‘When I Tell Them How He Laid Hands On Me’, Friends Say ‘Two Sides To A Story’

By Carmen E. Brady:

Editor’s Note: Cake, in collaboration with The Mira Project, brings to you a series of powerful stories on gender, violence, street harassment and mental health by women, woman-identified and gender non-conforming folks, of various ages and nationalities. Head here to know more about The Mira Project.

(Trigger Warning)

Waking up with a man over you trying to put himself inside you after your first date at 18 and assuming this is what it’s like.

Standing in front of a judge as you file a restraining order at 20, and feeling a new kind of grown up and alone.

Being pushed against a wall by a drunk stranger walking back to your apartment after a police protest, knowing there is no one who will save you if you can’t get away.

That first breath in your apartment when you get home at 2am alone.

Justifying your clothing as you tell your roommate about the man taking pictures up your sundress on a muggy June day.

Keeping quiet or only shouting online—having male family members who love you dress you down when you try to express your frustrations.

Frantically making Planned Parenthood appointments for before the New Year to get the things you might need.

All these moments define me and my body like the dying stars of any galaxy, tiny little points in the maze of my mind, informing my decisions and boiling down to the map that tells me, it is too dangerous to try to express these things to men.

But I stand here in November 2016 with my face of pain but also privilege, with a voice that feels hoarse but teaches children every day, my blood boiling and ready to burst.

And what hurts the deepest is knowing that this pain is felt by so many, such a heavy gravity dragging us down. Some of us can feel buoyant in safe spaces, but what does that mean if not everyone had access to them?

If we need safe spaces because our country, our world is not safe? So we have corners to hide in?

A big fault of mine, I think, is that I’m a better learner and teacher than I am a creator; I feel all this and can see how it unfolds, show you the ways.

I am very effective at language, but not using it to drive anything forward.

That’s not enough anymore.

One thing I know when my body circles back to those safe spaces is I feel loved, but heavy and unproductive. And I think this is the thing—the are so contained. Little loving black holes.

It hurts to try to spread things out. I know. Almost more to be faced with indifference than with vitriol.

Let me list some out for you:

  • Mutual friends telling me there are two sides to every story when I tell them how he laid hands on me
  • Feeling the need to describe exactly what I was wearing to be taken seriously
  • Only being able to squeeze out ‘What if she actually was just upset’ when my old white male professor said that female students use their sexuality to get their way by coming into his office in short skirts and crying
    • How he responded, ‘they probably are,’ and laughing
  • Sitting across you in that courtroom close enough to hear you whisper you like my hair cut and that you thought this was the best date we ever had
  • Men saying they’re indifferent to Trump getting elected, because things are terrible either way
    And I run to my safe places, where I’m swaddled like the breakable thing I am. Where I swaddle back.

Not everyone is so lucky.

Coming from a liberal loving family has helped more than I can say, and the privilege of being a cis, highly educated, and white is enormous.

The day of the election I posted a facebook status that asked anyone who was voting Trump to unfriend me. It saw some vitriol from a few white male relatives, but mostly support.

I felt angry but not in danger.

That night Trump became the president elect and so many of our ornamental bubbles broke.

And it became clearer that saying, don’t talk to me if you think this way, might have felt the easiest and safest for me, but it was not for everyone.

I remember two things clearly: the two of you sitting in that courtroom with me, ready to bear witness and our cigarette after, and how months before a man I wish I could have fallen in love with gently asked me if my abuser had ever laid hands on me, after seeing how very angry he could be.

I’m sorry I was under appreciative.

I’m sorry I lied to you.

Thank you for showing me it can be safe,

Right now I want to make my mouth a megaphone.

I want to broadcast everything someone feels and make the work know it’s valid.

I had 8 year olds crying to me and asking if they and their parents would be sent back to Mexico, terrified that the children who were absent were already gone.

I’m going to fight and figure out how I can.

It’s the last part that’s hard.

But here is what I am going to try:

  • Donate when I can donate
  • Protest when I can protest
  • Share when it is time to share
  • Listen when it is time to listen
  • Teach when it is time to teach
    • Even when it hurts.

That last one is going to be so hard. Show me you can listen. Especially if you are a man. I am going to try to do the same.

If I do not try to come from a place from understanding why should I expect you?

Have the strength to try when it is time to try. And understand when it is not that time, and it is not safe.

Stay receptive when those in pain say, this is how you can help me.

Broadcast when it is time to broadcast for others.

It takes a lot of memories to make a galaxy.

It takes a lot of galaxies to make a universe.

I am still who I am today with all my synapses.

Let’s make tomorrow better.

Explosions are painful but the growth they make is so beautiful.

Carmen E. Brady is a writer, artist, and teacher living is Northern California.