BY: C. Russell Price
I collect holy books
and burn them
in the backyard
roll in what’s left
until I am a painted god.
This is not my normal
narcissism. This is what I look like
when I’m trying to save myself.
-Kayleb Rae Candrilli
What you are about to read are not anecdotes to warrant pity or sympathy—this is what comes from sharing your trauma. You do not know, no matter how well you know the recipient, how they will react. The first time I told my hardest truth, I was nineteen, sitting beside my then boyfriend at a university drama production that incorporated Postcard Secrets sent in by the student body. The curve of my S is distinct, and my M’s are godawful. The card hit the screen: I don’t know if I’m gay because I’m gay or because I was molested. He dumped me that night.
When my mental illness came around full force eleven years later, my coworkers treated me like a leper. You can’t catch bipolar, Brenda from Accounting. The distance these folks put between us after I shared an uncomfortable intimacy made me hesitant toward any form of closeness with anyone. I shut down—I checked out. I brought home random men from bars because they were not worthy of me or my body’s history. I save the scars for someone I want to see me in my full post-pre-in-process train wreck self.
When writing about trauma, I’m constantly redefining intimacy. I have no problem speaking about my molestation or the damage inflicted upon my grown body by a physically abusive partner, or my body’s eventual betrayal: I have trouble saying that I am worthy of another’s affection no matter how wounded I am. I am. I am. I am. I am. There is no avoidance of what we bring to our work, whether it be metaphorical repression or outright confession. What will come of your sharing will come. In knowing yourself, you will know those others, those clingers, those who love you, but not with “all that” coloring your life. Once something is said, it cannot be taken back. I have a nasty fucking habit of screaming.
The intimacy and exactitude of writing is like no other: I’ve said what I mean to say—any ambiguity is of the reader’s volition. I am expressing perfectly clearly how this all feels, all this… this. I will never stop writing about this because I will always be grieving.
Consider what follows your only advice from me: writing about trauma without an outlet of activism or rebellion is wallowing—it is licking the throat of emotional waste or physical suicide. I am still here because there were things done to me that I cannot undo, but rather rectify. If this sounds like a call to arms, sister, it is. Suffering in silence or acting as an unspeaking witness aids only our oppressors and abusers. You can try your damndest to forget, but the body never erases an eternal wound. I am exhausted by the myth of survival being about breathing and good therapy—my survival is messy and controlled by capitalism. I break dishes in my alleyway because the copay is exorbitant. I drink, I smoke, I know what the fuck I’m doing. Fuck your matcha, fuck your yoga, fuck forgiveness. Kill your local rapist.
The Apocalypse is the one time in which my defects are acceptable: a point in which we’re all struggling (collectively) feels almost blissful. If everyone’s losing their goddamn shit, girl, you look pretty mellow in comparison. The inevitability of Armageddon chills me out. My writing and my life are haunted by what awaits me—a genetic predisposition for chaos, a little revolt lurking for me just around the bend, the tick-tock of my body saying: little fool, you cannot stop me. Your comfort is not my concern.
What will come will come no matter how much good karma I harvest. That is the real fuckery of trauma. It is always looming, floating, ready to snap in the most unlikely circumstance: the way a hand grazes, a peculiar pronunciation, a strain of Old Spice, the food dead-eyeing you in front of a lover who cooked it just for you.
My molestation stopped when I discovered binge eating. I would eat shredded cheese by the pound—the fatter I made myself, the less touching happened. No one noticed I wanted to be wallpaper so I wouldn’t be asked a goddamn question. No one cared, not even me, until I realized that my whole body became covered in stretch marks from such a forced metamorphosis. You cannot say a family member is molesting you if you’re chipmunked with meatloaf. The number of men I’ve loved who’ve seen me fully naked or with whom I’ve shared a meal I can count on one hand. I will not feel sorry for wrecking something to ensure self-survival. I will leave the second I feel a threat or the hint of pain. I carry a pocket knife at all times and I’m not wary of arson. When a stranger is groping me while I’m fist fucking him for my sexual reclamation, if he gets a peek of my pink rivers and is *so compelled* to ask about the all-over scars, I say bear attack, I say house fire, I say this is what I look like now for saving myself then.
Somedays I glow with all this hurt. It is not victimhood vibrating—it is my god, a refraction of what a privilege it is to have made it this long semi-unscathed.
Surviving is not a pissing contest. It is a flash mob, a surprise proposal in the middle of a busy Lowe’s every time your personal history doesn’t take you out. I will carry this forever, a chorus behind everything I create.
I feel no shame in the ways I have found liberation: sex work, body modification, falling foolishly for man after man after man, experimentation with drugs, having the hard conversations with people I love—if they love you, nothing is a hard conversation. By now you will know what staying around means, the hey-you-ok? care they take, the hand hold while you sob, triggered, in a poetry reading. The look you’ll learn to look for.
Do not get it twisted though and forget that the effects of your trauma are particularly codependent on surviving under a capitalist white heteropatriarchy: your lot in life aids or abates your chance of survival. Acting otherwise is negligent to the particular suffering that happens to the most marginalized identities. You can afford therapy? You can afford your meds? Good the fuck for you. I can’t.
I am saying this publicly for the first time: my molester pays my rent rather than facing a life sentence because I don’t make a living wage. Call it an agreement. Call it radical vengeance. Whatever. It is not explicit, but the extradition, the prosecution, the hassle of it all keeps him paying, keeps me from just letting his wife receive an hour-long recording of him confessing. I want him sobbing I’m sorry (out of fear rather than atonement) as my ringtone. I want the phone to ring all fucking day. He has a family now, a lovely car, a lovely wife with a lovely wealthy family, in a lovely Atlanta suburb. I take a Xanax if I even think I am going to be touched. Sometimes the taste of salt sends me spiraling back to being told open up, go ahead, everyone’s doing it—they just aren’t telling you.
What shame wants is darkness, so bring out the fucking spotlight. I want the dream ballet despite the murder. I want a musical reprieve for my body. My blunt history about all this has made me a lonely person, that’s fucking all. Either take it at damage discount or move along; I am not writing for your voyeurism. I am writing my own salvation. All of this is not an erasure, but an overwrite, a yes AND you didn’t give up. We love trauma when it is fiction or distant or buried in an episode produced by Dick Wolf. We love the act of witnessing, but only at arm’s length.
Reader, there is in you a rattling of self-imposed repression. You, who will not know what happened to you because you have since thought of that moment as a film dissolve. I’m sorry for what you’ve been made to forget in order to survive. But you cannot ignore the echo once it starts. And your not writing about your trauma is a way in which your abuser continues abusing you. Your silence protects them.
When the world turns on you—because someone came into the scene with ill intentions, because a friend or lover or could-be lover takes you for granted, because when you wake up you know you’ve been sleep talking, and you have said something unconsciously that has always been there—you have to get back to the fucking work. You sit your gorgeous, fat ass down at that desk and you deathgrip your favorite blue pen. You write because someone out there is howling just like you. Imagine it: our shared harmony, our miraculous kinship, rooted in such brutal discord.
C. Russell Price is a genderqueer Appalachian punk writer originally from Virginia but now lives in Chicago. They are a Lambda Fellow in Poetry, Ragdale Fellow, Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree, essayist, and poet. Their chapbook Tonight, We Fuck the Trailer Park Out of Each Other was released by Sibling Rivalry Press. Their full-length poetry collection oh, you thought this was a date?!: APOCALYPSE POEMS explores sexual assault survivorship and queer liberation. They are currently at work on a collection of essays, Everyone’s Doing It; They Just Aren’t Telling You.