the following piece is my description of coping with revictimization. growing up in an impoverished community, i looked for safety from as early on as i can remember. then it got personal through molestation, my body violated by four people by the time i was 12, losing sight of safety first in neighborhood, then race, then church, then school, then peers, and finally family and gender. it’s been said that survivors will often go to “extraordinarily complex” lengths to survive. i share with you a bit of this extraordinary complexity.
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pause it right there. oh, that is so cozy…look how they made the bed…look how they made a canopy of leaves…look at the plates made from slices of tree stumps. (it was near the end of george of the jungle, when they have made a home and had a jungle baby.) maybe pause swiss family robinson and nim’s island and bridge to terabithia and shrek, too. let me see how you did it. let me see what you used for a table and how you adorned it. let me see where you made your fire. pause the christmas bunny at the point when the old woman’s twinkly light lit rabbit sanctuary is revealed. let me soak it in. let me notice again how she stacked the hay bales just so. and let me read box car children and roxaboxen. and find me picture books of mice families who use matchboxes for beds and thread spools for tables, toothpicks for curtain rods and acorn hats for bowls. and thank you for assigning me all my diorama projects in elementary school, toilet paper smoke coming from a cabin’s chimney. and thank you for letting us play in the ‘29 chevy truck, our world no bigger than the cab. and tuck my pajama pants into my socks and put socks on my hands and tuck those in too and pile on the blankets and make them bigger than me so when i bend my knees and lift my arms i am free but covered still able to see the traffic light change from green to yellow to red to green to yellow to red green yellow red.
yes, i will take the long wide pieces of fabric that will cover tables and span lengths of the room at preschool. i put yellow bug bulbs in my lamps at home to give a warm glow rather than a blue. and i put yellow plastic bag pieces in the globe surrounding the solar powered yard lights. and i imagine shifting to elfin size so i can enter every tree’s womb like opening. and i sleep best when my head is cocooned in blankets. and when there’s a clearing in a tree filled space, i want to go sit in it. and i want to experience love in small spaces. and let’s sleep in tents and put wildflowers in a bottle. and i notice the corners made when furniture is on an angle. and i encourage filling it with pillows and blankets and cushions all to be sorted out later. and let’s make a fairy garden with beer cap tables and broken glass fences. and stack rocks as high as possible so that ants see it as a mountain. and i collect little things, found and given: a harmonica no bigger than a quarter, imperfectly small sticks, symmetrical feathers, plastic thimbles, glass blobs, buddhas and jesus’. if it’s smaller than three inches it counts.
i watch moments of my life like a movie taken from the impossible angle of a bird’s eye view, surprised to remember i’m the only one who sees them. and like a house of mirrors, i watch myself watch myself watch myself.
i see the wall around me. friendly, low, rounded stone. a complete circle without an opening. it can be easily climbed over. healthy. cozy. it doesn’t interrupt the flow. it’s magic that way. gray. and moss covered. and ancient because it was used before. right in the middle of beauty. grass inside and out. i wonder if all children build one. is it what books and people call a boundary, a comfort zone, protected by us and for us?
i see when i saw the world beyond the wall. i began building a wooden picket fence within the wall. friends showed me their scars, i built faster. i saw angry strangers, built faster. heard stories. was told jokes. smelled strange smoke. played in homes so different than mine. built faster and faster. when they sat on my wall laughing and ignoring me, i built faster. i made it high enough and rickety enough that if someone tried to climb over, i would hear them. then men noticed me. girls laughed at me. teasing and taunting and walking the perimeter, feet doing a step-slide motion to prove affiliation. in a genius move, i added a creaky gate, determined to never be surprised. i’d know. behind the fence behind the wall, i would know.
it worked until he, with slow and deliberate intention, simply walked through the gate. i froze, not knowing what to do with a friend so close. the grass there hadn’t known anyone else’s feet. the path of carefully laid pebbles never walked by another. the leaves on the low trees not rustled by another. without warning, without rattling the fence, without caring about the creaking, without jokes or threats or promises or any talking, he just walked. a steady saunter.
so that’s when i built the iron fence within the wooden fence within the wall. no gate to it. i didn’t need to go out, had no intention of letting anyone in. i had everything i needed. and since it was made of bars with space between, i could feel and breathe and press myself up to it, my flesh bulging through. i could participate and make transactions with people. my arms small, my wrists never bigger than a child’s. an iron clad ring of safety.
it worked until there was more than one, in public, taking me off guard. hands plunging through, i backed up to avoid one and fell against the hands of another. a zoo-like crowd gathered, eyes seeing right through the bars. they giggled at how a creature could make herself as still as a statue. i was making eye contact with someone just beyond the bars, the fence, the wall, then determined he wasn’t a keeper after all. many days i worked to lock his eyes with mine, the crowd stealing his attention. don’t give in, don’t fight back…hide.
so i wove grasses and leaves between the bars, making them appear not there. welcoming the rust as it blended with the ivy’s stems. a soft wall as high as i was, sweet grass and sage. grasses that dried to match my flesh. sneaky breaks in the weaving allowed alertness to never waver.
it worked until she broke through. i walked up to the softened bars, closer to her, familiar and admired and funny. she had earned my trust years earlier without ever trying. i leaned in. wanted to be closer to hear her laugh. wanted to hear her jokes so i would laugh too. wanted to pick the next song with her. wanted to lean in just a little…and she reached through. finding her way easily through the grasses and ivy and leaves. with silent confidence, she stayed. my beautiful hidden courtyard, my world that had grown, i froze in confusion and denial and knowing.
she crossed it, the final boundary. wall, fence, iron bars…there was no room to build more.
so i caved. with child brilliance, i caved. pulled in and protected myself. caved myself. summoned a swelling of the earth to tuck myself into. rounded corners, fire lit, mossy bedded, found object cave. sheltered and cozy. never scary. i strung seed pods, filled them with oil and lit them like twinkly christmas lights. i hollowed bits of earth out to make shelves. i tended the grass on the roof to keep it fresh. i checked the little creek running by, tossed pebbles and arranged them to make pools. i had plenty to eat, berries and cheese that appeared. i had the whole world in what i thought was contained. i had a home within a home within a home…escaping to anywhere i wanted all within the cave of me. i was alone and not alone. it was from this place that i took care of myself. where the baby in the basket was me, the wide eyed four year old was me, the barefoot seven year old was me, the active 15 year old, and no matter my age, that was me too.
powered by fear, i could always see love beyond the wall. so much was offered. and so much was in me. i see the times i exchanged it. it was never easy. i either had to let love climb my wall, enter my creaky gate and then come right up to the bars where i’d hurry to reach out first. or love would be outside the wall and i’d sneak out, feeling quick and feral, grab what i could without really being seen. take the parts that could fit when i pulled my hands back through the bars, adding secret details to my cave. i’d be sure i always left a bit of my cave there, a bit of love i thought i could do without, guaranteeing love would come back.
a careful order of transactions, protecting something i feared was at risk. guarding something i feared could be overtaken. holding back on something i feared could run out.
now i entertain the notion that the lush, sparkling, rounded, endless, easy, limitless, open, soft, lit something is the living caved center of me powered by love without fear.
there was a dream and one day i could see it
like a bird in a cage i broke in and demanded that somebody free it
and there was a kid with her head full of doubt
so i’ll scream til i die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out