Two Days After A Rape by Sarah Sullivan
Can't Forget by Persephone
The month I was supposed to graduate from college,
the month when my days were taken over by TV news of students in Beijing having hunger strikes.
The week I was supposed to sit for my graduation exam,
The week I sat in a Hong Kong airport waiting for my boyfriend fled back to Hong Kong after demonstrating and escaping the bloodshed on Tiananmen Square.
The day my college classes ended,
the day I found myself in crowds marching toward the Chinese Xinhua News Agency protesting against the massacre.
The night before HK returned to China
The night they started to call us the impure ones for being raped by our British colonizer.
Errands by Evlyn Jackson
"Cherry or New Car?"
"What?" Evie says as the impatient voice repeats the question.
"Scent. Cherry or New Car?"
"Hmmm, are there other options?"
"Ma'am," pointing beyond Evie's head to the corner of the store, "Over there. You're holding up the line." The attendant glared at her and then announced to the crowd, "Everyone, please decide on a scent before getting in line!"
Evie cringed, thinking the attendant might swat her with a rolled up paper like she was a bad puppy. Agitated, she grabbed her wallet from the counter and scurried across the store to the scent rack.
Hmmm, what's the least offensive option to cover cigarette smoke and dog stench? Daunted, Evie scanned her options. Some she knew she hated such as "new car" and "potpourri" while others offered no indication of their scent: names like "passionate embrace," "relaxing get-away," and "vitality." Do they really cost $5.79? Isn't the minimum wage still under $8?
She opts for "dreamscape" and turns back toward the counter to join the line. She sees a man she recognizes sitting, huddled over his cell phone, fidgeting as if he senses the lion is lurking. Her heart drops into her stomach. Evie searches for the nearest exit. She's caught between the urge to flee and the urge to walk over to the man she desperately loves. Could she simply say hello? She wiggles her toes to ensure she is on solid ground, inhales deeply and walks over to him.
"Pop?" He looks up from his phone. "Hello," she says extending both arms, indicating she'd like a hug.
"Missy!" he says in his cheery Texan drawl "Well hello! Well, hey! Just getting your car washed on this sunny day?"
He stands up, shifting his weight awkwardly and smiles. They embrace warmly and tightly—but only for a brief moment. "Didya get my email?" he asks excitedly, as if email were a regular exchange between the two of them. "That gal, a social worker or one of those, from Ohio, who was on the front page of the paper with the last name Jackson? I was sure it was you. We knew you'd be out there helping people, but Ohio! Jiminy! We never thought you would go to Ohio!"
"No Pop, I didn't get it…" she said, but he cut in before she could finish. "Well Missy, you have to see it! Let me get on this wing-ding here," referring to his cell phone, "and see if I can look it up for you."
She should say no and leave, keep the boundary between them because it protects her. She can't. She doesn't want to. She scans his face, his eyes, his handsome jaw-line and thinks how kind and strong he seems. Evie looks up and notices a woman watching them as she waits in line to pay.
"Well okay Pop. Sure, but only for a few minutes," Evie sits beside her father, closely, intimately, like she always has. It feels good. As her father fiddles with his phone, Evie notices his hands are trembling. He loves her, she knows that.
"I wasn't in the paper Pop…" she starts, but is interrupted by him.
"Ah ha! I found it! When your mom and I saw it we just couldn't be-lieve! Dad-gum-it, I usually keep the cut-out right here in my pocket."
She feels sick to her stomach, angry, overwhelmed. The photo is a profile of an auburn-haired, pale woman wearing an abalone earring much like a pair Evie once owned. It isn't her.
Just then, the woman who had been watching them approached and beamed, "Oh, it's so nice to see a father and daughter so close. You can see how much you love each other."
Evie hadn't seen her father in nearly a year. The last thing he had said to her was, "You're just bitter because you were molested."
Letter to a Friend by Kira
When you told me about your history of abuse, it was hardly an appropriate time for me to glibly interject and tell you about mine. I was buoyed by your wellness and emotional intelligence after we jokingly agreed you were raised by wolves. You probably cannot imagine that I went through life until this point without ever personally being touched by a victim of abuse. Until very recently, I had considered my own experiences as series of unfortunate events and not something that should have caused irreparable harm. I was not choosing to be dishonest and I certainly was not meaning to be crass when I jokingly asked if you met your girlfriend in a counseling group for victims of abuse. It was just the discomfort and lack of familiarity I had with the territory. I need to change that. I am compelled, after all these years, for someone to bear witness to my story. Someone alive. You.
