I hold up three fingers in the silence between us. Her brown eyes meet mine, shining with tears. “I am sorry,” she says, even though there is no need for it. She has done nothing wrong, yet that is often the only words people are able to say once they learn my history.
The scars I carry are invisible, and to every other person, I look like an androgynous person, possibly a young man or possibly not. I look whole on the outside. There’s a bit of acne on my chin. I bridge the gap between society’s two genders, and as I do, I carry my past with me. I don’t know how to let it go.
Three fingers single the moment where I am bold about what happened to me. I speak up about it, and yet I still haven’t said a thing.
Three fingers tell the story, and the pain written across the lines in my face, the hollow look in my eyes. In a world where speaking the words could instigate a tirade of reasons as to why I deserved it, where those that hurt me are not fully to blame. Is it any wonder that the words do not fall from my lips?
I hold up the fingers in silence because I am afraid. I am afraid to speak up because the retribution is so swift and so painful. I am afraid, and that fear gives these people power over me. How can I break that power? How can I fight back against the onslaught of horror and pain that society throws at people like me daily?
I hold up three fingers and take it one step at a time.
I wonder at times what it is I expect will happen if I say the words out loud. Then the memories roll through my mind like the march of ants across a tablecloth.
The memories of people calling it a dream, memories of others asking what I wore that day, others claiming that because I was in the relationship it wasn’t really assault.
Others blaming it on my sexuality, on how I didn’t fight back so I must have wanted it. People who use my pain as fuel to claim I am the monster.
Those that make the rape jokes anyway or laugh at my story. Then there are the hundreds of articles of others who have been shamed, victim-blamed, hurt, and abused. We live in a world where the perpetrator is more likely to be mourned than it is for the victim to be helped.
We live in a world where the perpetrator is more likely to get a fine or a slap on the wrist than to go to jail. We live in a world where it doesn’t matter how good you are or how bad you are, if you are a victim of a violent crime, people will find a way to blame you for it. They will tear apart your life rather than the rapist, abuser, attacker.
If you are not the magical perfect victim that never does anything wrong, then you are automatically guilty by default, and you somehow forced that perpetrator to hurt you. This is a world where society is quick to forgive those that rape, stalk, harass, abuse, but are forever condemning their victims, forever reminding them that they have no worth.
To speak up against it means beating my head against a wall, with blood dripping down my chin, and my body ripped to shreds by the vicious attacks of society’s determination to never give the perpetrator full responsibility.
Three fingers tell a story, a story that is wrought with pain, yet those three fingers are connected to a living, breathing person. A person who is still alive.
I am a survivor, and I have not fallen in battle. I still stand upright. I still go to work in the morning, and I still am able to work on my projects, call the people I need to call. I smile and laugh at times, and I go home and lay in my bed.
There, in the darkness of the night, the painful memories used to overwhelm me, where I would often stare at the ceiling and wish for death to take me into the sweet embrace of nothing. For years I lived in such a state, a supreme disconnect, unable to face the pain that boiled inside of me, that I kept under lock and chain. Over time, I learned how to embrace the nothing, to force out the pain, and live in this state of disassociation. That knotted ball of pain that curled around the core of my being hadn’t left, but I learned to push it down, hide it, to diminish my light for fear of retribution. For fear of rejection.
The stories I tell of my past are filled with anecdotes, all of them true, but told to exaggerate the most ridiculous parts. I do this to avoid the sobering truth that much of my stories hold great sadness and pain. I explore the ridiculous in my past in order to avoid exposing the splintered and shattered parts of my heart.
It’s easier to share a tale of how I grabbed a bird, then it is to admit I was near death, drowning so incredibly close to shore.
It is easier to share a tale of climbing a bluff, seeking petroglyphs only to fall and get stuck in a tree for hours, where I wore a fireman coat and sang silly songs as they rappelled down to my perch, then it is to admit the fall was no accident.
It is easier to say I performed three miracles for my Thai friends in Wyoming and relate the tales of those silly exploits, then it is to admit that I had planned to die in those mountains. It wasn’t even the first time I actively sought death, only to be circumvented from those plans by people I would never meet again, people who reminded me that there is still beauty in this life.
As far as I have wandered, as many places I have lived, I cannot escape myself or my memories. I carry them with me, knotted together in this ball of pain at the core of me. I hold up three fingers because I am a work in progress, and I am trying to voice my story, to share the truth as painful as it can be.
Yet those three fingers also provide a chance for healing. Because as much as those memories haunt me, when I hold up those three fingers, I am taking back what was stolen from me. I am taking away their power. They cannot and will not continue to have this hold on me, to continue to steal away my light and cast me in this field of despair.
I hold up three fingers to deny my perpetrators their power. They soon will become nothing but a fleeting memory, one that will fade into the annals of time. I have fought so hard to uplift the voices of survivors like me, and now it is my turn to try again to stand up. To say, “This is my life and my body. I am not to blame for what those assholes did to me. They made their choice, and they will take full responsibility. I will not own their actions anymore.”
Why, oh why is that so hard?
My three fingers are my witness, and here I stand, alone, and weep not just for myself, but for all the survivors in the world, all of us who have fought so hard to stay alive despite all odds, despite the pain we carry, despite the abuse and hatred leveled at us. I want a world where we can all stand up, tell our stories, and embrace one another with love and acceptance. Where those who commit the harm is brought to justice, and those who are hurt are supported and helped through this dark time.
But more than that, I want to build a world of love where this awfulness never happens. Where people are accepted as they are, their bodies and choices and minds respected. I want to live in a world where we don’t have to live in fear, where love is our primary language.
But that is not our world, as much as I wish it were so. Instead, I must try to create a safe zone around myself. A safe place for people to share their tales. A safe place where people feel loved and supported, where we are there for each other. Where we see each other as we are, accept each other where we are, and respect each other as we are. It will be small at first, but maybe, over time, it will grow.