It is impossible to say how I should have reacted in the first place, whether I’d be doing okay now if I had stood up for myself then, or whether I even had a self left to stand up for. There is no knowing what we should do when faced with something so terrible that it shouldn’t exist at all.
What I did do was try not to think about it for six years. If I didn’t think about it, it couldn’t own me. Sooner or later, I believed, my muscles would stop clenching every time a man passed within a foot of me. My stomach would stop churning at every stupid phallic doodle on a bathroom wall. The breakdowns would stop coming like clockwork, twice a year, when it all bubbled over and hurt so much I thought it would kill me.
But I waited and waited for the wounds to heal, and healing wouldn’t come. Instead, the world seemed rigged to remind me of my pain at every turn, until I wondered if it was safe to go out. If it was safe to stay in. If it is safe to exist at all.
And of course it isn’t. Not for a girl who exists in this world. Like so many women, I have had to accept that I will carry terrible memories forever, and that they will always hurt. In the words of my very hip Greenwhich Village therapist, “You cannot heal from this kind of stuff. All you can do is imagine the life you want for yourself and integrate this history into it.” So my project is not to heal, not to forget or recover or overcome, but to integrate. To make a place for this history in the worlds I create. To let it ride with me without stalking me. To offer some tenderness to the part of my self that is this.
It has been a slow and awkward journey, titanic at times and stagnant at others. There have been panic attacks and anti-depressants and interrupted graduate degrees. There have been mystery pains, ambulance rides, and healthcare bills I couldn’t pay for. There have been coming-outs, going-back-ins, secret marriages, secret annulments, whispered fights, loud silences, and new loves with old lovers. There have been days and months when I thought I wouldn’t make it. Some days it feels like there’s no point, but other days, I know that the point is to live purposefully and beautifully, because that is the most radical thing I can do.
I offer my love to you and to me, to the parts of ourselves we adore, and the parts we believe are unlovable.