Thursday, October 15, 2015

Marriage: The Everyday Shit

Every morning when Theo wakes up, Gabriel gets him from his nursery and lays him beside me in bed. Theo nurses and sweetly cuddles me for thirty to forty minutes. He lets me know he’s really ready to get up for the day by slapping me in the face or (unfortunately) pinching my nipples. Oh, the highs and lows of motherhood.
One morning, Gabriel laid him beside me and I noticed his pants were wet. Gabriel smelled his hands.
“Oh no. It’s poop.”
I quickly rolled off the bed and swooped the sleepy, poopy baby off of our white sheets, knowing it was probably too late to save them. Gabriel and I stumbled down the hallway into the dark nursery. The light had burned out and we hadn’t gotten around to changing it. In the dark, we discovered–by our the only means possible–our hands, that it was much worse than we thought. Much. Worse.
Poop was everywhere–up Theo’s back, down his legs, on his stomach. In our tired fumbles, poop ended up in his hair, all over our hands and on the nursery wall. Theo kept pawing at my shirt whining to nurse so I eventually just leaned over and popped my boob into his mouth while we continued to try to contain the disaster zone. In my year and a half of breastfeeding, I’ve learned some crafty, ninja breast feeding moves.
When the poop dust had finally settled and Theo had a clean diaper, Gabriel and I locked eyes over the changing table.
“Happy anniversary,” he said. We both rippled with laughter. I swept my sleepy baby up into my arms, leaned over the poop mess on the changing table and kissed my husband.
“Happy anniversary, honey.”
This is what I have learned marriage is: Taking care of those you love. Helping each other through the mess. Never leaving each other alone in the dark. And laughing even when life is hard. It’s not glamorous and storybookesque. It’s not even Instragram worthy. But it’s beautiful and real and everyday.
Gabriel is still the man I want to go on fancy dates with, dance to cheesy country music with and make out with. He is still the man I want to hold hands with, wander Target with and marathon watch Parks and Rec with. He is still the man who drinks wine in the bathtub with me, holds me when I cry and listens to my dreams. He is definitely the man I want to change an insanely poopy diaper with.
Here’s to many more years of the everyday shit.
I love you Gabriel. You’re my star drenched boy. My forever man.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Self-Care...whatever that means

    In the past two years I have heard a lot of counselors adamantly stress the importance of “self-care.” My head would begin to bob up and down in agreement while inside there was a battle raging between my true feelings and my social graces.

    “Don’t roll your eyes!” my social graces would shout.
    BUT AM I NOT SUPPOSE TO BE EMOTIONALLY HONEST?!” my true feelings would shout back.

And the battle would rage on.

I suck at self-care. I don’t get it. Am I supposed to take care of my physical biological needs? I already do that. Am I supposed to go buy myself a coffee, sit down and journal for an hour each day? Who’s supposed to watch my kid during this? Get a pedicure? As if I can afford that. Rub my own feet? Unsatisfying.

I googled self-care and printed out a list of one hundred ideas. My top three:

1. Give yourself a manicure.

I love doing this, obvi. But why waste all that time in silence? I multitask by watching TV whilst I paint my nails. A much better use of my time…but, I have discovered that TV definitely doesn’t count as a self-care activity for me. It’s more of an escapist tactic.

2. Go for a walk.

    If I’m going to walk I might as well bring Theo. If I’m bringing the baby I might as well bring the dog. If we’re leaving the house I might as well check the mail. If I’m checking the mail we might as well just go to Target.

3. Take a bath.

    This I succeed at. I rock taking baths. I always have. I have distinct memories of my mother dragging my sleepy 12-year-old body out of bed in the morning and telling me it was time to get ready for school. I would groggily stumble to the bathroom, fall into the bathtub and promptly fall back asleep.

Baths and I go way back. So a bath doesn’t feel like something I am specifically doing to take care of myself. It’s just routine.

Self-care should be distinct activities directly intended to care for my being in some way. I ruin all my self-care attempts by trying to kill-two-birds-with-one-stone. Am I going to make myself a delicious and healthy snack? I tweak the recipe so Theo will eat it and not know he’s eating spinach!

But I think I have found my specific, completely me-focused form of self-care. Drum roll please!

Natural hair care.

A bit anticlimactic, I know.

