We are in the middle of #16Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Amid this global push to ‘Orange the World’, there are some powerful actions. One of them is Viv Gordon’s Cutting Out, mentioned in my last post.
Here are my paper dolls from that project, recently posted on Twitter. Holding hands. My words, snippets taken from my memoir Learning to Survive, decorate them — because words have cleared the way for me to say how I feel, to name the abuse, to articulate the ongoing trauma. And eventually: they helped me notice the moments of peace, the pure joys of having children, the winter sun today. Words do it all, and I’m grateful I can use them now.
I’m grateful too to be holding hands. In this together.
During the abuse, and for a long time after, I felt ‘singled out’, like a calf driven away from the herd by a lion on a hunt. Looking back, I can see that I was my father’s puppet, at his mercy and disposal: completely exposed and examined, in every intimate way, yet completely, utterly alone. Far away from anyone else, in the dark. It would have changed my life to know that there were others. That we could save each other. That I had some power.
I think of this excerpt from Learning to Survive, as I cut out my dolls and collage my words. I think: I am here for these children now, in ways that no one but no one was there for me.
In the Night
I have the dream again, only this time I am freezing. I am freezing because I hardly have anything on, and the wind blowing through the walls, the walls that aren’t really there, is so cold. Still I must decorate; I have to stand on the chair and hang plants, think about colours, make things just so. I begin to shiver, and the leaves of the plant I am holding shake with my shivering. I try to stop, but the more I try to stop the worse it becomes, until my whole body is shaking.
I manage to hang the plant, putting the chain over the hook. I manage to smile into the darkness, push my hair back as if in front of a mirror. Then I take a step off the chair, and my foot keeps going down, down further than I thought the floor was, and when it touches, I fall after it into a ditch.
I know I have broken some bones, because they are too cold and brittle. My arms are pinned to my side in the ditch, my face pushed into the mud. In the fall I lose my nightgown, and my bottom is exposed. But I can’t move. I am useless, and leave myself there for dead.