To Another Survivor

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In Steubenville
there is a 16-year-old girl
whose head rests at a fresh angle
on her tensed shoulders
her eyes
two dark wounds
a young woman
who has discovered that hearts
can be moved
from their safe perch
behind the cage of ribs
and plunge downward
pressing heavily on the base of the belly
this displacement making
normal patterns of
respiration
extremely difficult

I want to park at the curb
of the place she has called home
let the engine go cold
while I hold her chilled fingers
and tell her things she won’t believe
right now
things she’ll think
can never be true again

Like how she is even more beautiful
today than she was
two days ago, a week ago, six months past
she is still smart
kind, remarkable
and that her penchant for wild
and eating dessert for breakfast
are character assets
that people admire

she is cherished

For far too much of her life
she will have to fight
the inclination to hate herself
wish herself gone
because much of this world
will try to make her think
she should be ashamed
and is somehow less

She needs to forgive herself only
for being nothing more than human
her unavoidable mistake
being 15
and a girl
in a culture that struggles with decency
and respect

She survived
a vicious and pitiless attack
her trauma amplified by a digital age
broadcast
across the everywhere

This assault has set her on a path
there are choices she can make
but in this moment
she won’t see that
because right now
she is pain
shame, mortification
anger, frustration
outrage, hurt
fear, confusion

What will undoubtedly seep in
nearly suffocating her
is her blameworthiness
she’ll hear this everywhere
from mouths and movies:
it was her drinking
her clothes
her attitude
her choice of friends
her criminal naivety

She must not listen to those voices
shouted by a civilization
trying to preserve
a brutal temperament
rather than civility

It was the boys involved
who hold responsibility
them
and a culture that excuses
promotes
male objectification of girls
and aggression towards the female
those young men chose to rape her
to strip her
momentarily
of her humanity
and pretend she was nothing
when she is really everything

It will be hard for her
to hold her spark
she’ll be inclined
encouraged to think
she needs to change
become something less visible
and brilliant
something shut
locked

In truth
she is precious
goodness and shimmering light
still
pure and whole
and so lovely
I wish that she could feel
with unwavering certainty
her enormous value

She will learn from this
grow
her heart will begin
its journey upward again
slowly

By having been hit so hard
so young
she can become
even more compassionate
and accepting
inspired
and forgiving of the numerous ways
we all can stumble

She can find her way to a place
where the fear
is the merest of whispers
barely discernible
above the steady beat
that is her rich and extraordinary life

March 2013
Julie Ayers

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3 responses »

  1. wonderful poem, Julie. I wish this could be shared with the many women who have found themselves in a similar situation. Keep up your beautiful writing. Hope all is well with you and the family.

    • This is one of the best poems I have ever read on this subject. Not a stat, but a real person, a tragedy, and what you said is necessary and I wish could be read by many more people. You are a beautiful writer. I am so lucky to be able to read your poems. Thank you.

      • Thank you. I hope the young woman is able to get the right kind of support. There are great counselors out there that specialize in helping rape survivors. So much damage has been done, and we all need to beam love and light her way.

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