I was in my nightly Pinterest trance when suddenly I found myself immersed in articles about diatomaceous earth, ACV (apple cider vinegar, for those not acquainted with the crunchy scene), goat’s milk, the GAPS diet, biotin and Grass-Fed Gelatin. There is a whole world of new words and acronyms out there, all claiming they will change my life. I’m game to try on a few!

No, I don’t ascribed to a particular diet and I’m not making huge lifestyle changes. I just want an activity to deliberately divert my mind to fresh ways of maintaining hair health. There’s no way I can make natural hair care a two-in-one deal. Theo and Gabriel will benefit zero from this endeavor and it will only affect my personal scalp. Perfection.

So, I’ve gone “no-poo” as they say in the natural, crunchy world. I’m extremely uncomfortable with that terminology, so I will say ‘natural hair care’ from here on out in reference to my shampooless routines. I’ve been reading articles, Pinteresting up a storm and I’ve washed my hair twice with a diluted baking soda mix and conditioned it with an ACV spray. I bought a boar bristle brush and I have been practicing the ‘inversion method’ (you basically massage your head for five minutes to stimulate magical hair growth).

And I feel wonderful.

My hair is soft and shiny. More importantly—every time I Pin an article elaborating on a new recipe for a coconut oil deep cleansing mask I intend to try—I feel a little loved by myself. As I massage my scalp every night for five minutes and “preen” my hair with my boar bristle brush (i.e., brush little sections of my hair), I tell myself that I matter. I matter to myself. As silly or inconsequential as hair care really is, it is my hair and I’m choosing to show myself a little bit of love by learning about it, and treating it well. I’m spending the time solely on myself, because I want to treat myself well.

I needed an activity I couldn’t cheat on, one that couldn’t be multi-tasked and I didn’t find mind numbing. I love to learn, so learning about this world of natural care has given me a way to care for myself in a personal and loving way. As I grow stronger everyday, I realize how deeply my pain and insecurity have touched my sense of identity. God faithfully reminds me—He loves me.

Self-care is hard and complicated. It is not a list that can be printed from a website. But I’m battling it out. I’m rediscovering and redefining what “self-care” means to me. I brush my hair slowly, look into the mirror and whisper, “I love you” to a beautiful, wounded daughter of the King.

I know I am loved.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Under the Poverty Line

       Gabriel and I are poor

       I’m not complaining—we just literally live below the poverty line. I used to complain about being a ‘poor college kid’ while going out to eat with friends, buying copious amounts of wine and brand new books. I now envy those days. I thought I was poor then, but now Gabriel and I know what it really feels like to be in need. And we are poor in the most privileged country in the world. I can’t imagine the desperation of those in poverty in third world countries.

       We have been on food stamps for over a year. We benefit from WIC. Theodore and Gabriel have Medicaid insurance. Luckily, I can still be on my dad’s insurance until the ripe old age of 26—which is swiftly approaching.

       I know the shame of pulling out my EBT card at a grocery and the clerk staring puzzled at their screen and then exclaiming, “Oh! It’s food stamps.” They punch in a special code that allows me to buy groceries. It’s even more humiliating if I incorrectly calculate the remaining balance on our food stamp card and it is declined. I’ve never felt like more of a failure and an idiot than when a cashier looks down their nose and informs me that there doesn’t seem to be enough money on the card. Baby on my hip and cheeks burning red, I mumble, “Oh really? Shoot. I must have counted wrong. Can you subtract those bananas?” Deducting food items I can’t afford, quickly prioritizing while attempting to recreate meals in my head with the remaining items—while the line of impatient shoppers grows behind me—is demoralizing.

       In the past two years many people have told Gabriel and I, “You are exactly the type of person who should benefit from these services.” I never know how I should respond.

       “Thank you?”

        I want to ask them what they mean. Do we deserve aid more because we are young? Because we have experienced hardship, therefore our poverty is not entirely ‘our fault’? Because we probably won’t need aid forever?

       I often think how blessed I really am. I am not the first 20-year-old college student to get pregnant. But not many women who have only been dating a guy for four months can rely so heavily on them, like I did. Not every guy will stick around. Not every woman in my situation has family that will support her financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. In fact, most women who are young and pregnant can expect to face the hardships ahead of her—alone. I can’t even imagine being pregnant, working full time, finding an apartment, preparing for the birth—and then going through a traumatic birth experience like I did—without the help of my family. I wouldn’t have made it.  And that’s all before you leave the hospital and you are entirely responsible for a fragile little human.

