I haven't been able to work much this past week. I've awakened three different nights in a sweat, heart racing and palpably afraid until I figured out where, and when, I was. I haven't been able to return phone calls, or even, on two separate days, to check voice mails. I've been ashamed of my lack of productivity, ashamed of my weakness, ashamed of my inability to get my shit together and get my work done. I've broken promises and missed deadlines and left obligations unfilled. I've started silently crying a few times, shoulders shaking as I lie in bed after my fiance has drifted off; and sometimes I've cried audibly and visibly, on his shoulder when I just had to let it go.
I don't remember how old I was. It must have been 1981 or '82, though, for we'd moved into town, so I must have been 12 or 13. I don't remember the season -- summer, on at least one occasion, as the air conditioner was on and it wasn't often used. I don't remember how many times it happened.
I do remember someone who I trusted and to whom I was related grooming me and stalking me -- literally stalking me, following me, chasing me at times -- and sexually abusing me. I remember the tile floor of the bathroom -- the only room in the house that had a door that locked -- leaving a pattern on my skinny teenage arm after hours lying motionless on it. I remember moving the fuzzy bathroom shower mat away from the tub trying to get comfortable enough to sleep. I remember how long those nights lasted as I laid there, on the floor, tracing with my eyes over and over the patterns of the bathroom linoleum. I don't know that those nights have ever really ended, even now. I remember once my mother turning on the lights in our living room just as my sexual stalker had gotten off the couch and laid down next to me, in a sleeping bag on the floor under the window AC, and how he had scurried back onto the couch, like a cockroach, trying not to be seen. I remember that we all pretended it didn't happen, that no one talked about why my mother was standing in the living room with her hand on the light switch in the middle of the night, watching. I remember not telling anyone for years and years and years.
I remember. It happened.
Who was I going to tell? My mother knew, and it didn't stop. Who was going to believe me?
And you know what else? On cross examination, I abetted it, too. I'd accept his gifts. In later years I'd take the keys to his new car and go joy riding with my friends. I'd even go camping with him and others, but still, hoping that this time it wouldn't happen. I could have said no - even though he asked in front of the rest of my family to make it difficult to say no, I could have said no. I could have told our family's priest (who was a decent man to his core and never once made me feel uncomfortable in any way). I could have told a teacher at school, maybe.
But I didn't. Not when it happened. Not for years later. If someone was telling me this story I would say, strenuously and with complete conviction that they were not cowards. But when I tell myself that I'm not a coward, I don't believe it. Sex was shameful, in any form, how was I to talk about this? And relive it all, when the wound was still being reopened?
I turn 50 this fall. I've been carrying this shit for over three and half decades. And you know what? He hasn't. He's gotten away with it. He has faced no consequences for his abuse of me. Don't talk to me about karma, or what comes around goes around - it's simply not true. Don't talk to me about justice - it is unevenly meted, and very, very difficult to wrest, and in this case there has been none.
At times I'll be lulled into thinking I've healed - the money spent on therapy and the love of those close to me and the hard work I've done have enabled many good days, months, years, when I don't think of it. I get complacent. I maybe even "declare victory and go home." At other times, when I've seen some self-destructive behavior or some self-sabotage on the horizon, I could catch myself and say, "Don't. Just don't. You know what's driving this impulse -- don't give him and what he did to you any more power." And sometimes I know I do things because I'm an abuse survivor -- I read transcripts of debates because watching a debate live is too confrontational and too painful for me. I'm unhinged by unfairness, and the ape part of my brain reacts viscerally to it.
And I hate to face it, again, and to have to face it, again, for it gives him power all over again. It makes me feel like I felt when I was 13, all over again. I'm right back in that space, that moment when I had to sneak down the hall to the bathroom at bedtime, and lock the door, and try to find a way to get comfortable on that fuzzy rug while the interminable night hours pass, all over again.
And watching Dr. Blasey Ford's testimony brought it all up again.
That's not fair or precise: watching the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin live tweet about the hearings brought it all up again. And seeing pictures of that Irish Catholic "good boy's" face contorted with rage when called on his shit, and knowing that he's very, very likely to get away with it, with all of it, brought it all up again. It just floored me.
To be clear, I'm proud of Dr. Blasey Ford -- I think she's an American hero and one to whom we are indebted, and her bravery and poise made me emotional just getting it third hand via Twitter. But this week has put me on the mat.
I have done all the things survivors learn to do -- I've tried to be kind to myself, to acknowledge that there is no way to expect that my adolescent self had the tools to protect himself from the attack nor to name his abuser as or after it happened. That subsequent interactions with that abuser through the decades make perfect sense given the context. That like (and undoubtedly related to) the depression from which I occasionally suffer I will never fully recover from this -- not fully -- that it's a chronic condition the relapse of which was triggered this past week by these external conditions, and I just need to keep moving forward.
But this past week, these strategies and self-care and self-talk hasn't helped.
So I'm hoping that by writing about it in this candid way, for the first time, I'll expiate some shame, decant some guilt; that I'll not be as floored the next time, maybe. That I'll heal a little more quickly. And honestly, I'm hoping too that by writing this I can clear some mental space to get through this coming week meeting my obligations and doing my damn job without needing to call in sick from sleepless nights and an inability to concentrate and a debilitating depression. And, who knows, maybe it will be provide someone else some succor.
I'm tired. I don't want to give him any more power. I don't want to be defined or controlled by what was done to me and taken from me when I just learning who I was. I don't want this to be the first line of my obituary, or the subtext behind any lines of my obituary. I don't want it to control me, but some times -- like this past week -- that's damn hard.
I'm done looking at the Supreme Court nominee. I'm done reading Twitter for a while. I have work to do. And as long as people like my abuser and the like the Supreme Court nominee move through their lives carelessly destroying others and lying to themselves and the world with no consequences of their actions, I guess we all have work to do.
Let's all try to do it.
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”