I was one of those children...


Today I write this important letter as a step in the healing process that I started when I joined forces to help other people who went through, and still go through, similar situations as I did.

As you know, I was sexually abused by an uncle, my father's brother. The first time he raped me, I was only four years old. He went on to abuse me so many times that I lost count. He also made me a victim of child pornography. He rented me out to his friends in hotel rooms. The years of terror lasted until I was 13. Finally, somehow, I was able to say "NO MORE!"  – before he got me drunk and strangled and raped me for the last time.

I was a child with a broken soul. But over time, with therapy and the abiding love of my friends -  my chosen family - I have been able to re-build the life that was snatched from me at age four. I have turned my horror into strength. As Miguel Cane wrote in his wonderful article, “Escucho" (“Listen”), "That darkness is part of you, just like your luminous side.” Some things are so hideous  that we instinctively avert our gaze. But NOW is the time to stop looking away. If we act together, then my story does not have to repeat itself in the lives of other children.














“It was the beginning of the end of a long winter,            time to renewal, time for hope”

Secret Survivors NYC, Ping Chong + Company, 2011



In 2000, after years of healing and searching for ways to help, I founded La Casa Mandarina  It is devoted to ending gender violence by using the arts for social transformation. My role there is to head projects that focus on ending child sexual abuse.


Mexico ranks first in the world in sexual abuse and child pornography, and yet it budgets the least to fighting them (only 1% of national budget dedicated to children). Statistically, one in three persons you know was sexually abused as a child.

I was one of those children.

And I am one of those survivors.

I am not ashamed. And I no longer feel guilt.


Don’t get me wrong. This letter is not a plea for pity. On the contrary, I write it to bring hope. With this letter, I announce a campaign that will end with a performance of “Secret Survivors Mexico” in November of this year. Our vision is to create awareness about child sexual abuse through stories told by the survivors themselves. We will also address the roots of gender violence. Our production will travel to various cities around Mexico to give voice to survivors that are still hiding between memories and fears. The first step to prevent this crime is putting it out. Did you know  that 90% of abusers are family members or people the child trusts?


We can do something to change this terrifying number. We do not have to have other children with my story.

Today I ask for your support in funding the campaign of Secret Survivors Mexico and together do battle against this crime that destroys both infancy and souls.


Here is the link for donations and also you can find more information about the project: 



Today I ask you to join me - and so many other voices that are already part of this project - to change this reality.


Indignation is not enough; ACT now with me to end this silent epidemic.

And to you, who survived: I believe you, it is not your fault and you are not alone.


With gratitude, 


SSMX coordinator and cast member. 

On Forgiveness and Gratitude

I used to believe that people who preached forgiveness were full of shit. There is no way anyone could be that gracious, I thought. I would listen to Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” and feel sorry for her. Poor thing. She has to pretend to be grateful to her former abuser in order to sell records.

But a funny thing happened to me in the last five or so years. Well, actually, a lot of things happened to me. Yo, some crazy shit happened to me! At 27, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At 29, I experienced sexual and emotional violence and criminal stalking that forced me to flee my hometown. And at 31, I lost my sister to suicide. At the time I was working for a psychologically abusive boss who docked my pay for the time I took off for the burial.

It’s been some bullshit. But I can honestly say now that I forgive it all.




Cancer was terrifying and very sad. I felt dehumanized during that time as my body was constantly poked, prodded, needled, sliced, irradiated, medicated, and photographed on repeat. I felt de-feminized as the shape of my breast changed;  as the very meaning and purpose of my breasts changed — temporarily. I felt scared about my future, about my risk of dying or of experiencing a recurrence later in life. I cried many tears and felt that life was unfair. But eventually I got better. The scars healed. The radiation treatment ended. I recently finished my five-year sentence of medication. My diagnosis is five years behind me. I’m more or less considered out of the clear now.

Losing my sister was deeply painful. What can be said? I felt and still feel the burden of her sadness that led her to take her own life. I wonder if I could have or should have done something differently, and if it would have mattered. I feel the loss of her presence in my life. I know I’ll never hear her laugh again, and she’ll never celebrate any more of my life milestones with me. It just feels wrong that she’s gone. She was too young to have died. But, she did. And it was her choice and her right to make it, just as it’s my right to feel sad about it.

