Push

My husband pushes me with prodding questions about my sexual history

It enrages him that I don’t display the intimate details of my past like trinkets at a flea market

He pries with jealous tones in his voice

He has nothing better to do than ‘solve the riddle’ of how many men have slept with me

I tell him the truth; I don’t know

I don’t tell him why there were too many to count. Early abuse trained me to be sex-trafficked, I was overworked and undersold

There are experiences in my life that I didn’t ask for

Uninvited guests who ruined my party

I have been violated more times than I’d care to tell

I don’t want to relive that hell

He is undeserving of such personal and painful information

His prying unlocks in me that deep dark, that suicidality that was once my constant companion

Standing face to face again, it is clear how much I have healed over time, and yet

I understand why ending my life is a natural conclusion

To take back my body, reclaim my flesh as my own

To liberate myself at last from the unbearable physical memories he invokes with his dredging interrogation

He cannot fathom the damage he causes

We end this round shouting

I dread and prepare for the inevitable; the next time he broaches the topic

When he demands out of the blue that I recap the worst moments of my life, I feel energetically destroyed

I start to count the cars on that long train of trauma and feel like a trapped animal, desperate for a way out

My old friend suicidality extends a hand, ‘I am here for you, when you feel pushed.’

He and She

He

He drugged her and got her drunk

He did things to her she’ll never forget

I wonder if he’d regret it if he could fathom the depths of the wound he inflicted so easily

She

She started to cut herself to release the pain

She smoked, swallowed and sniffed but could never escape for long enough

Does he ever think back to that night and wonder how she must have felt to be violated

Does he ever imagine the horrors rippling through her body still?

Does he see the selfishness and the cruelty of his actions?

She overdosed last month

She was revived in time

She is still alive

Tears flow from her eyes

She comes to me for relief

I hold space for her grief

I cannot undo the wound or the crisis which ensued

I can only offer a new way for her to view her pain today

The struggle is real

She will feel how she feels

But in harming herself she only perpetuates his actions against her

Together we form a plan that will allow her wound to heal

Cup

This is it, the big one

The debridement of my most primordial wound

Dissection of what my parents did and didn’t do

Releasing us both from the impossible task of fulfilling each other’s expectations

Seeing them for the first time as the narcissists they are

Pretending to love me only when I made them look good

Spitting on me with their words and crushing me under the boots of their ego when I was hurting

When I needed them most they abandoned me

Like childish bullies, they took no responsibility for themselves or others

I’ve turned my face to them time and time again looking for love, searching in vain, coming up short

They refuse to see the parts of me that they don’t want to

My father told me I was flabby and looked like a monster when I was 15 years old

I subsisted on a high-glycemic diet stolen from my workplace because there wasn’t enough food at home, which resulted in weight gain and horrendous acne

I didn’t see my father for what he was; a negligent parent and an asshole.

Instead I wallowed in sorrow for my innate deficiencies, contemplated suicide because I wasn’t beautiful enough

Don’t worry Dad, I was still attractive enough to get raped enough times to lose count

As if you care

I can’t imagine treating my child the way you treat me

Lord, help these wounds heal

I am ready to move on, to break the inter-generational chain of toxic parenting

To write a new song instead of the broken-record of your critical dialogue

You can live your life in crisis mode, but don’t impose your crises on me anymore.

You imprinted your patterns of anxiety on my developing body and brain

I felt the need to gain the gushing approval of everyone around me

To be the smartest, prettiest and most accomplished in the room

I made many men swoon

I don’t need that anymore

Take your booze and do with it what you will

My cup is full

I depend on no man to keep it filled

Figure

Notions in my nervous system leak out from time to time

Potions in my stomach leap back up from time to time

I zombie-shuffle around the hospital on a 24-hour shift pulled between urgencies and emergencies, my ID badge clipped to my scrub top, dangling like a nipple tassel, swaying immodestly with each step.

Despite the stress of my current life, I feel deeply blessed

In the dark of winter, I feel the sun rising below my feet, supporting and uplifting me

The sky’s the limit

I feel it all- my invisible mental illnesses concealed by my silence and my simultaneous self-healing chipping away at the the plastic false-front I put up for survival, replacing it with vines organic growth that I hope will one day blossom with radical authenticity.

