By Shavonne Taisha
Where do I start? That was the first question in my head after deciding whether I was going to be a victim or a survivor. The first question I thought as I typed and erased #MeToo from my Facebook Profile. I settled for a status on past domestic abuse. In light of the continuous abuse of men and women globally and Domestic, Family, Sexual Abuse month #Metoo was only the beginning.
I wasn't stuck, or loss for words. I can still remember listening to my family repeatedly beating my cousin over the phone with my parents, after discovering he had been touching me. I was eleven. We'd play tag, hide and go seek and somehow he'd find his hands on me. Only a few years older than me, but the game continued. I never told my parents, it wasn't a secret, but I couldn't figure it out. Was this natural? When my step-brother noticed he finally mentioned it to my parents. I instantly felt shamed by my family, as if my silence was acceptance. I felt guilty- as if agreeing that I was uncomfortable changed our relationship forever. He was no longer allowed to stay over my grandma's house while I was there. He was no longer allowed in rooms with me. I guess that was the first time I felt guilty for using my voice.
By my sophmore year of college, I had experienced a horrific break up. Unable to find closure, I began bedroom surfing. I found my self falling once more for a man filled with talent, laughter, and extraordinary pain. This being my first emotionally, verbally, physically abuse relationship. He'd often force me out after heated arguments. Yet every night after class, I'd find myself in his arms. After sex he'd grab me by my throat and tell me "You'd better not get pregnant." As if I could control where his sperm landed. Choking me became a very fun game for him, testing my fear then verbally assaulting me for being afraid. I began allowing him to have sex with me as my body lay lifeless and quiet. I was no longer attracted to him, I'd picture other images to ignore the fact that he was in me. Anything else would suggest that I was cheating — I wasn't. Anything less than participation would be some clue that I was the "slut, whore, bitch" that he "knew I was."
A few months later I was back with my ex. A night after drunken partying, we stumbled into the apartment. I asked for a shower and towel he refused. I asked for sleep clothes he told me he'd prefer me naked. I ignored his advances crawled into my old bed, and dosed off. I woke to him on top of me spreading my thighs. My drunken slur had me in and out of consciousness. I kissed him, did I invite him in? Did I say yes? Did I say no? Could I have stopped you? I woke up grabbing my clothes and limped to the bathroom , still sore. Now alert. Did we have sex? Or did he have sex without me? My memory a distant cloud. I scrubbed every inch of my skin, put on my clothes, headed to the train and waited another few months before ever looking back.
My circumstances were unfortunate but I'm not them, the women who've experienced unending cyclces of torment and abuse. How dare I mistake my poor choices for their unforgettable history. My worst fear in the world was playing in my head every night, in every dream, mocking me. I've never been able to say "ME TOO." I've sat on panels with children and their parents; I've told my story as they peered into my eyes. The nerve of me. The nerve is what I felt when my former abuser messaged me threatening to expose me if I ever discussed this again- if I ever discussed him. But was I wrong?
I can't imagine how many women guilt themselves into believing their presence was an invitation. Their voices being silent alarm clocks. I can't imagine how many teenagers lose sight of the definition of consent in heated moments, and how many women walk fearfully through the dark at night. There's no manual to safety, nor to survival. But there is power in numbers, power in belief, and power in your voice. I love you.