And then there was the rapist-abuser-stalker. It’s still crazy to me that all these labels can describe one person. This was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever dealt with. And it’s been the most difficult to forgive.

Until that point in my life, I was fairly naïve. I had compartmentalized in my mind “good people”, who existed in real life, from “bad people”, who existed only in fiction. Cerebrally I knew that there were real people who did terrible things, because I’d read about them in the news. But somehow I maintained a blind faith in all of humanity not to be jerks.

Which is why, when the abuse started, I didn’t recognize it. I assumed it was me. I blamed myself, at first for the small things, and later for the bigger things, until finally I found myself blaming myself for my own rape.

In the aftermath, I was disoriented and paranoid. I went from a confident, self-assured woman to a shattered ball of insecure and jumpy sadness. I remember going out for pizza with my niece one night. We were seated at a communal table and there was a guy to our left reading a newspaper. Rationally, I knew he was a complete stranger who had no interest in our conversation. But I also felt at least 50 percent positive he was there to spy on me and report back to my abuser, who lived several large towns away. At one point, I also believed my abuser might be hiding in my attic. In my mind, he was everywhere.

I think that’s the part that drove me the craziest and stuck with me the longest. With cancer, my body turned against me. Now my mind was now doing the same thing. It tortured me constantly, especially after it was all over: after the restraining orders that he violated; after the court dates that made my body twitch and my voice waver; after the out-of-state move to escape him. It was after all had quieted down on the outside, that I fell into the deepest, darkest place on the inside. I began spending more and more time on the fire escape at my new job on the 22nd floor. I visualized violent scenes with every bit of free time I had. I suffered nightmares nightly, and even experienced sleep paralysis for the first time. This is what happens when your mind wakes up but your body stays asleep. You can’t move, and to make sense of that impossible situation, your mind starts conjuring up images within the physical space, usually an intruder of some sort. It was absolutely terrifying.

As friends grew tired of listening to me, and I grew tired of trying to make them to care as deeply as I needed them to, I turned more and more inward. I sought counseling a number of times but quit each time after a maximum of three conversations. It was in the middle of all this that my sister died. So I began drinking wine – two or three glasses – or a shot or two of bourbon every time I hurt, which was every freaking day.

But slowly and surely, I got better. My life got better. Two years ago, I moved and now finally feel more or less past it all.

I don’t have a prescription for overcoming such pain and trauma. I can’t tell you the steps I took. But I can tell you a few things that helped me through it all: I have always had had an optimistic attitude, a belief that things will get better. And I have always been ferociously stubborn, which has served me well. My doctrine is: You will not stand in my way. I need to get things done for myself and for others, and I don’t have the time or energy to stay stuck in one place.

Right now, I find myself in a really good place. I keep a gratitude journal, and, this week,  was finally able to acknowledge my abuser:


Dear _____,

 Look at this calendar full of gratitude. Look at all of these joyful moments, relationships, places, vistas, morsels, events... that I get to have in my life because of you.

 I have always loved this city dearly. And I have always wanted to live here. Finally, you gave me this opportunity.

 If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have this job where I'm earning more than I ever have before. I wouldn't have this relationship that is the healthiest, happiest, and sexiest I've ever had. I wouldn't live in this fabulous apartment with a doorman, an elevator, laundry, a swap shelf, a gym, and a freaking rooftop deck, if it weren't for you.

 I'm in a really good place, you know? I know myself. I love myself. People love me. They think I'm exemplary now. Can you imagine how they'd feel if they only knew half of what has transpired? That's right. Most people in my life now don't know my past. It doesn’t define me, although you tried to make it so. They know me now. They see the strong, smart, kind, friendly woman I am, and they gravitate towards me because of who I am. Who I am is partly thanks to you.

 You have always known me to be into volunteering. My life here is no different. In fact, do you know what I do now, inspired by our time together? I volunteer as an emergency room advocate for survivors of rape and domestic violence who are at a point of crisis in their lives. I am fortunate enough to have a role in their lives for a short time. To be there for them. My time with them feels especially deepened by my experiences with you. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have the same perfect understanding of what that feels like. I am able to truly hear them and advocate for them and comfort them and help them start down their paths to recovery and healing. I am able to do this well because I was able to do the same for myself.