‘Did you come?’ he asked me, I didn’t know what he meant by ‘come’ but I was used to faking it when I didn’t know the answer so I said yes because I was raised to tell people what they wanted to hear, and never appear flawed, weak or wrong. I believed my ‘yes’ was the truth because I didn’t know what ‘coming’ was outside of arrival, so I figured that my coming had happened without my knowing, and I said yes because I figured it was the right answer- the answer he wanted to hear. It didn’t bother me at the time that I hadn’t wanted him to put his penis inside me- I was hard-wired to do what everyone wanted of me, and still am. I had suddenly entered a world of new vocabulary and new unpleasant sensations. We were kids, barely adolescents, yet he knew things I didn’t and had done things I hadn’t. The honest, informed answer would have been a resounding ‘What does it mean to come?’ followed by a ‘No, not even close’. Jersey boys grow up fast, didn’t even seduce me before they induced me grow up fast; the recovery is slow. Trauma lasts; a few seconds echo across a lifetime.

‘Don’t go in there- he’s a bad man’ was the stern and tremulous forewarning from an elder woman on a stoop watering her urban flowers. I wish I had followed her suggestion or asked for an explanation. Ever the workaholic, I brushed past her, attributing her words to eccentricity, and knocked on her neighbor’s door. I had told this man I was coming to visit, and I follow through with my word and maintain utmost punctuality, on principle. Hungry from a lifetime of poverty, I was determined to make my fortune on the high seas of the internet by socializing with rich men who I later learned were impoverished in spirit and cost me far more than the pittance I garnered. He locked me in his apartment and shouted commands at me to take off my clothes and get on my knees. He proceeded to rape me in every orifice and slapped me hard across the face, choking me as silent tears streamed down my cheeks. I had mastered the art of silent crying in early childhood. The man and I were both deeply disappointed by the events of the evening. He was furious when I hesitated to follow his commands. He asked, ‘didn’t you read my profile?’ I hadn’t, but I figured he wanted me to say yes, so I said yes. He followed with, ‘what did you think of my profile?’ I replied, ‘I liked it’. I never read his profile, but I imagine it might have read something like ‘heinously unattractive morbidly obese abusive alcoholic with tiny, foul-smelling penis seeks young woman to verbally and physically abuse through rape and violence.’ Hours after I initially wanted to leave, he released me from the hell-hole of his apartment. The city air never smelled so sweet. After fearing for my life that night, he motivated me to quit sex work. Silver lining. I wonder if the truth would have set me free sooner- if I had simply said ‘no’ when he asked me if I had read his profile or told him that I didn’t like it if he had paraphrased it. How much waste can one haste make. Speed made me sloppy. It still does from time to time.

Despite the horrors I have survived, I feel most distressed by those closest to me- my explosive nuclear family who I care about deeply and who hurt me deeply. I didn’t imagine that my own happiness could cause so much upset amongst them. They take what is beautiful and make it so damn ugly, shitting on my truest joy- my union with my life partner- with their dramatic accusations in which they mistake their feelings for facts and make my ‘special day’ about them and their insanity. They already ruined all the special days of my childhood- I shouldn’t feel shocked or even mildly surprised. It seems they only celebrate alongside me when I fit into their vision of vanity, when it is convenient for them. The frustrating part is that my partner is a good person who loves me and we are happy together, although he doesn’t fit into their narrow ideals for race or finances. The aggravating part is that we got married in part for them, to keep our love proper and kosher and acceptable. I figured it was what they wanted. The enraging part is that we got married in part for our future children, after I aborted my first three pregnancies partly for my family’s honor, without stopping to reflect how they dishonor me. I am now struggling to become pregnant at an advanced age. My uterus has suffered untold abuses. There is nothing I can do to make unhappy people happy. All I can do is cultivate my own inner glow and shine.

As usual, I am frozen in fear and anxiety, and also exhaustion. I’m tired of the indentured servitude of residency, tired of battling on the front lines of the pandemic, and tired of a lifelong pattern of catering to the emotionally labile who believe I owe them my life and that I am responsible for their unobtainable happiness. For the longest time, I believed them. My bleeding heart didn’t know any better.

