The ground cracked open in the shower. It split the tiles. I had to move my feet. I had to spread my legs. It was my fault, I asked for it. Besides the water and the steam, there was suddenly this soil to be dealt with. The rising of the soil, which led to the ascension of the body of a girl. There was her hand reaching up through the busted, muddy pipes. She was alive. It was my fault, I asked for her. I reached inside the pipes for her. She pushed her way up and out of the earth like a mud-goddess with bangs. She looked how I thought she would look. Young and beautiful and ancient. Like a teenage girl who refused to stay buried.

She had been waiting for me. It took me so long to remember what happened to her. It’s embarrassing. I had to become a professional fighter and detective just to be able to call her name into the shower drain. I called to her like a siren. Like a woman of the sea. She listened to my voice with her ears and with her eyes. She punched and swam her way through a man, a coffin, two soiled tunnels, too much strawberry lip gloss, a tiled shower floor, and twelve years to get to me.

She stood across from me in the broken open shower, in her stunning, naked skin. Her miraculous skin covered in miraculous filth. Her eyes penetrating mine with glory. She reached out her hand. I met her there, in our new world.

The electric relic beating in her chest started beating in mine. It was time.

With sexual trauma, you must be a detective and a fighter so there may be a reckoning. My body has been a dangerous place for a long time so I am breaking ye ol’ balls of yore rule that states: If a woman doesn’t say something right away, she doesn’t get to say anything ever. I am breaking this rule because it is one of those rules that is rooted in putrid, patriarchal, pilgrim piss. I want to get this piss smell out of my stubborn, twice-broken nose and I won’t be able to until I shout the word no one wants to look at or listen to.

Normalized abuse is still abuse. Which is tricky. It’s tricky to treat a problem you can’t name. It’s confusing. It’s frustrating. It’s part of it. You just carry two large buckets of swamp water everywhere you go because someone you love handed them to you and never told you to put them down. It’s exhausting and embarrassing when some of it sloshes onto your friends and love interests. A therapist can be helpful because she’ll ask things like, “Why are you carrying two large buckets of swamp water?” and you can answer, “Oh, these? These are just my swamp buckets. Wait, is this weird?”

My father was physically and emotionally abused by his father and my grandfather’s father was worse. There are too many fathers to forgive. I’m going to try. But over their dead bodies, not mine. I’ll forgive them after I conquer them. My dad was emotionally abusive and psychologically controlling. Overbearing, possessive, and hyper-critical of everything I did and everything I was. He was also funny, filled with rage, encouraging, narcissistic, determined, depressed, and so proud of me for certain things at certain times. He was many things and then he was dead. Patriarchy isn’t good for men. You find this out kneeling at their deathbeds. They crumble and confess.

The transition from getting beat up by a boy when you’re nine to being sexually assaulted by a man when you’re thirteen is upsetting and confusing. Because there is no transition. One normal, shameful thing bleeds right into the next normal, shameful thing. Your body will learn to take these things and survive. It’s excruciating. It’s easy.

The boy who beat me up had dreamy blond hair that sometimes fell from behind his ears into his eyes. He used a switch to whip gashes into my arms. I sat like a statue at the picnic table in front of my classroom as he physically punished me for my name. My dad called me Fifi in front of my class one day and that was a mistake. Fifi was an affectionate nickname my family called me at home, but at school, Fifi was fucked.

“Fight or flight” is a popular phrase everyone gets wrong. There is a third option, a very common response to danger. It is “fight, flight, or freeze” and there is a way to do all three at once. I learned how. I learned very young. I never broke eye contact. I told him it didn’t hurt. He did it even harder. I stood outside of my body and watched him do it until he was done. Dissociation is a method of survival. I got up and put my sweater on in the dry, San Fernando Valley heat. I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell my sister. I didn’t tell anyone. I hid my arms until they healed and told my family not to call me that name anymore.

The man who felt me up when I was thirteen was a stranger. I was in line with my friends at an all-ages dance club. He was behind me. I don’t know what he looked like because every time I turned my head to try to make him stop, he did, but when I’d turn back to my friends he would start again. It was a group of men, maybe they took turns. They thought it was hilarious. They were laughing.

I stared into the eyes of my friends, trying to communicate, but this was a new language. I didn’t know what words matched this feeling. It felt like falling into a well. I wish I said, “I think I’m falling into a well and I want to go home now.” but I couldn’t find those words. I couldn’t find any words. I didn’t know what was happening. I only knew I was frozen in my feet, my throat, and my eyes. I had anchors for feet and the water was rising. It feels like drowning. That’s why you can’t talk because it feels like drowning.

Boys, and then men, did things to me and I let them. If something hurt or felt bad, I didn’t say anything, I just left my body until it was over. One time a boy asked if he could do something to me. I said, “No.” but he did it anyway. Some of them used me too roughly. Maybe they didn’t know it was too rough because I didn’t say anything. But they didn’t notice and I had learned that my words, even if I could access them, didn’t really matter.

My most romantic experience happened in London when I was eighteen and studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for the summer. One night after a long day of playing Juliet, I went to a bar, met a guy and went home with him. I had never done that. We were very into each other. He was English and bookish and hot. We’d make out for hours to Cole Porter records. The first time he kissed me I was playing his guitar. He asked if he could kiss me, I said yes. He leaned over the guitar and into me. It was hot. We both wanted it. I was still a virgin and that was totally fine. He never pressured me to do anything. I didn’t lose my virginity to him. I wish I did.

The following summer was nothing like the previous.

A young man with beautiful eyelashes raped me in his mother’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when I was nineteen. It was my first time. My first time being raped and my first time having sex. Those two things were the same thing. When we walked into the building, the doorman handed him too many flowers in a vase. They were for his mother, a wonderful actress. They were not for me. Or maybe they were. The elevator lit up in mint green floodlighting as he pressed the button. I thought his face was so handsome. I should’ve known when I saw the flowers. We were all dressed up for a funeral I wasn’t prepared to attend. I didn’t want to go to a funeral that night, do I even know the person? Oh. I didn’t know the casket would be mine and there wouldn’t be a pillow. I didn’t know I would freeze like a corpse and bury her myself. I didn’t know on that sickly summer night, at the age of nineteen, I would swallow the smallest graveyard in Manhattan. You know the one. It’s on West 11th. It’s a triangle. A puzzling sliver of maybe thirty headstones. A modest cocktail party. It’s eternally five o’clock somewhere, why not swirl your gin and twirl at the moss? Stay awhile. Stay forever. Consume time. Death is not modern but it is never out of fashion. Rape is not modern but it is never out of date.

I couldn’t decipher, label, or process what happened to me. It was a new language. It was a new level of abuse. A level of abuse I had been fastidiously, incrementally, groomed to receive and diminish. A new level of dehumanization. Rape is dehumanizing. It took away parts of my personhood, pieces of my womanhood, and my chance at independence.

I poured my rape into my swamp buckets and let it seep its poison into every aspect of my life for the next twelve years.

We ought to be ashamed of ourselves, oughtn’t we? Us victims. Stumbling through our trauma, trying to find our words. Our words that are sometimes buried in the bellies of hummingbirds lodged in our throats. Buried within flashes of memories. Flashes of strawberry lipgloss palms. Strawberry lipgloss wrists. Hands and ceilings and sometimes none of those things. Sometimes no images. Sometimes just a pitch black slide show underscored by the feeling you get when the ocean swallows you like a pill. The duplicitous wave that takes away your breath and your body and your name. Duplicitous because it can be beautiful. It can be brutal. It can be both. This one is the brutal kind. This wave shatters you into a casual frenzy of shells that aren’t pretty. The normal obliteration of the ocean. You swim as fast as you can to the bottom of the ocean because you think that’s where the air might be. Where the light might be. Silly girl. No one is a mermaid.

All of the girls inside me have doves in their eyes but none of them will talk to each other. The youngest ones draw hearts on the headstones with blue sidewalk chalk. The one in seventh grade smokes even though it burns her lungs and makes her hair smell like Sarah’s mom’s gross boyfriend. They’re his cigarettes.

Some girls sit with their backs against the headstones, reading plays and writing lyrics on the bodies of their guitars. Some lie on top of the graves, perched on their elbows, limbs sprawled. Girl limbs. It’s casual. They write in their notebooks and listen to heartsick songs through complimentary headphones.

It’s an overcast day like it always is. Sweater weather. But today is different because one of the headstones starts moving. One girl was buried in a grave and no one noticed. The dirt of her grave cracks and crumbles and with a jolt, a miry fist clenching a bouquet of wilted flowers shoots out.

The buried girl claws and climbs her way out of her grave. She spits out the earth and howls a feral requiem. She scares the doves right out of her eyes. All of the complimentary headphones break. She storms through the cemetery, clutching her funeral bouquet, screaming small words like “no” and “stop.” But the word that cracks her throat open the most isn’t a word, it’s a number. She is nineteen years old and always will be. She wails the number nineteen so violently, it leaks out of her eyes. The tears are thick like tar but it isn’t tar, it’s strawberry lipgloss. Strawberry lipgloss floods out of her eyes, streaking her cheeks and chest. Sticky, abominable, undeniably hers. Glittery globs of pink pulse from her nose. It shoots out of her ears like cotton candy syrup. She vomits buckets of strawberry luster. The lower holes of her body, meant for pleasure and necessity and everyone has them, you slide life through, it’s not a big deal — those holes burn and gush with the stuff. Even the trendy naval incisions she thought were closed, ooze pink, shimmering, droplets. She painfully excretes and explodes every drop of strawberry lipgloss that was inhumed in her. Now she is as pure as she is filthy. She is risen in a way that would anger some people.

