I’m so proud of you.
I woke up this morning an hour before my alarm went off. I didn’t know for sure – I’ve started leaving my phone across the room at night, following magazine advice about technology’s affect on my sleep cycle. I can’t deny feeling better rested lately, and there’s something sweet about texting my boyfriend “good night” at bedtime. I think I dream more now.
The morning sounds told me it was too early. The light glowing outside my window was orange from the streetlight, the garbage truck was not yet wheezing through its routine. Cradled in the sweet stillness, I thought about the day to come. I hadn’t seen my students in a week. I pictured their faces as they read the Quote of the Week: their pensive frowns, nods of realization. Nervousness buzzed in my stomach, a familiar tickle. Good nervous.
That soft electric feel spread through me, pushing my muscles into action. Reaching with fingers and toes, stretching out the kinks, the click-clack-crack of my spine unfurling. I thought about trying another handstand before I got dressed for work, even though I’d kicked up into one just before bed last night. The novelty of being able to flip upside down again, after abandoning my previous life as a child gymnast, hasn’t yet worn off (I don’t want it to, ever). I thought about all the things I can do now that I couldn’t do a few months ago, before I started training with Kris, counted them on my reaching digits.
I am in awe of your courage.
This morning, I did not think about the hallway closet of the house I grew up in. I did not wake up smelling the thick scent of old leather, wool coats, mothballs. I didn’t think about my oldest brother pinning me against that door, the darkness suffocating, his fingers burning memories into me. I didn’t wake up from nightmares of being stuffed and sewn into a living doll, choking on the blood pooling in the stitched-up corners of my smiling mouth. I didn’t wake up with a photo of my 4th birthday in mind, wondering if the abuse had started by then. I didn’t lie in the early morning calm, fingering the edges of the holes in my memory, the blank gaps that span months, years. I didn’t ask myself what had happened in that darkness. I didn’t feel the harsh spurts of adrenaline forcing me awake as I thought about my parents insisting that I forgive my brother for years of sexual abuse. I didn’t lie there trying to be as quiet as possible, worried that he was awake while everyone else was asleep. I didn’t worry about seeing his picture on the wall, hearing his name in my mother’s sweet wake-up call, feeling his arm around my shoulder as he came down to the kitchen for breakfast, like he was just my brother, like everything was as normal as we were all pretending.
I don’t think about these things anymore. These are no longer the memories and dreads that coat me inside and out, numbing me to the constant pain, invasive touches and words. And I don’t think about how I don’t think about it, not anymore. This is my new normal. I wake up, and I think about my day, my job, my boyfriend, my new family. I wake up and I can feel now, and I feel good. Light. Strong. Loved.
I get it about the trains. I stopped eating peanut butter when I was 8. My mother was so frustrated. She told me over and over that I loved peanut butter and jelly, thought I was just being picky to annoy her. I didn’t tell her I couldn’t stand grape jelly anymore. That it made me throw up.
I had a PB&J last week without even thinking. Left to my own devices, I’d eat peanut butter out of the jar for whole meals.
It stood out to me, this morning, that this is my new normal. For so long, my normal was deeply screwed up. Normal was pretending I wasn’t being raped almost every day by the sibling everyone else considered closest to me. Normal was letting my frustrated parents yell at me for not trying hard in school, for being overweight, for not being the well-spoken, outgoing, beautiful daughter they had planned on. Normal was coming up with lists of reasons that the abuse was my fault, or why it was my responsibility to let it continue, to cover for my brother, to be the glue that held my family together. Normal was delusional, hunkering down in the heart of a burning house while the smoke clouded my head.
I wish I could explain to everyone who protests your letter, defends Woody Allen, or brushes off your words, the immense amount of courage it takes to say aloud what you have said to the world. But even if they never understand, I do.
I thought about Dylan Farrow this morning, about some of the horrible articles I’ve read that defend Woody Allen or dismiss Farrow’s letter. I felt, not for the first time since walking away from the smoldering wreckage of my family of origin, lucky. My oldest brother was admired by everyone who met him. Charismatic, clever, complimentary. He always seemed to know exactly how to play everyone, just what to say to flatter you. He could make you feel special (even if he was your rapist). He could make you believe the impossible (that he was not a monster). When everyone loves your rapist, that’s hard. Because you feel like, even if you could tell anyone, they wouldn’t believe you. Or worse (somehow, this feels worse), they’d be disappointed. In you. For bearing this disappointing news. My brother wasn’t famous. He was, naturally, the hero of all of his stories, legendary among his friends and our family. Photographs of him adorned the halls of my parents’ house. But he wasn’t on magazine covers, he didn’t stare at me from every newsstand as I walked around the city. People do not write articles about how he is their personal hero. No one will give him a lifetime achievement award. People who think I am lying or overreacting will not debate about me on the internet, call me names, mock my experiences in a public, global forum. There is not much to inspire feelings of fortune in my story (that story), but this is something. My brother was not Woody Allen.
I hear you.
When people hem and haw about wanting to condemn Woody Allen, but loving “Annie Hall” so much, I feel sick. And sad. And tired. Because I don’t know how to explain that they’ve proved me right, and it’s so disappointing. I’ve been fortunate to find a network of recovering survivors, people with stories like mine. I’ve learned so much from others’ stories. Abusing a child is about coercion. Convincing someone to become party to their own destruction. Sometimes, you’re told that terrible things will happen if you don’t cooperate, or if you tell. Sometimes, you’re told that you’re needed. Sometimes, you’re told that if you tell, no one will believe you, no one will do anything about it. These articles in which some “well-meaning” explains how much she loves “Annie Hall,” or how “Hannah and Her Sisters” is just a perfect film, and so even though she feels terrible for Dylan Farrow, she’s still going to love “Annie Hall” – they miss the point. It’s not about whether or not you love your favorite movie. It’s not about you. But such articles should also be labeled triggering (i.e. likely to bring up difficult, painful memories for survivors), because they confirm what abusers tell their victims. “Even if you tell, they’ll choose me.” Part of me wants to say: Keep it to yourselves. This is hard enough.
If I could talk to Dylan Farrow, there’s a lot I’d want to say. Too much. I’d want to tell her how brave she is, and how much I admire her for addressing this head on. I’d want to high-five her for asking Diane Keaton, “Have you forgotten me?” because I’ve wanted to ask my extended family the same question. I’d want to tell her that I don’t think trains will be hard to look at forever. I would want to say that there are women and girls reading her words and feeling just a little bit lighter. And that’s an amazing thing to do with your voice. It all really comes down to two words, though.