(CW: disordered eating, abortion, intimate partner violence, rape, etc., etc.)
what i remember is sitting in the sunshine at my father's desk in my father's library. the desk in front of the window, at the top of the stairs, at the desktop computer positioned in such a way that whatever you're browsing on the internet is entirely visible to anyone coming up the stairs.
this was the moment i learned to have multiple browsers open. a lesson that served me well throughout my career in office jobs.
because you had to be poised, ever ready to be found out, caught, in whatever nefarious thing you were up to.
in my office jobs i was writing. at my dad's desktop that day, i was googling natural abortifacients.
i'm struck by how, though these two things sound so different written there, they pointed towards the same end: survival.
this was in the summer of 2002. a summer about which i have some memories, some of them incredibly vivid. though the thing that ties them all together is a coldness, a certain chill.
to be clear, i had no chill then.
in breakfast at tiffany's, holly golightly characterizes "the mean reds" as those days where you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of.
it wasn't that. i knew what i was afraid of. i just didn't know what was happening. i did not have the language for what was happening, what was being done.
where are we when we do not have the words for where we are? who are we then?
my boyfriend was hurting me. i was bleeding, often.
i never cried.
i performed, mostly. i think i was very convincing. i should've won an oscar.
you would have believed me. not the truth, maybe, but the performance.
to this day i continue to be astounded by the fact that i did give donovan any indication of any of this (albeit the tiniest of all possible shards) and that we only ever touched upon ("discussed" would be too strong of a word) it once, in a pair of emails.
he told me i was like the protagonist in a henry james novel.
i do not want to be the protagonist in a henry james novel. i wanted to be the star of my own show.
and there i was, starring in a show three times a week, smiling through the pain, nay, full on feigning pleasure, pretending i enjoyed it, wanted it, asking for more.
i stopped eating.
that's not entirely true. i ate. thanks to my journals from that summer, where i documented in painstaking detail every low-fat, highly processed thing i put into my body, we know precisely how very little.
i didn't know how my body worked. i didn't fully understand what he was doing to it. i did not trust-- prepare yourself for this lol-- that he had my best interests at heart.
i was scared to death of being pregnant. of being ruined. of ruining my own life.
i was then, as i always am now, terrified of being trapped, stuck. because i was then, already, trapped, stuck.
i did not know that what i was experiencing was abuse. i just thought it was better than nothing, better than being alone. because i'd grown up in a world where your life didn't matter if a man wasn't looking at you, wanting you. you did not count as a human being. you had no value beyond the value attached to you through the interest of a man.
it sounds so retro! it was the 2000s! jfc.
my therapist changed practices and is now no longer in-network. that is why i am writing this even at all. that is determining the format of what i write. this is how i talk in therapy. we are circling the block. the goal is to bring the car into the driveway and, maybe, even the garage.
i was 20. i'd not bled in three months. i was starving. i was approximately half way through an abusive relationship, but i did not know that then and i did not know what it was and i did not know what was happening. i was so very, very young; i knew so very, very little, as i sat there at my father's desktop with all those open browsers, flipping between "teas to bring on your period" and jcrew.com.
the terror of whatever the fuck was happening within my body juxtaposed with the terror of one of my parents coming up the stairs and catching me on this website.
boys look at porn. girls google "how can i get an abortion in mississippi."
or at least that's how it was in my world.
my parents are moving. they've not yet sold that house, but they've vacated it.
this has left me in mourning for various things. but, as lindear reminded me, it wasn't all good there.
i love my father. i loved his library. in every house we've had, his library has been a safe space, whilst also a point of contention in my parents' marriage.
always, it was essential that he had a library. it was only in this house, their house of the last 22 years but also their fifth, that my mother got a room of her own.
as a pre-teen, when we lived in atlanta, i've vivid memories of reading in my dad's library. and it was always his-- not the family library, but his. i felt lucky to get to go there. to have my slumber parties there. to take my own books in there, lie on the couch, and read. always, it's been a place of quiet, peace, and beautiful things.
those stairs though.
i was raped on those stairs.
i remember, lying there as it was happening, straining through my partial deafness, alert for the noise of my father's approach, grateful for the fact that-- in a world where many things cannot be counted on-- he is incapable of sneaking up on anyone because of his popping toes.
i remember, sitting in the wooden chair at his desk, yahoo-ing "how to have a home abortion" because a man was doing things to my body that i did not understand and i had not bled in months.
there are other memories of this time. i had ear surgery that august and still hadn't got my period. at some point before that, i'd dragged that man to the grocery store, bought a home pregnancy test with my own money (still, i remember how subdued he was during this, how crazy he thought i was), and got a negative result. but, still, i didn't bleed.
my dad took me to have my blood drawn for that operation. i was terrified they'd come back and say they couldn't operate because i was pregnant.
i bled all the time when this man touched me, freely, profusely. but my period did not come.
it did, eventually, i don't remember when. i remember this happened again, after i left that man. the following summer, again i was buying home pregnancy tests and trying to understand what was going on with my body.
because i did not really know it. i operated at that far of a remove.
i've never had an abortion. to my knowledge, i've never been pregnant.
but i remember the terror of being twenty, of being in college, in the middle of three years of what i could not at that time identify as sexual abuse and intimate partner violence. i remember the extraordinary desperation i felt, as someone who lived in mississippi, googling on my dad's desktop how to attain abortion teas.
there's a temptation with one's own experience to minimize, to always be like oh but others have it so much worse, it could've been so much worse, i am very very small beans.
so, yes, yes, it could've been so much worse, others have had it so much worse. and also this is what it was. and it was terrifically horrendous. i would not wish this upon anyone. i would move heaven and earth to spare anyone even just this.