Most of the anger and pain has gone from my heart and soul. It's been replaced by love. I'm not saintly enough to be able to say I have love for you now, and I'm not sure I even have compassion just yet. But what I do have is gratitude.

 Thank you for this beautiful new life.



Two closing thoughts. One — now the only time I spend up high is on the rooftop deck of my apartment, from which I take in the sights of the city and feel deeply moved and grateful for its beauty and that I’m alive to enjoy it. Two — right now I’m listening to “Unstoppable” by Sia. Yes, I am.



Sexual Violence: A Reckoning of the Both/And

ENVISION VOICES is a blog written by Project Envision NYC members to start healthy dialogues around the root causes of sexual violence.




“The ability to claim abuse is intricately related to possessing the symbolic

and material capital that allows the claim to be heard, and thus does not

reflect the proper power of balance that the claim is supposed to unveil.”

-Ilana Eloit, London School of Economics blog, Engenderings, July 2015. Site: Sarah Schulman



I want to write about a personal experience of trauma – an act of sexual violence that brings out

the vigilance and fear too familiar for women living under patriarchy. It was scary. It was wrong.

It was surreal. And yet… I need to do some unpacking.

 Me and my roommate near where we lived on Medill in Humboldt Park, Chicago, years later, 2012

Me and my roommate near where we lived on Medill in Humboldt Park, Chicago, years later, 2012


I think it was the winter of 2006. Chicago.

I was walking home down a quiet street from the California Blue Line train stop – maybe from

work, or maybe from a bar – talking shit on the phone with a friend. I passed Logan Square’s

Darwin Elementary School (where at some point, “Fuck Darwin” had been sprayed across the

playground slide). I swung right down the familiar alley that bordered the East side of my

apartment building. As I turned left onto the quiet half-block long side street, I had my phone to

my ear and put the key in the lock of 2147 West Medill Avenue.

At that moment, I felt a sudden jolt between my legs, as a hand jerked up from behind me and

firmly grabbed my vagina over my pants. It all happened so fast. I blood-curdle screamed. My

friend on the phone panicked, “What the hell? What happened? Are you ok?” I immediately

started laughing. This happens sometimes when something hard happens; I have an

uncontrollable laugh response. In that split second I turned around, now assuming it was a friend

who often threw rocks at my window late at night, still laughing, to see an unfamiliar man dart

away, sprinting down the alley.


So that violent crotch-grab just happened.


Shaken and blurry, I assured my friend I was ok, quickly turned the lock to get inside the

building, climbed the stairs to my apartment, got off the phone, and thought about what to do. I

deliberated a bit. Would he do this to someone else? Was this trending in the neighborhood?

What if it escalated next time? How could I protect other vulnerable women?

I decided to call the police – a decision that might surprise my friends today.

“A man just grabbed me on my street. He grabbed my crotch, then ran away. I don’t know how

to report this, but is this happening in the neighborhood?”

“Can you tell me what the man looked like?”

(Well….Medium build. Medium height. Latino...)

“Um…. Do I have to give a description?”


“Huh. Alright, that’s ok. I don’t want to make a report. Thanks.”

While some feminists might have told me to curb my white guilt and actively intervene to

prevent reoccurrence, I’m glad I didn’t report the incident. Who was The Community? Who

would feel safer? Who would be heard? Who would be identified as a threat?

Statistically, the people who hurt us are usually people we know, people we know intimately. I

can personally attest to this emphatically. But this was actually that whole stranger-in-a-darkalley

trope – it fit the narrative we like to tell about sexual violence. It felt odd to me. Was I the

innocent white female attacked by the scary man in the alley?

No. There was more to this story than that.

I mention Medill Avenue because in 2006 I was at the forefront of gentrifying Logan Square, a

neighborhood I would be priced out of today. It was a predominantly working class Mexican and

Polish neighborhood with an ongoing history of community-based organizing to protect

affordable housing. People talked about the gangs and rampant gun violence – measures of street

cred for young white arrivals. I think I paid $250 for my first apartment there.

