You asked what pain I was feeling. You were kind to understand that I might not want to say, but I do. I’m learning to let the poison out, the way therapists say is healthy, but in the past I’ve found that people invested in the poison (whether they realize it or not) work to keep it down your throat, to keep it away from them. And new friends in the past have backed away even before the words formed. Just the whiff of it scares them off. My response to kindness now is a freezing fear that says I’ll fuck it up; I’ll make it go away and I won’t even know how I did it.
The thing is, listening helps more than many people know. Thank you for asking to listen. I’m crying now. I can’t stop. I’m making myself write anyway.
I feel like I haven’t got the right to hurt, but I know I do. I see the faces of women on tv telling their stories and I see what I’ve felt and I wonder if they aren’t believed why would I have been? What good would it do to report the man who rubbed his penis against my butt in a crowd of people in a department store when I was fourteen? When I was eight I told the teacher at school that the boy who sat next to me was saying bad things to me and making weird gestures with his fingers, but she wouldn’t do anything until I asked my mother what fuck meant and she made the teacher change my seat.
I told my mother I didn’t want to go with the family to visit relatives for one holiday because their son who was older than me and taller than me stared at me funny, and she said I was being silly. Boys do that when they think you’re pretty. And I told her he tried to make me to pull down my pants two years before when I was eleven. He wanted us to pull down our pants together, and she said kids do that and if I wanted to be silly and embarrassing and stay home, then fine. Just don’t expect her to bring me a plate. And I stayed home, and I wondered why I remembered the beginning of that story but not the end, only that I never wanted to go back to their house again. And Mama never apologized, because that wasn’t something she ever did. But she did bring me a plate because that’s what she did when she knew she was wrong. She pretended that the wrong didn’t happen. But this time she looked at me like she knew. She made sure I saw her know. Then we pretended nothing happened together.
And in my early twenties the man across the street wanted to date me, and I wasn’t interested and politely declined and he kept trying, he brought flowers and I was embarrassed and a little sad because you can’t make someone want to date you, and I couldn’t figure out just what was wrong, but we were neighbors and you have to be careful how you let someone down when they know where you live and they can’t understand why you would decide not to go out with them. Then he saw me at the bus stop one day and yelled that I was a bitch and I should be ashamed of myself and he hoped I’d fall. It would serve me right. And he yelled at me until he turned the corner as he walked away, and I realized that I wore thin tank tops and short shorts at home because it was summertime, and our windows were open high and maybe he could see me through the windows, and now I would need to pull the curtains over the windows, but that would make it hot inside, but if he could see inside, I had to make it stop. And he apologized one day, but I looked scared, and why was I looking scared? Why would I do that? And he was angry again. And in the future, I went to the next bus stop back to avoid him, and I would turn slowly around while waiting for the bus so I would know if he was anywhere near and start walking away fast, and that went on for two years until he moved away.
And then my mother told me she had been pulled into the backseat of a car by three men when she was a young teen, and the only reason they didn’t rape her is because they were repulsed by the string of her tampon, and I thought, thank god, but the look on her face scared the hell out of me because I realized then that penetration isn’t the only horror of rape. She told me how they called her names and said she was filthy and threw her out of the car, and she knew it was her fault because she was walking where she shouldn’t have been and if she had told her father, my beloved Grandpa, he would have made her point out the men so he could hurt them, and he could have been killed or gone to jail and it would have been her fault so she didn’t tell, and she couldn’t even tell her aunt because she would have said it served her right for walking where she shouldn’t have been, and I know now that my mother should have been able to walk anywhere she damn well pleased, we should all. My daughter has the right. I have the right. But there are people who still say we don’t.
And I’m so tired. Because I wonder if Mama changed when those men hurt her. Was she different because they hurt her and she knew she was the one who was wrong, but she was still angry, so angry that maybe the anger popped out all her life at times that other angers started, but this one made it worse and she couldn’t help it. Because she wasn’t always hard on me, or unforgiving, or cruel. I saw her sweet side, felt her protection more times than I could ever count, and all this comes to me as I look and listen to life this week in the US. And I feel awful because so many people in the world are hurting for so many reasons, yet therapists say that my pain is not less because of that. And all these thoughts swirl around in my head because of what I saw in women’s faces on tv as they told their stories. And I don’t know what to do with all that I feel. So I’m sharing it here, because I know I’m not alone in some of it. And knowing that someone is listening helps me move through it. So I can move past it.