In my mind, I have spoken about this a million times, described every single detail only to make sure it never happens to anyone else.
There is a parallel universe in which I have inspired young girls into never forsaking their understanding of healthy boundaries. They would all become stronger and more self-empowered because of my spiel on fighting back. I would sell them the tremendous healing power that comes from survivorship, and the world would be a better place because of my powerful pitch.
But in reality, I did no such thing.
This is, in fact, my second attempt at allowing a horrible memory to reveal itself, but time has a great way of kicking butt. So here we go.
The thing about abuse is we think we know what it looks like. Perpetrators lurking in dark alleyways, shady characters hanging around schools, or weirdos with an unhealthy interest in your Instagram account.
Unless you have somehow gone through it yourself, this might be as far as your ability to envision harm will allow you to go. If that’s the case: please be aware of how lucky you are to foster such a romantic notion of evil. May you never find out the truth about the ugliness that can permeate the soul.
After abuse, the lights go out. Everything goes completely quiet as if you were a part of an experiment carried out in a sterile, vacuum environment. Even the air plays tricks on you as it echoes your cry for help, mocking you for staking a claim to your own predicament. So you stop screaming, and eventually you stop talking, until gradually even the feeling stops.
Abuse takes away the part of you that attaches to softness. You know it’s there, but you now also know it bites. So you stop being playful and hide your smiles and colourful tops, because apparently they’re the things that get you into trouble.
The tyranny of self-censorship comes from not wanting to go through the process of finding the words that describe what you went through, which in turn comes from the fact that you don’t want to go through it again. You see, the damaging effects of any kind of abuse don’t reside in what you say—the wounds fester because of what you don’t.
It took me 30 years to speak up, and I only did so because another victim was courageous enough to go to the police. This somehow prompted me, and 10 other women, to start talking. As I was stating “the facts” to the policewoman, she mentioned she had a daughter. I took comfort in knowing there were 14 of us in the room that day. Aside from the police officer and me, all of his victims were there too. And we were joined by the police woman’s daughter, whose spirit had been called upon by her caring mom.
Abuse is not about facts. Facts do well in movies, but in real life facts only go as far as to turn the unspeakable into the impeachable, which is why they work in courts of law, gossip magazines, and light-hearted conversation.
But the truth about abuse cannot be put into words. How does one make sense of assault, without coming across as if you’re somehow condoning it, or inserting it into a narrative in which there is an actual relationship between cause and effect? Again, this is something only survivors will truly understand. There is nothing prosaic about the nature of evil and, therefore, words have no business filling in the blanks.
Abuse is nasty and wrong, and the depths of its darkness are beyond the logic of language. And yet, victims are required to be vividly explicit in order for their assailants to answer to their crimes. We need to address this, urgently, because at some point a victim should be allowed to stand up and stay up.
I was 16 and he was a doctor—a well-known one who would come on TV to flaunt his knowledge about relationships. A holiday card was sent each year with a witty note and a smart reference to art. Because he was also into art. And wit. And abuse. The latter was never talked about though, and the message would taunt me throughout the holidays. In fact, it still does, but when a room full of voices demand to be heard, predicaments can be overturned. This man is likely to spend his remaining days in a cell because of more than a dozen courageously detailed accounts. That’s what happens when survivors finally decide to unmute themselves: their spirits gather in flocks.
I might never be the one to convince hordes of young women of the depravity of certain behaviour, but I might be the one who needs to remind you. I know what it’s like to stop trusting your senses, but sometimes the echoes talk back.
You never know who else is out there in the dark, wanting to reach out—hoping to talk to you about what happened to us.