I have nightmares that I’m with my abuser again. I know that I’m not safe. I want out. I can’t find my wedding ring. I wail over my sick cat, begging her not to die. I hold her to me, her fur soft against my face. I feel the familiar contour of her little head against my cheek, her little ear against my temple, the soothing hum of her purr and the comforting scent of her, clean and pure like a newborn child. My cat is dying and I am in agony. Her body goes limp in my arms and I scream in pain.
I wake in sheets soaked through with my sweat, reeking of fear. It’s my abuser’s birthday. Mercifully I know right away that I’m safe in my bed, in the home of my friend, in my room. I know that Kira died some time ago. I get up to pee and then return to bed, still exhausted, to sleep a little longer at the very edge of the mattress where my sheets are drier.
When morning comes I strip the bed then pad downstairs for my morning practice. I lay my mat out and remember a friend asking recently “But can’t you just stop remembering? Why do you think about it?” I tried to explain to him how it isn’t like I’ve set it aside for celebrating but how my body remembers–how the approach of the date feels inexplicably ominous, laden as it is with gruesome milestones and triggers that dredge that shit up. He didn’t understand, but he let it go–and I let him.
It’s the first year since I left that I haven’t fled town in fear, the first time I’m not reeling from a recently lost restraining order.
I stand at the front of my yoga mat. Looking down at my toes, I see my calloused skin and the one toenail that’s still messed up from Boston. I look out the window at the trees. With insufficient will to chant an invocation I simply take a few deep breaths and register how very, very tired I am. I’m not doing surya namaskara today–not now, anyway. I fold over and feel my erectors unyielding, my neck stubbornly taut, the heaviness in my heart. I shake my head very gently, perceiving the slightest give between my thoracic vertebrae and the dull, slow squeeze of the pulse at my temples.
I remember how, going to sleep in a beach house full of friends that first summer, I went to bed early while they stayed up playing card games and drinking. Far from Durham, I slept in that strange bed with the sound of my friends’ laughter more soundly than I’d slept in months. I remember going on my morning run, naively thinking that far from danger my hyper-vigilance might magically disappear. 7 miles later a passing car honked at me and I dove from the sidewalk panicking, unable to breathe. Two kind strangers helped to calm me down until I could run back. I knew that I was changed forever–and I also found hope in the eyes of those unknown angels, arrived at just the moment I needed a light in the darkness.
I remember my rage last year on this day grappling with intrusive thoughts and flashbacks about the last birthday I spent with my abuser–the birthday cake and the flowers, the presents from Victoria’s Secret and the jewelry and the mala my friend made, not knowing the closeted trans woman I described in intimate detail for such a special gift was my spouse. I remember sitting in the woods alone, breathless with anger that wouldn’t go away, heavy with the indignity of all the unendurable mistreatment I’d somehow survived.
I remember learning when my abuser was my new boyfriend that she hated her birthday. I remember the sense of distress I felt over learning that–and how she minimized it and didn’t really explain why and how I felt that I could make it better–that I had to make it better.
I feel an immense weight of self-pity, the grief from all the pain I endured over all those birthdays and the passage of so many painful years. I continue to breathe deeply, but I sit. I sit with my grief and hold myself as I weep. I feel sorry for all my pain and loss and for all the ways my life has contracted.
I feel an old urge to minimize my pain and keep moving. I move–to bring myself the box of tissues and then sit in one seated forward fold after another. I sit with my grief calmly, unthreatened by it.