The first time I was conscious of it happening, I was standing in line in a grocery store with my gay friend with lousy benefits. Let's call him M. I had just been chased by a bunch of frat boys on campus who wanted to rape me (another story for another time), and leaving the house still felt like walking willingly into brambles. M had agreed to accompany me because he wanted to score some cough syrup, and this particular grocery store was easy to steal from. So there we were, the two of us, feeling like glass repaired badly, standing in a line that was way too long for a Wednesday afternoon, trying not to move the wrong way lest we break. M was sweaty, jacket packed with stolen things, and I was pushing down panic with every breath, Meanwhile, the coupon ladies and confused and crotchety old people and the pregnant WIC women all seemed to have decided that ours was the lemming line. So, after what seemed like hours, we finally made it to the register with my purchases. I don't remember anything at all about the cashier except his hands. They weren't bad hands, necessarily. Just big and white with hairy knuckles and a freckle on his thumb. Not dangerous hands. Hands that were working, sorting items into bags, taking money. Not hands that hit or choked or hurt you in private places. Just hands. Plain hands. Stranger hands. But I felt as though those hands had just beat me bloody. I wanted to run out of the store, screaming. I wanted to fall to the floor in a ball and wrap my arms around my knees like I used to when I was little and my daddy hit me. I wanted to vomit and purge myself of every emotion, every memory. But, instead, I stared at the conveyor belt, handed the man my money when I was prompted to do so, and made my way back home. Because, after all, they were just hands.
It is hard living in the middle of a minefield of memories. You never know which step, which image, which word, which sound, which smell will take you back in time. Yesterday it was a description in a book of being locked in a closet which brought with it the relentless dark, the clothes hanging like dead people, shifting with any movement with sibilant, scraping hisses, the fetid smell of playdoh and bubblegum, and the persistent, gnawing hunger of my empty belly. I was six years old and our babysitter hated me. She locked me in the closet every day after school for six months because I asked for food when I got home from school. Fat girls shouldn't do that, she told me. I needed to learn my place. I needed to repress my needs because to need something, someone, was disgusting. For me. Just me. I used to hear my sister playing in our shared bedroom just beyond the closet door, so I knew what happiness sounded like. I knew where it lived. I knew that she was allowed to eat sandwiches and tortillas and candy. I knew that other kids had sunshine kisses and knee scrape adventures and twirl arm friends. Not me, though. The hands that touched and took, the claws that grabbed and shook, the vacant eyes too full of tears to see me made me odd and colt boltish. Those hands covered my mouth and stole my words. Those hands locked doors and caged me inside. Those hands hit me into walls and then lifted me into a hug. I was never a square peg trying to fit into a round hole because I, eventually, was so misshapen that there was no name for me.
They (the anonymous ones who give practical names to things) call this thing of mine "complex post traumatic stress disorder." Which, in my case, means that frequent trauma has tacked on a perpetual "it's complicated" relationship status as my life partner. Yet in spite of all of this, in spite of the many times that I have been raped, beaten, abused, or have almost died by my own hand, fate or other, I firmly believe that I have lived an amazingly good life thus far, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for me.
Let me explain. I am a fat chick. Not one of those I'm pleasantly plump but have body issues girls, but a full-bodied, weigh 2 of you kind of woman. Generally, when I point out my complete acceptance of my body, I get 2 responses. Either people try to console me by telling me that reality doesn't exist, or people try to dump a hot kettle of derision all over me. I don't need either response. My body is the house that I live in. It is the shell that has protected me. It is the thing that makes me myself, grants me life, fights for me even on the days that my mind has given up. It is mine. MINE. And I do not need sympathy or censure about it.
My belly is large, round, and soft and covered with stretch marks -- evidence of me changing through the years, swelling with child, shrinking with sickness, blooming with hunger, wasting with need. My stretch marks are beautiful -- paler than my other skin, running up and down in tiger stripes and sideways in lightening bolts. They are life's own tattoos. They aren't going anywhere and I don't want them to because I have been irreparably altered by living, and I want to continue to grow and shift and change and have evidence that I have sometimes been more or less than I am now.
So, back to that complicated minefield . . . I have been broken many times. I have been crumpled and straightened out, but the damage has been done, and the marks remain. I have been destroyed and refashioned so many times that some days I can't remember who I used to be well enough to know who I am now. I don't run away from any of this. I embrace my brokenness, remold my clay, refashion my sackcloth and seething. I create. More than that, with every mine that I step upon, every "me too" moment, I recognize that I am not alone. That I am one of many who have been marked by life, and our scars are the stars embedded in our skin.