Month: August 2016

Scrutiny

Content Warning: abortion, trauma

Today, I read this great piece from Black Girl Dangerous on trauma. I don’t know why, but it still chokes me up to even hear about trauma. I feel like that is an indicator that clearly, I am not yet over the traumas in my life yet.

Coincidentally, I’m in a weird place right now with my hair. For those of you who don’t know, I chopped all my hair off after I got an abortion in December. In those first few weeks afterwards, I couldn’t stand having my hair any more. I couldn’t stand all the memories stored in it. I couldn’t stand all the feelings I had associated with it. So I symbolically pressed the restart button on my life and chopped off about 20 inches. I went from having around 2 feet of thick, black hair to having a really close pixie cut.

I trimmed it regularly, so it would be longer now if I had just let it grow. I decided to stop trimming in May, around the time that I graduated. It hasn’t grown too much, but the length is starting to show. The hair has grown over my ears, and I have to clip the back frequently so that I don’t have a mullet. It’s a weird, shaggy phase. My hair has not been this length since I was around 4 years old.

And this dissatisfaction with my hair is also symbolic. I literally cut it off as a marker of a trauma, as a reminder to myself of how long it takes to heal. Now I wish I had my long hair back. It’s almost as though my brain would like to convince my body of something it knows is not true. I am almost my normal self again. Almost. I am very convincing to other people, and that is so dangerous because then I start to believe the lie. I say hi to all my friends. I correspond with employers. I help out around the house without complaining. I did the therapy, I dealt with the emotions, I did all the reconnecting with my inner self stuff for four months. My brain insists, shouldn’t I be done with this by now? Haven’t I done everything I was supposed to do?

It is frustrating that it takes so long, but I know in my heart that I am not yet over it.

I know because–and that’s just it–I am still not normal for me. I still don’t like being out in public. It causes numerous, inexplicable anxieties. That is not normal for me. I feel satisfied sleeping all day. I feel satisfied staying in the house all day. I have barely done any physical activity all summer, when I’m usually so active. That is not normal for me.

I suddenly realized, my reaction to scrutiny has also gotten worse, which is probably the biggest indicator that I am not back to normal yet, even now.

First off, I should name that I have never been comfortable with scrutiny. I cannot remember how long I have felt that way, but if I had an RC community to go to where I am, that would probably be an area I need to work on. I think scrutiny can go under the general category of surveillance, something that many people with marginalized identities experience. Surveillance happens in a number of ways: policing of clothes, behavior and speech; storing information without indication for use later as blackmail (or other purposes); expecting people to behave a certain way even when no one is watching; the list goes on.

It should be noted, in my opinion, any person who puts another person under surveillance of any kind is being abusive and manipulative.

I use the word “scrutiny” very intentionally, though. The word “scrutiny” comes from the Latin word “scrutari” which literally means “to search.” Thus, my both founded and unfounded fear is that people who scrutinize me are searching for my weaknesses, searching for ways to exploit my vulnerability.

I think the founded fear comes from generally existing as a woman of color, especially in interactions with men. As soon as a creepy man starts asking me too many questions (and this has happened so many countless times), I start lying. While this is great for keeping me safe from creepy men who walk up to me in the street, it may not be so helpful when, say, my supervisor asks me why I have changed my hours. Or when my parents ask me what I’m doing next week on Tuesday. Or when people who care about me ask reasonable questions because they are concerned with my safety, and I lie to them because deep down, I am terrified that some unknown entity will hunt me down.

Then, the fear becomes unfounded.

I was thinking today, the best thing in the world is freedom. I don’t mean in that silly patriotic sense. I mean specifically, I wish I was free from scrutiny. I wish I had the money for my own living space and a car so that I could do whatever I want and go wherever I want without people wondering what I am doing. I wish I could run my house however I wanted without having to deal with other people’s rules about how clean or dirty it is. I wish I didn’t have to answer to someone else about how I am using my money, what I spend my time doing, what my body looks like, what I’m wearing, who I’m talking to, or where I’m going all the time. These are all things that different people have all kept track of at different times in my life. I think that is such a huge distinguishing factor between having dominant identiti(es) and having marginalized one(s). I doubt a white man experiences the kind of scrutiny that I do walking down the street. At the same time, I probably experience less scrutiny than say, a homeless person.