Every girl in the graveyard gazes at her, squinting through their doves, aching to see her transfiguration. They aren’t afraid of her, they want to be with her. She casts a spell J.K. Rowling would be proud of and all of the doves leave their eyes. They see her. They see each other. It’s a miracle. They had the same eyes the whole time. Her funeral bouquet begins to bloom. They all grab handfuls of the strange, new, blossoms and litter the cemetery with petals. It is better than a wedding.

Nineteen opens the cemetery gate and they all walk out onto West 11th street, talking and holding hands. All but Nineteen and the oldest, Thirty-one. They stay. There are no doves in their eyes, there are riots.

There was a young man in Nineteen’s grave with her. It was almost romantic. Almost. His time is up. It is time for him to be disposable.

I punish my body as much as I can, but I can’t anymore. I punished my body until it broke.

As I began to look at my rape, to call it by its name — which is Rape — I started having severe intestinal problems. My stomach problems, much like my years of abuse, have been a slow, painful climb to demolition. I was diagnosed with irritable bowel disease. I had multiple anal ulcers and an abscess that needed to be drained. Under the abscess was a fistula. An anal fistula is: an infected tunnel between the skin and the anus. Cool.

An anal fistula forms when you try to shit your rapist out of your body whole. If he refuses to leave through the asshole you were born with, you will dig out a new one and force him through. You are actually an amazing woman if you think about it. There you are, in your own ass — an angry, exhausted, thirty-one-year-old woman, furiously digging up a grave so you and your nineteen-year-old, Encino Woman best friend can kill a rapist with a tiny shovel. You dig and dig and dig and there he fucking is.

You hit him with the shovel many times. You skin him alive but he won’t die. You say, “Exit through the gift shop, Scuzz.” because it’s a hilarious thing to say to your rapist as you shove him into the new tunnel you dug in your ass. Maybe he is swimming in Los Angeles sewage where he belongs. Maybe he is still lurking in the virgin tunnel. How many virgin tunnels of yours does he have to desecrate? You built this tunnel for his disposal. You hope it worked. You hope he is finally out of your body.

It may just be another instance of you unsuccessfully wounding him while deeply wounding yourself. He is probably fine and you have a new asshole.

If there is a gentle way to pass a rapist, I have not discovered it.

The reality is he raped me and turned my body into a doll. I came to this realization when I woke up from anesthesia, looked down at the open part of my hospital gown, and found my tag. I had reached the final stage of dollhood. I had a body that wasn’t my own, fully equipped with a price-tag in a humiliating place.

In order to drain my abscess and fix my fistula, my doctor had to drill a hole next to the asshole I already have and insert a seton (pronounced “Satan”). My doctor described the seton as “a small rubber band that — ”

“NO IT ISN’T! This is not a rubber band, Doc! What did they teach you in med school? Have you ever been to a grocery store? This is not what produce aisle people use to tenderly couple broccoli stems together. THIS is a thick, plastic, red and black zip tie that loops through BOTH of my terrible assholes. You drilled a new asshole next to my broken one and the new one isn’t even nice! This is not a rubber band! My new asshole isn’t wearing a cute pony tail and going for a jog, it is wearing SATAN’S RING.”

My body has to be a doll-body just a little while longer. Then I can complete metamorphosis. I will never be a doll again. I will be what I’ve always wanted to be, what I’ve always deserved to be. A human being.

I read an essay by bell hooks that saved my life. I read books by Cheryl Strayed, Alice Sebold, and Roxane Gay that saved my life. Or they got me into a position where I could start to save my own life. No one can do it for you. That message is clear, hard to hear, and harder to pull off.

At first, I compared my writing and my violence to theirs. I diminished both of my ugly things. All of my ugly things. These are just my swamp buckets, it’s fine. But in their writing is a beckoning call to survive. Their writing is the opposite of gaslighting. It is the bare bones truth and that’s what makes it glow. It is the light you knew was at the bottom of the ocean.

When I started to find pieces of my story in their stories, I began to let myself breathe underwater. No one can drown you if you can learn to breathe underwater. Tori Amos was right. Find the buried light. If you can find it, it will lead you to a new world. You have to swim like a Tina Turner backup dancer to get there but you can do it. I believe in you.

You may carry a wound that will never ache properly. But I hope you find it anyway. You may never shake hands with yourself. But I hope you will. She is reaching out her hand, I hope you will shake hands. If you cannot speak to each other yet, I hope you will see each other and listen with your eyes. I hope you find the words slowly or all at once. Whichever feels more true to both of you. I hope you remember the many good things about each other. The wonderful things no one can take from you. The extraordinary things that survived. The miraculous things to shout about.