A month ago, everyone on the blogosphere was writing New Year posts—looking back on the year that was coming to a close and forward to the one that was about to begin.
I wasn’t ready to do that then. This was partly because I was preoccupied with preparing for my big move to France and partly because January 1 doesn’t feel like a milestone in the same way that January 27 does.
This year, January 27 marked the end of my first month as an au pair in France. It also marked the one-year anniversary of my rape.
It’s been a whole year since that night. A year since the violation of my body and my trust and my personhood. Since the shock. Since the denial. Since feeling lost and alone and incapable of standing up for myself.
Looking back on 2014, I’m glad it’s behind me because it was my hardest year yet. I’ve found myself struggling to cope with violation and trauma on top of the instability and self-doubt that often comes with transitioning into adulthood. For months I’ve felt alienated—from my body, from the person I used to be but no longer felt I was, and from my writing.
I only published 12 posts on this blog in 2014 (compared with 44 in 2013). I wasn’t living the glamorous TAPIF life anymore: I wasn’t confronting foreign culture every day, and I wasn’t hopping on a plane or a train to a new destination every other weekend. Instead the challenges I’ve been facing and the journeys I’ve been taking have often been internal and thus much harder to represent with witty anecdotes and high-resolution photographs.
My writing has always been a way for me to reflect on and make sense of the world. But now that my world is different and now that I am different, my voice has to be different, too. And it’s taking a while to find it.
When I’ve felt lost and alone, I’ve found solace and vindication, strength and honesty in the words—books, essays, articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, and Twitter feeds—of women I’ve never met but now feel like I know. Elissa Washuta.* Roxane Gay. Lindy West. Cheryl Strayed. Franchesca Ramsey. Inga Muscio. Samantha Irby. Diana Gabaldon. Joan Didion. Astrid Lindgren. Susan Brownmiller. Their voices are helping me rediscover mine.
And journaling has helped. Support from family and friends has helped. Distancing myself first from Portland and now from the United States has helped. Therapy has helped. Reevaluating and refocusing my goals has helped. And taking charge of my life has helped. But none of it has been particularly easy.
“Healing is not pretty—it’s pus and scabs falling off and reforming surrounded by scars that tell stories.”
— Bran Fenner
It’s been a year since that night. Before, I’d taken my body and my sense of self and my sanctity for granted. Then the storm came and suddenly I found myself standing shell-shocked among the wreckage. It’s been a year since that night, and I’m stronger now because I’ve been looking inward more than ever before. I’ve been studying the pieces of myself—the whole ones and the jagged ones. I’ve been figuring out where they came from and how they all fit together. I’ve been identifying the weak points and reinforcing them. It’s been a year since that night, and I’m stronger now because I’ve been actively and intentionally rebuilding myself. Healing.
My body is mine. I am mine. And my scars tell stories.
Some of them have been hard to tell and harder still to publish, but it’s those stories that I’m the proudest of. And I’m proud of the person who tells them, the person I am right now, one year later.
On January 27, 2015, I woke up early and did yoga in my basement living room chez Cara. I dressed up, and I put on make-up and jewelry and perfume. I ate delicious leftovers for lunch and watched some good ol’ American TV on Netflix. I went into Paris for my language class where I discussed world news (and snuck glances at an attractive classmate out of the corner of my eye). I bought bright red lipstick and tried it out before going to bed. And the next morning (the night of January 27, West Coast time) I rang in the my new year with a delicious pistachio and raspberry macaron cake for breakfast.
I celebrated me.
*I actually got to meet Elissa Washuta when I attended a reading she did at UCLA this fall. We chatted for about 10 minutes as the small conference room filled up with other eager listeners.