Simultaneously, I would also love to be free from the fear I have of scrutiny. I wish I could trust people and their intentions enough to not go into full fight-or-flight mode every time someone asks me a question. It is a trauma reaction, so the fear comes from an incapacity I have at the moment: an inability to trust people, and a fundamental lack of faith in the world. That’s really sad for a person who used to be an ENFP at one point. Personally, I don’t believe it is a natural state for human beings to lack trust, to lack faith in humanity. So it’s a sad thing for me to admit I have neither. It makes me even more sad that we live in a world where gaining both back may take the same amount of time as it does for 20 inches of hair to sprout from my head. Trust does not disappear without a good reason.

 

 

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Thoughts on Stranger Things

I don’t know if you all have yet seen the Netflix Original series, Stranger Things. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. It’s got this Stephen King-meets-The Little Rascals feel to it, and the screenplay, acting, and soundtrack are all on point. It doesn’t overdo the cheesy damsel-in-distress-screaming-and-hiding sequence that is so common in the horror genre. In addition, all of the characters have refreshing depth and intelligence. It’s such a nice change from the usual white-family-in-denial about the monster in the closet until it comes out and eats the husband or whatever.

While I could wax poetic about a lot of things in this series (the examples of triggers! The little boys are so dialogic!), I really appreciate the examples of women standing up to men in this series. The three women who I would say are main characters (there’s more than one woman as a main character!) all have significant instances of telling the men in their lives to fuck off. This happens more than once, but I’ll explain three of my favorite moments here.

First, there is that time in episode 5 when Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) tells her good-for-nothing husband (Ross Partridge) to get the fuck out of her house.

get out

I got really scared when the husband guy came back. For a second there, I thought he was going to stay for way too long and significantly derail Joyce’s life the way all sleazy exes do in TV shows (think Sex in the City and Friends). But no, not in this series. In this one, as soon as Joyce even suspects her husband is around just for money, she kicks his ass out. You go, girl.

On a tangent, I think this is one of the strengths of a shorter series. They can no longer prolong horrible relationships for the sake of drama and ratings. I am so thrilled that TV is heading toward the 8-12 episode range. I cannot tell you how tired I am of that Grey’s Anatomy tier, 22-episode season shit, where you had to endure a person’s sexism or racism for entire 4-5 episode arcs that made you want to tear your hair out.

Anyway, the second example: I am equally thrilled that Nancy (Natalia Dyer) stands her ground and hits Steve (Joe Keery) when he’s being an asshole in episode 6.

hitsteve

Yas, girl! So basically, when Steve and his friends decide to paint the town to slut-shame Nancy Wheeler, she hits him. And I LOVE it. This show does a great job of breaking down age barriers. Even the younger women give no fucks about putting men in their place. I love the message this sends–that teenaged girls do not have to take shit from immature boys. We are bombarded with so many instances in which young women are publicly humiliated through slut-shaming (Vanessa Hudgens, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Swift, to name a few). Nancy decides enough is enough. Time to shut the haters up.

Last but not least, we have Eleven (Millie Brown). Eleven is constantly saying “no” to all the boys.

elevenno

Here, she is saying she will not compromise her safety by telling Mike’s mom of her presence in episode 2. This girl cannot be much older than, well, eleven (no pun intended), but she understands consent PERFECTLY. She is a great example to women of any age, that no one, not even your friends, can make you do anything without your consent.

 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much humanity in this show that I could write about, like the relationship between Jonathan and his brother, the friendship among the four boys, and all the shit Nancy goes through that I can thoroughly relate to. For a short series, Stranger Things accomplishes so much. I can’t wait for season 2.

Illicit

Oh Lord, I crave him. This summer has brought a lot, a bit too much perhaps. Now I am crazy in addition to everything else.

