On Anniversaries

1. When I graduate college, a friend sends me a poem. “It’s said it takes seven years / to grow completely new skin cells. / To think, this year I will grow / into a body you never will / have touched.” (Brett Elizabeth Jenkins.) I want to ask her what year she’s on. She moves a continent away the first chance she gets.

2. My half-sister tells me, One day you will think of him less. Each morning I wake up hoping it will be true, that it will all be wiped clean from my memory. I learn eventually that there is no forgetting, only a numbing, a growing accustomed to its weight.

3. At a therapist’s suggestion, I join a survivors’ group. Armed with tea and coloring books, in a basement office padded with pillows, we talk about rape and life and lament that, right now, they feel like one and the same. Tomorrow’s my anniversary, one girl says. I’ve never encountered the word like this. I peer around the circle and, finding recognition in everyone’s eyes, feel something akin to fellowship (a first!). I want to endure alongside these people, want to let them endure alongside me.

4. But doesn’t your work tether you to him? a friend insists. I snap back that I am shaping my own future, of which he isn’t a part. It is an impossible bind: if I ignore it, I am neglecting to mourn, to grapple with The Worst Thing That Can Befall a Woman (the elephant in the room). And yet, if I turn toward it, face it head on, he is at the center and I am still, always and inevitably, revolving about him. Don’t put me there, I tell my friend. Let me be more than what he did to me.

5. My secret: There is a drawer of my dresser still filled with his things.

6. A month after I leave the survivors’ group, a friend will begin sending anniversary cards to strangers. I think the gesture, which aims to collectivize our response to trauma, is smart. I go to submit my own card request in her Google form. Name, email, anniversary date. I stop. How am I to pick just one day out of eight months? I confess to a friend that I resent those who have only one night to name. I am not as ashamed of the thought as I’d wish. (There is nothing quite like the harm of feeling unseen.)

7. I am training myself to be loved. I am trying to learn that love is a staying close, a taking care, a lingering. Mostly, I am trying to want a quiet thing. To “put [my] story next to [yours].” (Toni Morrison.)

8. In year three I fantasize constantly about disappearing. There is no violence to the thought. I don’t want to die. I want to not exist. There is a difference.

9. A friend writes, often, about being OK. I am skeptical. For many months I am convinced the repetition of her assertion must disprove its claim. (There is such arrogance in diagnosing someone else’s demons!)

10. Or perhaps, it’s just this: “You make me feel bad that I don’t feel better.” (Joss Whedon.)

11. So the anniversary is out. But still I want a way to mark the days, because as each year goes by, I feel less and less like I’m allowed to feel anything at all. People who suffer violence are permitted only so much: too little (mourning) and it must not have happened, too much (anger) and we’re required to move on.

12. After my friend tries to kill herself, I visit her in the hospital. I show up with a Big Mac and some books for class. I thought you might wanna keep up with the homework, I offer. She goes for the burger. I sit down and hold her hand and think about how trauma warps time. Like: We disassociate and lose time. We get triggered and time stretches on. The disruptions are bad for productivity; we don’t have time to be traumatized. My friend tells me to take the books back to school. I can’t do anything anyway, she says. I’m in limbo.

13. What does it mean to form friendships through shared experiences of assault? And, likewise, to develop politics out of trauma? At times I wonder if some cling to the trauma to hold onto the people (or the politics). (“To claim a central place in the ranks requires not just an authentic claim to the collective hurt but a continued claim.” (Alexandra Brodsky.)) There is a way, I think, in which surviving gets fetishized – fetish as repetition, avoidance of some other thing.

14. I am trying not to make an identity out of this.

15. “[I]t would seem that my doctor thinks of pain as an exception. / what a privilege it is to navigate the world like that.” (Alok Vaid-Menon.) I wonder who benefits from believing in pain as exceptional, in violence as finite and momentary. An event rather than an experience of the world.

16. Last year I wrote, “I don’t believe the afterward of violence ever really ends. We get better until we don’t.” (How sad!) These days I am learning to be OK. I am trying to be able to live with pain, to move with (not out of) vulnerability. There is, I think, a way to make good with the inevitability of hurt in a hurtful world, without succumbing to a politics of hopelessness, or complacency.

17. I receive a calendar notification alerting me it’s been four years since I left him for what would be the final time. I smile: I had forgotten. And yet: “If I did not write of the difficulties under which I labor, I would fear to be misrepresenting the grinding reality…. So here it is, the paragraph that roundly asserts that I continue to suffer.” (Maggie Nelson / Christina Crosby.)

New Haven, CT

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and the co-founder of Know Your IX, the national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. She's also a student at Yale Law School, and you can find her on Twitter at @danabolger.

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School.

Read more about Dana

Join the Conversation