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extra:ordinary – how something is made flesh

(Our final post in the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday survival and resilience) comes from Renee Garcia of Berkeley, CA — a stunning piece that tackles this idea of monstrousness that so many survivors live with, and reveals the tremendously creative work we do to keep ourselves living and alive. Thank you, Renee, for offering this beautiful piece as the finale to our project.)

How something is made flesh

no one can say

1.
How something is made flesh no one can say. She knew the story of her birth. She remembers in bits of static and some old pictures that didn’t get burned up in the fire, and some stories people told about her being born. Not a boy. Not a boy. She knew from some stories and the pinched look on her mother’s face and the vacant dreamy look on her father’s face that she was never born not really. Not in the made flesh sort of way. She was born like a story they told themselves about having a baby. Because that’s what normal people (not monsters) do. They fall in love (and they did fall in love with their broken-ness and made themselves as one (like monsters do with magic) and they had a baby. Little white perfect baby clothes. A white crib. The house scrubbed to brightness. They had a baby who cried all the time. They had a baby they were not equipped for as normal people, as broken people made as one, as monsters made by the dark shadow whispers in his ear saying take this flesh and eat of it. As the dark shadow whispers in her ear saying take this flesh and kill it-this will destroy everything and besides it won’t stop crying.

2.
She knitted herself a person suit from watching how other real people acted. She made herself a person suit from feathers she tore into strips, from bacon fat, from red clay gathered in the foothills of the Sierras, from old stories she dreamed from her real ancestors from long ago. She knitted herself up with her broken hands and didn’t mind the pain. Giving birth is painful even when you are making your self. Her own flesh that she crafted that smelled like the earth and bread baking and wild flowers that were really just weeds. She used tree bark and the trees allowed it. She used other people’s stories and dropped consonants from when they talked too fast. She walked until she was used to it. Her feet were the best thing she made. She made them from poems and old church hymns and wild grasses and river rocks. They were sturdy and determined and kind and could carry her for miles and miles. She threw away the original flesh, it had gotten ruined and who says you can’t make your own flesh. She is only sorry she forgot the wings.

3.
How do you unmake human flesh no one can say.

So easy the hand over the mouth. So easy the underwater bath. She remembers being underwater as much as she remembers air. She remembers becoming flesh painfully over a life time because she was othered into the sheets and coated in bleach and dressed up like a doll and taken into the world silenced and golden with pretty. People said so. Little perfect dresses and shiny black Mary Janes. She was pretty and a good child until she learned how to climb the tinker toy scaffolding she made when they were asleep all normal people sleep (and monsters too) and then she was a bad child but that made her real. A real live something. Girl was wrong. Boy was just a dream. A real live creature. The one that lived in the trees and listened for the bird song and shot hoops in the back yard where she cleaned up all the dog shit from all the dogs she loved and he disappeared.

4.
Who can say how flesh becomes human or human becomes monster. The monster is in everyone. We want to have it be dark and mysterious and impossible. We want hollywood 3D glasses and popcorn and screams and relief that there are no monsters. There are monsters everywhere. Not under the bed. Just under the in breath. Human, monster. It’s waiting like our cells wait to mutate. When cancer breaks in, or some other dis ease that says you belong to me now. Monster is the same. It’s just a state we occupy or don’t. Monsters are made by human flesh made flesh in an equation that is as ordinary as cracking an egg into the fying pan. It’s a choice often it’s a choice. Some of us get made that way. But monster is a tribe too.

The word “monster” derives from Latin monstrum, an aberrant occurrence, usually biological, that was taken as a sign that something was wrong within the natural order.[1]

5.
Something was wrong with the natural order. Sure. She knows that as she looks at the family tree on the big butcher paper and she draws vines around the throats of the one’s she hates in her own loving way. She can’t cross them out and un-make them, it’s too late. She can only decorate them. No off with their heads magic doesn’t work backwards at least not until she deciphers the mysteries of time travel. Then who can say. And if she takes their heads will she take her own because they came first or will her own determined flesh making win out over the sperm and the egg. She can’t complain and doesn’t this is how she got herself this how she started before she made her own consecrated flesh. These are the stories she does not tell her children. She only tells herself.

