Tag Archives: Flashback

To MC

I got your email. Wrong cousin reaching out. And I can’t answer.

“Do you think people change?” I ask our cousin.
“Yes,” he replies.
“Do you think HE has?” I press.

Sometimes when it’s cold, I curl up and flashback to crawling on your floor.
I roll over and see your feet stomping down at my head.

“If you touch my things, I will slap you!” You told me.
“If you slap me, I will kill you,” I responded.

“How are you smiling while you tell me about this?” a friend asked. “You have a huge smile on your face while you talk about killing your cousin! It’s scary.”
“I didn’t even realize it,” I said. “I’m not happy about it. I think my body just reacts to ridiculousness with mirth. I was in a domestically violent situation. That’s ridiculous. I don’t think my body can think about that without reacting like it’s a joke.”

My biggest regret is not smashing your bottle of cologne on the floor. Sometimes I think about you wearing it, using it to get girls, and I feel scared and a little sick.

“He never apologized for it?” our cousin asked.
“He apologized the next day,” I said. “But he always does. And he always does it again. He reminds me of an abusive boyfriend who regrets his actions when he sees you bleeding, but still beats you up next week.”
“You know, I’ve heard that about him!” he said.
“And you’re still cool with this man?”

The best part of all of that was being able to leave. Having the resources and connections, and STRENGTH of will to get myself the fuck out of an abusive situation. And a year later, after the second rape, I left the country. This time, I’d been the one locking myself in a small living space in the cold. Still curled up on my side. That part doesn’t change.

“Leaving isn’t enough. You must stay gone.” Thank you, “Frida”.

We aren’t okay. We were, and you destroyed that. I can’t forgive you for it. Not out of hate, or spite, because I feel neither of those things for you. All that I feel, when I happen to think about you, is fear and sadness.

You were the first human long con I was aware of.

“maybe i’m being selfish again asking only for what i want. i’d like you to tell me what you want.”

What I want is for the past two years never to have happened. I want to be rape free, con free. I want to have a cousin I’m cool with, and only one dead. I want South Africa to be a haven, and Congo a conflict-free possibility.

That’s not how things work, though. You can’t erase the past; you can only learn from it and move forward. I can’t go back to an abuser. They always blame you for the abuse if you go back to it, and they never think about the intense emotional burden the abuser hurls onto you, even from across oceans.

What I want is for you to change. To listen to others. To control your anger. To reflect on yourself, your thoughts, your actions. To take responsibility for your life, your failures and successes. I don’t think you do any of that. I don’t think anyone makes you.

Your friends enable you. They don’t care if you’re a monster; they don’t care about what’s happening to your soul. I do.

I think the best care I can give to myself, and to you by extension, is not attempting to see you or speak to you. Maybe that way I can heal. Maybe that way you can finally be sparked into growth.

This is your sign.

Clarity and Panic at Orientation

It doesn’t get easier the second time.

It just takes longer to sink in.

In the moment, when you realize what’s happening, you go inside of yourself and tell yourself that you can spin it. That even though you’re fighting and pushing and not wanting to be a victim, he’s stronger than you are, and he’s not letting go, so your last escape from victimhood is to pretend it isn’t happening. Make sure there’s a condom so you won’t have another thing to worry about later, use your last bits of assertiveness to ask for one if you can’t tell (and understand that even though you’ve been saying “no” and “what are you doing” and “stop” repeatedly, and pushing and arching and pulling away, he’ll take this to mean consent), then go into your mind and seal it shut so that you can’t remember anything afterward. The first experience has taught you this much. Seal your mind to everything but the memory of his unfortunately “sized” penis, so that you can laugh at him, instead of being afraid of another monster. Even though that’s what he is.

And then, you’ll dull yourself to everything else. Dull, dull, dull, and not think. Because when you think, you feel pain, and fear. You don’t want to process this. You’re tired of processing everything, always. Tired, tired, tired. You want to forget everything, forget feelings, go to sleep forever and drift away.

