012: Power Struggles
Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"Power Struggles," Jacob Davis.
He kissed me on my sixth birthday and used his tongue. We were downstairs in the laundry room, next to the den with the tv and Super Nintendo, which was paused. I was young, too young to have my first kiss, and he should have been out experimenting with other teenagers in healthy ways. Instead, he was kissing me in a dark room. It wasn't pleasant. It was weird. He told me he wanted to show me something, how to French kiss. After he was finished, he said, "It's pretty cool, isn't it?"
I disagreed entirely, but I lied and said yes. He was a god to me.
I didn't think much of it. It was an uncomfortable experience, to be sure. But even though the kiss was awkward and discomfiting, it didn't last long, and we went back to playing video games. As a six-year old, everything new has a certain novelty attached to it, and sometimes that novelty is strange.
A couple months passed, and I forgot all about it. During summer break, though, my mom was working during the weekdays. She couldn't watch me, and so I went over to his house, where I was to be babysat by his mother. We spent the days in the den downstairs, watching Batman: the Animated Series. There was a guest bedroom adjacent to the den, and every day he would take me in there and do things to me. Sometimes it was just heavy touching. Other times it was more. He said it was our secret, and that I couldn't tell anybody else or I would get in huge trouble. This went on for weeks.
There was a particular day in which we were playing outside instead of our usual "cartoon/secret-time" routine. He was riding his bike around, and told me to lay down on the ground. He said he would jump over me, and I trusted him. So I laid on my back and waited. He ran over my face, and caused enough damage to my gums for me to have to spend the rest of the day in a dentist's office. Honestly, I was relieved to be under anesthetic while a tooth was pulled and some bruises on my gums were drained. I am still to this day uncertain as to whether he meant to run me over or not.
One day, maybe a couple months into the summer, he had me do something to him that ended with me throwing up all over him and the downstairs carpet. He cleaned up and told me to tell his mom that I had laughed really hard at a joke he had made and got sick. Mom left work early and picked me up.
We were about a block away from home when my mom asked me if what I said was the truth. I had never lied to her before, so I told her what really happened. She slammed on the brakes in the middle of the street. It's strange, but I remember looking out the window as I told her more. The sky was crisply blue, free of any clouds. I remember her rage, her pain and disbelief, and I remember with even more clarity the fact that none of it was directed at me. I wouldn't be in trouble for telling the truth. I had been lied to.
I am sitting here at my computer, typing out this account like something between a memoir and a confession. Twenty-two years have passed. Twenty-two. In those two decades, I have had a myriad of other experiences. I am now a full-time student, working hard to get paid to write. I am happily married--have been for almost four of those twenty-two years. I have traveled to Europe, evaded bullets during a Mardis Gras shootout in New Orleans, and spent time with some anarchists in Minneapolis. I have hopped trains. I have helped to raise some of my friends' children while craftily evading the responsibility of having my own. I have prided myself in the supposition that I am a survivor, that I have risen above my pain and have managed to live a full, happy life.
However, the reality of my situation is far more complex. While it is true that I have lived a relatively content life, and that I would hope to have had a fair share of experiences that have been more defining for me than my abuse, it would be false if I tried to claim that I am no longer affected by it. I'm always affected by it. In fact, as I have gotten older, I am coming to grips with a harder truth: the sexual abuse I endured as a child may be one of the defining experiences of my entire life.
How could that be possible? My parents made sure that I received counseling as soon as I had told them what was going on. My therapist had me make sculptures out of clay as I told her what had happened and how I felt about it. There must have been some progress, because I met with my abuser and his counselor, there was an apology, and I forgave him. Truthfully, I have had more help than many other survivors will ever receive.
What I have begun to learn, by readdressing my abuse experience with a counselor, is that I may still be dealing with some of the trauma. I cringe at that word. There are people who have been at war overseas who have suffered trauma. There are people whose daily experiences far exceed the horror of the abuse I suffered. But I cannot use the monumental sufferings of others to minimize my own. That is an injustice both to their story and to mine as well.