Today, Logan Square hosts farm-to-table food and has recently revamped the local $1 OldStyle

pitchers-plus-crack, plus bar fights, plus smoke-inside dive bar, into a high-end cocktail joint. As

beloved as Helen’s Two-Way Lounge is (was) to me, I guess my friends and I kind of took over

that neighborhood institution too.

In 2006 Logan Square, I felt brazen enough to walk home drunk and alone at night – maybe

partially as a defiant testament to my toughness, but also due to my privilege. Yet I would still

feel fear when johns pulled in the early pre-dawn mornings along Fullerton Avenue for a hook. I

hated men. Stay away. You’re disgusting. But why would I feel insulted? How could I not

imagine they might perceive me to be working the well-known strip? What shame and

judgement was I casting on street-based sex work, particularly in a poor and working class


Something we don’t delve into around street harassment is the underlying issues of gentrification

and power. In Logan Square, I was participating in the displacement of poor people and people

of color. Albeit unintentional, this was an act of “Power Over”. Gentrification is an act of Power

Over. And isn’t street harassment as well? But how does power play out when a white woman

accuses a man of color? Where is the power play there? We have the historical and ongoing

murder and policing of men of color to tell that story.

I am not justifying this man’s act of violence. I am complicating the intersections of white

supremacy and the punitive systems we have in place to address or not address both

interpersonal and systemic violence. I survived an act of violence. And I was also participating in

violence against communities by my existence within them.

In her controversial new book, Sarah Schulman asks us to think about the impact of putting the

efforts to end interpersonal incidents of violence into the hands of the state. Moving away from

the grassroots foundations of the anti-violence movement, we see that an increased reliance on

police means “the antidote to violence at home [is] now officially violence of the state” (96).

That night, I could have easily accessed state violence to punish the Latino men in the

neighborhood whom the police were set to incriminate.

This is not to negate the vigilance and, sometimes, fear I feel walking down the street as a

woman. But this fear of violence is all too familiar for many black and brown folks relentlessly

policed and imprisoned, for undocumented people and their families, for people perceived to be

Muslim (during Trump and before Trump), for folks working in the sex trade, for day laborers

waiting on corners for work, for migrant workers picking the food we eat, for trans and gender

non-conforming people carefully navigating restroom use, or for other people living with layers

of heightened, and often visible, vulnerability. It could be a guttural fear of street violence. It

could be anxiety about making it to the subway safely every day. Or it could be the ever present

fear of state violence that pervades every aspect of your life.

Shulman states, “People from privileged groups, or who overlap with the groups society is

designed to serve, have expectations that their complaints will be heard. Obviously white and

bourgeois people are more likely to have their accusations take seriously than the undocumented,

poor, trans, and people of color…” (90).

I was and remain in a place where I can access state violence to protect my cisgender, white

femininity – the same state violence that continues to incarcerate and murder entire communities

who, in our racist society, have come to symbolize a threat to my white femininity. What about

Black femininity? Or Indigenous Sovereignty? Does the state serve to protect or to eradicate

these individuals and entire communities of survivors?

I want to honor my trauma and my survivorship. I want to name the sexual and physical violence

I have endured throughout my life in a world bent on keeping women and queer people down. I

do believe that we need to make room to honor the violence we all experience and not move only

from a place of scarcity. As I have seen in my personal relationships and my communities, a

measured hierarchy of pain is sure to tear us all apart.

But in a world based on scarcity, I must recognize my participation in violent systems, in

displacement and racist profiling. I must name the limited access to safety available to some and

not others. Only by doing these things can we be truly accountable in the movement to end

sexual violence and other forms of violence and oppression.

We can be survivors and we can commit harm. Naming this is not a solution. But it is a step

towards accountability.

— Sydney Kopp-Richardson




 Prairie burn outside the town where I grew up, 2015

Prairie burn outside the town where I grew up, 2015


Of the myriad things I find absurd about myself, perhaps the most striking is the extreme emotional reaction I have to certain words. Some make me feel infinite tenderness; others make me cry; and a few awake in me a visceral repudiation.

