Coming Home / 20something Problems

So, I’m back in Boston. And it feels SO WEIRD. But also so good. In a way it’s like coming home, and in others it’s like being in a completely new place. To be honest, I’ve been avoiding downtown and some of my old spots for fear of the overwhelming nostalgia and mixed emotions of memories this city holds for me, but something is telling me it’s not going to be as intense as I may imagine. It’s bizarre, but most of the time when people talk about college and how it used to be and the things we used to do, I feel like I can’t even remember it. Like it is just so, so far from my consciousness, the mindset, the details, just out of reach of my fingertips.

And it’s strange to be back in a place where so much has changed, and yet nothing has changed. To see people and communities of people I know or used to know who all stayed, continued on here after college, shifting into jobs and apartments and relationships so laterally, seemingly so easily and comfortably when I feel like everything I’ve done has been on such a steep ass incline. I don’t regret it, but sometimes I look at them and wonder why the fuck I’m always doing this to myself and choosing strife, choosing the jump, the heat of the fire.

I often still find it really difficult to relate to people, even friends. I feel I am forever marked by being ‘the one who left.’ Or maybe that’s all in my head, but I feel such a distance at times I wonder where it’s all coming from and if it will ever shrink. For a while I just thought it was from the time that passed while I was in Spain (and New York for that matter), from my own bitterness for having been forgotten and left behind in a lot of ways, things that would be mended with time. Some of it has and some of it has not.

Sometimes being here feels like seeing who I could have become, but didn’t. It feels sad, but mostly evokes a feeling of deep envy for the comfort, security, ease, and ‘loving relationships’ so many people here seem to have. Maybe that’s just part of this whole coming of age thing — mourning all the worlds you don’t get to exist in, all the versions of yourself you can’t possibly be but can still see. After all, the most common loss is of the self. Maybe finding out who you are is just as much about finding out who you are not. And you don’t always get to decide which is which, but you do get to decide how you wake to every morning you have here.

Because of my year in Spain and then my year in New York City, rebuilding my life over and over, and learning how to be relatively completely alone for most of it, it’s becoming more and more apparent how I’ve changed, how my values have shifted, my perspectives and perceptions of life and people have evolved. Not only are those things often at odds with this culture but what’s more, is many of the people I see haven’t changed or grown much, are unwilling to see things from a different perspective, to think about what really matters in life, are unhappy but never change anything, numb themselves, and create public and private facades. And this is another kind of alone for me. One I am getting very used to.

And this isn’t to say I’ve got it all figured out, because I certainly don’t. I struggle with fear and doubt and resounding sadness more often than I’d like. But then again we weren’t wired for happiness, we were wired for survival. Happiness was just an afterthought. And I can say I’m surviving pretty well.

While much of the time I feel stuck and controlled by life’s catastrophes and really really generous helpings of shit I seem to get, I’ve also seen how many things are malleable, that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, I can choose. And I’ve made lots of choices the past few years. I’ve moved across the world, come back, moved to a new city and rebuilt my life a few times over, cycled through countless jobs and various hustles, put my time and energy into a handful of different endeavors and adventures and efforts. I haven’t been held back by relationships or by myself. I’ve done many of the things I never thought I could do, what I thought was only for other people. And I don’t worry so much about being alone anymore.

Because I guess I can’t say no one really cares about me. That I’m completely alone. I always have my back and look out for me. My best friend is myself. And yeah it sucks and I hope it isn’t always like that, but bless the fact that I’ve got me. Being on my own has made me who I am now. I hope my life fills with love and connection and joy. But it’s good to know I can have that and lose it all and still survive. I know that. And that’s powerful, albeit dark. But anything can happen. Because the world doesn’t give a crap about your shitty or wonderful life. The world doesn’t have feelings. We give the world feelings, perceive it with our own selfish projections. The world is a fact. And we are an opinion.

In my opinion, I’m just trying my best. In my opinion, I am good and honest and kind. In my opinion, that counts for something. In my opinion, I’m always gonna give this my best shot.

I want to live a life in which I am thankful for all the trauma and heartbreak and losses because it has made me exactly who I am.

I want to greet experiences that banish the storm in me.

I want to welcome the sun with deep knowledge of darkness.

I want to live.

And it is the quietest victory. It is the light glowing between the leaves, falling on every terrible and magnificent crevice of the earth around me as if it is all romantic and meaningful just the same. Despite what I assign it today — my grief or my glory. It just is. I still am. And that is enough for now.


(hope I don’t sounds like a total jerk in this)


last year // next year

When I think about what this past year was I think:

the evolution of me crying in public: while I hide it and casually look out the bus window; on the subway avoiding eye contact; me straight up weeping on the sidewalk as I push through the line for Halal Guys without a single fuck about who sees me, listening to Bon Iver in the bath on dark winter evenings, lots of take out, even more podcasts, perfecting my fast walk, complete isolation, slowly being overcome with an old darkness and crawling back out of it, clarity, debilitating loneliness, overwhelming possibility, humid subway stations and the smell of urine, rats, more rats, trash, a million things I’ve never seen, fashion inspiration, hearing different languages everyday, hating New York, loving New York, hating New York, loving New York, claustrophobia, getting outrageously angry on commutes, the best food, cement everything, shedding and pushing away so much shit that does not matter, inspiration, wonder, being deep in my head everyday, so many events, avoiding my bank account, pulling away from everyone and everything, no one coming after me, independence, knowing myself thoroughly, reprioritizing, doing everything by and for myself, getting let down, exhaustion, about every single thing feeling like a struggle, floundering, making my own, bewilderment, panic, feeling both the pulse and the hardness and marveling at it all

When I think about what I want this next year to be I think:

coming home while also starting new, getting back to feeling like myself, being better, being more at peace, laying down in the grass and staring at the sky, breathing deeply, practicing gratitude, autumn breezes and fall foliage, old memories surfacing and swallowing them back down, leaning into the discomfort of changes I didn’t want, finding pride in loss, a quieter chest,  sunsets, nature, a slower pace, teaching myself how to bake, making new and interesting foods no matter how long it takes, learning new things for the sake of it, resisting consumerism and comparison, writing regularly, throwing myself into every possible manifestation of art, traveling, telling people how I feel and being more forthcoming about my thoughts and struggles (not just on my blog), letting go, being less easy for other people to ‘handle’, finding people to look me in the eyes and really see me, comfortable silences, human touch, being a more thoughtful and caring friend, showing up, being less jealous of other peoples’ intimate relationships and happiness, less envious of friends’ successes, saying yes more, getting out of the habit of hiding myself away and closing my mouth, presence, long walks, giving more, listening better, being in touch with my body, preservation, putting my mind and time into my goals, accountability, curiosity, cutting out things that don’t matter, dedication, calling things by their name, being more imaginative, finding a new perspective on time and success, patience, discounting shame when it comes, love and love and love, god, I hope a swelling of love


See ya soon, Boston.


stream of consciousness from Brazil

what makes a body a tool

and what makes a body music?

what makes a dream

different than a pulse, when a dream

is just looking desire in the mirror

of morning light? what makes the unknown dark

and yet not exactly night? what makes you right

or me right when we all live from different centers?

and what’s left after it all?

what if the answers are inside all the kids

we silence? and what if God was your mother

this whole time? I don’t know much for certain, but

I’ve seen some things. the only thing I know I want

is everything. and isn’t it enough just to want?

maybe it’s foolish

to still care about things that don’t care about you

like an ex-lover

or a country

but I like the way I look

with my heart always pressed up against my skin

trying to escape. sometimes, breaking free and coming home

are the same thing,

they’re always the same thing.

what if my body is a tool and also music?

what if we can be practical and magical

at the same time?

what if this is all just symphony?

what would our song say?

and is anyone listening to it?

or does that even matter?

what if life is just a practice in listening?

to each other.

to ourselves.

what if that is the most useful and musical thing

we could do? my body

is a tool and

my body is music.

I walk with pain and dreams, steady as heartbeat,

necessary as bass drum, trying

to find love in the melody

of everything.


my uncanny ability to run into everyone I never want to see again

Nothing good ever happens to me on the 6 train / and today is no different / coming back from the doctor / I happen to catch the same train / the same car / and sit directly across / from you / girl who ghosted me on Bumble / And that is the great irony of New York / one of the most populated cities in the world / and yet somehow so small / like the suburbs I ran away from in Connecticut / faster than I run from the rats near the 6 / and speaking of running away / hello again bumble girl / I’d like to say you didn’t see me / but you did / raised your eyes from your book / just once / and looked directly at me / for a time that lasted less than a heartbeat / I don’t exist in the hearts around me anymore / just float / somewhere between passing time and / all the skin I don’t touch / invisible / forgotten / It’s funny really / that they call it ghosting / when here I am / realist ghost of them all / feel like I could walk right through these concrete store fronts / Maybe the doctor will call me back / concerned about all this inexplicable gray matter I call / a body / this exhale I call / a heart / Maybe Casper had a sister and / plot twist / she’s me / Maybe running in to you on the train is a metaphor / because truly bumble girl / I don’t know what could fuck my day up more / you / or the MTA / Jokes / it’s def the MTA / I’m lying / anyway / I only talked to you then because I was bored / and you were pretty / I can see it still / your carefully sculpted eyebrows / the pigment of your lipstick / But I’m flatlining / This doesn’t even deserve / to be a poem / I guess I’m still bored / I’m not a ghost / I’m just a gay girl / I’m not a ghost / I’m just a femme girl / waiting / to be seen

The future as a real and tangible concept

Walking in New York


The concrete covering all angles of landscape, as if

reflecting the hardness of everything and

here I am again, making poetry

out of traumas. What is it they say

about water being the source of life?

Surely, the tears have the same power

making me a reborn thing. Again

and again and again.


I am so utterly freaked out that it’s June aka like already December at this point if we’re being real. But it’s not in a ‘lol wow time is flying’ kind of way, it’s more like a ‘holy shit all this time has passed and what was I even doing’ kind of way. It’s making me anxious, but I have to admit that much of this year has felt like a waste. Like I wasted so many months and so much energy for nothing. I suppose on paper I have done a lot, but the majority of the past almost 1 year since returning from Spain has been a lot of holding on/pushing through/hanging in there type existing and that is not at all the way I want to feel. Each year in college I did so so much, like an inhuman amount of stuff, then I graduated and moved abroad and traveled to ten countries in ten months, and now, well, I don’t know? I just worked and lost a lot of people, didn’t fully feel like myself, and tried to convince myself I was okay?

I’ve been reflecting on why feeling like I’ve wasted time has felt so significantly like a loss, and I think it’s because I’ve always seen my time as something that was extremely limited. Honestly, I’ve always had a hard time picturing myself living out a whole life.

It’s not that I didn’t see myself having a future in terms of being successful or whatever, more that I honestly just didn’t see myself IN the future. I couldn’t picture myself truly experiencing joy and love and reason or settling into a particular lifestyle or a life in general. I’ve never been able to really see myself past my mid-twenties. Partially because I always had this strange feeling since I was a child that I was going to die young, but I think also because I couldn’t see myself in anyone older than me, not even my parents. Visibility is so deeply important and for some reason I just never really felt like I could see my full self in the people around me or out in the world — gay, survivor, someone who overcame a childhood disease, someone who fought depression, a witness to and victim in abusive familial relationships, etc. I saw bits and pieces of myself but never my whole self and I got to thinking that I’d had too much baggage, too much darkness, too many complications to really live out a life. I still feel this way a lot of the time, but somewhere along the way I took it on as my purpose to be that image for myself that I couldn’t find, even if it took everything I had. (cue MJ’s ‘Man in the Mirror’)

Even today I can’t really yet see myself growing old. I can’t even see myself into middle age let alone waddling my saggy ass around a porch (idk why but I see an inherent relationship between older people and porches). I can’t see it, but what I do know, now, is that I want to get there. I want my ass to sag someday! I want to live. I want to live, and that, in itself, is a great victory, because I know what it’s like to not really want that. I hope I’m not alone in all these weird feelings about the future. I’m not sure I’ve ever really shared this so honestly with anyone.

And I hope that this next year won’t feel like it’s all so damn hard. That I won’t feel so deeply alone. That I can start to imagine myself in the future, to fill in some of the gaps in my decades to come with conjured up images of me living and living well.

I’m starting to picture next year. My next year will be spent (funny enough) living in Boston! Moving back both scares and excites me. I’m nervous and giddy and a little overwhelmed but I’m happy about the decision. I want to get back to myself. I want to take really good care of myself. I want to let in more joy. I want to just live. Maybe that sounds like a crazy plan, but I don’t care. I need something. I need me. And I hope this change will help me get there. 

So. I miss Boston. Like a lot.

When I think about Boston, beyond several negative factors and experiences I’ve had there, I’m filled with such emotion I don’t even know what to do with it. And I’m not sure if it’s just nostalgia, how I feel that that’s the place I really grew up, or what, but it fills me with an aching, a longing for something. I think what it is is connection. It’s community.

Maybe this is an unpopular opinion or maybe I’m too emotional for my own good (definitely true) but there is something really wrong with our socialization into total individuality. Just doing you and carving out a life for yourself alone and away from everyone and everything you know is highly romanticized. This is not to say it can’t work out for some people or be a necessary change, a chance. Being alone can do wonderful things for you, but there is nothing glamorous or brave about an existence of loneliness for capitalistic ideas of success or simply image, nor the whole host of things we do to pacify ourselves into being okay with desperate unhappiness and lack of connection and fulfillment. It is not noble. It’s just empty.

And I feel empty. I feel I am in the conundrum of infinite possibility/opportunity and complete disengagement, of void. Boston was the first place I felt I had a home that was a real place other than something I built inside myself, and I’ve completely disallowed myself from even thinking about Boston for the sake of wanting my new start to work out, for not wanting to ‘move backwards.’ I recently let myself just think about the possibility of moving back and it’s brought a flood of panic and complicated and conflicting emotions and thoughts. But I just want to put it out into the universe that I am thinking about it. That our ideas of the finality of things is all mental. That you can let love and change in, no matter how painful it may feel.

Today, I am painfully opening myself to both the memory and the prospect of Boston. And I don’t know what to do with it, certainly not just all in my head. I need connection. I need something. I need to air this out with someone.

(more on this later)

the quiet and the in-between

So much happens in the pause — the space between words, the silence of a commute, the breath before sleep. I am always surprised at where I find myself in these moments. I realize I am just a body, vulnerable and subject to external circumstances, wherever I get myself into and out of and through. My body in the belly of cars, planes, and buses; in the caves of random rooms; the swallow of abandoned streets and mountainsides and subway cars; the hollow of anonymity. I preside in the stomachs of a million little worlds unknown to me and myself unknown. I am an agent in the hunger of it all. I am the only witness to my existence. I am the protagonist and a swathe of supporting characters and the forgettable extra and just outside the lens, missed completely. I am all of these things and nothing. I see happy people and I feel both confused and warm; I see security and I feel both pity and jealousy; I see pain and I feel both at home and alienated. I live in the duality of everything. I want what I don’t want and I don’t want what I want. If you asked me how I feel, I’d say conflicted. I am here, and I am somewhere else entirely at any given moment. What makes a life a life? What makes somebody real? I just want to be seen. I just want to be seen. Look down the throat of life and you’ll see me carried and carving out a place for myself in the cavern between starving and fullness, just beneath the heart, rummaging in the dark so close to the pulse of everything.

Existential Crisis #36297

I feel like I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t have an existential crisis approximately every 6 weeks. This is probably because I’m a mix between a poet, a planner, an overachiever, a traveler, a pragmatic dreamer, a survivor of many things, a fighter of even more things — all this to say I live with a constant hunger. Sometimes I get really freaked out that I will never be fully happy, never stop playing out all these different options, scenarios, choices, lifestyles, never cease imagining my life in various sets of circumstances.

Current crisis? New York and I are fighting and I kinda wanna go on a break. I mean, we’ve had our problems for a while, but I thought they’d just go away. And now I’m wondering if maybe we should break up for real for real.

Okay, so I love New York. But I also hate New York. Honestly, most people I meet here feel the same way. I could go on and on about why (on paper) it’s the right place for me professionally, artistically, socially, etc. But there’s also a lot about it that I’m struggling with that I didn’t expect. New York does sometimes blow my mind, fill my heart, take my breath away. These moments are few and far in between, though, and although there are so many options, I mean options on options on options, I just don’t feel very fulfilled right now. So what does it matter how many opportunities and events and cool projects and people are here?

I’m gonna skip the part of explaining why I love New York because, well, it’s just so typical. I’m one among millions who’ve been dazzled by the concrete jungle. So I’ll say a little bit about what I’m struggling with. And that’s just it — it seems like everything feels like a struggle. And maybe some of this is because of certain professional and social circumstances that are less than ideal, but some of it is also location and the city’s culture. It’s funny, but even though I mentioned I have such a breadth and scope of opportunities and options, I feel extremely disengaged. Like I am going through the majority of my days starving for a connection to someone, to something. And it’s leaving my mind and my soul so malnourished.

I have done a lot of work on myself, yes. I understand that happiness and fulfillment are largely generated from the internal, but I also can’t deny that there’s only so much I can do. And I don’t want to mentally and emotionally alter myself to cope and be content with circumstances that are ultimately malleable, if I just have the courage and audacity to make changes.

To be completely honest — and this is not to say I haven’t had amazing opportunities, successes, moments of happiness and fulfillment — I feel that I struggle every day with three emotions: sadness, loneliness, and anxiety. Some times for just a moment, a well of tears brought to my eyes on the train and then it vanishes and I’m good, some times it looms over me and lasts a week. And this is nothing new, I am very used to feeling these things, it’s just more often than I’d like to live with and I’m missing a lot of the other people and things I used to have in my life to balance that out.

Part of what it comes down to is that I’ve realized that I’ve changed (yeah, yeah, blah blah blah everyone changes and transforms into weird little butterflies and shit). But really, I think what’s happening is that the lifestyle and the values I hold have shifted. This may be from my year abroad, leaving college, just generally growing up. I used to dream about making it in NYC (rolling my eyes at how cliché this is), I surely romanticized it and idealized it greatly. But this makes sense for someone who’s had some tough things to overcome and wanted an escape and craved independence in a place I could fully be myself. I still love this about New York. I used to fantasize about my life as this rough struggle where I overcome and work so hard and that relationship between fight and achievement never ends. I mean this is so much of who I am and how I think. But (lemme add three thousand buts and parentheses to this post) now, I’m thinking about all the ways my deep self-reliance and all of these behaviors have actually made me someone who rejects joy. I reject joy. I don’t see it as an option for myself. I duck and avoid it. It kinda scares me. And yet I crave it more than anything. I’ve had it and lost it. I’ve lost and lost and lost.

And so what would it mean for me to allow myself joy — at least from the sources I can control. Fully. Without hesitating. Without capping it. I want to give all of myself — my heart, my mind, my body — joy and fulfillment. I want to honor those three parts of myself equally. The past year in Spain and my last several months here in New York I’ve been trying to do this and have become much more self-aware and surely a lot better at it. And I feel like I’m plateauing.

Reflecting on some of my favorite places, experiences, activities, a good many happened in cities and a great deal also happened in nature. Since moving here I’ve said a million times how much I miss nature, but I also am afraid of getting bored not being in a big city the way I felt in Boston. So what would it feel like to move to a balanced place, in a city surrounded by and infused in nature?

I remember this one time in like January or February, I was going to a feminist art party in Brooklyn that I thought was gonna be so cool. As I walked up to the house, I passed a tree under which gathered a pile of leaves on the ground. And it hit me so hard. I hadn’t even seen leaves in so long. I am not joking when I say I started to cry. This one little exposure to nature really made me that emotional. And at the party, everyone was drinking and chatting and being so ‘artsy’ it all felt like performance, and I just leaned up against the counter and thought about a god damn tree.

Thinking about a lifestyle where I can be in a city and go to events and learn and work hard, while also being able to walk outside much more, lay in the grass, have year round warmth and sun, go to the beach on the weekend, hike in the mountains and forest in my free time, generally just be more active and see beautiful scenery, breathe cleaner air, have fresher produce and make better food. UGHH. I just. I want that lifestyle. I want it for myself and, in imagining my life to come, I want to share that with my friends, my future partner, everyone. So I’ve been thinking (daydreaming, mostly) about maybe making a move to San Francisco/Oakland soon. Who knows.

I am 23 but already feeling the quiet and rapid escape of time. It’s scary. I don’t want to waste the time I have right now (not twenty years down the line after decades of keeping my head down). I want to give myself that chance. I want to give myself every chance. I’m planning a trip to San Fran/Oakland to check it out and see how it feels. Maybe it’ll be super amazing, maybe it’ll be totally wrong.

So. This is an open invitation (to this trip and in general in life). Come with me. Let’s hike. Let’s feel the sand on our feet and the salt in our hair. Let’s sit in the sun and talk until we are silent and laugh again and ruminate on the gorgeous and complicated world we live in. I am tired of everything feeling like a struggle. Let’s go and just exist. For a moment. For a weekend. For all the precious time we can. Please, let’s just be. You and me.

When straight people complain about their boy problems and say: “I wish I liked girls. It would be so much easier.”

and I begin to wonder where along the line you mistook my pride for easy.

Given the choice, I wouldn’t change any of it, and yet I do not wish this on you.

The same way my moms’ faces dropped, their eyes hitting the floor every time they saw I liked girls just as much as they did.

I don’t know how to tell you about the first moment I knew my ex was in love with me,

how we hugged each other goodnight for twenty minutes, her eyes staring out my dorm window into the full moon, and she cried quietly, her chin locked on my shoulder, and I didn’t have to say anything the whole time my arms whispering “I know. I know.”

There is nothing easy about loving like you are saying sorry over and over.

There is nothing easy about living like you are saying sorry over and over.

