A close family member was raped by a man who forced his way
into her house as she let her dogs out. After he was finished terrorizing her,
he continued to breathe a wave of disrespect and pain throughout my
neighborhood. His last attack was around the corner from my house.
When you get a call from your dad at 8 a.m. and the first
words out of his mouth are “Honey, are you at home? I have some really bad
news,” you freeze. The coffee you were drinking gets forgotten and you sit
down. When he tells you that she was raped and robbed the night before and that
he’d been over there since 2 a.m., you do two things. You lose your breath. And
you get angry. Then you decide you have to do something. But there is no manual
for what to do when someone so close to you is hurt so badly. So your sister
comes over and you decide that maybe the best thing to do is to go over to the
house to show your support. And to bring a pizza. When you get there, the
police will still be outside, and she will, somehow, still be standing and
strong. You’ll cry because you’ll
picture what happened there and also because you’re glad she’s still alive.
Although bruised and limping, she’s alive.
As a woman we block a lot of things out. Memories of things that
hurt us. Abusive language that was spewed our way. We compartmentalize events
so that they don’t seem as bad as they really are – sticking them in sashayed
and linen-lined drawers. But when your world is rocked by rape, shit gets
unblocked. Things, like letting the dog out become feats of bravery. Sleeping
through the night in a creaky old house means your bedtime gets pushed and
pushed until eventually, you’re not sleeping at all. You spend hours trying to
catch the fucker who dared to tread on your family’s turf. You help organize a
reward-raising benefit. You plan, you work, you contribute. Because
contributing is easier than doing nothing. Doing nothing might kill you.
And although you keep moving forward, it’s different now.
Your drawers are opened, their contents splayed out like wounded soldiers,
bleeding and dirty.
I was listening to this song and the lyrics talk about
hardly being able to see what’s in front of you – it ends with a haunting echo
“oh, God – where have you been.” A
question I’d been afraid to ask. Until then.
I think the answer is that while He didn’t go anywhere, it
is no disrespect to allow ourselves to feel pain. And loss. And lost. Because when
we don’t let our souls morn, we can’t fully heal.
My innocence was shattered beyond shattered the morning my
Dad called me. And that phone call just got tacked on to my list of things I’ve
lost. My first marriage was an abusive failure. I can’t carry a child. I have a chronic pain condition. And while I
can wallow, I shouldn’t. I need to realize that carrying a baby doesn’t make
you a woman. That successful marriages don’t make you a woman. That respect
doesn’t make you a woman.
But courage – courage makes you a woman. And strength. And
being able to move over and through. Not getting stuck. Fighting back. Being
It’s not about how much was taken away. It’s about how much
you hold on to. It’s what you reclaim as yours. And even more than that, I
think it’s about honesty.
It’s telling our stories. Like the one about my family and
my past marriage and my struggle with pregnancy and emotions and anxiety and
you know what, I don’t think I’m alone.
Being a woman is about being proud. It’s about looking at
yourself in the mirror – all naked and vulnerable. And accepting the scar on
your knee, the cellulite on your thighs and the shape of your nose. It’s loving
yourself enough from the inside that the outside starts to shine brighter.
It’s taking your drawers and washing what’s inside with
So that when someone calls to tell you that a member of your
family has been hurt, you can go to her without completely falling apart.
*note: this piece was originally published in The Womanhood
Project - a compilation of essays discussing the topic of womanhood. you
can join the conversation here.