I am not broken
Words by Laura Hamilton
And what of the language we use, of ‘gender based violence’? Violence needn’t be aggression.
“But… I don’t understand, he’s so much smaller than you, you’re usually so much in control.” “You’re really capable, strong, in control in so many other areas of your life. How did you let this happen…?” And…”I have noticed how you are with men – do you notice, how sometimes you touch people when you talk to them? I think that confuses men.” Here’s a lesson. My sharing this with you is not for your understanding and to aid in the resolution of your confusion about what happened. I needed you. You failed me, and I declined to ride on the coat tails of your insecurity and ignorance. I am not broken. I am just temporarily bent. There is only one response. Men, women, friends, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. It is not your fault. 5 simple words. A salve to the heart and mind. Apply liberally and often. “Assault” It’s like saying cancer (whisper). Assault with a whispered lowercase ‘a’, furtive eyes, not knowing what to say. The ‘confession’ explodes into a dialogue and a web of experiences. Every woman I know, either themselves, or someone they know has had some sort of unwelcome sexual advance, assault, violation. 7 degrees of separ – sexual assault. Assault? Oh! The thesaurus of the mind. Assault = rape = violence. Assault = rape = violence. I felt myself appeasing others…oh, no, it wasn’t forceful, I wasn’t held down, at least not physically…oh, please don’t get upset….don’t worry, I’m ok, really… I was also apologising for my internalised insouciance of inaction. Do you not think I also questioned why? Why? How? What is happening? How do I escape this safely…? Paralysed. Rationalising. The curse of the homosapien brain. Waiting, just waiting. Please. Let. This. Be. Over. Soon. Like a mantra. Without feeling calm. And what of the language we use, of ‘gender based violence’? Violence needn’t be aggression. It’s power. It’s control. Sentence 1: Kapur assaulted Laura. Sentence 2: Laura was assaulted by Kapur. Sentence 3: Laura was assaulted. The gravity of your act, your violence, your calculated deceit and malevolent manipulation disappeared in 22 functional and uninspiring syllables. The cadence of invisibility and absolution. In three short sentences, I was in the spotlight and you had completely disappeared. Ephemeral. How incredible, given the weight of your presence permeating my day to day existence. I am not broken. I am just temporarily bent. Violence. Now, that’s a word with many configurations. Bruised. Struggle. Control. Pain. ‘A strength of emotion or of a destructive natural force’ It was insidious, without a physical force…by questioning me, you implied complicity. “You’re strong, what did you do?” (translation – why didn’t you do anything?) “Why did you let him in your home?” Because I trusted him. Because he is a health professional. Because I assume goodness and generosity of spirit until I am proved otherwise, and I will not alter that view of my world. Even for you. You echoed my own doubt and gave it a voice I did not welcome. I felt laden with the guilt of responsibility. Kids on a playground…shouting ‘I told you so’, ‘I told you so’. He had a power in his position and a calculated eye for exploiting the chinks in my armour. The opportunity of vulnerability. Let me take you on a journey of violence related words... Coercion. Detriment. Shock. Outrage. Upheaval. Turbulence. Crippling. Harm. Does that feel more comfortable and familiar to you? I’m exceptionally good at building walls. I bet I was a master brick layer in a former life. I build boxes inside those walls to place things in. One, by painful, one. The architecture of self preservation. It works. For a time. I put this in its box and I got on. I lived in my home. I worked. I stumbled along, temporarily bent, and figuratively hunched all the while trying to look at the sky. And ‘the Oscar goes to…’. Until, over two months later, a paroxysm of weeping, curled up on the kitchen floor, gave me no choice but to look at the sky. I concede. You broke me; but just temporarily. I thank you friend, for picking me up, literally. To help me rebuild my resolve, breath by shallow breath, until the next day when I could hunch a little less. There were people less helpful on this journey. A police officer, testifying for the prosecution, in the witness room, suggesting we take a break and get a coffee. No, thanks, we’ll wait here, I don’t want to bump into him in the cafeteria, I’ve not seen him since the assault. ’I wouldn’t let him determine your actions’. Really?! Sage and reasoned advice from a 6’2” strapping man who will never fit into my size 5 shoes. How will you feel what I feel? How can I conjure up this feeling for you? Have you ever been in love? Butterflies, the fear of vulnerability, that rush in your chest and stomach in those early days, the intensity of an emotion that you can not control. The ache of desire, and the crushing feeling of loss. Are you there? Now. Imagine you’re centred in that sweet triangulation of musical magic. You know the spot. Right in front of the speakers, at the pinnacle of the equilateral, perfectly acoustically centred, facing forward and anticipating, immersed in the sound, so much so that you feel the bass from the bottom of your feet rattle right through to the tips of your fingers. And those heady feelings of love, and loss? Amplify them. Imagine leads impregnate chest, stomach, and the intensity of that feeling is 100 fold, strong enough to knock you off your feet. Add a hammering heart. An involuntary intake of breath. Dilated pupils. Can you squeeze yourself into my size 5s now? I am not