“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter…at my expense.” More than any world leader’s words, this quote, from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against then-Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, shook every cell in my body. I had been watching the testimonies closely, against the judgment of my therapist and friends. It was November 2018, marking nearly two years since we elected a scoundrel to the highest office. My book, Indictus, came out a year earlier, a book about reconciling the traumas following multiple sexual assaults. People called it timely, because it came out on the heels of the #MeToo movement; I disagreed, and still do. My book, the assaults spoken within it, had been happening to me all my life. Weeks before Dr. Ford stood up before the world with her testimony, I was raped. The book would not be balm or protection; it would not serve as special dispensation against future attacks, nor would it heal the events that wedged themselves in my vertebrae and stayed.
Indictus is a classical Latin word, and is a joint root of the word indict; this is shared by the word indicare, which leads us to indicate, or to point out, to declare. Indictus means, literally, “not said.” Indict means to bring formal charges against, in writing. In historical arcs, what grew from classical Latin eventually included a written component; at one point, in the 14th century, to indict was to write a poem. I have used licenses and taken advantage of language’s morphologies in order to compress this history into a book. In a poem, I point out the unsaid. Like the word indict, such efforts in our hegemonic courts, equates to futility, no justice whatsoever. “No indictment,” for example. It was recently the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder. (February 26, 2012.)
Power does a funny thing to language. Whether spoken or signed, for all the ways it might satisfy our meaning makings, it begins to represent alternate definitions. Indictment means its opposite because justice, especially for the marginalized, is so often not served. So long as language is a translation of our world, language fails. Memory is also the failure of memory in eye witness accounts. (Read John Kraukauer’s Missoula.) Neurologists point out that any memory we are able to recall is subject to human error, because we always modulate, revise, narrativize. We want our memories to follow a beginning, middle, and end. This can be dangerous. I intentionally do not follow narrative lines in poetry. At least, not in this collection. I have been clear in my accounts of assault; it has not been enough. Obfuscation is memory’s territory. The hippocampus has no stakes in narrative economy.
My #MeToo moment occurred for me when I was 15. I had endured multiple sexual assaults starting at 9. I did not think of these as assaults. It was my ineptitude that inspired the men. I walked with a hunch, because to walk is to announce yourself in your full form. I did not want full form. At 15, my friend and I sat on her carpeted apartment floor. Her bedroom smelled like St. Ive’s lotion, stale cigarettes, and Aussie shampoo. We wanted to share things we couldn’t speak out loud, so we wrote each other a letter. “Dear Diana,” mine began; “Dear Natalie,” began hers. I told her about the boy named Mike who told me, with his hands wrung around my neck, to give him head. It was in my family’s bathroom. He wouldn’t let me leave. My friends were playing Pictionary in the next room, laughing. I wore a gray ribbed tank top. I was bleeding. He made me bleed.
I am telling this out of order, because memory carries a different taxonomy. We line up our memories to fit into an arc. I am tired of fitting my memories into an arc.
When the #MeToo movement gained traction, I wanted to believe that, through it, we might witness a reckoning. We watched as the likes of 20th century tycoons and powerhouses Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Louis CK, Matt Lauer, and Lorin Stein toppled and were replaced. In a NYT article from October 29, 2018, the #MeToo moment inspired the firings of 201 major roles and 124 hirings; 54 of these hirings were women; 70, men. It would seem that choosing between the option of filling these major roles with new, hopeful prospects and assuming the benefits of absent members was about 50/50. Such numbers do not surprise me.
There is an assumption that reckonings such as the #MeToo movement are healing for survivors. Survivors of assault, harassment, and exploitation are, after all, the voices behind #MeToo. Such is the tautology of a movement. For a movement such as this one to grow, it needs to find its calling, its people, its trauma centers. But growth has nothing to do with healing, although we’d like it to. The word heal is problematic. It seems to be the desire of everyone else on behalf of the survivor. This is not to say the survivor does not want to heal; however, to heal is besides the point. The #MeToo movement gains power not from its healing properties, but from its ability and permission to blare and bleed those wounds. Visibility does not heal. It threatens survivors. Before we can work on healing, we must engage in the confrontation. Dr. Ford had to force herself out of anonymity to speak. It led to her moving her and her family out of their home and into another. It led to her being the target of every unsavory and devastating threat the Internet could throw at her. The movement calls survivors to come out of the wood work, because healing looked a lot like silence.
When Indictus came out, I did all I could to not share the book promotion with my family. I lied about the publication date, despite their interest in purchasing the book. I intentionally had my book launch on the most inconvenient day of the week for them to travel to the city. I blocked my abusive ex on social media, the one who told me I made myself a victim for profitable gain. I spent an entire night going through all my social media followers, blocking those whom I couldn’t trust. By the end of the night, I had no idea what sort of trust I was looking for. Every member of my family and extended family, and every friend of the ex, received a block. At the last minute, I wanted to pull my book. I told my editor that I was afraid. I wrote and deleted an email draft asking if they could send me an updated list every day of who was buying my book. As a publisher myself, I knew this was inappropriate. I never sent it. The day my book came out, I stood in a dark room for an hour. I communed, or attempted to commune, with my line of younger selves, every wounded self that was ever forced into bathrooms, sedans, bedrooms, and basements. I had to see myself as a leader of my selves. I had to calm each of them down. Finally, I had to believe them. It occurred to me that not even I believed me, in all that time.
We don’t have the language yet for that form of healing. We imagine healing still to be bodily. It should work the way a scratch does, but it does not. Interestingly, this is a common analogue people cite in mental health awareness: Everyone sees the emergency in a broken arm, but nobody sees the emergency in a broken brain. I don’t subscribe to this thinking. The brain in imbalance is not broken; the healing required of it does not look like the healing required to thread your arm through a jacket again. In the aftermath of trauma, there is no regaining the old self; there is only composure as we reckon through this hellish terrain. News anchors opined whether Dr. Ford would maintain her composure in testimony. Her believability, it was implied, depended on other people’s perceptions of a victim. Within such a context, it is difficult for me not to see the homophonic connection, between heel, the double-e verb, to urge into line or agreement, and to heal, as I use it, to make free from injury. To make free. To urge into a line.
The etymology of indelible literally means not able to be destroyed. It is a word mindful of great pain and joy, that which separates us from our quotidian selves. That which separates us from a return. Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. This laughter will never be destroyed. Neither will the laughter I recognize from the other room, whether it was my friends playing Pictionary as I knelt coerced on my knees at 14, whether it was the adult man laughing maniacally as he drove me to his home when I was 13, whether it was my brother and his friends laughing in the other room as I recognized my body as an object for someone else for the first time at nine.
Indelible is a complicated word. Some might argue that there is no matter on this earth or in this universe that can truly be destroyed. We see this play out in nature, in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a 7.7-million mile gyre of plastic. There is an argument to be made for generational trauma, this gasp of an event transported via genes down a steady lineage. Complex PTSD occurs when there is a succession of like-events that follow one another through life, which explains why a person afflicted at a young age by sexual assault might endure similar acts on repeat. Movements grow from the tautology of experience; so do we. We keep growing over and over again over the wound of these crossed lines. It is not a medium narrative alone can bear. The poem marks these compressions, these imagistic leaps, the lack of miracle in these words — poetry knows this too — these are words we are reticent to speak and to write, but must, by any means necessary.