My poem “Damned,” the first publication in The AutoEthnographer’s Bodily Autonomy issue, is a work of autoethnographic poetry because it is the product of my confused reflection and internal conversations with the culture that raised me – a culture that teaches women to simply not expect bodily autonomy – and the culture I now subscribe to – a culture in which all persons regardless of class, color, gender, etc. deserve safety and dignity.
For years, I never labeled this incident as anything. So, in the weeks after I accidentally drunk told the story to my husband, a story I’d never planned to share, I was absolutely baffled by his reaction, and resistant when he and then mental health professionals labeled it as sexual assault. I did not want his consolation. I did not want to be called a victim. It felt absolutely fraudulent to attribute any of my behaviors in the aftermath of this event as PTSD. I must have been the weird one, the couldn’t-hold-her-liquor one, the cried-too-much-one, right? I was embarrassed and wanted to leave that all in the past.
In my absolute confusion and even guilt in the face of these foreign terms people were using, I took to the web – reading blogs, magazine articles, even Reddit threads – and realized that so many other women go through the same experience of normalizing sexual violence for years until something prompts a new definition. Having spent many of my formative years in the church, I know too well how religious texts can be used to prioritize and protect masculine authority (particularly rich white masculine authority) at the cost of others’ voices and validity. What I didn’t know was how deeply those attitudes had impacted me, even years after I’d consciously eschewed them.
“A hundred years ago, no one would have cared!!” I yelled at my husband when he insisted that what happened to me was not normal.
But I am allowed to care what happens to my body. I know that now.
Stop being dramatic – I just became afraid of the sun that summer after so much rain he wouldn’t look at me in daylight anymore. Then every freckle was a threat: melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, a body
not my own. Time-drenched skin, every vein, every rip, burned under fading dogwood blooms, so I went to the river at night.
I think of him and climate change equally, still catch my breath when I see an old Chevy Blazer. Is it fear or…. I recycle and begin walking endlessly, coated in SPF. I walk everywhere and get better at cursing men who stare.
I think of it and climate change equally. It is my fault. I’ve used too many plastic bags, went along with things for too long. I didn’t say no. Eve’s punishment was pain. A man offered me knowledge, and I nodded – I wanted to know.
Light streamed through a dirty window and then – The garden is burning.
There was so much blood on his sheets his towel
my hands tugging my own silken ribbons of flesh out alone in a mildewed shower.
The Amazon is burning. California is burning. The garden is burning.
Sin would make me a crumpled flower, so I didn’t scream