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?”

“Of course.”

“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.

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