I might seem incredible, for you know me as a person constantly seeking knowledge and experience, but I never considered sexual assault to be a sexual initiation, I never looked what constituted rape, what the long term effects are of abuse that one doesn't deal with and try to heal from it. Until I learned about your story of survival and recovery from physical abuse, I have never thought about it in terms of it affecting my overall behaviors.
All of this conversation in our society recently with the Jian Ghomeshi and Rehtaeh Parsons cases, and our discussions regarding your history really had me starting to process all this for the first very first time. Why am I the way I am? Why do I harbour those responses that are drawn by the experiences of me as an eleven-year-old girl? You became an unwitting catalyst to the release of a maelstrom of confusion and self-revelation.
And so I continued to tell my immediate circle– as if to cry out was the first step to get out of the dark place. I question the value of these confessions. I have found that there are three types of responses when I tell people my story. Most are to avoid the tension or discomfort that such a story necessarily brings. There are those who are superficially supportive but recede from your life temporarily or permanently, like you are sick and contagious, there are those who are crushed and make useless pitying statements like 'how could a person ever survive that?' Then there is your response. As much as I would like you to be moved to compassion and support, you say you are indifferent. I believe that it is too hard, too annoying for you to consider the voice of the girl, but I do not believe it about the woman. You are my first witness and you will forever be imprinted in my mind. It is as if you are etched there by the sheer brightness of illumination you brought after all the darkness and secrecy. People talk about past events like they are history. I think the past has come rushing forward in time to meet me in the present-"You won't forget about me!"
I have spoken about needing a witness. Since my mother's death, there are but four persons on this earth who know this story. Those four boys are all over 50 years old now. It was a time when being charged with the sexual violation of a girl would have devastated the lives of those four boys, still children themselves in the eyes of the law. I have forgiven my mother for being complicit (at my urging), unfortunately swayed by the irrational arguments of a child. Her decisions were more considerate of those boys. I suspect she knew of their story – their hypersexual behavior, their disregard for boundaries and property (both their own and that of others). I also suspect she knew little of the effects that trauma would have on my life if it was ignored. In her charity to them though, she failed to defend me. The assault that ended my childhood was never ever discussed again after that day.
I am moved to remember a statement about collective healing, that none of us are okay until we are all okay. That is our interrelatedness as beings on this earth. I can wish that I had managed this differently until now, but I cannot hurry. Everything will be all right in the end, and if it is not all right, it is not the end.
I long to tell you the rest, but my legs are strong, and I will move on. Because of you, I have started this journey. Because of you, I have hope for us both.
Fences by Charlene Rogers Bourdon
I live inside fences. Fences that reach around the perimeter of my neighbourhood. Too high to scale, they keep some in and others out. The entry gate is guarded twenty-four hours a day. There is no coming or going that is not recorded.
There is a very visible hierarchy here which dictates who may and who may not.
There are only two streets of houses inside my fences. One street arcs off of the first, the resulting shape giving the impression of a safety helmet. Eighty houses, that is all, and we know everyone. And we know who may and who may not.
A short pathway takes us through virgin woodlands to our school. These woods present us with wild Tiger Lilies, Lady Slippers and tiny, sweet strawberries. Ever the illusion of tranquility. We explore these woodlands without fear.
And then we go home, and we know who may.
Charlene Rogers Bourdon
April 12, 2015
Saying Goodbye to the Shame House By Doris Ward
The day came. I got the call from my mother. They are selling their house. THE house where it all happened. She said a big part of why they were selling was because of what happened there. But was that just something she said to me to make me feel like she was still with me on my side of the fight?
Time passed. It was on my mind. It was an opportunity, a window of sorts, to make progress, to maybe heal, to maybe just maybe be able to move on and start living without this pain and struggle. To face it - to be there again.
The day came. I went with my husband but felt alone. I needed to do it myself, alone. It was a blur, the 3 hour drive, the entry into the wide gravel driveway, opening the door AND then it came to me. The sounds, the smells rushing back to suffocate me. I instantly go into pretend mode. Pretend it doesn't affect me, that it's not ruining me, crushing me with intense feelings.
We have supper. There is a moment in the kitchen with my mom, can't detail it but it feels like the most right time for me to go up the golden steps one more time. I leave in such a way for no one to notice like the secret was still a secret. I feel squished, crowded as I walk but feel like floating forward yet downward heavy into this quicksand moment. Through the narrow hallway, though those many doors, noticing the locks I often used but failed to keep the evil out. I enter THE room. I see the bed, the wall, THAT mirror. Am I breathing? I turn around. I'm trying to take it in, to slow it down. To remember then not to remember. I touch things for a moment, I think goodbye. I think this could be the close of this chapter. I stand in the middle of the room, feeling of spinning, falling. So intense. I take a deep breath. Sigh heavily. I take that moment to say it's over. I never have to be here again. I never have to stand in this room again. I never have to walk down that hallway barely breathing. I don't have to smell this smell again. I wont have to hear the creak under my feet as I walk through the hallway. I don't have to use these empty locks.
