(A bit of this morning’s post gets into some specific details around sexual trauma — just be easy with yourselves as you read, ok? xox, -Jen)
It’s a wet Saturday morning here in NorCal — puppy is learning to handle wet feet.
There are things I want to say today about a deep kind of patience, a hollow place called faith that opens in the body and hurts like hell, present and ready to be filled with successes and joys.
There are some stories that feel the most terrible, that ride in us like nausea and hunger, that carry our guilt and shame in stony lodgings all over our body. There is a story I want to tell you. I have told you a little about my first dog, how do I tell this story, I have been trying to understand the overwhelming anxiety I’ve been feeling since first falling in love with our Sophie at the shelter two weeks ago (has it really only been two weeks?). It’s been thick and constant in me, totally out of place for this situation — too much — clearly older than now. Do you know that feeling, the dual-body feeling that happens when you’re triggered, when you’re in the now and also very much in the Then?
My first dog, back in secondary school, she was not my best friend or companion, she was the only one. We would take endless walks around the neighborhood together: It was my escape from the house with my mother and stepfather. I would walk as long as I thought I could get away with, would talk to Katja, and would talk to the air. This was about trying to be free, about getting free, about taking the air back into my lungs — as soon as I walked into the house again, the air got removed, this is no time for the passive voice, he, my mother’s husband, took the air back from my lungs for himself. I’m not sure if that’s a metaphor. Katja was a solid black lab-husky mix who scared every boyfriend that walked through our front door with her barking. She was barely trained and unspayed, eventually getting pregnant — my mother’s husband said he took the puppies to a farm, and I allow myself to continue to believe that was true. (Every one of these sentences is its own story.) Her coat held most of my tears and many of my wishes, dreams — the ones I would let myself say out loud, I would say to her. I’d wanted a dog my whole life, and now here she was, my heart’s only companion. I distinctly remember a time (when I was home from college, it must have been, maybe freshman year) that he wanted to rape/have sex, and I couldn’t talk my way out of it and Katja was in the room. We were all on the floor. At this time, the room that had been my bedroom through high school was now the business office for our family company — the one that ostensibly paid our way through college — the girls’ bedroom was by then down in the basement, far from where my mother slept. The carpet was light colored, there was computer equipment all around. Katja whined and growled at him — she wanted him off me, like I wanted him off me. I don’t think I told her to stop. I hope I didn’t. My heartbeat didn’t tell her No, like it isn’t now. I want to say that he got up and shut her out of the room, but there’s a good chance he made me do that. What I hold on to is how she held on to my breath, was the growl that I couldn’t make, was part of the body of my resistance.
When I was a sophomore in college, home again on vacation, he demanded that I take her to the pound. She was 8 years old. After my sister and I were both gone from the home, my dog spent nearly her whole life down in the basement, away from any natural light, away from people. He was mad because she was pissing and shitting in the house, mad that she barked, mad that she was a dog and that I loved her. I lived in the dorms and couldn’t bring her back to school with me. My sister drove me to the animal shelter because at 19 or 20, I still hadn’t been allowed to get my driver’s license yet. The woman at the pound was honest with me, forthright, she’ll have a week here to get adopted. I was trying to keep a straight face, to kill the thing in me that was screaming, that looked at my dog’s face and had to leave her in that fenced concrete horror. I said I understood. I understood. I asked if she thought it was possible that Katja could be adopted. She tried to be kind and clear with me at the same time. In the concrete parking lot, bright sun blaring off ever car and window, I fell apart. My sister tried to comfort me, but there wasn’t any way to comfort the place in me that broke. I’m still wailing there in that place. Just a few months later — fewer than 6, I think — I moved out of the dorms and into an apartment. I repeated to myself and to friends: she could have come with me. I could have brought her here.
There are reasons I haven’t wanted to love another dog, reasons that I’m terrified, reasons to want to do it right. I breathe deep into those ancient aches, that horror of shame that craws still up the inside of my skin, I take her muzzle in my face and apologize and ask forgiveness and ask for help now.
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There are the old stories that ache to be written and shared, and are terrible to write and share. Is there one you are thinking of now? You can take it in small pieces. 10 minutes, let the words and tears and/or rage come out onto the page, breathe it true, and then let yourself do something completely different — make an amazingly delicious breakfast, take a good hot bath, go for a run, watch a fantastically-terrible movie. This is about positive reinforcement: we can do the hard work, and get rewarded for it.
I am grateful for the ways you carry your history, your old and true loves, in and on and under your skin, even and especially those you, we, have betrayed. Thank you for their stories, for all of your words.
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