       I have come to realize just how difficult and painful raising a child can be when you’re poor. Standing in line to apply for food stamps was a breathtakingly raw and vulnerable experience. I cried that whole night after I put Theodore to bed. We are currently struggling with the reapplication process for food stamps. The office of Family Services lost our identification information so we had to fax new ones over. But my purse was stolen with Theo and my social security cards in it. (I know it was dumb to have them in my purse.) We faxed over what information we had; and then they lost that information. There was a complication because I’m a student. Then there was another complication because Gabriel just started a new job. It has been over a month and we still don’t have food aid.

       We have borrowed hundreds of dollars from nearly every member of our family. Without their support we wouldn’t have made rent, paid our utilities on time, or fed ourselves. Our families have bought us diapers, meals and new jeans when our old ones were too big. (Gabriel and I both lose weight when we’re stressed.) Most people in our situation don’t have the support we do. They get evicted, go hungry, their credit is destroyed, and obtaining the government aid they are entitled to—is sometimes nearly impossible.

       I don’t know what people mean when they say we ‘deserve’ this more than other people. The people who deserve government aid are the people who qualify. Period. I think it’s safe to assume that everyone who lives life below the poverty line is struggling, even drowning. I don’t know the story of everyone standing in that line for food stamps. Maybe it’s their first time applying, or their 30th time reapplying; but no one there was smiling. No one wanted to be there. Everyone had to be there. That is how they survive. There is no story more deserving than another; and who are we to make that judgment call, anyway?

       Living poor in this country is demeaning, frustrating and draining at best. At worst—it is impossible. I have a friend who works in the Columbus public school system. He told me the story of a second grader crying on the last day of school because he knew he was going to be hungry all summer. During the school year he knew he would get at least two meals a day.

       Gabriel and I do not plan to stay on food assistance forever. Affording our own groceries and having a small date-night fund is the ultimate dream. And I have faith that someday we will get there. But only because we have dozens of people helping us move forward. Most people do not have the resources we do. They can only dream of survival.


Monday, August 10, 2015

A Cruel Anniversary

The two year anniversary approached like a dark, thick fog. 

Gabriel and I were hanging out with friends and one of them casually mentioned their plans to attend a nephew's birthday party.
“It’s on the 8th, I think. Yeah, July 8th.”
My throat tightened. My face felt hot. Gabriel met my eyes across the room and we shared a moment of falling together. Hearing that date is like walking down stairs in the dark. There is one more stair than you accounted for. My stomach drops and my brain burns like static on the radio. 

One simple date wields so much power. It’s infuriating. 

The morning of July 8, 2015, Gabriel and I woke up quietly next to one another in the grey, impersonal morning light. I looked at the clock. It was 5 am. The exact time I was being raped two years earlier. I rolled closer to Gabriel until we were face-to-face.

“I don’t want to do today,” I whispered as tears trickled onto my pillow.
“I know,” he whispered back. I lay on his chest, crying and allowing myself to be rocked by his breath until Theo woke up. 

My limbs felt awkward all day like I should be doing something other than cutting up a banana or making oatmeal or pouring a cup of tea. The air was simultaneously thick with meaning and mundane. As I sat down to breakfast my eyes darted to the clock. 6 a.m. Two years ago I was shaking and sobbing—alone in a hospital bed. 6:30 a.m. I was being examined by doctors and nurses. 7:00 am. CT scan to be sure no serious damage was done to my head when he slammed it against a metal pole. I had to wear two protective vests, because at this point I knew I was pregnant. Remembering that day feels like a horrible CSI episode I’ve stepped into. I can feel it in my body. My head is throbbing and heavy. My hands shake and I try to take up as little space as possible—trying to disappear. 

The last thing I want to do is be alone. The next to the last thing I want to do is talk about it. 

My sister Becca and her friend Angela appeared at my door at 8 that morning. They brought me coloring books, colored pencils, a poem about four leaf clovers, a homemade probiotic drink...and they prayed for me. Becca invited me to her house for the day until I had summer school. I accepted with relief. Gabriel had to work, and I did not want to be alone. 

