I want to write about what happened to me but I don’t know where to begin.
I start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Over and over again. I wonder is this right? Am I getting it right? And sometimes I wonder if I’m even allowed to say what happened, if that story even belongs to me… because, to be honest, I’m not sure what parts of myself I even own anymore.
I guess I’ve always been a giver. I give a lot. And I like to do it. I like to be the soft person I am, the one people trust with their secrets, the one who people rely on for help, the one who people run to when they need someone to lean on. I know that makes me vulnerable, sometimes, kind of, but I like that vulnerability because it makes me feel necessary. I know those parts of myself make me an easy target for predators, but I don’t ever want to feel like I need to change (become harder, more closed off) in order to protect myself from people who shouldn’t even be preying on me in the first place.
I’m reading Hunger right now. It’s great. I’m so glad Roxane Gay had the courage to write it because sometimes when I’m reading her words it feels like she’s held a mirror up to myself. And it makes me feel a little bit more okay about being the way that I am. About being a lot soft and a little afraid all the time. She was able to put words to her trauma and it made me think that maybe one day I’ll be able to put words to mine too. Not now, not soon even, but maybe eventually. The book is complex and I like that. It’s made me realize that I’m allowed to be complex, that I’m allowed to be conflicted, that I’m allowed to be a full human, a full woman, even when it seems like there are plenty of people in this world who would like to take that away from me. These are the people who use me for parts. Like stealing a car, stripping it down, leaving the useless chassis behind. These people are mostly men, but sometimes women too. Although I can’t blame these women because they are doing what they must to survive: behaving like men.
Maybe the reason I can’t write about it is because it’s not one thing but a series of things. Dominoes. If I push over one I push over them all and if I push over them all and they topple and fall then I will just be left with a pile, disorganized, on the floor of my brain and I won’t know how to clean it up.
That’s the thing, I guess. These experiences accumulate. Like a snowfall in spring and you think it’s not going to be so bad, that it will melt when it hits the ground, and some of it does. The snow turns to water on cement but it clings to the branches of trees and the brown brittle grass and you go to bed and the next morning everywhere is slippery and frozen and white. And if you back out of your driveway a little too slow you’ll get stuck and if you back out a little too fast you’ll slide into your neighbours garbage cans, and both those options suck. So you better be perfect.
That’s what it’s like when you’ve been abused. The first time it’s awful and you might not even realize how bad it is because you’re just a kid and you’re with an adult you trust. Then it’s a few years later and you’re a few years older and you learned that your body is nobody’s body but yours and you’re supposed to tell someone you trust if you’re being touched but what if the person you trust is the one doing the touching? Then it’s a few years later again and you’re in high school now and you don’t know how to connect with men unless you’re naked and they are too. And then more time passes and more things happen and a dating app tricks you into thinking that you’ve got all the power and it is your body and you’re doing what you want with it but you know it’s not actually your body when you’re drinking warm root beer Schnapps just so you can handle a thick tongue jammed between your dry lips and clumsy hands fumbling in the dark for the clasp on a bra you decided not to wear and the awkward stumble from couch to bed. And afterwards you cry driving home when you shouldn’t be driving home but you can’t stay there. And more time passes. And you meet a man at a club and he invites you back to his place and says you can sleep in his bed and you do (but you don’t sleep, really) and the next morning he tells you he has a girlfriend and you sit behind the steering wheel of your car and you cry because you don’t understand why nobody loves you but everybody uses you. More time passes again. And you meet someone and he seems interested in you and you decide you can be interested in him too. And you start dating him and decide that he is supposed to be safe but one night when you’re tired and he isn’t he rolls you over and grabs you and pushes against you and takes something that I guess you gave so freely that he just assumes it belongs to him now. And you wonder if that’s what a relationship is supposed to be like because you have no idea what it means to be with someone. And more time passes and you move away and think you can leave everything behind. You learn to protect yourself. You gain weight. You insulate yourself. You wish that you could rip off all your skin and be someone completely different, someone stronger. You surround yourself with safe people. You try very hard to disappear (and you almost succeed). You avoid straight men, because you’ve learned those are dangerous men. And this means you’re almost surprised when you get groped in public by a man, when his meaty palm pushes against your round bum and the slippery slide-y fabric of your slacks feels too thin against the peach lace panties you decided to wear that day because you thought it’d be nice to feel special. You want to scream or throw up or both but you don’t because you’re a professional. So instead of surprise you feel shame that you let your guard down, and then you’re reminded of all the times that all those men took those pieces of you and neglected to give them back. And you’re angry because that’s not the way you’re supposed to feel and that makes you a bad woman and a worse feminist and why can’t these men just keep their goddamn hands to their goddamn selves?
I’ll sum up those experiences in one neat stack of words. Men have hurt me. Over and over again. And I wish they’d fucking stop it.