The only thing you embrace is laughter. You recognize how hysterical it is, how outrageous it sounds. How your coworkers, who know you mainly to be calm with splashes of whimsy but ever-poised (there’s that word again), are always taken aback by the laughter that rockets out of you. Perhaps, to them, it seems disingenuous at times. It’s not that funny, or there’s no need to laugh so hard, are things you’ve been told all of your life. But ____ that, because you know that laughter, mirth, is the only one of your feelings that’s acceptable. It’s the only way to release the tension, the stress, the craziness of your mind in a way that can lift the spirits of others as well, so ____ anyone who tries to stifle it.

Laugh your heart out, laugh so that tears can freely pour out of your eyes, laugh until your face is red and your stomach retches. Scream out syllables of jolliness that rise into the air, and let them carry you away from your body. Forget how Not Okay you are, then come back into your cellf and consider antagonizing a cop.

He said he loved you. He flew out of the country.

He knew he loved you. He stayed in the architecture studio.

He wanted to love you. He rolled out of your bed, and out of the hotel.

He said he loved you. He stopped being your friend; closed the Skype.

You don’t leave people. You get left.

What does that say about you?

And now what will you do?

A Memory

The first time I can remember an adult man making me uncomfortable, I think I was about 6 years old. If I’d met him at my age today, I wouldn’t call him a man, I don’t think. He was probably only in his late teens, early twenties at most. This is what my twenty-two year old mind rationalizes. But to little me, he was a freaking man, and that impression clouds my memory.

He was also an art teacher at my summer camp. I think his name was David.

When I was younger, I would go to summer camp at the local elementary school. A lot of my friends did too, as well as students from the four other elementary schools in the district. The other girls in my camp group weren’t people I knew, although most of them knew each other, so there were a lot of times in the beginning of camp when we were supposed to be quiet in an activity and they’d all be talking. I mention this to highlight that while they got attention for talking to the friends they already had, I would stick out as a quiet girl. This was years before I became a quiet person. I was actually quite boisterous and loud as a child and I made friends pretty easily, but I also didn’t stress about it. So for the first few days of camp, I was very content keeping to myself in our group’s classroom activities, then ramping up the energy when I was back with my friends in the gym. My gym antics won me a lot of new friends. My classroom silences won over my teachers, sometimes a little too much.

David liked me because he though I was so polite, and also pretty. He said this, not just to me, but to the rest of my group, and really anyone around whenever we happened to bump into each other. The bumping into each other happened a lot more than you’d expect. I didn’t just see him in class. He was on the playground. He was in the hallways. I saw David more than I saw any other teachers or counselors, and each time I ran into him, he’d praise me. He got into the habit of just picking me up and putting me high into the air. He made a song about me, and he’d dance around like a lunatic singing it. When I saw him in the hallways, he wouldn’t let me go by without hugging him first.

I hated all of it.

At first, it was okay. It even helped me befriend the other girls in the group, but barely. The thing was, promises on promises, I was the only kid in camp who was being sung to. It made me stand out. I was always the first kid who “got” to be lifted into the air; it made me cool that I didn’t even try for it.

But I didn’t like standing out in this way. I didn’t feel that I merited preferential treatment. I found it strange, the way David held me when he lifted me up, with his hand spread so that his palm held my stomach while his fingers could press into my chest. When I was walking in the hallway, I just wanted to be able to walk without being stopped and pressed into a man’s body. Being serenaded made me boil over with embarrassment from the first day, but no one seemed to notice or care. If anything, my embarrassment made them all laugh, and David played off of that and hammed it up even harder.

The only thing I appreciated was that he appreciated how polite I was. My mom had stressed politeness pretty hard to me, and I knew it would make her proud that an adult had taken notice of my good behavior. So throughout the entire summer of camp, I was incredibly polite to David. I endured everything with a smile, and if I felt particularly tired or uncomfortable on a certain day, I would simply run and hide in the bathroom until he was no longer around. That’s how I got through the summer.

The next summer, I went back to camp and David was still there. I didn’t want to go through another summer of alternating hiding and endurance, so I decided to change my politeness tactics. That first day, we were coming inside from recess and David was in the doorway, waiting for me. He growled out my name, then began to bend down to scoop me into a hug.

“Hi David,” I said to him, extending my right hand for him to shake (in place of the hug). “Would you mind not singing to me this summer, please?”

