aftermath: the intersection of PTSD and gendered violence

BY EVA JOHNSON

After my assault, I lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks. I dye my hair shoe polish black. My hair falls out, leaves bird’s nests on my pillow. My dumb heart can’t sustain itself. It ebbs and rattles, like a hornet throwing itself against a windowpane. I can’t walk around alone in daylight without shaking. I walk at night, however. Catcallers don’t bother me. I’m made of grease. I’m indestructible. I’m thinking maybe I can be a killer after all.

***

[She] had crossed to the other side. She was part of the land. She was wearing her culottes, her pink sweater, and a necklace of human tongues. She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill.

***

I dream of knives. I want to be Angelina Jolie, on the talk show, the one from the ’90s, where the host, a grown man, calls her pretty, I think she was 14, & she pulls out her butterfly knife & flings it around & wrestles the air with it.

***

In my closet, there’s a garbage bag full of shirts I used to wear. They’re white shirts in light fabrics. They are from a time in which I dressed for the fetish of a monster. They’re my virgin shirts.

***

“LOOK AT MY FISTS,” SHE SCREAMED. “I CAN’T UN-CLENCH MY FUCKING FISTS”

***

The politics of trauma are gendered. According to mainstream media, the main victims of PTSD are war veterans. In actuality, the majority of PTSD sufferers are abused women and children. Likewise, the vocabulary of triggers & trauma is skewed to favor a male perspective.

***

The smell of rotting flesh, children with gunpowder fingers, the shot that killed the boy.

I try and relate to it, to their bullets & bombs. By this I mean I take the violence out on myself. I’m too much of a girl for guns, you know. I’m passive in my tactics of self-destruction. I don’t go to sleep when I should. I drift around on the Internet, then pass out. I pinch oilfield thighs until they blister. My mouth closes like a steel trap. I haven’t spoken in weeks but I laugh too loudly. My presence makes everyone uncomfortable.

***

On the Lifetime movie channel: He Feels Bad. He Drinks Too Much. He Beats His Wife But Only Because He Feels Bad.

***

Baby in a basket sent downstream, ends up in a chat room filled with men with beer bellies & fat checkbooks. Some man offers to crush her a little smaller & she says Yes or maybe says nothing at all, but in a courtroom, yes and silence are the same thing. She has learned this and so much more. She’s Smart. She’s Playing the Game. Her eyelashes are crusted in old mascara. She’s a Petri dish & they say she’s gross but they touch her anyway.

***

They muzzle me. When I ask why, they say it’s cause I’m insane.

They ask me questions:

“Did he get you pregnant?” “Did he stick it in?” “Were you a virgin?” “Were you teasing him?” “What did you say to make him upset?”  “Did you ever say ‘I love you’ back?”

“How often do you go out?” “Were you drunk?” “Have you kissed a girl?”

“How many boys have you kissed?” “Were you abused when you were little?”

“Are you on meds?” “Have you considered a therapist?”

“Have you considered carrying a shotgun?” “Have you considered suicide?”

“Have you considered electroshock therapy?” “Do your parents know?” “Are you a liar?”

“Did he threaten you?” “Do you swear to God?” “Did you report it to the police?”

“Are you sure?” “Did you go to his house willingly?” “Was it consensual?” “Did he hit you?” “Did you want it?” “Did you like it when he touched you like that?”

***

He said she said he said she said he said she said he said she said she said is a good tongue-twister.

***

My shoulders are always tense and raised, like a junkyard dog’s.

I want bones that cut. I want the harshness of boy-hips and geometry. I skip dinner.

***

When I was anorexic no one whistled at me.

This led me to believe that self destruction = safety.

***

Sugar mammal, slit throat

is my new name.

***

I haven’t contacted my abuser in six months. I delete his number from my phone because I’m Moving On. The flashbacks are less frequent, but when they come, they hit me hard.

*

In an episode of Law & Order: SVU, a guy hit his girlfriend with sacks of oranges because they didn’t leave bruises.

***

This boy tries to get me to Calm Down. He wants me to be happy because he wants everyone to be happy because he is so sweet. Truly. He holds my wrists, just to get me to stop walking away, just so I don’t die or end up hacked to pieces in some guy’s car. But he holds my wrists just the same as they’ve been held before. I tell him I’ll kill him if he touches me. He doesn’t even hold it against me or anything.

***

I wish I was the melt-in-your-mouth type. I am the bad guy. Or maybe I’m just weak. The apple in the pig’s mouth.

***

I want to be soft but I’m afraid that they’ll use it against me; that it will make me weaker.

***

I remember his room most. I remember the walls were made of fists & I was always saying “sorry.” I remember he pushed me away from the door so my body spilled across the floorboards and in that instant I realized that I can’t defend myself against a boy if he is determined to hurt me.

***

“It’s August but my body hasn’t left December” is not the beginning to an essay about trauma. It’s the beginning of some sappy YA romantic novel. It’s sickening. It’s true.

***

My body has not left. I am still here. LOOK AT ME.

Eva Johnson is a student from New York.

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