When I was 13 years old,
I woke up one morning
thighs covered in blood
like a war
like a warning
that I live in a breakable takeable body
an ever-increasingly valuable body
that a woman had come in the night to replace me
You see, my body is borrowed.
I got it on loan.
I was laying in bed resting before I headed to the gym for my daily workout. All of the sudden a flashback came upon me. I felt his huge, sweaty hand over my mouth and felt the way its pressure tilted my head back, pushing it into the bed so that I couldn’t see my own body… or what he was inevitably going to do to it. I could feel my breath catching in my throat as my lungs were unable to get the oxygen they needed. I thought I was going to faint, so I calmed my breathing, allowing me to stay conscious. I knew I couldn’t escape if I passed out so I had to try to relax. This may sound weird (as if this entire post isn’t weird), but the most vivid part of the flashback was the feeling that he had more than two hands. I feel almost silly saying it, but the inability to see his free hand made every inch of my body feel vulnerable. I felt every muscle tense, preparing me for whatever was to come. I felt like all of me could be harmed at once, as if he had enough hands to smother all of me as he was smothering my face, to destroy all of me as he was destroying my humanity.
The aftermath changed the way I look at my body. It was as if in some ways my body wasn’t mine anymore, but his—my hands as they traced the cuts down my back didn’t feel like my own anymore, but his. Even remembering it sends chills down my spine and bile into my mouth. I know now that every inch of this body is mine, but when someone treats another as if they are an object able to be owned, to be dominated, to be used and disposed of at will, such an obvious truth can seem as if it is anything but. I laid in bed amidst that flashback and thought the hands at the ends of my own little wrists were his again. They seemed unrecognizable in that moment. It is amazing the power that trauma has to change so much of how we view others and ourselves in the world.
I cannot help but feel in this moment, though, more at peace with this flashback than I ever have felt with one before. Instead of the usual panic that accompanies them, I felt like an outsider watching myself experience it, calmly watching the horror but knowing it would pass. I watched my body transform, watched my hands morph from mine to his, and watched myself look at my own body with confusion and unfamiliarity. I let it all happen and watched it closely with fascination before pouncing out of bed to write it all down. I don’t know if I can fully articulate why the change has happened or what to make of it, but I do know that it has happened and that it feels profoundly beautiful. Being able to watch myself have a flashback makes me feel as if that flashback has less power and control over me. It makes me feel like I can learn from my own experiences and integrate them even more fully into the woman I am becoming.
I often talk about healing as integrating my negative experiences into something beautiful, something that I have control over, even if I didn’t have control over the experiences themselves. I am beginning to think of these negative experiences as mere feathers, pieces of my wings. They allow me to fly just like any other one experience. In my eyes, the only difference is that some experiences are more difficult than others to transform into those feathers. I am in a process, I suppose, of transforming trauma into feathers. Oh, and don’t be surprised if I come back with a feather tattooed along the shoulder that was cut open the night I was raped. The cuts are gone, and there is no scar, but the wound lives within me. I want to transform it, and I want to reclaim my body as my own.
With peace and hope,
Maya Angelou (via voiceofonesown)