“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.”
― Muriel Rukeyse
And my truth? Whose world would split open? What if I voiced those truths that never make it past my windpipe before decades of conditioning and the threat of consequences, pushes them back down to my gut with that invisible fist of censure and shame. I described my stories as heavy rocks, lodged in my throat, like a dam holding back the flood of my secrets. She looked straight up at me, inquisitive, then wrote down the word ‘rock’. My metaphors for self-silencing – rock, fist, a steel door – all solid, impenetrable, weaponized and threatening. The stories stick in the back of my throat. I swallow them back down, but inevitably, they bubble their way back up, like vomit after too large a meal.
#Metoo happened, with a sudden explosion of women (and men) sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. While many welcomed these stories, and, in some cases, shared stories of our own; others balked at the revelations, condemning the speakers and speculating on their motivations. Why now, is the current refrain. It’s a ridiculous question, for it would always be ‘why now’ no matter when now happens to be. Now is inevitable. Now is that moment that the dam burst. In this watershed moment, right now, I timidly rose my hand and whispered ‘Me too’. But it ended there. I could not go further before that rock/fist/steel door pushed it all back, insisting ‘Not now’.
I see this image of my entire family – both the living and the dead – all standing together with one finger raised to their lips, admonishing ‘shhhhhh’. Hold your silence.
- You’ll hurt your sister
- We won’t believe you
- The past is the past
- That’s not how it happened
- You made it up
- You made it happen
- You didn’t stop it
- Why now?
Collateral damages. My family. My friends. My partner. My children. My abusers and their protectors. My stories are dangerous and unwieldy. They detonate. They are no more magnificent in their horror than the stories of so many other women, but they’re mine. The implications are mine. Telling is a dangerous act. I’ve done it before. Telling is also a powerful and healing act. I’ve felt that before. These two aspects, the dangerous and the powerful, work in tandem in the act of telling. I felt this incredible release putting my memories into words and voicing them, however hesitantly, to another person. Sometimes I told the right person – the person who just listened, who did not rush my story along, who was not looking for some sort of resolution, some salvation at the end of the story. I also told the wrong person(s) – the one’s too close to the story – the ones looking for a dénouement, or the ones who turned the story into an interview, a witness statement:
- Are you sure?
- Did you fight? Did you say no? Did you scream?
- Did you report it?
- Why? Why not? Why now?
- Why now?
Then, the rock/fist/steel door goes to work pushing that story back down to that place inside me where my secrets live. And the cycle of repress-bubble up-boil over-disclose and repress again continues.
The trauma of sexual abuse is like a mouth ulcer. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, your tongue seeks it out, irritates it; retreats, then repeats the process. It’s there disrupting the ordinary business of daily life. It’s Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, beating beneath the floorboards. I am here. I will expose you. I will not be ignored. And that, in a nutshell, is why now. One way or another, trauma outs itself.
I said #Metoo, but I stopped at that. I choose not to share the details of my stories. I don’t believe they add anything significant to the conversation, nor would recounting them now do anything towards my own healing. For myself, this past year has been, even before the #Metoo movement, a series of constant triggers, where the very language and postures of men like Trump and Moore, as well as the vicious attacks on their accusers, has produced an intense visceral reaction in me. I am flung back into the memories and anguish of my own abuse, as well as the pressure to keep quite. Raising my hand is enough for now.