In the car ride home, I told my mom about how David had been making me uncomfortable for so long, but how I had finally asked him to stop. I knew that she would be proud of me for sticking up for myself while using the tools she had taught me.

She was disappointed in me.

“Khalilah,” she said, stretching the middle syllable of my name ever so slightly, “That’s so sad. You must have made poor David feel bad. Just because you’re feeling sensitive, you still need to make sure you aren’t hurting someone. What if he doesn’t sing to any kids anymore?” Good, I thought.

But that’s the thing about childhood, and having behaviors ingrained into your system. I knew how creepy and strange about myself David made me feel, but my mom also made me feel incredibly guilty for trying to get the source of those feelings to stop. I’m sure she didn’t understand the extent to which David’s behavior with me was Not Okay. I’m not even sure if I’ve done a good enough job of outlining it to the readers here. I don’t remember everything that happened fifteen years ago, only a couple years after my memory had fully developed to begin with. All I remember now are snapshots of running into him, and the feelings of shame, discomfort, and mild fear this man brought to me. And then I also remember that for the rest of the car ride, my mother impressed upon me the importance of thinking of others, and not just our own feelings. That the feelings of others are vastly more important than our own, even if we don’t particularly like the others in question, even if they make us feel slightly unsafe or upset. By the end of the car ride, I felt like a piece of shit for speaking up for myself. Not that I had the vocabulary to explain that.

It turns out it didn’t even matter. The next day when I saw David, he made me hug him. And then he picked me up and sang to me, and didn’t put me down until the end of his song. I decided that if he couldn’t even listen to my polite request, I didn’t need to waste my time enduring him anymore. Thanks to my mother, I knew better than to stick up for myself any further, so I opted to spend the rest of the summer hiding in the bathroom whenever I thought he was around.

Blasts

WecantbetogetherbuttheworldisburningandlifeissoshortandtakenfromyousosuddenlyandIfeelsadandalsoscaredandIwanttoreachouttoyoubutIknowthatIcant.

Please, comfort me.

At the top of their stairs is a wall of bookshelves. It used to be like a house library, except filled with children’s books. The kind of children’s books that aren’t necessarily classics, but ones that every child should read. A collection of all the stories you vaguely remember, only it’s been such a long time that you aren’t sure whether the books exist, or if you made up their ideas. And then suddenly, you see the book in front of you at the bookshelf, you understand that everything was real, and your memories transport you back to that time period. The last time I was here, I found the Crestomanci chronicles. The last time I was here, I was by myself, and it was three years ago, and William hadn’t overdosed. Most of the books are gone now.

At the top of the stairs is a shrine.

I am facing photo after photo of the dead brothers. I’m even in one of the pictures. Edward’s arm is around me, and we are smiling into the camera. It’s Christmas of 2010, the year I caught onto his alcoholic and anorexic tendencies enough to worry, without knowing to be alarmed. It had still been a great Christmas. They used that photo in his memorial service. Proof of how apparent it was to everyone that we were connected. My aunt stays looking out.

I can look at our photo, and be okay. I know that he isn’t around, and I truly believe he’s in a better place. But what they left behind. Two parents who don’t like each other, are miserable together, but stay together for the benefit of their only surviving child, the daughter who graduated, who broke into tears during her graduation speech and then pulled herself together to thank her family and friends. I look at a picture of William, young enough to still be blond, before his hair naturally darkened to brown, smiling and pretending to work as he sat next to his father at his desk. It’s connected to a picture of baby Will on Uncle Steve’s shoulders.

“It was never so clear,” another cousin would tell me, “Two parents who absolutely had favorite children. Aunt Lori found Will’s body. She lay down next to him and told him to take care of Edward. Her speech at his funeral was all about how they could look after each other now. And Steve’s was just a really specific memory of Will. It was hard to watch.”

“No one chooses to be born,” Will said, at Edward’s funeral. “So I guess it’s good he got to choose when he died.”

I wonder if Will chose his death. It’s hard to tell. He’d been clean for a minute. It seemed like he was turning his life around. And then

I look at the happy babies with their happy parents. I look at the cards from their funerals. I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of, What’s the point?

