interested in seeing where this piece goes and what sort of life it takes on. Emma was setting the rule as to the amount of weight one must bear to be considered a survivor of a sexual assault. She conceptualized the types of sexual violence that make ‘our message’ better art. Promoted as an inclusive event where survivors weren’t placed into categories, Stand With Survivors wasn’t supposed to be a gallery exhibit. Speakers included those that had graduated, attended different colleges and been assaulted off campus. The issue impacted all genders and all ages and it encompassed more than one woman’s story. I hadn’t felt out of place there. Why didn’t I grab the megaphone and tell my story? Fear had been my childhood narrative. As an adult I told myself it wasn’t that bad. I’d accomplished things—moved to Manhattan, graduated college, been in the workplace, published short stories and married—yet, after twice being assaulted by my older brother, life was never the same. I’m easily spooked and hypervigilant to my surroundings—jumpy at the sound of an umbrella opening, startled by a cell phone notification ping and alarmed by a jiggle from a door handle. I know what air brakes sound like but they still rattle me. My husband tells me I need to learn how to relax. In yoga, I’m reminded to breathe. I’ve had to learn that people will touch me—doctors, subway riders, store clerks, doormen, fitness instructors, strangers, professionals and friends. Still I recoil, in a perfected way that comes off polite not neurotic. My fear, kept hidden from others, leaves visible damage undetectable. It’s also the way I’ve avoided public shaming and the powerlessness attached to sexual assault and incest. Fluffy. Had I acted fluffy? I would never name a pet “Fluffy”—it seems dismissive. * At 7, jolted awake, my police-blue eyes flooded open. My oldest brother had his finger inside of me. I didn’t dare move. Bunched around my knees were my shorts and incorrect day of the week underwear—Tuesday instead of Monday. I played roadkill possum and didn’t cry. Screams were trapped in the back of my throat. It hurt. I might have winced when he saw me awake and pulled his finger out, then put it back in. Things I still recall with exactitude: 1. I had fallen asleep to the host of Romper Room holding her magic mirror and reciting: Romper, stomper, bomper boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me, do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play? I can see Susie and Billy and Tommy and— 2. The indentation mark left on my waist from the elastic band of my underwear. It reminded me of the equator, a division of my body. 3. My brother’s windblown china black hair that fluttered and lifted off his neck like a horse’s tail in motion as he ran away. Afterwards I curled into a tight, tiny ball hoping that by compressing myself I would become whole again. That day my thoughts splintered, parts of them erased as if they’d been aluminum powder shaken inside a splayed mind’s Etch-A-Sketch resetting itself into a blank slate. But I was not that clever. My hands opened and closed, unable to grip. After awhile I got off the couch, went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet wanting to pee, urging myself to release but holding it in. I tinkled in spurts, then streamed as I folded over and sniffed the cotton liner of my underwear. Smelling the scent of being hunted and wounded felt necessary to reclaim myself.
43 | Issue 36
Published on Dec 5, 2017