Today is the first day of April, the first day of Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month, and I’m back to okay-ness again.
This comes up over and over, and Richard Hugo told us to go into our obsessions, use them, write the same poem/story/scene over and over and over if you have to.
This is it: If I am ok, that doesn’t mean what he did was ok.
I can’t feel that statement in my belly, in my body yet. But I want to. I don’t know if I’m ready to, but I want to. I want to be ok, and have it still be indefensible, what he did to us. I want to be well and functional, and still have his actions be seen as terrible.
I have felt that I needed to be the proof, the evidence,the artifact. I have been the thing they could hold up in court: Please see Prosecution 1, your honor, see the tension all through the muscles in her neck and shoulders, the dark slung bags beneath her eyes, how her fingers feel like ice? See the sounds of old whispers hungering in her ears and at her neckline, see the wrecked belly, the years of drinking to excess to forget or forgive her body, the evidence of too much rage stuffed into her own body in the form of food, the swallowed screams, the exercise she felt she didn’t deserve? See how she doesn’t fit into her clothes, how her hair is unsettled, the marks on her face and hands, the struggle around sex? Your honor, she is our best and continued prosecution — this man deserves to be condemned over and over for what she has lost in her life, for the success and relationships that she has eluded in order to continue to be our evidence, in order to continue to hold up the frame and the mirror of his parental betrayal, his psychological brutality, his sexual violence, his plain misogyny, his deep fear of not being enough, the shame that he wrote out in brainwashing and contamination on her body. See the phone calls she doesn’t return, the money she has refused to make to avoid being associated with the defendant’s class aspirations, the doctors she hasn’t visited, the illness that has lingered in her belly, intestines. Listen to her organ’s stories — they will tell you about years of abuse at her hands. Isn’t that evidence plenty? Look at her bowed head, sharp footballer shoulders, lost time –your honor: let’s prosecute him again and again and again on her back. We’ll bring her back tomorrow, later today, in 5 minutes, and she’ll still be the same warped shape, the same wrecked boat on his shores, and her life will testify.
What if I stopped being the evidence?
We never testified in court — when we decided to go to the criminal justice system about what our stepfather had done, we certainly expected one day to be in the witness box. The day we talked to the assistant county attorney, she set up appointments for us with detectives over at the police station to make our statements, and, with no preparation for anything like this, we went into separate rooms with male detectives and told our stories. She wanted it to be right away, the county attorney — she didn’t want to wait until we were back in the state again. She wanted to move on this case. We were each in those rooms a long time, for over an hour, longer, I wish I could say how long now. We told as much as we could remember. I told about my whole life – my whole life was my testimony. I was terrified of getting something wrong, of our statements being unmatching, of our stories not matching, of us contradicting one another, of us being used against each other, again. We gave books of statements, each of us, and then, both our mom & stepfather were arrested — she was arrested as an accessory, because she’d acted as an accessory, even when she didn’t mean to, and so they could use her fear to get her to testify against him, too. I wasn’t in the state when he was arrested — I had to go home, back to work. In the end, we never had to testify ourselves, they had these huge, corroborating books that we’d given the detectives, and they entered those as our testimony.
What if I stopped being the evidence?
We had to give victim witness statements — how has this impacted your life? We were to functional for them to help us financially — so we have paid out of pocket for therapy and other assistance for twenty years.
This statement has been the thing that terrified me: Well, you look like you’re doing well! It must not have been so bad after all, what he did.
No one has ever made this statement to me, that I can recall — maybe it has been my own indictment against myself, or something he said once. I have shaped and bent myself around it, I have carried it thick at my core, I have made it my center stem: if I am not all right, then people will know that what he did wasn’t all right. If I am not all right, then it will be clear.
And so, conversely, if I am all right, then I let him off the hook — isn’t that the other side of that math? If I grow and change and heal, does he get to be free? If my whole life isn’t about making sure he’s held accountable, then what is my life about? Then what will happen to him?
What happens if we untether those things, relenquish that equation, set them free of each other? What happens if I am ok, and he is still accountable for his actions? If I am ok, and what he did to me was still not ok, will never be ok?
Today I want to try this on, repeat it like a mantra, let something soft happen to old hard places deep in my belly, in my shoulders, between my thighs — where we began: what if I am ok, and what he did was not ok?
This is a slow, shifting, incremental letting go, a heavy releasing, a quiet, quiet, beginning to open the bear trap that has held me to this man, held me to that hororr, held me here. Do it slow, let the blood begin to flow back into the places where its been absent. This work around returning to/re-allowing my body is this work — letting my body be a body,and not evidence of a crime, not a crime scene, yellow-taped off, photographed for specators, available only to investigators.
I think about taking myself out for hot chocolate.
‘What if-‘ can be a powerful place to start some morning writing. Get a cup of coffee or tea, settle in to wherever your writing place is at the moment. Let yourself have 10 minutes, open your notebook to a blank page (either paper or electronic) and begin with “What if…” Repeat that beginning as often as you want to — and try to keep your hand moving, without stopping to edit or change or think too much, for those 10 minutes. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.
Thanks for the ways you are easy with the tender parts of you, and others. Thanks for your gentle kindness today, your creative brilliance, your thick and gorgeous words.