You’d think it would be hard to go into Edward’s room, but it’s surprisingly easy. It’s also right next to the stairs. His cats lurk around like ghosts. They don’t run away from me like they used to; they just watch me as I sink into his couch. I wonder what that means, and then I try to stop myself from romanticizing the situation. Maybe our energies just match. We’re all still hiding together. Them from the family, and me from the babies.

What’s the point of crafting a life with someone, if that person will hurt you? Love fades, love sours. I guess that’s why people have children. So there will always be something to love. But then even when white, even when wealthy, your children can still grow up to hate themselves, and their lives, and maybe even you, a little bit. And they’ll leave you, and your suffering will only increase.

I guess it doesn’t have to be like this. These are just the examples I’ve been given.
I cry, silently, and Edward’s cats watch me.

“You know, Lucas believes in the same things we do,” their sister is telling me. “Like gay rights. He knows that Edward was gay.”

Lucas is her crush. They’re friends, and she wants more. I wonder if she knows about Orlando, and how she feels. Maybe Edward didn’t kill himself. Maybe he and Pat were just on vacation and got shot up for their orientation.

She shows me a picture of him.

“He’s pretty cute,” I say, and she side-eyes me. “But don’t worry, he’s all yours.” I put my hands up.
“Hey!” She says. “You take my guy, and I’ll take yours.”
“You couldn’t, even if you tried,” I tell her. “I don’t have a guy. I don’t think we can even hang out very much anymore.”
“Why not?” She wants to know.
“Because, it’s painful.”
“When I’m with Lucas,” she tells me. “It’s painful. But I keep spending time with him anyway, because he’s important to me. We have a connection. And I think that one day he’ll realize it.”
“But that’s why it’s painful,” I say. “We know we have a connection. He already realized. And it just gets stronger the more time we spend together, but he isn’t ready for it. It’s a tease.”

The next morning I wake up, and fifty people have been killed, with fifty-three injured, at a nightclub. Brown people. Gay people. I spend so much time worrying about my future, and theirs are gone. Taken.

America is burning out, and we don’t have very many friendly places to go, and hundreds of legitimate refugees have been and are drowning. Does anyone have a future? Does anything matter?

This is when I want to run back to Niles. Because with all the uncertainty, why would you not want to hold onto something that is sure? Like the fact that two people are in love. And if the future isn’t guaranteed, then why even think about it? I consider the guys who currently, actually, want me as a girlfriend, and wonder if it’s something I even want. Not because of him, or them, but because of myself and where I currently am, home for a few weeks before going somewhere and becoming unreachable, preparing to start work, trying to get it together enough to move into the city. Being In Love with one person, sure, but also loving different people in different parts of the world. Do I actually want to be in a strictly committed relationship right now? Not really.

But I do want to be in love, and be a priority, and not have to worry about seeing someone I care about hooking up with someone who isn’t me at a party. I want to be able to call someone when I’m down, and have them make me feel better, if only through distraction. I want to nestle in bed with someone and make them feel good. I want to hold hands, and feel safe, and truly believe that we’ll be together when we’re meant to.

So what does that mean? What is the healthiest option? For me, for him, for now, for the future that might not even be there?

And all I can think about now is how there was a moment last year, during our big fight, when we almost hooked up. I’m not sure he’s even aware of that, but it happened. I looked at him, and in the midst of all my anger and sadness I felt this overwhelming attraction, and I knew that if we hooked up, I would enjoy it. But I also knew that if we did hook up, that would be the end of us. So we didn’t, and here we are now. Now, I don’t know if we’re at the end, if I’m supposed to kill my internal flame, or if I’m supposed to run on hope that eventually things will work out. If one of us got shot tomorrow, would the other have regrets?

I’ve been exercising my arms, like he told me to. I can do fifteen pushups now. Next week, I’m going for twenty.

Letter to the Former Editor of The Ankh, to Him, and to You.

There are triggers in this. If I were reading it, without knowing what I was getting into, I would want to know. The triggers I can think of are rape, familial assault, drug abuse, suicide, and I hope that’s it but I’m sorry if there are others. I hope you read this anyway, because I’ve been crafting it since I came back to campus.

“REGAL” you wrote on my back.

Regal, royal.

“I don’t see you as a girlfriend,” he told me. “I see you as a goddess. You are the princess of enlightenment and higher powers. You can make my levels rise.”

Goddess, princess, queen.

“It’s what you are,” he said. “You’re always so poised. So poised. It’s like you’re a queen, and I’m just some foolish peasant.”

Queen, queen. Yasss queeeen!

That’s what I am, right? That’s what we are. All black women are queens. Black people are descendants of royalty; my body matches the statue of Nefertiti, flaws and all. Our black men were all Mandinga warriors, you tell me, wearing the same old mass-produced print of a dashiki that was put together in Indonesia, as you hold your fists high and display symbols of Isis on your necklaces, shirts, papers, chests. Our black men are warriors, and our black women are all Nubian queens.

If you say so.
But do you know?
Where are the Nubians today?
I know, I do. And if you know me, then I’ve told you.
Kibera.

My hero is a five-year-old girl; let’s call her Ava. My role model. It’s what I was supposed to be to her. The strangest part of my day was picking her up, spinning her around in the air, then holding her close to hear her whisper in my ear exactly what I’d been thinking, “I want to be like you.” I laugh. It’s what I do when I know the truth will be too much for someone to hear. “You don’t want to be me, Ava. You want to run in the opposite direction of what I am. I don’t even want to be myself; I hate myself.” I don’t say that. I laugh, and put her down, and when she wants to be picked up again and spun around again I do it, and do it, and do it, and do it, until the world is one great spinning globe and I’m hopelessly tangled and out of sorts but no, I’m on the floor now, and I’m spinning to avoid your sneakered feet aimed at my head, and Ava is long gone, countries away. I’m with you, scrambling desperately across the floor to escape your kicks, as you scream abuse and curses at me, me, me, me, the one who brought shame to our family, the disrespect’s too much to take, you see?

At this point, I’d almost prefer my father’s reaction. But then I have it, amplified, as you give me a final shove and step out of the apartment, locking me in behind you. I’m alone. I’m stuck. I don’t even know how you found out.
“I love you,” he said when he came back.

 

“I love you,” Ava tells me.
I saw her at four, dead inside. No friends, no playing, no smiles. When she was five, I came back and found her alive. Laughing and jumping, catching my hands to pull me into games. She’d woken up; she was blooming. Ten times on the plane ride over, I’d wanted to die, thought I would, too. Prayed that the plane would fall out of the sky. To this day I feel bad for the other passengers on my flights, having to share an aircraft with someone like myself. I stopped breathing every morning when I woke up, took to setting my alarm early so I could take the time to mentally move my limbs out of my bed and face the day.

You, mister Editor, have taken my breath, and my sanity. You have invaded every last bit of me, body to mind. I smile at Ava and see your teeth.

Kibera School for Girls Presents. A Poem. Untitled. Welcome.
When darling Ava was only three, her grandfather raped her. Repeatedly.
Until a neighbor chanced to see, and took her to SHOFCO to set her free.
Free from abusive family.
Margaret’s Safe House
A needed space, truly safe place,
where Ava was received with love and grace.
And now, she’s growing.
Supported, she has a community.

But what about me? Where can I be?

I rhyme to make sense of the world around me. It’s a coping technique, like being poised. But sometimes, I need to take the crown off my head. Sometimes, the rhyme breaks and the poise slips, and I shatter. I shatter at community barbeques, and I stop breathing when I see notifications from the newspaper he brought back to campus.

Campus. That’s become quite the problem. I can’t live here anymore, and I can’t breathe. I cannot breathe. Which is ironic, so ironic. “We can’t breathe.” That’s what we said last year in protest, didn’t we?
I used to be an activist. With you. It’s how I knew you. They say that you are more likely to be violated by someone you know, so I guess that makes me just another statistic. A cliché. A girl who had had too much to drink; who was given more to drink, and more, and more.

“You misunderstand,” he told me. “The poem is not about a rape. It’s about a girl – beautiful, beautiful – and she has to be raped, to make the point. But the poem is about the truth.”

“You’re so beautiful,” he told me, in between bites. “My whole goal this week has been to marry you. It’s what I told all of my friends,” he said.

