks, concerts, movies, mundane errands (let's do them together). Diligent, daily texts from my mum, not asking any questions, just, "good morning, Lambie." Snapchats of my sister's cat in a cone of shame. The bushel of dried lavender my roommate brought me. People imposing and just coming over. And then imposing again a week later. Spending a whole visit talking about it. Spending a whole visit not talking about it. Emails (messages, texts, tweets, emails, telepathic transferring) of goodness and love. A new house plant with pretty leaves. Holding friends' babies. Witnessing other people loving each other well. Going to the gym and killing it, feeling stronger every day, embracing the pink walls and pink kettle bells and hilarious catch phrases like "time flies when you're building guns." Forgiveness and understanding when I "just can't," and there's a lot more "just can'ts" lately. Group texts with voice memos and outfit advice and dating disaster stories and spontaneous operatic songs and hip hop videos of Joe's son and a growing collection of alpaca Christmas ornaments. Any "Today is a hard day" answered with, "I am here with you."
And my art, which has risen to meet me and has kept me afloat, and remind me I am still sprouting, I still have something to give, and assures me that I am going to make it.