broken. I am just temporarily bent. Even as I walk down that psychedelically expanding, stretching and seemingly endless corridor to the court room. Seeing you in court and hearing the vilification of me, I stood firm, tall and widened my stance to keep me upright and root myself firmly to the ground. The only certainty, the ground under my feet. My grandpa used to play a game with us when we were kids to get us to go to bed. ‘At ease soldiers’ before we were ‘about faced’ and marched, giggling off to bed. Wide stance, hands behind my back. Grandpa, I don’t feel at ease. How did I prepare for this? A best friend, with quick fire, dodge ball, defence court questions over a glass of wine, in the midst of a completely unrelated conversation ’I put it to you that you that you were attracted to him and you wanted him alone in your house’. ‘I put it to you that….’ ‘I put it to you that….’ Sharp intake of breathe, hitched, then…Draw of breath. Breathe. Breathe. No, that is not true. No, that is not true. And, repeat. And, repeat. And, repeat. Emphatic. Measured. Court. 25 strangers. The intimate details. An expansion and warping of time. It could have been 5 minutes or 40. I talked. I braced. I breathed. I answered exactly what I was asked. I contained my rage at the accusations of my complicity. I did repeat: No, that is not true. No, that is not true. I tried to look you in the eye, but you sat with your head bowed. You looked guilty. I walked out of the court room knowing that I gave what I alone had to give. The truth. So, where did I find refuge and strength? In the trust of that truth. In the trust of others. In laughter, in love, in deep friendships and care and nurturing and knocking down bricks, one by one, to let the light in. I thank you, friends. You walked alongside. You guided gently from behind. You stood in the shadows to allow me to stand tall. You ran down the street to meet me as I stepped out of court. You danced with me when I needed reprieve. You held me when I told you that I made the choice to trust you, to let you in. More than anything, you were you, the very best of you, and you let me be me. You never left me. Thank you is not enough. And I dare not utter ‘I would do the same for you‘. As you know I would, but those words infer you would some day find yourself in my place, and I wish that for no one. No other women. Not one other woman. And there is this literary journey of recovery. Paroxysm, again. Of laughter, the nervous laughter of relief, of bound energy, of frayed nerves, of pride, of acceptance of strength, of being appreciated and believed and deeply, deeply loved. And what of the synonyms of paroxysm….? Tempest. I have power and will. I will not fall. Rebellion. I will not fall. Insurrection. Not against a government, but against a system that does not favour me, a court system that makes it hard for ‘us victims’ to thrive. But, thrive, with courage and strength, we must. Revolution. Not quite a forcible overthrow, but an attempt at reform of a damaged social order in favour of a new system. Or maybe, it’s just simply to come full circle, back to self. Revolution led me to write a letter to you in prison. I don’t want your forgiveness. I want to hear your story. I want to understand your motivation. I wanted to hold a mirror to you to enable you to investigate your own hypocrisy and your self deluding beliefs. Reflect – for you, your brothers, your nephews, your friends. Here I am. Embracing the power of compassion. You, I can see, are broken. How do you heal? How do we progress in our worlds and become intertwined in repairing the harm and finding a way forward? Why am I here? Hope. 1/4 to a 1/3 of people – you know who you are – still think a woman can be at least partly responsible if she is drunk at the time of a sexual assault; or if she wore revealing clothing; and that there should be some burden of responsibility for rape if the woman is flirting (does touching people count…?). 20% believe that rape can be the woman’s fault if she is known to have had several sexual partners. Is several more than 3, 4, 12, 17, 33 ….? ‘slut’ ?! Are we really still having this debate?! Where do I fit in your perception and these fallacies? What statistic do you align yourself with? What motivated you? Are you regretful? You didn’t expect me to go to the police. For a case 6 years previously to be dredged up to help to convict you. I do not want to be a statistic. The truth is, I don’t want you to be either. I want to be an enabler of a solution. I will attempt to be the co creator of this new order. I opened the crack, just a little wider, and the light came in. I wrote. Twice. I included my address this time (but, of course, you already know where I live). You didn’t have the courage to invite me to meet with you in prison, and I’ve let go of expectation. You’ll be released soon and wonder when I’ll bump into you on the street. Soon, I know. You will see me. I will look at you. And, you will notice. I am no longer temporarily bent.
Laura is a 45 year old adventure at heart, with an accent resting somewhere in the mid Atlantic ocean. She can to share a few irrelevant words from a number of different tongues. Born in Scotland, raised in Canada, and developing a social conscious and a passion for community in Scotland as an adult, and New Zealand as a new mum, she is now writing this while working in East Africa. Happiest digging in dirt, listening to the sea, bubbling laughter with friends, intense conversation, and in the middle of a love sandwich with her partner and 4 year old daughter. Proud to be raising a strong willed, courageous girl who collects adventure marks on her knees.
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