He would write on my back. I used to dream about it, unaware for years that it was a memory. In the dream, it was a stylus, the words were Latin, and written in dripping red ink. It bothers me that I don’t know if that was real, though he did know Latin; my father could speak it like a professor.
One day, I mentioned the dream to my boyfriend, and he just stared at me, looking nervous. He took me to a mirror, gave me a hand mirror, and asked me to look at my back. At first I was confused, didn’t see a thing. Then as his gentle fingers moved, brushing over my skin, I began to see the faint and thin white marks. They were everywhere, and in a few places, they almost formed strange words.
Now and then, time is eclipsed and as it folds in on itself, it can bring your present crashing down to its knees at the feet of your past. I was sick that day, until there was nothing left inside but the ghosts.
Everything I endured has made me hyper-aware of the suffering of others. It has taught me to be kind when I can be strong enough to help somebody else. It also taught me not to belittle another human’s (or creature’s) pain. Yet sometimes, foolish or joking words are spoken by others that make me feel uncomfortable; at times angry, or even afraid. These words are like sharp sticks that poke and pierce the truly invisible scars; scars of the mind, heart, and soul. Whoever first wrote “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was somebody who had never been hurt by cruel, cold, razor words. It is vital to remember in those moments that most people don’t intend harm; they are merely venting their feelings, unaware of how their words sound in another’s ears.
For those others who know the dark terrors, who experienced and lived through the pain, the fear: we survived. For those who know how crippling are the words and hands that bludgeon and cut their messages into our flesh, our minds and hearts; for those souls I say: take a deep breath. We endured. We’re still here.
Find a way to purge the fear, the memories. I have chosen to reclaim some parts of myself my abuser maligned. I adorn with piercings, decorate with tattoos that have meaning for me, writing my own messages to erase the archaic mad scribbles that were cut into me so long ago. It makes me – mine again. Other marks I leave where and as they are; like signposts to my soul, or the lyrics to the song my heart still tries to sing in moments when it’s brave enough to be heard. Your way may be different, but find one and you can begin to see that your marks don’t have to be allowed to define you. We have the right to define ourselves.
I look in the mirror and see the shattered mask my father tried to place on me; the desperate ruin he tried to create for reasons I may never know. Yet behind the solitary blue eye are thoughts that are not his; behind the ridged and scarred lips is warm breath that fogs the mirror and blurs the lines, the lies, that he tried to place on me.
I am not weak.
I am not ugly.
I am not powerless.
I am not his.
I belong… to me.
I have strong days, I have weak days. On the weak days, these lessons can get lost in the cacophony of waking nightmares. Time flows on, the worm turns, and I slowly grow stronger again.
No matter how weak you think you might be, we are stronger than anybody can measure, even ourselves. When the world closes in, breathe. Just breathe. When you stand in front of that mirror and it’s hard to see anything but your scars, step closer. Don’t be afraid; step closer again. Breathe. Let the glass fog with the truth. You’re still alive, you’re strong; and when you step back again, it won’t be so easy to see the marks others tried to use to break you.
When you feel a little stronger, open your eyes and look around; you’re not alone. Somebody else is there, somebody who cares about you, maybe more than you know. Maybe they are wounded too, maybe not; but if you reach out and take their hand, let them help when you need it, try to trust, it gets better.
I keep a little hand mirror; but not for looking at my face. I pull it out, take a deep breath, and watch the glass fog gray. Sometimes I take a finger and write in it: “Breathe.”
~ ~ ~
© W.R.R. 9/14/2011
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.