I was about 14 or 15 when, after surviving a physics class, I decided the word “resistance” had to be eliminated from the Hispanic vocabulary. “It’s a matter of humanity,” I argued, outraged that there was a specific term for the breaking point of a structure. I found a certain cruelty – disguised as scientific curiosity – in taking an object to its limit simply to learn just what it takes to make it collapse.

 By  lina_ced  Barcelona, 2017

By lina_ced Barcelona, 2017

Life went on, and so did my mania for collecting words and ideas that I hated or loved. I don’t remember the first time I felt my entrails burn in the face of injustice, but I do remember with absolute clarity the day in which, with a great deal of conviction, I embraced the commitment to screaming at the world for its injustice to women.

The word “resistance” has a strong presence in feminist spaces. For some reason, when I was called upon to resist, I inevitably drew on the stoic imperative to stand up and appear normal when, in fact, internally everything has collapsed. I felt that resisting meant denying the pain of encountering misogyny and pretending that nothing has happened. I felt it was bringing me to the point of breakdown and asking me not to break.

Originally from Mexico, I attended the January 21st Women’s March in Barcelona where I have been living for some time. It and the women’s marches around the world gave me a new way of thinking about the word “resistance.” For those who don’t know, the Women’s March was an initiative that originated on Facebook urging women to take to the streets the day after the U.S. presidential inauguration. The original goal was to protest the (blatant and very regrettable) misogyny of the now President of the United States of America, Donald Trump. The response was overwhelming, and powerful enough to restore faith even to the hopeless.

Millions of women marched in the United States and around the world with the message: “We are more”: More of us (than voted for you, Donald Trump!) are outraged that the office of President of the United States is occupied by a man accused of numerous sexual assaults.  More of us find it unacceptable that you were able to win the election in spite of frequently making statements and telling “jokes" loaded with misogyny. More of us defend the idea (for some, a crazy one) that women deserve the same rights as men, not for being “ladies” and damsels in distress, but simply because we are human. More of us think the color of the skin is just a matter of melanin and not a determining factor in the value of a person. More of us dream about building a just and harmonious world.

We are more and we are here to stay.

I have marched many times before but the 2017 Women’s March left an indelible mark on me. For the first time (and I’m convinced it won’t be the last) I took part in a political movement in a city that, even as it takes my breath away, I find foreign. During the march we heard slogans in many languages, but mainly Spanish, Catalan, and English. Signs in French, German, and even Arabic dotted the landscape. I witnessed the strength with which women of all ages voiced their indignation and the courage of women whose Islamic veils accentuated the hope in their eyes. I witnessed how families composed of different races walked holding hands. The cold wind that afternoon was easier to bear in the contagious atmosphere of warmth and love shown publicly by same sex couples… and heterosexual ones, too.

We marched with the intention of delivering a message to everyone who has felt invisible or vulnerable for being part of a minority: We are here and we won’t let injustice reach you.

That day I understood that I had been wrong for years. In the past, when feminists asked me to “resist”, they weren’t trying to find out what it would take to make me collapse – they were seeking strength in union. I finally learned that resistance is a collective act of power, not a vulnerable individual’s stoic façade.

Resistance is jointly facing injustice with courage and conviction.

Resistance is a common stance against tyranny.

Resistance is the strength in gathering together to fight for equality and freedom.

Resistance is the only way not to collapse.

Paulina Cedillo



De entre el centenar de cosas que me parecen absurdas sobre mi misma quizá, una de las más importantes es la carga afectiva que tengo ante algunas palabras. Hay palabras que me despiertan una infinita ternura, otras que con sólo pronunciarlas son tan poderosas como para hacerme llorar,  y existen palabras que me despiertan un absoluto repudio. Tenía quizá unos 14 o 15 años cuando después de sobrevivir a una clase de física, decidí que la palabra “resistencia” tendría que ser eliminada del vocabulario hispano. “Es un asunto de humanidad” argumentaba indignada ante la idea de que existiera un término específico para nombrar el punto de quiebre de una estructura, o siendo más específica, encontraba cierta crueldad disfrazada de curiosidad científica en el acto de llevar a un objeto al límite para averiguar el tiempo exacto en que tarda en colapsar.