I choose to collect my thoughts before responding without reacting from a place of hurt. Overwhelmed with emotion, this will take time. I want certain family members to think more thoroughly and compassionately before spitting venomous words at me. They want me to speak on demand, yet are quick to give me the cold shoulder and now that I am older I want to cut the cord between us like surgery to free myself from the malignant tumor of their energy.

May I stop trying to figure out what other people want of me- it has only lead to my misery, over and over and over and over.

Back at work, I hear the whip crack. I haven’t met most of the people who are getting rich off my back.

I observe people’s bodies with judgement even though it tastes bitter- ranking them in attractiveness- what an unattractive habit. I remind myself to stop imagining their thoughts, to focus on the flame instead of the candle, to behold the melting wax in awe- the interface between spirit and physical form.

I’ve put forth an immodest amount of effort in my life, pushing through severe anxiety and depression without accepting help, least of all from myself. I did seek help a couple of times during childhood when I told my mom in my little voice that I was depressed, to which she reprimanded, ‘you are not depressed’. If she only knew how frequently suicidal thoughts have dropped in to visit me. I no longer invite them in for tea- social distancing. My mother taught me to replace my feelings with everybody else’s feelings.

I feel emotionally ready for retirement even though there are many moons before I will receive my first real paycheck. I have come to treasure quiet peaceful moments. Doing less is my goal, even if I rarely allow time for it. Simply being present in the now, basking on the soft moss of inner calm, feeling that I belong, that I am lovable just as I am. I hope the same for you, and not because I figure that is what you want to hear- I sincerely wish that all beings be happy, healthy and free.

My Man

My man wants to know how many men I’ve had sex with.

I tell him the truth: I don’t know.

I don’t feel the need to know how many times I’ve been raped. I have no desire to quantify the horror, shame or mistakes. I might explode with rage if I focused on those who eagerly traumatized me for their own pleasure.

During my employment as a happy-ending masseuse, I ended up giving much more than the hand jobs I signed up for. Now I’m trying to create a happy ending for my own life but my man keeps asking me about the past. His questions awaken violent emotions in me.

The customers who paid for hand-jobs knew that I wouldn’t call the police when they raped me because I’d be incriminating myself.

My only crime was being born below the poverty line. Self-abuse and self-neglect were ingrained in me by my parents.

I was hungry and trying to get an education I couldn’t afford. I was told ‘here is the ladder you must climb to reach a better life.’ I set to climbing. I solved my financial problems creatively.

My man fixates on the absence of the number of men. I’d tell him if I knew, maybe.

His questions feel invasive and probing.

I used to be valued by men for what I could give- my young, beautiful body.

Now I am devalued by my man for what I have given men.

Men only value women in relation to other men.

When will I be seen as my own person, my own human, inherently invaluable?

My man bemoans what I don’t know; the quantity of traumas too numerous to count, too common to stand out in my blurred memory.

Yet he doesn’t complain about the food I put on his plate, the home I make, or the bills I pay.

I implore him to wait, let me tell my story when I feel ready. I don’t think I’ll ever feel ready. When he asks me about my sexual history I feel ill, anxious and hurt.

I find my breath, reassure myself that he didn’t mean to inflict suffering, and flirt with forgiveness. I remind myself that my spiritual groundedness is stronger than even my exaggerated stress response, my current perceived crisis.

He knows that I was a pushover, pretty and poor. For all of his scheming, jealousy and time spent thinking about me, you’d think my man would connect the dots.