All of my family texted encouraging words throughout the day. Sometimes just a simple “I love you.” These small moments—being remembered—redeemed even this cruel anniversary. I wasn’t sludging through the hated day alone. People knew my pain. The whole world was flying past me while I had nightmares of July, but my people remembered me. My God remembers me. 

Becca and her friend Marie offered to drop me off and pick me up from school so I could avoid the dreaded solo walk from my car to campus. I’m not good at asking for what I need, but my sister Becca is getting very good at guessing—and offering it. I sat through my Planet Earth lab, wondering how everyone could sit there so normally, as if July 8 was a normal Wednesday, solely comprised of a boring lab and a dull lecture.

As I fought to remain focused on the less than fascinating formation story of metamorphic rocks, it began to rain. My mind jumped back two years. As I left the hospital, the world was grey and wet. An unusually cold rain fell from heavy clouds and I thought, “God is crying too.” Earlier when they had taken me for a CT scan, I discovered one of my earrings had been ripped out. Now I pictured the rain washing the gold leaf earring down the dirty Chicago sidewalk and flushing it into a sewer, as if it had never been the causality of July 8. 

This anniversary forced me into serious introspection and processing. I didn’t have any proactive coping mechanisms planned or any personal growth to reflect proudly upon. I woke up, fumbled slowly through the day with the support of family and friends and went to bed as early as possible, so I could wake up to July 9th and feel normal again. 

Sometimes on a “normal day” I suddenly realize that everyday is some woman’s July 8th. Everyday there are women waking up and wishing they could fast forward through their awful day of flashbacks, awkwardness, and triggers. When I recognize this awful truth, I try to smile at women I see looking distracted, sad, scared or distant. Maybe it’s their July 8th. Maybe they don’t have people in their life to carry them through like I do. 

I survived July 8, 2015 without a panic attack. Minimal tears were shed. I felt numb, sad, small and weak. But I felt loved.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Let's Talk About Rape. Seriously.

       I was in the car with two of my classmates on the way to another group member’s apartment where we would put the finishing touches on our fifteen-page paper. We had worked together for a while, but we still didn’t know each other well, so the usual small-talk life-inquiry ensued.

       “So how old is your son?”
       “He just turned one!”
       “Cute! How long have you and your husband been married?”
       “Since October 2014.”

       There is a moment of silence while they do the math. Yes, I was pregnant when we got married. This does not win me cool feminist points, but I can handle that; it’s a small price to pay for a hot husband and a sweet child.

       “You went to school in Chicago right?”
       “Yeah! It was a small school on the north side. Veerrrrrryyy different from OSU.”
       “What made you leave Chicago?”

       This question always sends me scrambling. Do I lie about being raped in order to make the other person more comfortable? I could say, “We just wanted to be closer to family.” Easy. Comfortable. No hassle. But that’s not true. I was raped and consequently I had to leave the city that had become a crime scene to me. I left my job because the commute seemed too dangerous. I left the school I loved because I couldn’t function in that city anymore. I don’t want to cover up the innumerable effects that rape has had on my life. So I said:

       “Well…Gabriel and I were living in an apartment together in Chicago the summer after my sophomore year. I was sexually assaulted on my way to work so we felt like we needed to leave Chicago for a time to recuperate.”

       Siri broke the silence by dictating the next turn.

       This is the most common response I get. Silence. Awkwardness. I understand that people might not know how to respond to an acquaintance revealing a traumatic event from their past—it’s weird. Understandable. I also know that when I lie about it or pretend that rape hasn’t been a major player in my life, I personally feel shamed and false. It’s as if only a part of me is allowed at the party. The other part—the rape part—isn’t invited. And how do I uninvite a major part of who I am, to the party I will be attending?

       Okay, I stretched that metaphor a bit. But I do feel an uncomfortable dissonance in my heart when I know part of me isn’t an acceptable topic for conversation. I ran across this picture when I was Pinteresting ‘Feminism.’ (If you haven’t done this—do it. That’s some inspiring shit.)

       When I saw this, I thought: Yes, please!  We need to be willing to engage in the uncomfortable conversations, even if we don’t feel like we relate or understand. By refusing to pick up the topic in conversation, we are saying it isn’t worth our time—or talking about rape isn’t okay. And if we can’t even talk about the tough things, how will systemic racism, sexism or the rape culture change?