6.
Sometimes she becomes flesh and real and breathing in the touching of another and another touching her. Skin to skin. Warmth. Breathing. Loving. Fucking. She is alive then and fluid and moving and it’s like all the sunshine days rolled into one and falling from a high tree before the ground bites her back with it’s gravity rules. The falling is a flying without wings and it tastes like all the good things. Like wild berries and hot sourdough bread and lips in the first kiss or the last kiss. It tastes like real and round and hard and sharp and she never doesn’t feel baptized and saved from the darkness then. She is a real live girl now even when the flashbacks arrive on cue, like a line of toy soldiers that demand their viewing in formation until she knocks them over or turns them into art with a blow torch and glue and paint and glitter.

7.
This is how she is made flesh. Writing herself into her own story. Drinking iced tea that is strong and almost bitter and adding lemon. Her mouth wakes up. Digging in the dirt and tasting it. Dirt tastes as real as anything else and it’s organic. And free. Remembering that she used to bleed. Forgiving the moon for everything. She is made flesh over and over again by wishing it so. She will finally learn how by heart when it’s time to let the flesh go and become a cloud walker again. Who can say how flesh is made. We say it and say it, we tell the stories and tell the stories and we make it so.

(Thank you, Renee, and thank you to all of our extra:ordinary project contributors — and to all of you who read and shared these words and manifest, every day, the extraordinary resilience, that beautiful work of remaining, in the aftermath of trauma.)

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extra:ordinary – share the story of your resilience

Good morning out there. The dark is still settled in around me, even though I am getting started late. I love this time of year for just this good early darkness — I feel cradled by morning long into the day.

I have realized, once again, how much I — and our community — need the stories of everyday trauma survival. And I am here today to ask for yours.

Last night, in the latest issue of The New Yorker, I read an article about Elizabeth Smart, a young woman who, at fourteen, was abducted from her Salt Lake City home by a stranger and held hostage for nine months before she was rescued. The article is another example of our national fascination with, and adoration of, these (almost always) young, (almost always) pretty, (almost always) white young women who are taken by strangers, sexually assaulted over long periods of time, then rescued. Their assailants are not a part of their communities, and are jailed for long periods of time. The survivors are offered not simply justice but an entire nation’s support.

Can you imagine?

The response we give these women is the opposite of what many, many survivors of intimate trauma experience.

I have so much I want to say about the way mainstream media, and mainstream society, respond to stranger abduction stories as opposed to the more common sexual violence experienced by many, many more children.  My concern, of course, is always that these posts will come across as critiques on the women, the survivors, themselves — I have no criticism of Elizabeth Smart or Jaycee Dugard or the women recently freed in Ohio or Hannah Anderson or anyone else whose story the mainstream media has deemed newsworthy. These are powerful survivors whose experiences were horrifying. They are my kindred in violence, sisters of a sort.

It’s not that I think their stories don’t deserve attention. It’s that I think ALL of our stories deserve attention. My critique is of the cultural, media response to stories of abuse and trauma. Do you know what I want to read in The New Yorker? I want to read a story about the extraordinary resilience of the young woman who still has to live in the house with her rapist, because her mother denies that there’s anything abusive going on in the home and will not leave, and the young woman is still in high school, and manages to graduate and go on to college in spite of these layers of violence. I want to read about the extraordinary resilience of the young man who has the generosity of spirit to continue a relationship with his family even though they continue to attend the church where he was molested for many years. I want to read about the resilience of the kids who ran away and survived when the street was safer than home. I want to read about the resilience of folks who are required to continue to attend college classes with their rapists, or have to continue to serve with or under their assailants in the military. I want to read about the extraordinary resilience of young people trafficked sexually, by strangers or community or family members. I want to read about the extraordinary resilience of the siblings introduced by parents into a ritually abusive cult, who managed to survive and keep themselves alive and relatively sane in the aftermath. I want to read about those who got away and those who didn’t — about the resilience required of and manifested in each.

The story of the neighborhood molested child, or your local rape survivor, is a story of extraordinary resilience, though neither is considered as shiny or unusual or newsworthy as the child abducted by a stranger.

Of course, not all abducted children are considered newsworthy, either.