I turn to leave, feeling proud that I made myself go through this process. A healing moment. A moment of small closure and knowing part of the battle was won with strength. THIS day I fought through. Tomorrow, I will make the choice again to fight forward. Fight.
A letter to the residents of Mumbai, walking on the street at 6:55am on November 28th by Vaidehi Joshi
My Fellow Citizens,
Like so many of you, I was transplanted to this city, the City of Dreams. Though my roots were unaccustomed o this earth, I cam here ready to plant myself down, to grow, and to bloom into what I once thought I could one day become.
I write to you today with a heavy heart, because my dream didn't happen. My city is no longer one of dreams, but one of nightmares—nightmares that I see again and again, even when I am not sleeping.
On that day, some of you were out for your morning jog, below your building to collect the newspaper, by the tea stall having your morning cup of chai. Some of you even knew me, perhaps not my name, but yes, you knew me from my walk, from my face, from the time I hopped out of your way as you rode down the street on your bike.
On that day, you saw me. I know you did, because I saw you turn around. I saw you look. I saw you stare. I saw your eyes grow wide, like the saucers you put your teacups on.
On that day, you watched. You watched as I fought. You watched as I pushed. You watched as I cried. You watched him throw me to the ground, and you watched me stare down at the blood, me on my knees and my palms up to the heavens as though I had received a gift I didn't want to be given.
But what you failed to do on that day was act. Not when I screamed, not when I ran, not when our eyes met as you passed me by.
You see this city, our city, isn't one of dreams anymore for me. It is a never-ending nightmare that I fear I may never wake up from.
I write to you today because I have a broken heart. Because maybe, if one of you had said something, had done something, I would not have to live this every day. Maybe if you had thought of me as your sister, daughter, friend, I would not be afraid to walk out my front door.
Maybe, if you had just seen me as a person, a fellow human being in need, I would have the courage to dream just like all of you.
Mutiny by deedee burnett
It wasn't the last day I was made a victim--maybe that day is still out there-- floating, nebulous, ether. I am female, after all.
And trauma? Feeling traumatized? Those days are constant, even as they come and go, and the intensity of feeling ebbs and flows.
He was a "regular guy," often showing up at the club where I worked. They call them Gentlemen's Clubs now, which seems an oxymoron, because I don't recall ever meeting a gentle man back in the day when they were strip joints, go-go bars; BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, flashing marquees: NUDE NUDE NUDE.
It was a step up, a step away from selling $20 blow jobs in cars and dark alleys, but yes, I sold my body. Not this body, but a fresh, nubile body that held its scars on the inside.
I knew the boy, the regular guy, and saw him as something of an outsider in the environment, something even approaching kind, sweet. I never hustled him, or conned him into spending money to buy me the watered down drinks that the dancers pushed for commission. Sometimes he sat with me in the early hours or quiet times, just talking.
Funny that his name is gone, vanished...no matter, it is not important. One night, his friends left him behind--that's what he told me, anyway. When he asked me for a ride home, I readily agreed. I knew him, after all, even though our acquaintance was born from simple proximity--he frequented a strip joint where I was a dancer. Still, he didn't frighten me, so we walked to my car.
Straight out of the parking lot, he began giving directions. And directions and more directions. I asked him about what was obviously an intentionally convoluted route. His answers were vague, non-committal: "I live outside of town, my house is in a rural area." Then, "You know, it's a cabin my family uses as a vacation home. Just take the next right."
I still wasn't afraid, but I knew he was driving me around in circles. Finally, I insisted that he give me a proper address and directions to a place, ANY place, where he could get out of my car. It was 3 am, I was tired and hungry and had to sleep sometime before my next shift.
He was almost sheepish in manner, mumbling an apology that might have conveyed that he just wanted to spend a little more time with me. Take the next left.
About 50 yards into the darkness, the geography changed. One of those rare forests of tall pines native to the deep south sprung up all around. I never saw such a forest so close to a seaside town.
I was beginning to feel that niggling fear--the one evolution has gifted us with, the one that begins somewhere deep in what some people call "the lizard brain"--the one that says DANGER DANGER...
The tires began dragging and all at once it became clear--he had led me to a sand trap. I was afraid, yes, but I also felt foolish, stupid even. But my foremost reaction was rage--red hot, bloody, primal RAGE.