       A few months ago I shadowed a victim’s advocate at the Franklin County Courthouse. This wonderful woman’s entire occupational purpose is to walk with the victims of crime through the legal process. She explains to them the confusing legal procedures. She is there with them through every court appearance. She babysat a woman’s child so the woman could testify. I didn’t have a victim’s advocate working on my case. I was just lucky enough to have an attorney who was compassionate and took the time to explain everything to me. Most rape victims don’t have this service.

       Throughout our day she explained her role and took me through the basic ins and outs of the court system. And let me tell you—it is huge, complicated and confusing. We need people like her to guide those who have already been victimized.

       I sat in a meeting where several prosecutors discussed their cases, their personal lives and everything in between. One lawyer causally passed me the initial report on a murder case he was working on. As I flipped through the police reports, I eavesdropped hardcore.

       “I sent the latest DNA testing results to his office but I haven’t heard back from him.”
       “He is such an ass. Seriously, he is never on time. He is about to get chewed out by the judge.”
       “I know. I bet he’s going to come back with an offer of 12 years. I won’t go lower than 25. I know of rapists serving over 20 and this guy is facing first degree murder charges.”
       “He’s pleading mental incompetence, yet won’t comply with the mental examinations. That’s going to go well. Oh by the way, how was Sam’s birthday party last weekend?”
       “Oh it was great! The clown wasn’t creepy at all.”

       I was there when the man accused of killing his wife appeared before the judge. They were right. The defense attorney did seem like an ass, and the judge did chew him out.

       The woman I was shadowing, the victim’s advocate, casually chatted with one of the courtroom police officers about the positive outcomes of a recent rape trial. The rapist was accused of raping two prostitutes. They talked about how difficult it was to get these two women to testify, but when they did, they felt empowered. They discussed the conviction and the jury’s reactions. The word ‘rape’ wasn’t a conversation killer or something to make them blush. It was a reality and they were willing to talk about it.

       When I was walking to another courtroom with one of the young, sarcastic prosecutors he shook his head in dismay as he recounted a recent disappointing ruling.

       “He raped this woman with a broom repeatedly and only got two years with a chance of parole. He’s going to be out on the street soon.”
       “That’s horrible. That part of your job has to be so frustrating.”

       We talked about the tough realities of seeing terrible people pay little or nothing for their crimes. And then he jokingly commented that he hardly ever sees any male prostitutes. I made a joke about supply and demand. Was it the most tasteful joke? Probably not. But we laughed and kept talking about tough things.

       I long for conversations about the prevalence of sexual assault, the way our culture responds to it and the legal processes that deal with it. I want to be able to talk about rape, tell a story about my kid and then joke about a silly politician. I felt safe and accepted among these sassy lawyers who didn’t fall silent at the mention of an “off limits” topic.

       Yesterday a classmate asked why Gabriel and I moved back to Columbus. I lied and said, “There are a lot of reasons I guess!” I regretted it afterward and was tempted to turn around and say, “Actually I was raped so we decided to leave Chicago.” But my fear of social awkwardness prevented me from making so bold a move. Believe me, I’m not saying that every rape survivor should go around shouting it to the world. I know how painful the rejection and inevitable social alienation can be. It is not a safe thing to do. I have decided that I have the emotional support I need from family and friends to embrace the social affront of silence. I want to introduce rape into everyday conversation because this is an everyday reality for 1 in 4 women. I will not shame myself into silence in order to maintain a culturally acceptable blind eye.

       Let’s talk about rape. Seriously.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Justice or Peace?

