My favorite picture of us is the one I keep tucked in my Bible, next to the Proverbs that are as unfamiliar to me as you are now. In the picture you are bathing a small baby in the sink. You’re wearing a robe with your hair everywhere and your eyes tired, but you’re still stunning, still beautiful. You’re looking at that baby, at me, and the sun in hitting the side of your face, surrounding you in the soft glow of morning. It’s truly a perfect picture.
When I was younger, I wanted to hear that I looked like you. I wanted dad to hear you in my voice and I wanted Nana and Papa to see you in my eyes, in the contours of my face, in the length of my fingers. I wanted to be the woman in that picture. I wanted to be you until the day I realized what that meant.
My freshman year of college someone spiked my drink. He marked his black and blue territory on my inner thighs, on my breasts, my arms, the side of my face down my jaw. I pretended nothing happened. I bought two bottles of cover up in the weeks following that night.
I can barely describe to you what it felt like to pee blood, to struggle to keep from screaming out in dorm shower as soap finds its way between your legs, and what washing rape blood from white sheets does to a person. But you know something about this. You know about the days after, about the vile in your throat when you catch a glimpse of a bruise in the mirror. I am nostalgic for the version of myself that knew how to love someone without needing constant space. I slept with my window open after that. I dreamt that I was filled with sand. I am someone’s used tissue.
Now I see rape everywhere. I see it in the men walking on the sidewalk, in the construction workers I pass by on a harmless street in the middle of the day. I see it in the faces of my classmates. One of them did this to me. I slept with a knife under my pillow for a year, if you would even call those nights of staring at the wall sleeping.
There were so many times I almost told dad what happened to me, but instead I swallowed my words over and over again until they stayed tucked inside where they belong. When I finally did tell him, I took the coward’s way out, using someone else’s tragedy to make mine seem small in comparison. I told him that someone spiked my drink. I said that I was fine. That night I sat in the shower, clawing at my skin, banging my head into the back of the tub until I was so exhausted that my eyes shut on their own when my head hit the pillow.
Mother’s Day is fast approaching and I fear that I am all of the parts of you that we pretend never existed. I fear that the day I became a second-generation rape victim was the day that I lost the good parts of you and became the anxiety ridden, emotionally stunted person that I am now. It’s been 18 years and I still look at that picture. In my mind you are still the woman basked in a halo of light, bathing a small child, beautiful and happy and perfect. I miss you.