(This week’s contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday surviving and resilience) comes from Marissa Korbel of San Francisco, CA. In her piece, Marissa talks about the power of namings — the pain of being named, and the necessity of finding our own names for our own experiences. After you read her powerful piece, you can find out more about Marissa and her work at marissakorbel.wordpress.com.)
Creation is the Opposite of Destruction
I didn’t call it was abuse when it was happening. This was confusing later, because it was reported as abuse. After that, I let everyone call it abuse because that word made sense to them, even if I found it confusing; I was confused about everything anyway. I had labeled it all wrong to begin with. I was usually wrong.
I told a few people about it while it was happening, but it was like telling your friends about the guy you were seeing. Sure, he was 43. Sure, he was our teacher. But I talked about him like I talked about any boyfriend. Giggling. Bases. None of them seemed surprised; I got who I wanted usually. Seducing a teacher seemed like a natural progression.
Then one day, it became abuse. Someone else’s word slapped onto my life. I was powerless. She told because, she said, she had to. I couldn’t stop her. I couldn’t save him. I felt like a victim then, but not his victim. Hers.
I always imagine police at his door. The handcuffs. The charges. The rape word. I imagine the wife crying, and the baby crying too. I feel bad that it happened that way, but I didn’t know how to change it. Still don’t.
The first therapist said that my consent was a delusion. She called it lying to myself. She told me I was confused. She said I was raped, but I didn’t feel raped. She said I was wrong. I wanted to punch her in the face. She looked right past me.
I got another therapist.
This one let me say what I wanted. She let me say consensual. She didn’t talk a lot. I paid her to listen because my friends were all tired of listening — they’d already told me so. Listening was her job, so I didn’t feel guilty when I talked the whole 50-minute hour. I always left the money on the side table. It was an economic exchange.
I survived by making it a cocktail party story. I tell it when I’ve had enough to drink that the world gets fuzzy and warm. I say: Want to hear something crazy? When I was 16, I slept with my married teacher. Oh yeah, he got in trouble eventually. Oh yeah, he’s still around.
I survived by casting myself as Lolita. I told a poison ivy story, an erotica story where the sexy older dad goes down on the babysitter while the kid’s asleep. I survived by making it a positive. I survived by magical thinking: I had all the power. I ruined his life, not the other way around.
I survived by writing. Finally, on the page, I was angry for me. For the first time, I saw what was wrong with 43 year-old him fucking 16 year-old me. For the first time, it wasn’t a love affair. For the first time, I saw power and loss and I was so furious with everyone else for once. Finally it wasn’t my fault. It was my parents. It was my teacher. It was the reporter. It was the social workers. It was the criminal justice system. Everyone had failed me. I deserved better.
I started writing a whole book. A memoir. I listened to my coach who said that I had to make myself a heroine. I made myself a literary character. I gave myself choices. I let everyone off the hook. I had compassion for my parents, for my teacher, for the reporter and the social workers and the criminal justice system. I forgave them all as I rewrote my book.
I forgave myself the most.
Here’s my advice. When you’re ready, make something. It can be anything at all, just let it be yours. Make art like lemonade. You don’t have to drink it if it’s bitter. It’s the making that’s important, not what you do with it after. You don’t have to share it. You don’t have to keep it to yourself either. But when you can, as soon as you can, make something. Because creation is the opposite of destruction.
(Right on, right on, right on. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Marissa. Cannot wait to read that book.)