Page 41

Shattering Silence Yvonne Conza

In the month when the birth flower is an unfussy, gentle blue forget-me-not and the birthstone is sapphire, I read a tweet about a Columbia University student’s endurance performance art piece. For her senior thesis, Emma Sulkowicz, an art student, vowed to haul a twin college dorm mattress around campus until the student accused of raping her was expelled. Sulkowicz, dubbed “Mattress Girl” by the media, was protesting the school’s adjudication process that found insufficient evidence of her rape. Her actions placed the neglected culture of campus sexual assaults under a microscope. It was political and impossible to ignore. On a video linked to the tweet, I listened to Emma’s easygoing voice discuss her mattress performance. The university’s picturesque quad was in the background. She spoke with endearing and youthful “ums” and odd phrase transitions like becoming-telling that a TED talk coach would have polished out: The mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it enough that I can continue with my day but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it. I think the other thing about beds is that—we keep them in our bedroom which is our intimate space—our private space where we can retreat if we don’t want to deal with anyone at that moment. But, um, I think the past year or so of my life has been really marked by becoming-telling people what happened in that most intimate private space and bringing it out into the light— A few days after hearing about Emma’s manifesto, I found the courage to grab my memory foam pillow off my bed and join her and others at a Stand With Survivors rally at Columbia. Attendance as a survivor or a supporter was urged through social media and a large, public turnout was encouraged. The weight of what happened to me didn’t feel the same as what Emma alleged happened to her. When I was 7, I huddled at the top of the stairs listening to my sister, 10, tell Mom she’d been harmed. “Liar. You’re a liar”—stated, not screamed. Mom protected her eldest son, 14, over her two daughters. I ran to my room and closed the door—paralyzed into five decades of powerless silence, fearing I’d also be called a liar. Attending the rally felt like the rightest thing to do. I selected the weight I could carry— choosing my memory foam pillow over the lighter goose feathered one—and headed uptown to the campus. I heard myself assert: Rape is not only wrong in a dorm room, it also shouldn’t happen in a dark ally, a store parking lot, a workplace, or a child’s home on a couch or atop a parent’s bed. I identified with Emma when she said on the video: Rape can happen anywhere. Um, for me I was raped in my own dorm bed. And since then that space has become wrought for me—and I feel like I carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere. I washed my hair, wore sparse makeup, jeans, a graphic t-shirt and a denim jacket—a Blue Mesa Review | 40

Blue Mesa Review Issue 36  
Blue Mesa Review Issue 36