My first experience with sex was non-consensual. I cannot overstate the impact of this. Most of my life has been haunted by a feeling of humiliation. I was objectified at such a young age, and robbed of the confidence to feel empowered or autonomous without great struggle. Though I could consider myself to be quantitatively successful and relatively well-off, there is a deep sense of self-loathing and dissatisfaction that I have spent years fighting. I have tried to fight that inner humiliation with all kinds of excesses: women, drugs, religion.
I was made to feel powerless, and so I have always felt myself to be in the midst of a power struggle.
Thankfully, that's not the end of the story. I can't say that things aren't still hard. They are very hard. Just not all of the time. A breakthrough moment hasn't happened yet, though I am hopeful that it can come eventually with help from my counselor and loved ones.
I was a victim. Something happened to me that I neither wanted nor expected; I was used, harmed, and scarred. Raped and molested. Abused. But I refuse to allow my experience of abuse to be defined in such a way. I am a survivor of abuse. Some days, all that can mean is that I am still here. Other days, it means that I am a fucking super nova bursting with hope and creativity and inspiration. Either way, I have found freedom in continuing on. I have found freedom in trying to find out what "continuing on" looks like.
Sometimes it looks like reaching out. Sometimes it's telling someone what happened. Sometimes it looks like getting help from mental health professionals and telling anyone who thinks that's uncouth to fuck off. Sometimes it just means getting up in the morning. All the time, though, it's trying to remember that you are not alone. All the time, it is remembering that your story is important, that your story has power.
We are all out here, in the world together. I have to remember it for myself more often than not, that my story is not my own, that I cannot be quiet about it. Because to be silent about my experience is to give in to the power of death. To be silent is to give in to the definition which would allow myself and others to continue in the mistaken belief that we are objects instead of existents crafted with our own subjectiveness. The fact that I am still here is proof of my power. And my story does not only remind me of my power, but it gives others the truth that they too have a power of their own.
So the power continues on and on. It is a power that refuses the definition of victim. It is a power that takes the action of our continuing on and turns it into a noun, into a new definition. We are not victims, we are survivors.
About the art:
I have known Jacob since high school. And when he reached out to my initial call for stories, I was pretty thrown back. Because, as Jacob says, the reality is that there are many survivors out there and there is not one specific characteristic that binds all survivors. Trauma like sexual violence, as we've shared through many stories, can happen to anyone.
So when Jacob asked to share his story, I was pretty stoked for him and for the project. We need more men with the courage of Jacob, and the other men who have stepped forward so far during this project. The stigma surrounding men as survivors of trauma, especially sexual violence, is doing so much harm to our men in society.
Jacob's story hits me hard, having known him for such a long time; granted, we drifted away after high school, but that's often how the story goes. But I am glad we came back into each other's lives at least for the sake of supporting one other as men.
Jacob's piece is based on a quote from The Unnamable, by Samuel Beckett. The full quote of which can be found here:
“...you must say words, as long as there are any, until they find me, until they say me, strange pain, strange sin, you must go on, perhaps it's done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on”
― Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
Jacob is a wonderfully well-read human being and I always appreciate his perspective on life and existence. So creating a piece, using a color scheme Jacob chose, felt pretty empowering. I was grateful to be creating something for a man that I love and respect as a human being.
These words mean a lot to Jacob, I can tell. They are words to remind you that even in the darkest of times, even in the silence, you must eventually find the words. There might be plenty of uncertainty along the way, but you can overcome. You can share your story.
I think this quote does a great job expressing the heart of the ending of Jacob's testimonial, where he explains the power of survivors having a safe space to share their story. Because YOU control your story. Your trauma does not define you. Use your story to reclaim your power.
Thank you so much for sharing this piece, Jacob.
You are a survivor and I am so proud of you.