(There’s some explicit talk of sexual trauma in this morning’s post — just be easy with yourselves as you read, ok? xox, -Jen)
Good morning on this Tuesday– what’s lit for you already at this early hour?
There’s something in my body that’s coming alive, enflamed–I felt like I was glowing as I walked the dark hallway to the kitchen to put the kettle on, like the office was already lit before I put the lighter to the candle.
Today’s nablopomo prompt is this: What is the luckiest thing that has ever happened to you, and why?
I have a shirt I used to wear to readings, sleeveless and too tight, a thin green, with a fifties-type glamour girl’s face on the front, just above the word lucky. I especially liked to wear it when I was going to be reading about trauma. I thought it interestingly ironic. How could she be lucky? I wanted folks to ask themselves. Isn’t that kind of weird? But I did feel lucky.
Is it any surprise that my first thought was, upon reading today’s prompt, the luckiest thing may have been my mother meeting and marrying my stepfather? Part of my writing practice is to follow first thoughts, especially when they’re confusing or don’t make any sense. So here we go.
Today I want to get into the paradox. How can that be the luckiest thing? This man spent a decade building a small cult out of this little family of one woman and two daughters. He controlled my thoughts, or at least I believed he could. Get honest here. This was a man who took over my adolescence, who came into my life at 10 when I was a girl whose parents had divorced, when I was still devastated about what had happened to my life, when I was just beginning to be regularly sexually harassed at school, when I was beginning to learn new things about my body, when my body was becoming something other than just that steady conveyance — ten years old is small, bright, open, wanting, confused, self-assured, self-doubting. He was meant to be a mentor, a friend, even maybe a father-figure, someone who could be steady when my mother was crumbling, when my father was far away. He was meant to be another adult who could help me figure out the world. He was not meant to be a rapist (or lover, was the word that he liked to use) 0r abuser or analyst. I broke away from him, finally, when I was 21, when I was prepared to die rather than move any further into the life that he was constructing for me, which, I’d come to understand, would include never being free of him, never being free of his assumed access to my body.
This is the luckiest thing that happened to me, this man? But isn’t there that voice inside that says, look at what rose up in you in response to the worst kind of violence? Look at what you know you can survive, surmount. More: look at what you have done with it, with the life you have left, with the life you had demanded of you — I mean, the life and body that he expected to feed on until he died. Look at this force you are, look at how you have done so much more than survive.
There’s nothing in me that is grateful that he lived, that his parents lived, that he was made to exist and that he breathes air in this world, still. I haven’t reached that place of forgiveness yet, and don’t have any especial desire to (except at the moments when I reach for the possibility of forgiving myself, and I can’t see how to do that without also acknowledging the possibility of forgiving him, and then I get stuck in the thick tar of that impossibility, and have to turn away from the whole notion of forgiveness and go take a shower — that’ll have to be another post) — and still, what to do with the sense of gratitude for who I am, who I get to be in this lifetime? A whoness entirely shaped by his actions — and, yes, by my capacity to react and respond and grow through and around and away from them.
Last night’s Write Whole workshop was one of those that left me flattened, devastated by what humans will do to each other, devastated, too, by what we have the capacity to endure and survive. These horrors aren’t the luckiest things that happen to us. (That’s something more than understatement.) But something in us that met those horrors and grew and lived anyway is the luckiest thing. Something in my sister that allows her to entertain the possibility now of marriage. Something in my mother that gives her the capacity still to go out into the garden and plant seeds, trusting that growth will occur, even after the hard winter, even after every unendurable loss. Something in my partner that puts on a tie and walks out into a world that can’t truly hold all his contradictions and beauty. Something in you that is still generous–even toward the thieves–when you have had every important thing stolen. Something in you that gets up, anyway, even when the world is insurmountably broken, that makes coffee or tea, that calls a good friend, that puts the pen to the page, that goes out into the work of your life. That something is our luckiest thing.
Is it lucky to be faced with the worst horror one can imagine, to be faced, actually, with unimaginable, unendurable trauma? Is it lucky to be left alive in the aftermath? What’s lucky is to have one another to reach out for (and to continue to imagine the possibility of that reaching), to have people with the capacity to witness, to listen, to hold your loss with you.
I don’t believe in coincidence or luck. I do believe in serendipity and perseverance. I believe in getting up and opening the notebook and writing anyway, even when there’s no hope in it, even when nothing can get fixed, or when that’s the only overriding feeling. Here’s what I’ve found over these (almost) twenty years of writing practice — things change without my working to make them change. I just sit down and write it, which means I’m getting out of the way of life’s ministrations. So maybe the luckiest thing was having parents who read to me when I was a baby, having parents and then teachers who taught me to hold a pencil and make marks with it on a page.
The luckiest thing is inarticulable — the way that I would give anything to change what happened to me, and more to change what was done to my sister, and how, too, I wouldn’t change anything about who I am today. How do we hold that contradiction? What gives us the capacity to hold mess and cognitive dissonance, to be present with many different storylines and listen to them all? We’re lucky that way, I guess.
Want to write about luck today? You can take it in a completely different direction than I have — please do, in fact, if you’re so drawn. Give yourself 10 minutes. What’s the luckiest thing?
Thank you for all the ways, all the ways, you still breathe — and offer breath, by choice, to others. Thank you for the layers and longings of your words.