La vida continuó, y mi manía de recolectar palabras amadas y odiadas también. No recuerdo exactamente la primera vez que sentí arder las entrañas ante la injusticia, pero recuerdo con absoluta claridad el día en el que con muchísima convicción abracé con ilusión el compromiso de gritarle al mundo lo injusto que ha sido con las mujeres.

La palabra resistencia está muy presente en espacios feministas y, por alguna razón que nunca entendí, cuando me convocaban a resistir me era inevitable pensar en el imperativo estoico de mantenerte de pie, aunque internamente todo este derrumbado. Sentía que en el acto de resistir estaba implícito el negar la tiranía con la que el dolor nos atraviesa, para después concentrarse en improvisar habilidades histriónicas que nos permitan actuar como si nada estuviera pasando.

El 21 de enero pasado acudí a la Women´s March en la ciudad de Barcelona. Para aquellos despistados y despistadas que no sepan de lo que estoy hablando: la Marcha de las Mujeres es una iniciativa que surgió en Washington con la intención de convocar a las mujeres a que salgan a las calles para protestar en contra de la (evidente y muy lamentable) misoginia del ahora Presidente de los Estados Unidos de América, Donald Trump. El resultado fue lo suficientemente poderoso como para regresarle la fe a los más desesperanzados, millones de mujeres tomaron las calles en diversas ciudades de Estados Unidos y el mundo con la intención de dejar muy claro un mensaje: Nosotros somos más. Somos más las personas que nos indigna que la oficina presidencial de los Estados Unidos de América este ocupada por un individuo que ha sido acusado de diversas agresiones sexuales. Somos más las personas que encontramos inaceptable que ese mismo individuo haya sido capaz de llegar tan lejos a pesar de haber enunciado en incontables ocasiones, frases y “chistes” cargados de misoginia. Somos más las personas que defendemos la idea (para algunos disparatada) de que las mujeres merecemos los mismos derechos que los hombres, no por ser “damitas” ni doncellas en apuros, simplemente por ser humanas. Somos más las personas que pensamos que el color en la piel es sólo un asunto de melanina y esto no determina en absoluto el valor de una persona. Somos más las personas que encontramos en la diversidad cultural, religiosa e ideológica, valiosos elementos que nos permiten enriquecer nuestra visión del mundo. Somos más las personas que soñamos en construir un mundo más justo y armonioso. Somos más y hemos llegado para quedarnos.

Son muchas veces las que he salido a la calle a marchar, pero definitivamente el rastro que en mí dejó la Women´s March difícilmente se podrá borrar. Fue la primera vez (y estoy convencida de que no será la última) que participé en una movilización política en una ciudad que, por muchos suspiros que me robe, me sigue resultando ajena.

Durante la marcha era posible escuchar consignas en diversos idiomas, principalmente español, catalán e inglés. De la misma manera, había un sinfín de carteles escritos en francés, alemán e incluso árabe. Pude presenciar la fuerza con la mujeres de diversas edades le daban voz a su indignación mientras que sus velos islámicos acentuaban la esperanza en su mirada. Fui testigo de la manera en que familias conformadas por varias razas, caminaban tomados de las manos mientras coreaban las consignas y aplaudían efusivamente. El frío de aquella tarde fue más llevadero en cuanto el ambiente se contagió por la calidez del amor que se demostraban públicamente las parejas del mismo sexo… y las del opuesto también.

Mujeres y hombres de diversas edades, razas, clases sociales, religiones y estoy segura que de haber tenido la oportunidad de conocer la historia detrás de cada una de las personas ahí presentes, la lista de diferencias entre los que marchamos aquella tarde por las calles de Barcelona, podría haber continuado de manera infinita, estábamos ahí con la intención de hacerle llegar a un mensaje a todo aquel que en algún momento se ha sentido invisibilizado o vulnerable por pertenecer a una minoría: Aquí estamos y no permitiremos que la injusticia te alcance.