I’m a cliché with memories. I remember you tilting the cup into my lips, pouring more alcohol down my throat, even after I had clearly had enough and only wanted to lie down. And sleep. I remember telling you no, over and over, and then somehow feeling you inside me anyway. I remember pushing you out, passing out, and waking up to push you out again. I remember asking you to choke me, not because I was trying to be kinky, or sexy, but because when you were inside me, I wanted to die. And when I passed out for good and woke up early in the morning, while I was walking back to my house I wanted to die all down Church Street.

It’s become something of a theme. Wishing death upon myself, but not having the will power to actually kill myself. It’s a strange thing, understanding how worthless of a person I am, to myself, to the people around me, and the world at large, while simultaneously understanding that I’m not allowed to speed up my death. I have no importance, no impact, alive; my death would be too apparent, too disruptive. I thought I could do it after my father found out, and refused to speak to me anymore. I thought stress would do it for me, when my period was over a week late and I was in my head debating the ethics of aborting a rape baby. As you posted graduation photos, popping champagne and smoking cigars, I fell asleep crying and woke up with tears still pouring out of my eyes.

Maybe I should never have cried. Maybe if I’d kept all the tears inside, I could have drowned in my grief instead of choking on it all the time.

Did you tell me that you loved me, too?

 

No, but here’s the thing. I can’t write about this poetically, or well. The point of all this is that every day now, I feel like I can’t speak. I can’t speak, and I can’t be with any of you. I can’t take part in your activities, and I can’t get behind any activism for black rights, or students of color in general because I see ARMANI in every space. I see my rapist in every space and then I can’t organize the jumble or hope that it will make sense to all of you, when it doesn’t even make sense to me. I can’t write about this properly. I used to write, to write, to write, to write write write write write write but now it feels so wrong. Where will it go? The Ankh? Can I put energy into something he has given me? How can I write on, support, his platform? I can’t support what he’s put his hands on, thoughts into; I can’t support myself. He got into every. Last. Bit. Of Me. The first two months, I couldn’t close my eyes. I could feel him inside of me; I could feel his dreadlocks on top of me. These are things you don’t think about when you hear about victims. Men who would take my story and use it for their own gain, their own snap-winning, emotion-eliciting accessory to storytelling seem to think a rape is only A Rape, and that’s it, but it gets into your soul and eats away at you forever. And it’s so bad here.

“You cannot be serious,” he tells me. “You’re really gonna insinuate that the entire MOC community are rapists and rape enablers? Like did you even think?”

I can’t walk outside without feeling dizzy. I can’t go to events meant to empower us, as a community, without feeling him stomping all over me. I feel like he used my body as a step, a spring to bounce off of as he raised himself up. What am I supposed to say to all of you? You people who like and respect him, who are inspired by him? I’m useless to you now, and I feel that devaluation. Put my experience into your literary works, but ignore my stories. Put my experience into a petition to justify your use of illegal drugs, but ignore my pain.

“You should be more friendly,” he tells me. “Why can’t you hug people when you see them? It makes them feel more warmth toward you. What does that cost you?”
‘Why can’t smiling be enough?’ I don’t ask him. ‘Even that takes so much energy.’

At the SOC barbeque, I wondered how many women Malcolm X had raped. If he really loved them, respected them, always, or if behind doors he closed lay trails of abuse.

 

A cousin is found dead on his apartment floor, needle at his side. The family is gathering for his funeral, while I’m at a barbeque watching people smile on as a girl reads about being fucked without consent. Has it happened to them? She gets a hug, then her story is wiped away for the next speaker, and the next, and then lively music plays again. No pause, always moving, moving on, okay, thanks for that; now keep it pushin’, but I’m. Still. Sitting here, before I have to stumble away and pray my poise keeps me from collapsing on Anders. My cousin gets lowered into the ground as I sink into my chair in psych class. I shouldn’t be here. I can’t be there, or I might pull a Batman and try to jump into the grave with him. No searching this time, like for your brother; I know exactly where you are.

I’m sitting in class; I’m pounding on your coffin lid to let me inside, because maybe in there I’ll be safe from your dreads, your words, your space.

