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.


  1. Love you. I feel a pit in my stomach reading this, but I'm so glad that you had people near you to help carry you through days that are rough, especially on July 8th. xo

  2. Love you Em . . . I know your writings are helping many and you truly have the gift of the written word. So glad you made it through the day without a panic attack . . . that is progress <3

  3. What a beautifully written reflection. Thank you for reminding us that it doesn't take just a short time to 'get over' grief and pain, and that we never know what is affecting someone's day.