        One class I’m taking is sociolinguistics. We study different ways to transcribe spoken words. The prof passed out an example of a courtroom transcript one day. Staring at the words of the witness on the paper, my eyes began to swim and I excused myself from the room; afraid I would cry or throw up. Countless times I have been rocking and nursing Theo in his darkened nursery with tears running down my face as I tried to imagine how I would ever sit in a courtroom full of people and recount the horrifying details of how I was raped.
        I’ve talked with detectives and attorneys before, and they’ve recorded the sound of my wavering voice answering their painful questions.
        “So his penis entered you?”
        “His hands?”
        “His tongue?”
        “Did he threaten you?”
        “What exactly did he say?”
        The thought of doing that again—in front of strangers, in front of my husband—makes me nauseous. There’s something terrifying about the idea of a court reporter transcribing my every word—every detail of the rape in hard copy. As if that makes it more real.
        There was a lot of DNA evidence that was tested—then contested and retested—so this trial process has been seemingly neverending. In the early months following July 8, 2013, I didn’t want to have any direct contact with the law officers. I gave my testimony. I worked with the police artist to come up with a sketch of the suspect. A rape kit was collected in the hospital and there were more follow up swabs later. I identified the rapist in the line-up. But I didn’t want to answer the phone when the prosecuting attorney called. I didn’t want to talk about it again, I didn’t know what to say.
        Not many sexual assaults are reported. It feels shameful. I felt vulnerable placing that disgusting, terrifying moment of my life into the hands of an institution. What would they think? Would they believe me? What if I said something wrong? What if, somehow, he wasn’t guilty? (I know that doesn’t make sense—I WAS raped by a stranger at a bus stop. But I was afraid I would say something that would somehow let him off the hook.)
        The day I was raped, someone asked me about police involvement. I said I didn’t know anything.
        “But you’ll want this guy locked up, right? So he can’t hurt anyone else,” was their response. My mind couldn’t even hold that thought in my head. Did I have a responsibility to protect other women from the same horrible experience I had?  What was the “right” course of action? I wasn’t even close to being able to weigh my options. I didn’t know what my options were.
As I began healing I started answering the calls from my lawyer in Chicago. The new court date is November 28, 2014. Got it. They are still contesting evidence? Why? At first I anticipated feeling disappointed and devalued by my conversations with my lawyer. Maybe I assumed I would be just another case to her. Maybe I never dreamed the institution of law could be personal and gratifying; but with every conversation, I felt a little more empowered. I knew when they would be discussing the crimes against me. I learned what “due process” was in cases like mine.
        My assailant was facing multiple charges against him and was looking at 24-120 years in prison. I knew he wouldn’t get the highest, but I did not want him to get the lowest either.
Becca and I were driving back to Ohio from a visit in Maryland to see our parents when the familiar Illinois number lit up my phone.
        “Could we pull over? I need to take this.”
        We quickly pulled off onto a West Virginia dirt road and I stepped out of the car. My lawyer told me the defendant’s lawyer was hoping to strike a deal—which wasn’t unheard of.
        “So, how many years would you like?” she asked me.
        “Um. Excuse me?”
        “We get to offer a minimum amount of years we think he should serve. He can either plead guilty and accept that, or it will go to a 402,  which is me, his lawyer and a judge. We tell the facts to the judge and he offers the defendant a number of years which he can accept or deny. If the assailant does not accept the offer, we would have to go to trial and you would have to testify.”
        “Oh. Well. I guess I don’t want him to serve anything less than 35 years.”
        “That’s what I thought, too.”
        That conversation was a turning point for me. I had power. I could lay down the bottom line for what this crime against me was worth.
        He didn’t take the deal.
        At the 402, his lawyer requested a sentence in the 20s range. “Absolutely not. Thirty-two years is the lowest I will go,” the judge replied. Then we waited. The assailant had until January 28, 2015, to decide if he was going to take the 32 years, or if we would go to trial.
I was anxious. I had panic attacks. I had nightmares about sitting on the witness stand and being asked probing questions while the man who raped me was sitting in the room.
        On January 28, 2015, the assailant pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
        I broke down sobbing on the OSU campus when I got the news. It was over. I wouldn’t have to testify, or see him again, or drag this out any longer. It was finished. I will be 54 when he is released from jail. My son will be in his 30s. I could easily be a grandparent by then. The world will be a whole new place in 32 years, and I don’t need to have courtroom nightmares anymore.
People kept repeating the word ‘justice’ to me, as if I finally had some justice. I’m not sure I know what justice means. It didn’t feel like justice when I heard it was over. It felt like peace. I know my healing is far from over, but now a chapter is closed. I don’t have to continually revisit that day when an Illinois area code flashes on my phone. There is no impending trial. There is closure.
        I can walk around knowing that the man who stole valuable parts of me, will lose his young adulthood. He will pay something for what he took. I’m not sure that’s what justice is, but I am determined to find out it’s true meaning. I learned how empowering the legal system can be to rape survivors. I didn’t have to feel eclipsed and unheard by the enormity of the legal world. I was listened to with care and kindness. Friendly faces and gentle explanations met my every question. I know this isn’t the experience of every rape survivor, and that breaks my heart.
        I long to intervene in rape survivors’ experiences in anyway I can and extend love to them. This summer I will complete the 40 hours of training in order to become the hospital advocate I didn’t have. I don’t want any rape survivor in Columbus to be alone in the hospital when they complete the rape kit. This desire to empower survivors, to give them a voice in some small way, this determination to explore what justice means for a rape survivor, has led me to the legal section of Half Priced Books. I’ve picked up some LSAT study books and I’ve been working my way through them. I want to be a voice of comfort and clarity to a woman who feels frightened that people won’t believe her or that she will say the wrong thing. I want to know what justice is. I want to be a peacemaker in the devastating aftermath of sexual assault. For now, that means going to law school.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Leaving the Tower