People say that time is not linear, and slowly, I begin to understand why. Feelings I thought I had long forgotten suddenly come back to haunt me. I felt this way about him before the abortion. That fall semester was when I felt this way about him. I had forgotten those feelings, and they were not something I was willing to revisit, not after the other feeling, that I had killed my own child.

Attraction is hard to go back to. I did not feel attraction for some time. It eluded me for all of spring semester. Granted, that didn’t stop me from having sex, but it was that sordid, corporeal kind that makes you feel emptier than you did when you began. It took me only a matter of weeks to see my then-lover for who he really was: a needy, sanctimonious person who would use me to hold his emotions, but took every chance he got to quash my own. Admittedly, abortion-trance was a convenient antidote to my former guilelessness; it was the shortest amount of time it had ever taken for me to come to my senses and leave a man.

He deserved to be left as well, though, the one from fall. That is what I tell myself. Not left entirely—left by me. For making me hope that I could be his, for even the second that I believed it, even when he knew there was not a chance in hell that it would last. I blame him because surely, he must have known. He had to have known how it would end, and he let it play out anyway because he had to have me just that much, had to have my hand in his, have my kisses, my endless hair, the way secrets poured from my lips without him ever needing to ask.

See, he already had a partner. And at that point, I still had the pre-abortion-trance guilelessness, so I believed him when he made me feel like I was safe, made me think his partner was sane, made me think nothing would ever go wrong. Maybe that is my own fault for being so guileless.

If you all ever hope for a love story, I wish you one like this (though with perhaps a happier ending). We were co-teachers, he and I. I don’t think either of us much heeded how obviously illicit our affections were. He was endearing—he embodied that word entirely—for me there could not exist a more-perfect Achilles heel. Look how even now I wax dramatic for him.

See, he was an artist. Not on the surface, but I suspect that is what he is deep down. I don’t know how else he would get me to say such ridiculous things to him, things I have never said to anyone else, that he turns me on so hard, that I want to push him over onto a bed, that I would like to kiss him until he is limp in my arms. I flirted with him like I did with no one else. We would sit together in the study of my apartment, dimly lit by just desk lamps in poor-graduate-student fashion, to put our lesson plans together. His eyes, which caught the light so easily, would glow a lovely amber color. He would always ask me if there was anything else I wanted to talk about (I might be forgetting the wording at this point, I always just wanted to look at his face). I never did, but his eyes always lingered just a little longer than what was reasonable, holding my gaze, even in the days before I started flirting with him.

And after I made my feelings apparent to him, it could not be helped. We were like children in middle school, embracing each other in empty classrooms and holding hands when we thought no one was looking, except we were the teachers and middle schoolers are half our age.

These are all memories that I thought I had forgotten, that I have not had access to in seven months. They come back now with shocking clarity. I did not think I could feel like this again, ever.

I remember the first time I kissed him, and all the kisses that came after the first. I would say that the most romantic experiences I have ever had never involved sex. It was certainly true of this relationship. Admittedly, that first kiss was slightly naughty of me. We had just finished our last class of the semester. I had only just asked him how he liked to be kissed, and he had only just finished answering, but I couldn’t bear not being able to give that to him for even a second longer, so I kissed him. I could sense his hesitation and I thought that perhaps I had taken things too far, but then he kissed me back so softly, so demurely. He used to love the way I would moan.

This is unexpected. Now I am crying. All the websites I went to after my abortion said I might cry for no reason from time to time. For the life of me, I can’t understand why I am crying. Maybe, I suspect, I want my child’s father to be like him. So cute. So silly and well-intentioned. Maybe I would forgive someone like him for all his flaws because he would care so unfathomably.

See, he is already a father. He was a father long before I came into his life, and he will be long after I have left. We’re not so different, he and I. At almost the same point in our lives, we both found out we could become parents. Except I didn’t become one and he did.

I wake up like I’m waiting for infinity these days. Day stretches long and worthless, night comes mercilessly too soon. In those moments when I feel that crazed consciousness that has stayed with me since I was pregnant, I know she will come back to me one day. I wait for her eagerly, my future child.