I watched as black goo dripped from my shaking hand. I felt so far removed it might as well have belonged to someone else. Maybe it did before, but this was how I reclaimed my body. This wasn’t where the story starts, but this is where I would stop carrying the weight of it. I may have physically been at a tabling event outside the dining hall talking with students about information, resources and how to be an advocate during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but my mind was somewhere lost to memory. It began when “No” was taken to mean “who cares” and when a girl screams but no one is around to hear it then she didn’t really scream. But here I am five years later, staring at slimy black paint smeared across the palm of my hand and a small pink shirt in front of me.
When I left for college, I thought I could pack up my life but leave the memories behind. I didn’t take every shirt I owned so why I would I take every memory with me? But unlike an old shirt, the memories weren’t something I could leave behind and forget. Yet thoughts, feelings and fear packed their own bags and followed me to Canisius. They unpacked and forced a space for themselves in my already cramped room on the sixth floor of my dorm. But after years of practice I knew well enough how to tune out their presence.
Our Peer Educator Program wanted to put on a project for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It needed to be something impactful and meaningful. They chose the Clothesline Project. It was a project centered around raising awareness for various issues addressed throughout Domestic Violence Month. This was more than the purple ribbons worn to show support, this was a way for people to decorate shirts and share their experiences anonymously. It helped to give someone the power back in their life because they were more than an experience.
I had been so afraid to share my story, but when this project came, I realized I needed to tell my story. There was a pile of shirts in pink, black, blue, white and yellow. Each color shirt stood for something different: yellow was for battered women, blue was incest, white was those who died from domestic violence. I pulled a pink t-shirt out the pile. Pink stood for rape. But I got to decorate it for my unique experience. I looked at the size out of habit. A bitter sense of irony arose when I realized it was about the size I was five years ago.
I took out black, purple, orange and blue paint. I stuck my left hand into the black paint first, pulled my hand out and stared at the paint all across my palm for a moment. I hesitated before planting my hand onto the shirt—this was something I needed to do. I pulled my shaking hand back, a flood of emotions came back—fear, panic, guilt, and isolation. But at the same time I knew this experience was worthwhile, it would make me feel in control of my life again. This body wasn’t mine, not anymore, but I would make it mine once more. I walked over to the bathroom to wash the black paint off my hand. I watched as remnants circled the drain, pretending I was watching my fears leave me. I did the same for the purple, blue and orange paint. Now to get to writing my story. Thats when I realized writing with fabric markers on a shirt with wet paint was pretty much an art form.
He took without asking
It RIPPED me APART
I woke up screaming from nightmares
I saw HIM at school
It destroyed who I was
Flip the shirt over—time to finish the back. Pick up the the black marker. Slowly write out “I was…” breathe. This is your story to tell.
I was RAPED
When I was
AND I’M STRONGER NOW
For once I didn’t care if anyone said “I believe you” it only matter that I could say “I’m not ashamed and you can’t hurt me anymore”. This was what people meant when they said victims become survivors. It’s about more than just living through something, it’s about identifying strength over trauma but recognizing that this trauma is why you have strength.