Fathers’ Day

Do I make the long distance call? Do I have a father to call? Would it matter either way?

“How was the doctor’s?” my mom wanted to know as I walked in the door. I took a moment to steady myself, trying not to jump. I had not expected to run into her right away, nor did I particularly want to speak with her. I was pretty stuck in my head, and my feelings, and wanted to sleep.
“It was unnecessary,” I told her. In a half second I decided to stick with blunt honesty. Her feelings would be okay, and I’d be able to speak as I went to my room. “They used the same website I’d used myself to check my shots, so all they did was write a prescription for malaria pills I won’t be needing. They don’t take insurance, though, and because my father would rather sit in a car under the sun for an hour and forty minutes than be in the same room as me, I had to put it on my card.” I was on the stairs.
“That’s not true,” my mother started to protest.
“It is,” I told her. “He hasn’t spoken to me since you told him, and he won’t take the chance of having to speak to me now.” She hadn’t even told him the entire truth. He thought I was ‘only’ assaulted. I wondered if he would have stopped talking to me years ago, had he known the first time I’d been introduced to sexual assault. I wondered if knowing that a rape had taken place would be enough to have me kicked out of the home.
“He loves you,” my mom was saying. It was true. My dad loved me. He still does. But,
“That doesn’t matter.” This was more importantly true. I knew that he loved me so much that it pained him to think of anyone violating my body. I knew that the pain was so intense that he didn’t know how to deal with it, let alone how to comfort me. I knew that he felt personally ashamed of what had happened to me, and of his inability to protect me. I knew he loved me so much that all he could do now was reject me, and hide from my presence. I could understand all of this. I am my father’s daughter. I love him, too. I will continue to love him as I resent him for loving me the wrong way, and abandoning me in my time of need.
“You just need to talk to him,” my mother, another person who was not loving correctly, pressed.
“Actually, he needs to talk to me. This is not my job.”

This is a father’s day post. We can skip the ensuing argument with my mother on his behalf; the tears she shed over my situation; the yelling accusations she made, calling me selfish when I opted to sleep instead of comforting her until her tears stopped. We can talk about mothers, or parents who suddenly no longer parent, another day.

She’s knocking on my bedroom door. She’s at my bedroom door, knocking.
“Dinner is almost ready,” she calls to me.
“I’m not hungry,” I say. My mother has different types of silence. I can tell from this one that she’s upset. She thinks I’m purposefully trying to hurt the family by refusing food. I’m not stupid. I’m also not hungry.
“Please, don’t be difficult,” she says, coming into the room. She’s in the room. It’s unnerving how much tension she brings in with her, nearly all on account of my father, who is downstairs and still not speaking to me.
I’m being difficult.” It’s a question, posed as a statement. “All I want to do is sleep.”
“This family has been hurt,” she tells me, coming closer, “And we need to make it right. Please come eat.” We need to make it better. Who is the we here? And how has This Family suddenly become the victim of the situation?
“I was raped,” I say, tired. I see that she shrinks back from the words, so I repeat them, louder. “I was raped,” I decide to shout. “I WAS RAPED. And you two have only had to hear about it. So why are you asking me to do all the work to fix the two of you before I can begin even to fix myself?”
“He cooked, Khalilah.” She is going to cry again. “That means something.”
Actually, I think, I think it means that he’s tired of American food, just like he’s growing tired of America. I don’t say anything out loud, though. I just roll over and stay still until after she has left the room.

It isn’t fair. I could laugh at those words. How often did I say them as a child about nonsense matters? And here, staring a fully unfair situation in the face, they have lost their power. Of course it isn’t fair.

What will happen if I go downstairs? I’ll eat, my mother will eat, my father will eat. We will not speak to each other. I’ll get up, wash the dishes, and go back to my room. My father will continue to ghost me. It is unlikely that things will change.
What will happen if I stay here? My mother will eat, my father will eat. I will sleep. My father, who loves me, will notice my absence. He will think I am spiting him, will fail to see his own actions and will assume that I am rejecting him. By doing what is best for me in the moment, I sever completely all possibilities of any reconciliation. It will be certain that nothing will change.