I reached down, the fingertips of my left hand grazing, then fist closing around the length of lead pipe that I kept between the driver's seat and the door. I waited, breathing, concentrating.
It only took a second or two.
He grabbed my right arm, fumbling to find my clothing, to gain purchase enough to rip.
In his moment of fumbling, I pulled out the pipe and pushed him away. Not too hard, just hard enough to knock him off balance.
Then I was on him, pipe against his throat--not too hard, just hard enough.
He laughed, I pushed harder, told him to LOOK AT ME...he glanced, then his eyes darted quickly away. I pushed harder and told him again to look at me--LOOK AT ME, AT MY EYES, UNTIL I AM DONE TALKING.
I told him things. Things about being a victim. What it was like to have no control over what people took from me. I told him that some people can tolerate just so much before they snap.
I told him that he had already had enough of me, that he could go ahead and try to take more, but that he'd better be prepared to die. I asked him if was ready to take his last piece of ass...then I gave him a choice, which was a privilege I had never been granted.
He could get out and walk away, or I would be decorating the inside of my car with his blood. I promised him that I would bathe in his blood like it was so much red paint tossed into the inside of the car...he tried to look away, I pressed harder. It was imperative that he look into my eyes, that he see the truth of my words, my refusal to allow him take from me. I welcomed him to try and I think he saw in my eyes that it would be a fight to the death. He was afraid.
I saw the terror in his eyes..."OK, OK, sorry, I'll go, just let me go."
I moved off him, the pipe still close against his throat, and told him to slowly reach for the door handle, pull it to open the door and slide out-- slowly, slowly slide out from beneath the pipe which I continued to brandish, slide toward the door, get out and go.
When he was gone, I quickly locked all the doors.
He vanished into the foggy, dark forest, and I settled in to wait out the night.
There I Sat By Imani Capri
I was a bundle of nerves the first time I approached the witness stand to testify at length about my stepfather's violation. There I was, a 27 year-old woman, talking in great detail about the innocence that he stole from the 12 year-old girl that I once was.
For the first time in my life I found the courage to face him- in person and in word-; though the act was courageous, I wrestled with my own thoughts about how others would perceive my truth.
How would I be viewed for having taken so long to come forward?
Could I withstand describing in vivid detail how his probing fingers and eventual penetration stole my innocence, pilfered my right to choose a series of firsts?
Could I endure the grueling hours of testifying, then being cross-examined?
There I was, truly in the face of my greatest fears.
There I was facing my mother; a mother who choose her husband repeatedly, rather than protecting me.
There I sat looking her in the face as she testified on his behalf- even though we all knew the truth.
There I sat facing the hatred, the pain of betrayal, wondering how this moment might affect any chance of reconciliation.
Despite her choices, she was still my mother and somehow I still loved her.
There I sat, unaware
of how the jury would be hung, unaware
that it would take two trials to bring him to justice.
There I sat, unaware
that five years later my mother would apologize for everything.
There I sat, unaware
of how I would forgive my mother.
There I sat, unaware that I'd come to compassionately understand that she didn't protect me because she herself was still the wounded little girl who was molested at 6 years-old.
There I sat, unaware
how the love of my life and my practice of Nichiren Buddhism would open my eyes to see my mother as a victim too.
There I sat, unaware
of the compassion and love that would grow in my heart for her and how that would bring us back together- both willing and ready to stand in truth and create anew.
There I sat, unaware
of how my voice would break the chains of generational curses in my family.
There I sat, unaware
of the rippling effect that my desire to be free would have on many other people.
There I sat, unaware
of how 12 strangers would deliver a justice that the wounded little girl inside of me longed for,
a justice, that the adult me had promised to pursue so that the woman-me could be whole.
There I sat, unaware
of how surreal it would feel to hear the judge sentence my mother's husband to 25 years to life in prison.
There I sat,
My first time on the witness stand so uncertain of what would come next, but I knew for sure that I had already won- no matter what the verdict- because I broke the silence.
I said it for all to hear:
"I have already won, because I have broken the silence."
Copyright © 2012 by Imani Capri
Pregnant by Christa Desir
"Where've you been?" I asked, pulling her into my kitchen.
"I don't know. Figuring stuff out, I guess." She dropped onto a stool next to the large island. She barely looked at me. Her fingers squeezed the fake grapes in the ceramic bowl my mom had made.
What's that supposed to mean?" I didn't want to be angry but she'd disappeared for 3 days, completely MIA. She hadn't returned my calls, texts, or emails.
"Things have been pretty stressful lately and I needed to unplug." She let out a deep breath and my heart squeezed. Had I been putting too much pressure on her?
"Well, did it work? Did you figure out what you needed to?"
