In Relief of Silence and Burden

I will not write his name. I will not speak his name. I will try not to think his name.

I saw the young man’s video, and the first thing I felt, god forgive me, was pity for this broken man child and his grotesque narcissism and his naked hatred of women, of himself. 

We live in a world where the hatred of women is not only condoned but richly cultivated and somehow, within such a toxic culture we women are supposed to hold our heads high. We’re supposed to be strong. We’re supposed to rise above. Or, as men so often tell me in public, we are supposed to smile. 

A man killed six people and injured several others. He was a misogynist and a racist and a narcissist and now everyone has an opinion or diagnosis or a political aim to attach to the tragedy. I understand. Today, I cannot do that. I am so tired. I am out of the necessary words but thankfully, others are not.

This man whose name I will not speak is a symptom of a disease that is infecting us all. I care about the culture that made his staggering sense of entitlement possible. I care about the women and men he murdered. I have no wisdom to offer here. I want to be hopeful. I want to think that this will be the catalyst for change but I thought the same after Sandy Hook and I think the same after nearly every tragedy and here we always are, nursing the same sorrows and anger and helplessness. 

For the past two days I have been thinking, constantly, of all the times I have been afraid to say no to a man, those times when I said yes and did things I didn’t really want to do because offering a reluctant yes was easier than saying no. All too often, when I have said no, I have been ignored and the consequences have been terrible. The response to a no has been rage because how dare I, a woman, say no. To this day, in far too many situations, I cannot say no. As a feminist, as a human being, I hate how some part of me accepts this as the way things are.

The hashtag #yesallwomen has been depressingly active on Twitter. I can hardly stand to follow it, to see all the testimony, to see the painful experiences that mirror my own, to realize how little has changed even though we’ve been fighting so hard for so long to be seen as human and equal and inviolable.

When I am told to smile, I want to snarl. I think, “Why?” Why should women smile given the ways of the world?

At a reading in Miami, a man asked something like, “Do you think all men are rapists?” I said no because I think nothing of the sort. And still, one is too many. And all these men are now falling over themselves to say, “Not all men.” They are willfully missing the point that this isn’t about them. And maybe not all men but they may well be silent when their friends make crass jokes and catcall women and exhibit the kinds of behavior that make women live in fear or feel diminished just by existing.

Yesterday, I saw all this bare testimony and thought it won’t change anything and then, with the help of people I talk with online, I realized that the testimony isn’t for change, necessarily. The testimony is so we can be heard. The testimony is so we can relieve ourselves of silence and burden.

Amidst all the #yesallwomen conversations, I remembered the dirty old man who told me I was pretty when we were alone in the TV room of a temporary apartment complex my family was living in while we waited for our house to be ready. I remember telling him my age and how he told me he likes young tail. He was repulsive. I was wearing overalls. I always think that. I was wearing overalls. I’m pretty sure my hair was in pig tails. He was a sick man.

Or. I am in Arizona. I have run away from my life. I have cracked completely. My family has no idea where I am. I have no idea where I am. I am doing things that would scandalize anyone who thinks they know me. I am putting myself in danger, night after night. I am reckless and it feels good because I already know  the worst that could happen. I have been there and I lived through it. Whatever happens beyond the worst won’t matter. This mindset has stayed with me for more than twenty years. People say I’m fearless but I am something worse than fearless. I am constantly terrified and numb.

Or. I am in my apartment, this apartment, with a man I am seeing who loves to say he is a nice guy. He talks about being a nice guy when he talks about his many, many past relationships where somehow, remarkably, he is always the aggrieved party. He hates women. I can smell it on him. I feel it in his touch. I decide I hate nice guys. When we break up, I feel relieved. 

Or. I am in my apartment, this apartment, with an asshole I am dating. I often date assholes which is not to be confused with abusers. I like assholes because you always know exactly where you stand with them. They don’t tell you what you want to hear and then behave otherwise. They don’t tell you things to make you feel good. They are who they are and either you accept it or you don’t. I deserve better and I know it and he knows it, and then he raises his voice and the apartment feels so small. He is an asshole but he is a decent man. He is not going to hurt me but still I am quickly studying the room. I am studying the distance between where we are sitting and the door. I am calculating what I should say, and in what tone of voice because you never ever know.

Time Magazine reviewed my book and referenced my rape, which is not a secret to anyone who reads my work but is a secret to most of my family. What happened is not something I discuss with my family. I cannot talk about it with them, it’s too much. The memories are too fresh even now. The consequences are still with me. Or it was a secret. I sort of knew, when I published my novel, that things would change but I was pretty passive about it partly because I was a little resentful that as a woman who writes, my personal story becomes part of the story even though, the novel is fiction. 

Regardless, I was at home for a couple days in the middle of book tour and my dad said, “I read the Time review.”  I was nonchalant but I sort of knew what he was getting at.

A few weeks earlier, my mom had poked at me, in her way, and we had a conversation about how sometimes children, even with great parents, are too scared to talk to their parents about the trauma they experience.  I told her that most of my writing is about sexual violence and trauma. We talked about how we hoped the world would be better to my niece, and that if anything happened, she would talk to someone. I realized my mother knew and I was grateful that she and I are so similar and that it was enough to talk around the truth rather than stare it down.

But later in those days at home, my dad said, “Why didn’t you tell us about what happened in {redacted}?” And I looked at him, and I said, “Dad, I was scared.” I said, “I thought I would get in trouble.”

I was so ashamed of what had happened, of everything I had done with a boy I wanted to love me leading up to what happened with him and all his friends, for the aftermath. I felt like it was my fault.

That boy hated women too. I know he did. When I think now, of how he treated me before, during, after, I see the hatred. I am certain he learned it from his older brother. Maybe they learned it from their father. I should forgive, knowing that his hatred of women has such a virulent and inescapable genealogy but I can’t. Or I won’t. I don’t believe in forgiveness as the bridge to salvation.

My father told me I deserved justice. He told me he would have gotten justice for me and I went inside myself as I all too often do. I went through the motions of the rest of the conversation, with a lot of staring at an electronic device. I could have handled it better but  I was hearing what I have needed to hear for so very long and I wanted to break down though I don’t know how to do that anymore. My family knows my secret. I am freed, or part of me freed, and part of me is still the girl in the woods. I may always be that girl. My dad and  brothers want names. I will not speak his name, either. I will not speak any of their names.