Two weeks ago I attended my first class at The Ohio State University. Since I was accepted people have been asking me how I intend to handle the workload.

“When are you going to do homework?”
“Who’s going to watch Theo?”
“You’re just going to go part-time, right?!”
“Wow. I can’t even imagine being in school and having a baby.”

“Oh my goodness! I hadn’t thought about all those difficult hurdles I’d have to jump! Never mind, I give up. My love of academics and dreams of higher education aren’t worth the hassle.” This is how I always wanted to respond. Of course it’s going to be a pain sometimes. Yes, it will be a helluva lot of work. But I made a choice to reapply to school and continue pursuing my goals. I was nervous about all of those things. How will Theo fare without me? How will I be able to keep up in my classes when I’m a full-time mom?

        But the thing I laid awake at night worrying about most—was the walk. The walk from my car to my classes. For me, there is nothing more frightening than being alone, out in the world, in transit. Anything could happen. That is when I feel the most vulnerable. When I’m in my car I can lock the doors—I’m good. Once I’m in my classroom, I can settle into my seat, position my back to the wall and have everyone in my sight. But when I’m walking alone, I can’t see everyone. My hearing has become impeccable. I hear footsteps coming from over a block away. I can almost always tell from the sound of a footstep whether it’s a man or woman behind me.

        One of my least favorite consequences of being a survivor of a stranger rape, is the way it has affected how I see people. Every man I see is a threat. Everyone else around me are witnesses. The more people around, the more threats—but also the more witnesses. I can’t win. I commute to school four days a week and I park in a neighborhood just off campus. It’s about a mile walk to my first class. Gabriel, Theo and I went a few days before school started and did a test run of where I should park and how I could walk to class. It took 20 minutes. I typically do the walk in 11 minutes now. I’m practically running.

        For a year and a half the world was too scary to be in. Too dangerous to take walks alone. Too dangerous to ride public transportation. Too dangerous. I am a survivor of what is called a Blitz Sexual Assault. A random stranger violently and suddenly attacked me, and for nearly two years I organized my life around avoiding situations where that could happen again. It took months for me to even drive a car alone.

        Gabriel and I were recently listening to a sermon and the pastor was talking about “weathering hard seasons.” That’s Christainese for going through bad shit. He was telling a story about how he was terrified of flying, so by the time he was 39 he had only flown one time. He realized that by avoiding his fear he wasn’t eliminating it, he was just neatly bending his life to the will of his fear. He did not travel because his fear kept him from planes. I did not independently interact with the world outside of my home because my fear told me I would be hurt—like I once was. By staying inside, I was not handling my fear—my fear was handling me.

        Two times a day, four times a week I embark on that excruciating walk. I keep my hands out of my pockets and I hold my keys threateningly between my fingers, in case I need to fight back. My eyes are wide and my ears are alert and you better believe I know exactly how close I am to the people around me—and I could probably tell you the color of their jacket, jeans and shoes. I’m hyperaware. And I often call Gabriel, he puts me on speaker and I sing to Theo.

        I have to do this. I have to leave my self-constructed padded prison. I have to go to school. I love school. I have dreams that are bigger than locking myself away in my tall ivory tower of fear and safely throwing away the key. This world is a scary place. It’s not as beautiful to me as it once was. But I still have a place in it. My voice will be heard in classrooms. I will not be kept silent—trembling and alone—because my fear tells me that’s the safer option. Today I’m choosing the greater risk. Today I am no longer listening to fear.

So if you see a short (newly dyed) red head, sweating profusely, hightailing it across campus, glaring at anyone who crosses her path whilst singing “Mommy loves you, yes I do” into her phone…that would be me. Beware—if you startle me, I might hit you with my keys.