Ese día entendí que por años estuve equivocada. Cuando me invitaban a resistir en espacios feministas, no estaban incitando mi curiosidad por averiguar las condiciones y el tiempo exacto que tardaría en colapsar. La resistencia se trata de encontrar la fuerza en la unión. La resistencia es un acto de rebelión en donde no hay lugar para la individualidad. Resistencia es encarar la injusticia con valentía y convicción. Resistirse es un acto de oposición a la tiranía. Y lo más importante: la resistencia es la única vía para no colapsar.

Paulina Cedillo

From the Inner Child

I think I may have drifted off for a moment when I was suddenly awakened from the pounding above me. It felt safe and warm at first, but now days the rocking back and forth was seemingly relentless. It was as if the little bubble around me could burst at any given time and all hell would break loose. The swishing around me made my heart beat faster—faster and faster each day. I don’t know what falling felt like, but maybe this was it—maybe this was what people felt in that last millisecond before plummeting from a building 1000 feet above ground level. 

 I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew we were in trouble. 

 I had a choice to make. What would buy me the most time, I wondered? Different day, same question—how much more can I take? Less than one month had passed since I left the emergency room from the last time. What would I tell my co-workers? My niece’s birthday party was coming up soon, it’s 90 degrees outside, I can’t wear a turtleneck again. Had my bruises from the last time healed? Even if not all the way, were they soft enough to be covered by make-up?

I was numb to your touch. Your hands around my throat meant nothing to me now; nothing more than some minutes of having to fight for air. Your fingers inside me were purely for your pleasure. Even then, I chose the latter. I chose to embrace you in my arms and entertain your ideas about our future together so that I could have a peaceful night’s sleep. Your lips softly kissed the base of my navel and travelled upwards. Your body lying heavily on top of mine only meant that I could breathe normally for a brief moment in time, not having to worry what would happen next. Your lips made it upwards all the way to the side of my neck, and as you entered inside a place that no longer brought me any pleasure, I heard you whisper, “I’m sorry, I love you.”

After all of the muffled roaring, it was quiet for a while. If I could tell time I would have counted the minutes it felt peaceful in my bubble. Why couldn’t it always feel like this? It didn’t make everything okay, but I’ll take it. I’ll take that tiny slice of time when things felt not great, but okay. 

 Some hours must have passed, or maybe it was days, or even weeks. My eyes were able to open up more, and the sounds outside were getting louder. And then it happened, one big thud that sent me flying forward. The sounds of you screaming, the screeches of your tears—it was in those moments when I felt your pain the most. And then there was another big thud, and another, and then another; the pushing and the slamming went on and on until I was tumbling uncontrollably, and all sense of feeling was utterly lost. 

Almost five years after I first felt your grip around my wrists, almost five years after you arrested my innocence, I thought that I had mastered all that I had to master in this lifetime. I learned how to cover up the shades of blue and purple that colored my body, I learned how to mask my feelings in order to tip-toe around yours, I learned how to pretend—and most importantly, I learned what it meant to keep pushing forward.

 Something touched me. Something grabbed at me. Whatever it was, it was ice cold. The all too familiar feeling of the thumping above me preceded this moment for what seemed like an eternity. I was scared. We were both scared. And then I heard what must have been the loudest sound I had ever heard. It wasn’t human, and it was really, really powerful. And just like that, it was all over. I was no longer a part of you. 

 I was wrong. All this time I thought I had learned what to keep hidden away in order to keep moving forward, while in reality I actually hadn’t mastered anything at all. And now, almost ten years later, I’m still haunted by the piece of me that I had to let go.

It’s okay mom, I understand. I understand why you couldn’t bring me into this world. I know it was hard, but you made the right choice—for you, and for me. I hope you now only feel the thumping of your heart in excitement and happiness. 

 Today, I wake up and open my eyes a bit wider than yesterday—I give myself the freedom to recall each memory as it appears, I allow myself to feel vulnerable when I need to, and feel strong when I realize the torment that I was somehow able to make it out of. I’m giving a voice to what it was like to be under the control of another human being for six long years; what it was like to never know when I may not have been able to fight enough for air; and what it really took for me to make the choices I made. Now, in my thirties, I’m slowly learning that this, the process of awareness and acknowledgement, is what it really means to keep pushing forward. And that it’s okay to trust again, and it’s more than okay to allow myself to feel happiness again.

~ Jai