I get out of bed. I go to eat. Nobody really turns down fufu, anyway.

Now, it’s Fathers’ Day. I am in another country, an ocean away from him. We still have not spoken. What do I owe this man? Does he want a reminder that he has a daughter? Will his love for me make that too painful?
If I am being perfectly honest, I do not want him to be happy. Not for this. Not now that he has contributed to my pain by failing to fulfill his title. The situation is painfully ironic. If I say something, he might think I’m being mean.

Not saying anything would be akin to refusing his food, though. Nothing really means anything anymore. I can do this. Take a deep breath, smile. Even if he can’t see you. It’ll sound less fake.

Happy Fathers’ Day!

Letter #2 (Trigger)

How have you been, Armani?

Time is so relative. In five weeks I will be with my cousins again in South Africa. I know that it’s close, but it honestly seems so far. Impossible. There are multiple points a day when I think I will not make it to them.

Here is where you come in. It has simultaneously been a painfully long and surprisingly short month since you forced yourself into my last safe space. When I say this, I am not talking about my body. It was terrible enduring you inside my body, of course. There was a reason I pushed you out of me multiple times, only to pass out and find you inside of me again. What I am talking about, though, is my mind.

I cannot control my mind anymore, and you are taking up too much space.

I have spent thirty days living flashbacks. Even now, as I type out my words, I do not fully see the screen in front of me. Instead, I see your dreads, and your torso coming down onto mine. I see your sheets, and hear your whispers. I can feel you, and I don’t want to. This is something you don’t think about. When you hear about other people who have been raped, you think about it as a one-time thing. You don’t realize that their minds will replay the experience for them over and over again. By now, Armani, you have raped me about twenty times a day, and the repetition is not doing anything to help me. I’m still not used to your invasions.

*Pause to be a social person. I have a job to do; I have schedules to create; I have new volunteers walking in whom I have to lead and make comfortable in this other country. So while you may hover in my mind, I am not allowed to reflect right now.*

There are good and bad things about how busy I am. Sometimes, I get so distracted that you go away for a little bit. Then, I’ll have a second where things settle, and you come pounding back into my head. I have anxiety now, thank you. I’m supposed to be stepping up, and taking charge of people, but I feel about as powerful and capable as a hypoallergenic feather.

“Kill yourself,” my friend told me jokingly, after I’d teased him.
“I consider it every day, but I haven’t don’t it yet,” I told him.

I’m not actually writing to you anymore, Armani. I don’t think I ever want to speak to you again. But I do need to write. I do need to get out my thoughts. I have friends, now in other parts of the world, to whom I can speak, but I cannot inject them into my mind when you are most troubling me. I need to be able to pretend that you are somehow receiving the negative energy I attempt to direct toward you.

My period was supposed to come on Monday. It didn’t. Finally, blood appeared later on Friday. Never have I been so happy to endure cramps. What were you doing this week? Were you having fun, as I considered the ethics of aborting a rape baby?

I saw my girls yesterday, for the second time. We went back into the school. Seeing them was probably one of the most lovely experiences I’ve had in a long time. It’s such a wonderful thing to be loved, as much as you love someone else. That’s what it’s like with the girls. As soon as they saw me, they began to shout, “Teacha Khalilah!” They rushed to hug me, and sang songs using my name. All of my girls grabbed my hands, and we became a mess of smiles and laughter and jubilant shouts. For the rest of the day, whenever we passed each other, they would call out to me and wave.
I saw Ava, now in kindergarten. Did you watch “A Path Appears”? She’s in it, from a couple years ago. I remember seeing Ava in Margaret’s Safe Place last summer, but I never knew why she was living there until I watched the documentary. Her grandfather raped her, before she was in preschool. And now she goes to KSG, and she can wave happily at me as she goes about her business. How do you do it, Ava? How are you able to continue living, to be alive and present, when all I want to do is crumble? Why are you able to keep it together while I, four times your age, am barely holding on?

I have the capacity to survive this. But I do not think that I can ever live in the same way, or to the same extent that I did before. Which is laughable, seeing as how the extent to which I was living before this happened was already limited. I hate you, Armani. I don’t have any better conclusions.