content warning: domestic violence, sexual assault
I wake in my friend Erin’s beautiful Lakewood house before morning’s first light. Her dog doesn’t even stir from his spot next to me in bed. I brush my hair and teeth, put some clothes on and meditate, and we walk around the neighborhood with the first flickering of sunlight. Then I leave him in the house and go run. There are barely any cars at the trailhead where I leave my shirt, start up my Garmin and take off. I’ve just added a day to my weekly training calendar, and I ran yesterday. I notice that I’m sluggish as I begin. The ground is damp from last night’s storm. I pass through a clearing and suddenly remember a friend asking me recently, earnestly,
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Do you want kids?”
I shake my head a little. I don’t want to think about that now. I love my friend and I’m glad she trusted me to talk through a very sensitive private struggle. Now it’s over, I’m running, and I don’t want to consider the great disappointment of how badly I want children and how unlikely motherhood is looking for me.
From the wood ahead, I hear distinctly male laughter. I bristle a little and continue. As I round the corner I see four young men running toward me in a tight cluster. My breath catches and I pick up the pace, shifting subtly toward the edge of the trail. One of them has a military haircut. I don’t like him at all and I flinch as we cross paths, silent.
I remind myself that this is not the context women are attacked in. I know something about this.
The men are gone and I feel trepidation at the precariousness of my emotional state. I’m not breathing right, and I feel frightened.
I grunt loudly, and there’s a crack as my elbow slams into the Thai pad. My friend Adam grins and exclaims “Oeyeee!” I feel the hot pressure of controlled rage as we move. Adam holds for a kick and I comply repeatedly, bashing my right shin into the pads hard and fast.
That was how I dealt with the anger. Kick the bags and the pads and my willing friends until my shins swelled painfully with red welts.
I know what it’s like to be assaulted. It doesn’t look like we think it will.
I feel the painful memories coming on like the ominous black clouds of a storm approaching. I will myself to breathe. I eye the trees. I remind myself where I am and what I’m doing.
It’s Christmas morning 2016 and I wake before the sun. Bryan stirs next to me, and pulls me close. Barely awake, he starts kissing me. I feel no connection with this person, have no desire for his lips on me, but it’s also Christmas morning. I spent last Christmas trapped in our home with a moody, mean spouse. I don’t want that again.
He climbs on top of me. In my mind, I send myself ahead to my run while my body lays there and makes some perfunctory showing of attentiveness. After maybe a few minutes he thrusts harder and then stiffens. He never stopped to get a condom.
I am not on birth control and have been very clear about not wanting to bring children into a miserable, dysfunctional marriage. He’s been arguing with me relentlessly over it, watching a tv show where a woman in her late 30s can’t get pregnant and badgering me that if I wait too long my fertility will decline. I have held firm. I feel my throat close and my abdomen tense as he rolls off me and I cover myself with the blanket, horrified.
“Did you just…?”
He says it was an accident. I know that he is lying. There’s nothing I can do about it so I get out of bed while he rolls back over. It’s Christmas morning. The pharmacies won’t be open to buy emergency contraceptives. I stagger down the stairs in shock and open my period tracker app; I am ovulating. All my hair stands on end and I feel like I’m choking. I open maps and double-check just to make sure; no pharmacies are open.
I throw on my shoes and run like hell out of the neighborhood. My eyes blur with tears, which I angrily swipe at with the back of my gloved hand.
I try to remember how long I have to take the pill. I can’t remember. I wonder when the earliest pharmacy will open tomorrow, and if I’ll be able to make it there before class. I play through worst case scenarios in my head. I know I will need to leave this marriage. No I don’t. I know I will probably need to leave this marriage. I don’t know about that. I am not having a baby. All I want is a baby and I cannot have one with this person.
On a deserted country road with the first rays of dawn sunlight, I take a few more staggering steps and then fall on my knees at the roadside sobbing uncontrollably.
God, please don’t make me have an abortion. Please, please, please. I scream into my hands, shaking with rage and fear. I don’t even know who I’m talking to–maybe the universe as a whole, but I’m begging.
I draw my attention back to the woods and my feet and my breathing. I remember Margy asking me if it felt more empowered referring to “my abuser” rather than some other word. I answered that no label for that person felt empowering–that my word choice is simply the one which best reflects the truth. I turn over labels for Christmas morning. Sexual abuse. Sexual assault. Sexual violence. Rape. The labels don’t help anything and I don’t know which one to use and I wish I could just expunge all of it from my mind permanently.
I hate my abuser for ruining Christmas morning and years of my life. I hate that I live in a culture where people will absolutely snort at that trauma, because after all he didn’t force me at gunpoint. My hate pushes me up a big hill, which I fling myself down recklessly fast as a momentary reprieve from all that pain. Then I start to reel myself back in, feeling my hips moving and the sweat on my face.
I finish my run and drive back to Erin’s. I feel mentally drained and irritable. My scalp is tight, I’m on the verge of a headache, and I don’t have any answers. I don’t know what to call what was done to me that Christmas morning. I know that right now it takes a monumental effort to keep myself in the present moment when that particular wound opens up. I know that whatever I call it, what was done to me was unwanted and wrong and harmful. I have to remind myself that it was not my fault. I hope that if I have the continued courage to keep bringing light to the darkness of my wounded places, one day they will heal. I hope that speaking these truths contributes to a conversation where healing isn’t just for me, but for all of us. I hope.