Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Why I Didn't Report, or Hey that was wrong, how can I be part of healing this?

Stencil: Ananda Beattie
Photo: Robyn Beattie
*If you too, are feeling inundated and triggered by the current news cycle focusing on Christine Blasey Ford’s brave decision to challenge the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, feel free to skip the rest of my blogpost. I wrote it to stand in alignment with her and so many other women coming forward at this time. Here’s a great article from Lifehacker, How to Cope With the Current News Cycle as a Sexual Abuse Survivor by Deb Schwartz (thank you Michelle Wing). I'd love it if you would take a moment to add links in the comments to any other articles or resources you’ve found to be healing during this stressful time.

When I was in seventh grade, during a recess time game of chase, I found myself under a pile of boys, some in seventh, some in eighth grade. They ripped the shirt I was wearing in half to expose my breasts. While some thirty-plus years later, I can haul up the face and name of the eighth grader who said, “If you tell on us, I’ll kill you,” and the seventh grader who said, “Congratulations, you have the nicest tits in the seventh grade,” I wouldn’t be able to give you the name of every single boy on top of me that day, nor the name of the kindergartener who saw it all and fled to tell the principal.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
I could tell you the color of my shirt (blue) and what kind it was (satin tube top) and that it had rows of elastic that left marks across my back and top of my chest and across my stomach above my belly button and that I had scratch marks on top of the elastic marks after the boys left, laughing.

I can also tell you I was laughing and having fun while we were playing chase, until cornered in the gym, until my head hit the concrete in the gym below the cafeteria door.

I can tell you I sat across from the principal as he motioned to my ripped shirt which was sitting on top of his desk, and that when he asked me, “Can you tell me what happened here?” I replied, “It was an accident. I think someone’s fingernail caught my shirt.”

He asked me if I was hurt. “No,” I said, and left his office, full of shame and adrenaline.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
I count myself as fortunate that I had a beautiful, caring female teacher who pulled me aside and spoke lovingly to me about what happened, told me it was wrong. I remember that she also pulled the boys aside separately and spoke to them. And then we got on the bus and went home and the sun went down and the sun came up and we got on the bus and went to school the next day as if nothing happened.

I share this story because I know so many of us are reverberating suddenly to the gong of the personal past, struck by the MeToo movement and most recently, the "Why I Didn’t Report" hashtag trending on social media inspired by the bravery of Christine Blasey Ford bringing forward her memories of what allegedly occurred with Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. I would wager we all are going through a massive accountability scan, male and female alike, even if we’ve made peace with past wounds or, on the perpetrator side, vowed to change behavior. 

Stencils: Ananda Beattie
Photo: Robyn Beattie
And for every one of us with a story like Christine Blasey Ford’s, it is excruciating to witness the painfully immature and damaging process of the response to unchecked years of abusive patterns of behavior that have dominated our culture. And it is especially disorienting to watch it played out day after day across media outlets as our trusted public servants prepare to decide if the accused, Kavanaugh, should be voted in to a position for which, for life, he will have incredible power to dictate consequences for future survivors and future perpetrators.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
How can we begin to heal, any of us, if we can’t even validate the women and their accounts? Bringing the behavior to light is the first brave step, and I am grateful to every woman telling her story today and every man telling his. If nothing else, on couches in private homes across the United States, in therapy offices, out on running trails—wherever—I hope friends and couples are sharing their honest memories of what went down in their childhoods with a willingess to say, Hey, that was wrong. How can I be part of healing this? Our children’s future depends on it.

And of course, as a writer, I'd be remiss not to suggest that at the very least, if conversing is too much, one can try to take up the pen and journal through it (with the support of other survivors, trusted friends, partners, or therapists). And as the article I linked to above suggests, remember to take a break from it all. Go on a news diet. Take time in nature to restore, walk by the beach, touch the trees. Call that friend, the one you can count on to make you laugh. Make sure you eat. And breathe. 

A Note on Process:

Photo by Robyn Beattie
I initially hesitated about sharing this post, but then my poetry movie collaborator Robyn Beattie's beautiful images came over the email transom. She had no idea what I was working on; she just sent me these photos of beautiful stencils made by her late sister, Ananda Beattie. The leaping figure for me captures the way I’ve often felt seeing life through survivor lens: I want to leap forward but part of me holds back, stained by fear of trespass. As I heal, I move forward anyway in the company of loving and trusted friends and family. My prayer for us all is that we stop and really look at what's going on here with love, compassion, empathy, and courage. We can heal these outdated ways of relating to one another, I believe we can. Let’s work together.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
Related Event: Songs of Survival, Chicago

I’m honored to take part in Awakenings Gallery’s Songs of Survival, a concert series featuring originally composed or re-envisioned music and poetry and dance by, for, and about survivors on October 18, 2018 from 6:30-9 p.m. in celebration of the one year anniversary of the MeToo movement. I’ll be reading “Peer Counselor” (published originally by Chaparral and included in my first poetry collection, November Butterfly (Saddle Road Press, 2014) and a new poem, “Opossum,” set to music by my father, Stephen Pryputniewicz.

Here’s the link to the website for Awakenings Art for more information and to sign up to attend the event.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
Related posts:

Words as Spiral Path: Owning Your Story at Women of Wonder, my survivor story told through poems and explication with a few ideas for healing writing exercises (with gratitude to Ginny Lee Taylor for encouraging me to share both of these blogposts).

Revising Guinevere, Ten Writers Transforming Rape, or When Trees Mattered More Than Boys, about the process of writing the poems in November Butterfly and links to a terrific line up of writers.

Come Write:

We start Poetry Basics online Wednesday October 3. I'd love to have you; we write and play, meeting weekly over video call to share our work. All level of writer welcome.

Tarot for Joy is back--if there's enough interest, I'll be starting a Tuesday video call group where we work our way through the Tarot deck journaling to one card a week. We will focus on our experiences of joy in relation to that particular card. Let me know if you are interested! I'll put up a post about it shortly.

No comments: