See. Here’s the thing about the wee hours of the morning. My brain works differently. It’s all emotion and completely void of filter. Truthfully, my brain has had a difficult time with the whole emotion/filter situation lately. I’m swinging from mood to mood and giving whoever will listen a play-by-play in the process. But, I’m feeling share-y, right now. So we’re going to embrace that mood, and talk about…well…heavier things.
Today was rough. You know those days when you wake up and you know that getting out of bed is the worst possible decision you could make? The days when you’re just praying to gods and demi-gods and just really nice, saintly-esque people to let you sleep for eternity so you don’t have to actually face your brain? Okay. You may not know those days. I do, and today (Monday…haven’t slept yet, so it’s still Monday) was one of those days. I mean, yes. It’s a Monday, and I think Mondays are a cruel invention. But this was more than just the typical Monday self-loathing. This was Patrick Henry. Let me be free, or kill me now. Wait. That isn’t right…anyway. I got out of bed, and it was the worst decision I could have made.
I slept terribly, because I had just shown Jennifer my blog for the first time and I was paranoid that he now thinks I’m some obsessive crazy person. I AM an obsessive crazy person, but I don’t need Jennifer to know that. And there’s that whole thing where I’m in immense pain all the time. It sort of makes the sleeping thing a problem.
And I’ve been the Rollercoaster Royalty, in terms of mood stability. Monday is not immune to my royal charms. So a moody, sleep-deprived me rolled out of bed and went to class, anticipating a lecture on the Jim Crow era. Nooooope. Instead, we talked about the Steubenville rape case. I have a difficult-enough time keeping it together on days when I’m feeling sane, once the discussion turns to sexual assault in any respect. Today wasn’t conducive to me speaking about victim-blaming without throwing things or sobbing, so I spent class in silence.
But as I retreated further and further into my head, I thought I needed to put this out there. So, here is a piece of my life:
I didn’t tell anyone. Of course I didn’t tell anyone. I’m less shy about it now, but I still haven’t told many people. Like Mom. She doesn’t know, so please don’t tell her.
I tried to tell someone, once. A teacher. A teacher I trusted. The teacher actually asked me if there was some history between me and this other student that he needed to know about. I started in on my story, and he cut me off. Said he didn’t want to know. Whatever happened between me and the kid was my business. He was legally obligated to report stuff like that, and he didn’t think I knew what I was saying. Just stop talking. Too much information.
And so I kept it to myself. I didn’t even know what to call it, what had happened. “It.” The incident. Like some insidious disease we don’t refer to by its name because it’s just too horrific. Of course it’s horrific. But I didn’t have the words and I didn’t want to tell anyone, least of all someone who could explain to me what “it” was.
So I listened, instead of talking. I listened to the second- and third-hand stories of girls who had been hurt. By neighbors and boyfriends and bishops and fathers and a few by strangers. I listened to the way those stories were relayed by boys and girls alike. They were never stories of victims and perpetrators. They were cautionary tales. This Is What Happens When You Do Stupid Things. They were myths. Doesn’t Count If You’re A Slut. They were seals of hot red wax, imprinting labels and sealing messages. Attention-Whore. Because if it happens to everyone, it happens to no one. All these questions. What was she wearing?? Was she high?? But weren’t they dating?? How many times?? Doesn’t she know not to trust people with penises?? And always with the two question marks: one, because it’s a question; two, because it’s a question laced with incredulity.
Of course I kept it to myself. I had no desire to be subjected to that level of ridicule. And despite the large amount of people in the school, we were a small town. Word travels quickly. Of course I kept it to myself.
There were no safe places to hide, if I decided to open my mouth.
And I listened to those two-question-marked inquiries and knew that even if I managed to withstand the curiosity and criticism of my peers, I would never make it through once word got back to my mother. There is no way I would be able to look her in the face as she asked me
What were you wearing?
How many times have I told you to keep yourself covered?
Yes, if only you’d listened, maybe we could have avoided this.
No safe places. Except inside my head, where I relived “it” over and over, every day. And all I could do was organize my skittles into piles by color before I ate them, and take on more assignments for the school paper, and write nonsense poetry in spiral-bound notebooks with a sharpie, like I was in junior high again. Anything to maintain some illusion of control over my life and my mind and my body. They were separate entities now, at odds with one another, and I couldn’t control any of them. But I tried, with my skittles and my editing and my poems.
And I sit here, now, thinking about what it would be like to be Steubenville’s Jane Doe. To have people wish me dead because the people who attacked me could’ve played ball someplace maybe. To have the news lament the tragedy befallen the poor kids whose lives are now over–their lives, not mine. No mention of my life, save it be someone’s wish to end it.
And I sit here, now, overcome with this feeling of futility. How do we fix it? How do we make our world safe for, accountable to, Jane Doe? To every other Jane Doe? To the girls I went to school with? To me?
I don’t have an answer. Just anger and frustration and years of other “its” and things, mine and others’, eating at me. Giving me ulcers and migraines and panic attacks. My body and my mind are still at odds with one another. But they agree on one thing: that this culture of victim-blaming needs to stop, and it needs to stop now. That a world where there are no safe places is not a world we should keep. Scratch it. Crumple it up and throw it away. Pull out a clean page. Label it “Utopia” and draw with your words what such a place would look like. Mine says simply,
You are safe, here.