I ripped my knee open on a 8th grade class field trip to Fargo to watch a film for health class. I don’t remember which film we were in town to see. But I do remember slipping in the parking lot, the realization that I was about to hit the ground, and the last minute thrust of hands and arms out front to catch the impact. I remember the small rocks embedded in my palms, and the four deep swaths of asphalt caught in the knee that took the pavement at a sharp angle. I remember the sharp thrill of the pain and the gradual nausea of the shame. I remember becoming the unintended center of attention at precisely the moment I most wanted to fade quietly into the background, camouflaged and ready to defend my position by any means necessary.
I still have four faint lines under the skin of my left knee from the asphalt, but the emotional scars from that period of my life are certainly more profound. More profound than I like to consider, it would seem.
I’ve spent the last couple days in a space of un-reality, a space I visit from time to time. There’s not much here, to be honest. There’s an easy, sensual feeling, something summery and voyeuristic. It’s like a small room in a small cabin as the sun is setting. There’s a sultry, close atmosphere, and a wooden chair facing the window. Outside something is happening to a woman who looks strangely familiar. I watch and watch and watch.
I go to this space when the feelings get too intense, as they altogether too often do. When I can’t quite make it to the space, when a rainstorm has washed away the gravel road leading to that small cabin, I stage a storm of my own. I obliterate myself. And I wake to a world ravished and in desperate need of rebuilding. I get to work, forgetting all about the eerie feeling of the calm before the storm.
The refusal of pain, the attempt to construct the self as totally invulnerable, is an act. It is a deliberate expression of a particular self in a particular world; it is a staging, the playing of a part. I’ve written a play of the past, one where I was liberated rather than afraid, where I was determined rather than confused, one in which the desire of the other was always more my desire than theirs.
When, in reality: I’m twenty years old. It’s summer, and I’m living off campus and dating a frat boy. I’m confused, I’m unhappy, I’m drinking too much and smoking too much pot. I’m at a party at the frat house, drunk enough to take the edge off the feeling of anxiety that lives at the edges of my existence. I’m flirting with every man in range, but the flirtation is fueled by anger, rage, rather than attraction. I’m furious that I’m a woman, furious that I’m the object of male desire, furious that I can’t find a way to rearrange the space in which I live, to gain some purchase for a life of my own. I’m furious that I want them to like me, to tell me that I’m valuable.
The night wears on. I drink more, flirt with a friend of my then-boyfriend, and find myself, half-dazed, in a dark room with this boy. I remember nothing until I come to with him on top of me and inside of me, fucking me. I try to figure out where I am and what has happened. Was I passed out? Did I black out? I’ve got no sense of what’s led to this moment, and I begin to shake my head: no, no, no. I say it out loud, but he’s almost finished. And then he’s finished. My then-boyfriend finds out. He’s devastated, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything at all.
One day you fall. You skin your knee. You should have it cleaned out, but you’re so humiliated by your own clumsiness that you pretend it hasn’t happened. You limp on, through the pain, while the dirt remains somewhere inside. You heal, but the traces remain, traced in the very body, just underneath the skin.