I’m repeating myself here, I know, but most of us aren’t rescued. Most of us are held hostage by families or other institutional systems that demand our compliance, threatening our safety and the safety of our families if we disobey. Most of us are left in these situations to fend for ourselves. Most of us don’t get national media attention and an outpouring of community support. Most of us, in fact, are silenced, denied, and shut down if we attempt to get help from our families. We are told that this person couldn’t possibly have hurt us. We are told not to make up stories. We are told that he probably didn’t mean it “that way.” We are called names, we are called liars, we are asked what we did to cause it. If we go to the police, we are asked if we were inebriated, or what we were wearing, or why we didn’t run away, or what we did to cause the assault.

And it’s within the context of these additional layers of violence and hostility that we live our lives, most of us with measures of happiness, connection and achievement. THAT, to me, is the definition of extraordinary resilience.

Resilience is getting a lot of attention these days. Those who study trauma survivors of all sorts want to understand why some people seem to bounce back more quickly than others. It seems to me, though, that resilience doesn’t take just one form — even those who are deeply depressed long after the trauma they experienced may be manifesting resilience. Do we define resilience as simply the ability to get back to work and perform our tasks without interruption? Or can resilience include the multitude of ways our bodies and psyches allow us to stay alive in the aftermath of betrayal and horror?

There are hundreds of thousands of extraordinarily resilient people in this country: your coworkers, your classmates, the woman you run into at the grocery store and the cashier, too, and folks living on the street and folks who have high-powered and well-paid jobs and folks who sit next to you on the bus and at church and at community meetings, folks who cut you off in traffic and others who smile at you when you’re in line at your coffee shop, folks at the dog park and who you meet on your daily run — and maybe you, too — people who are living their lives as fully as possible in the aftermath of sexual and other intimate violence from which they weren’t rescued, from which they weren’t saved, from which they — we — had to save ourselves.

The community deserves to hear your stories. We need to hear from one another. Let us reveal the gorgeous tapestry that is our ordinary, extraordinary human resilience. Resilience doesn’t have just one face or just one trajectory. Resilience manifests in as many different ways as there are humans to tell the stories.

To this end, I want to share your stories here on the Writing Ourselves Whole blog.

This is an open call to all survivors of intimate violence: child abuse, neglect, sexual molestation, sexual assault, date rape, domestic violence, military sexual assault, stranger assault, bullying, racist attacks, sexual trafficking, sexual abuse, abduction, emotional and verbal abuse, and other violence at the hands of family or close community — we want to hold your stories. We want to hear your resilience. We want to hold all that resilience can mean.

These are some of the questions often asked of the survivors in the cases that get major media attention, and so these are the questions I pose to you:

1) Do you identify as a victim or a survivor?
2) Tell us a bit about your experience of abuse — what was it like for you?
3) How did you survive?
4) Did you tell anyone about what was happening to you? Why or why not? What was their response?
5) How did you get free?
6) What is your life like now? Do you have a relationship with the perpetrator(s)?
7) Do people in your life now know about your past? Are you “out” about it?
8) What does resilience mean to you? Do you feel you are resilient?
9) What brings you joy now?
10) What message do you have for others who are still undergoing violence and/or are still recovering?

You might one or all of these questions as a writing prompt — maybe you just want to talk about your experience of resilience. Even just writing for yourself, don’t feel you have to respond to all of these (at one time or ever). Write exactly the part of the story that you are ready to share with the page — and then do something very kind and gentle and sweet for yourself. Go for a walk or a swim, spend time with a favorite animal, get tea with a supportive friend, watch a silly movie — do something to take care of you.

Deadline extended: I will accept stories through December 31, 2013, and will publish them on the blog as they arrive, one per week. Please share whatever piece of your story you’d like to. There is someone waiting for your words.

Post your story in the comments section below this blog post (not on Facebook), and I will create a new blog post for each story I receive. Please share your first name (or a first name, or “anonymous”) and your location (as specific or as general as you’d like: your town or your state, or your country. Comments on each post will be screened — just as in our writing groups, only kind, generous, and positive feedback will be allowed.

You can also email your story to me (in the body of an email message — no attachments, please) at jennifer (at) writingourselveswhole (dot) org, and I will read and respond to your message, even if you don’t want your story posted. Let me know if you would like me to post your story under your name or under a pseudonym — otherwise, my default is to use just your first name.

Please forward this call to anyone you think might want to share their story.

Your resilience is already an inspiration to many, whether you are aware of it or not. Your writing makes a difference in the world, whether or not anyone else ever sees it — because it will make a difference for you.

Thank you for your story, for your mostly unwitnessed resilience. Thank you for your words.