[…]I hung up the phone feeling like my sternum had cracked open. Before I could even take a breath, in walked the girl whose mother’s boyfriend repeatedly almost drowned her with the garden hose in the back yard. She sat down in the chair near my desk where all the girls sat narrating their horrible stories and she told me another horrible story and I told her something different this time.
I told her it was not okay, that it was unacceptable, that it was illegal and that I would call and report this latest, horrible thing. But I did not tell her it would stop. I did not promise that anyone would intervene. I told her it would likely go on and she’d have to survive it. That she’d have to find a way within herself to not only escape the shit, but to transcend it, and if she wasn’t able to do that, then her whole life would be shit, forever and ever and ever. I told her that escaping the shit would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make her mother’s life her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal. […]
I would have done a lot better had I this article when I was a child, growing up the way I did, isolated yet surrounded by violence, multiply assaulted by people I trusted, a victim marked with “survivor”, a word that sometimes is almost as awful as “deserve”. I hate almost everything about my life, that it’s a string of disasters, tragedies, and death, with very little to show, except that, in the words of one particularly useless ex, it’s amazing I didn’t turn out worse. (Thanks, O. You were awesome, the way I came home to find someone else in our bed the week I was moving in with you, the day I was fired because my boss had a husband that thought I was pretty. Right on. Way to go.) Even as an adult, my friends ditched when Heart of the World imploded, my family swings from religious right-wing alcoholics to unreliable leftists who think folk music will save the world, and 90% of my relationships have ended with being betrayed. My only defense is what good I can find, new art, new experiences, new people, new stories, collecting what I can to bolster my thin belief that there is better out there, that not everyone lives like I’ve lived, and to make sure they don’t, sacrificing my own life when required, because it has to be done, doesn’t it, and you’re not doing it, so I have to. It’s to the point where I’m known for it, (even though I hate that too, to be trusted but with no one to trust), a habit so deeply ingrained in my flesh it’s become my second skin, the thing that keeps the bitterness that flows through my blood from dissolving me completely, the acid in my heart from burning it altogether black. I am glad for this woman, for being able to articulate so clearly what I so desperately needed when I was a girl, what I still have to remind myself weekly is true, not that it will get better, it bloody well hasn’t and it damned well won’t, but that reaching is important, even when you’re alone, especially when you’re alone, even if you perpetually, perpetually fail.