The prompt I offered at one of our last Write Whole sessions was “things we aren’t supposed to talk about.” (You can make a list of those things, if you want, or simply dive into the first thing that comes up for you when you hear that phrase); we wrote for twenty minutes.
Here’s what I wrote:
I am afraid of dying. I am still afraid of dying. It has been twenty years since last he put his hands on me, he has been in prison for seventeen years, and still something in me remains stalled.
I’ve had friends who don’t want to hear that I am still afraid of my stepfather killing me, that I bear the steel-rod terror still along my spine and through my shoulders that one day he will be released or escape from jail, come and find me and do, finally, what he promised so many years ago, when I first tried to get him to stop what he was doing to me, when I tried to stop the “sexual part of our relationship,” as he liked for me to call it. How had we gotten into the conversation, my friend and I? I said I was afraid I would freeze if I ever opened the door to find my stepfather standing there. My friend was aghast – and though he didn’t try to be, was profoundly shaming. He wanted a different response from me, and so I gave him one: I stopped talking about it. His telling me that I should remember that I am not the 19 or 23 or 21 year old I was when he last threatened me didn’t help. His grimace of feminist disappointment didn’t help.
I remembered – this is my fear to carry alone.
And it’s a site of shame – of course I know I should let it go. I know I shouldn’t believe one more of his lies. Where is this going? Last month, a friend dies at 50 with yes so much more of his life left to head and yet a gorgeous legacy of work and craft and community – and, at 41, I feel like I am still in limbo, still waiting for this man to die before I can truly open up the spigot of my heart, still sure that anyone I open my heart to will get killed as well, still afraid that any ambitions I pursue or life I build will be precisely what he will take delight in tearing away from me, burning in front of me. Torturing me until I relinquish. This was always his way. Why would twenty years make any different to a sociopath?
And so I try to remember to breathe, how to breathe, try to remember that, if he’s going to kill me, it probably won’t be today – and today I have some of my own beautiful and free life to live. I want to understand how to rid my body, my hard-grasping psyche, of this terror. I want to know how to communicate freedom and safety to my body, I want to know how to love freely into this life, how to stop mourning my inability to heal faster than I have. Maybe it all comes down to breath.
It seems true that I am not supposed to talk about the way this terror still lines my shoes, lives beneath my knees, behind my eyes; no, I no longer wait for him to come through a window. No, the place where this terror lives is inside my bones now. It stops up my reaching, my wingspan. Just once before I die I would like to know I’ve flown free.