Hands

I used to feel furious

At the injustices committed against me

For the unwelcome fingers

Prodding my small and growing body

Budding puberty awakened in me

The realization that my childhood was criminal

Waves of rage washed over me

I threw off the comfort blanket of religion in an instant

I roamed naked and savage for years

Unsure where to focus my energy

I worshipped money but I was too generous

I worshipped work but didn’t know when to stop

I worshipped knowledge and became a hoarder, slipping on the shifting sands of science

I worshipped men and was disappointed

I smashed hearts and egos on my path

I stumbled into spirituality and awakened the eternal peace in me

I found a humble man who requires that I be humble too

He welcomed me back to the fold, now older and perhaps wiser

I am grateful for the hands

That initially stirred my pot and set my life in motion

My Body

My body is a dustbin

Collecting what is forgotten and broken

The overlooked and the rejected

Are welcome within my walls

My body is a minefield

Ready to go off

Touch me anywhere

You’ll trigger trauma everywhere

My body is a row of dominoes

I line myself up

Only to watch myself fall down under the slightest stress

Finding myself again in the middle of a mess

I want to ask my heroin addict sister

If our mother did to her what our mother did to me at night

If my sister experienced similar humiliation and violation

If she felt God-forsaken hour after hour awakened

Torn between nightmares and the horror of real life

I wish I had drugs, prescription or illicit, to help me survive this pain that is always by my side, a balm for this immortal mortal wound

Ever the warrior, I muscle through on my own

Only when I am alone do I feel almost safe

I cry and say the words I didn’t say

Feel the loss of the one who got away

My body is an international currency used to bargain, barter and beg

My body speaks a universal language, from my hair to my legs

I have forged deals in the most unlikely of places

I always felt underpaid

Time after time I find the perfect storm, my shelter so that I can disempower myself, disown my sadness, illustrate it through external circumstances

I thank my pain- my loving protector

I thank my body- my stage and specter

Basement

If I were a guy

I wouldn’t have to choose which pregnancy lives and which dies
I wouldn’t have to lie
To keep my body balanced precariously over a precipice of shame
I wouldn’t have to remain silent about my pain
If I were a guy
I wouldn’t widen the depths of a woman’s trauma by asking her about the depths of her trauma
I wouldn’t judge a woman on the depth of her trauma
If I were a guy
Life would be simple and easy
You ask me about every fuck and every fetus, like it is your business
It is not your business
Do you really want to know about the countless rapes I’ve endured
Not just at the hands of guys
Girls and women, my own mother was the mother of all trauma
Do you want me to describe what it feels like to have your inside pried open and the most vulnerable part of you wounded, scraped raw as you sacrifice the new life you desired, the miracle at your core from another night as a whore
Left to wonder forever unknowing what might have been, who they might have been
It was enough for me to cut the ties
From guys I didn’t want in my life
I cheated on every last one of them, a string of infidelity leading to you
Why do you want to hear that, what would it do?
Maybe then you’d know who you married
But I’m trying to build a new life, live my best life, start anew with a clean slate, move with you to a new state
I don’t want to lie anymore, don’t want to hide anymore, but let me be myself or I’ll show you the door even though it will break me even more
Try as I might by inviting drama into my life, I am unbreakable
You try to crack me not knowing that I’ve been practicing for this my whole life
I’m sorry you are a part of my web of lies but let’s make the best of it I don’t want any more terrible surprises, even as I plant these words like a bomb under the floor.
Triggers are an invitation to see what is in the basement
My heart is in the basement but even our basement has a plant growing where the concrete is cracked
I’m trying to be that plant, don’t hold me back

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Please don’t judge me for being a sex worker in order to make ends meet
You taught me how to dissociate from my body, how to put other’s wants ahead of my needs
You were my first violator and my first pimp
Remember molesting me at night throughout my childhood and adolescence?
You opened the floodgates for countless rapes
Remember forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do my whole life?
Pimping me out to abusive children who you ‘felt sorry for’ because they did’t have any friends
The reason why they didn’t have any friends is because they weren’t good friends. Like you, they were trapped in abuse
Oscillating between abuser and abused
Remember commanding me yet never asking or listening?
I told you I was depressed, you told me I was not
The middle school guidance counselor called you to pick me up from school because I was suicidal-
All you did was yell at me
You found out I was a sex worker by violating my privacy
You yelled at me to respect myself
Yet you never respected me and actively taught me to disrespect myself
How can you expect me to fly when all you ever did was drag me down and break my wings
You raised me in poverty
Gave me no financial resources, no guidance
I was hungry, I had textbooks to buy and rent to pay
You want to take credit for my success
I became who I am in spite of you, not because of you
Though I see the crucial role you played
At the end of the day all I can say is namaste