The grapes rolled through her fingers. She didn't look up. "Sort of."
The conversation was going nowhere. Ambivalence wasn't Mia's strong suit. She was a straight shooting no bullshit kind of girl. When I first met her, she told me my haircut made me look like an asshole. I sort of loved her then.
"What the hell, Mia? Are you pissed at me or something?"
Her hands dropped to her lap. She stared at me. She'd been crying. I'd missed it when she walked it. I walked over and sat next to her, taking her hands into mine.
She shook her head sadly. "No. Just figuring stuff out."
I searched her face. I shouldn't have asked her to have sex with me. It was too soon. She hadn't worked through everything that happened two months ago. I bit back the familiar anger and squeezed my eyes shut.
"I shouldn't have asked you." I rubbed my thumb along her wrist. "It's too soon."
"No. Well, maybe. I don't mind that you asked. You're a guy. We've had sex before. I get why you want to again."
I felt like I had been slapped. Was that how she saw me? As just a guy interested in having sex with her? Her words cut through me. I wanted to understand, but I wanted her to understand that I wasn't the guy who raped her. I was the guy who loved her. I swallowed back my retort and laced my fingers through hers.
"You know that's not why I want to."
She nodded her head but I could tell she didn't get me, didn't get how having sex with me, being safe with me could make things better for her.
"It's okay. I can wait."
She smoothed out my eyebrow, I had one hair that always liked to stick out in the opposite direction. "It's more complicated than that."
I waited, the space between us growing. I wanted to reach out and pull her towards me but she had this distance around her, one I hadn't been able to get past since the rape no matter how close I stood to her.
"I'm pregnant, Trevor." The world around me stilled, like all the molecules in the air had frozen.
Pregnant. I couldn't believe it. Pregnant happened in movies, in crappy teen Lifetime specials, in books only girls read. Pregnant didn't happen in my world.
I opened and closed my mouth, looking for my voice, trying to find the right thing to say but I was paralyzed and the only thing that came out was "Mine or his?"
Slowly You Will Sink Into the Depths of My Memory
I am near the ocean now, I reluctantly step inside. I have dreamt of water so many times. Whales, orcas, and dolphins swimming deep—I enter their world. Sometimes a guest, sometimes a target, sometimes I am one of them.
The water rises as I breathe shallow. The tide will pull me deep if I don't catch this coming wave right. I should have known better than to explore this unpredictable, unforgivable, and vast ocean. How can I escape? Will I drown all by myself?
Flashback: I offer him my soul if he will spare my life. I bargain with the shadows of men in nightmares daily. I make promises and search for an escape, but my body is not my own, and now my body is on its own. My spirit seeks refuge and weeps helplessly high in sympathetic trees. I call out loud and hear my voice echo as it disappears into the vast blue open sky.
I can sense this man has no heart.
But my life will be spared by a breeze through the trees.
A fawn splinters a stick.
An angel exhales.
And he is gone.
I lay stunned and fragmented. Tears and cells distorted on the forest floor. My most sacred spaces mixed with dirt, and bugs, and blood, and bent grass.
I have to run, I have to escape. I do not dare look back. I gather what is left and leave most everything behind.
Inside there is a shallow nothingness, like the pool in early fall—dying leaves, hollow ground—memories of another life. I begin to remember a future I will never feel.
How do you bring yourself back into yourself? What magic will make this inner space safe?
I attempt to make sense. I try to use words, but 2 languages are not nearly enough. I make art and sing songs. I try to create. I try to believe. I try to be here now…and still…I flow with the current, too tired to resist. Acceptance is my survival, and I choose to let go.
I surrender and soften into the dark ocean. Deep water reflects my swirling brain and pulls on my leg with insatiable sadness. It holds dreams and danger and, it decides when. Floating in salty liquid, my fear seeps to the surface of my skin. I ask the Atlantic the question that I know I must not ask:
Why me? Why me? Why me?
A wave surges, and I expand, stretch my whole self out across the crest…
Coughing in shallow water, sandy rocks slide beneath my flesh. My body bobs and bends gently with the rising tide. I breathe deeply into a new life and wait. Hours pass before the sea begins to settle, and I can see clearly. A smooth fin sends a ripple of circles across a still surface, and dissolves back into the void without a trace. A secret kept, a mystery too profound for our minds to contain.
Acceptance is my survival, and I choose to let it go.
November 7-8, 2015
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"Through The Voices and Faces Project's writing workshop I found my voice—and I found the joy that comes with realizing that I don't have to go it alone. Thank you for affording me the opportunity to be heard, to hear others, and to experience immeasurable healing."
- Elaina Meier, Wauwatosa, WI