When you tell me to get over it, say “fuck that bitch” and shake your head at how I still answer every time she calls out to me, when you suggest I forget her, like I can lay down all the memories and the worry with my tongue between the legs of other women,

tell me how easy it could be, but,

the thing is, I don’t know how to fuck myself out of loving someone I survived with.

You chandelier your love delicate and diamond and all I know how to do is fear it’s untimely fall piercing my whole existence.

When was the last time you imagined your death?

And did it happen between cocktails and club beats?

I do not cackle into the moonlight of late nights, I exude joy the way I learned how to — star-like, silent but fucking miraculous and burning up the whole sky, my hips swinging, hands touching, dancing in the humid dark, alone together, all of us, moving to a rhythm I beg does not meet sneer and hate crime. Body rolling and side stepping my unwritten eulogy into the floor, as if to pray my body invisible and yet so visible in the flashing lights of the gay club.

And I wish this was easy.

I kiss girls and behind closed eyes think about what my face would look like dragged into the pavement.

I miss girls and behind closed eyes think about what my body would look like underneath the pavement, meaning:

Living and dying always looked similar to me. Meaning my love is the soil hiding underneath everything, meaning in the soles and of the soul and dirty and life giving, anyway. My love is the ground holding me up.

My love is so big it wraps around the Earth’s crust. I have magma for marrow,

my fast heart beat earthquakes me to remember how I wake to lay the ground out in front of me, to keep kissing and missing and losing and standing my ground.

I keep my feet dug into the cracks to remember where I come from and where I am going all at once.

I was born with a heavy and a dark and an endless longing.

This can be called many things

but it is never


Take Back The Night Speech

So I wanted to start out with kind of a funny story. March 15th, 2017. It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I’m with the children I nanny part time in Manhattan, on a bus from school to their apartment. One of them asks me “hey, Marissa, guess what??” and I say “what?” “chicken butt!” she yells and all the elementary school children giggle and I’m like damn yo how did I fall for that one again? It’s sunny and I feel happy; I’m texting a girl making plans for a date that weekend. It’s been a hard couple of years, but today — I am alive.

I get a couple of phone calls from a blocked number and on the third try, I decide to answer. They ask “hello, is this Marissa Johnson?” and I’m all smiley like “yesss it is!” “Miss Johnson, this is the FBI.”

And I’m like, yeah, whatever, bout to hang up on your scammin ass. And then she starts spouting off some identifying information and my heart stops. I am overcome with this enormous, irrational feeling of guilt and racing anxiety. In one second I convince myself that I must have committed some serious crimes that I’ve forgotten about and it’s all catching up to me and everything I love is going to slip through my hands. She starts talking and I am just like OH FUCK, I have seen Scandal, I have seen Quantico, I am totally screwed.

“Marissa, The Spanish National Police have contacted us through the help of the US Embassy. They’d like to know if you’d be willing to come in to our office to do a photo line up of suspects in your sexual assault case in Madrid.” So I agree to do it and she says “I’ll just text you our address and confirm the date and time.” And I’m just like WTF the FBI texts? I text her back to confirm and she sends me a smiley emoji and I am just so baffled, my boo the FBI is texting me fucking smiley emojis.

And then I feel tears well up and I look over at the kids and it’s time to get off the bus and go play. I force a smile and fake joy through the rest of my shift. This is nothing new.

A week later, I go to the FBI, I do the photo line up, all the photos are dark and blurry, clearly taken off a cell phone, but one of them looks like it could be him, I initial the photo. I ask the two FBI agents what happens next. And they don’t even know, didn’t do their due diligence to ask Spain about the possibilities of what will happen. They have no answers for me whatsoever. Nothing. I explain to them how jarring it is to try to move on with my life and get a phone call a year later with no warning and to still have virtually no answers. But then again, this is what happens when a political system values bureaucracy and optics over human dignity. They get nervous and stumble on their words telling me I’m brave and thank you for coming, I can see they’re desperately uncomfortable, and so I do what I always do. I smile. I convince them of my admirable strength, I shrug it off, tell them I’m doing well, it’s really okay.

I am out in ten minutes. I go get my blood drawn to check on my reproductive health, I go pick up the kids, I get stared down by a man on the street licking his lips as he watches me walk by, I go home, I brainstorm with my roommate how to confront her boyfriend’s friend about his misogynistic comments the other day, most of my friends forget to ask me about the line up.

And it all just feels so exhaustingly woman.

I’ve gotten very good at concealing my emotions. I have learned that control is, in some instances the only way I will be taken seriously, and in others, how I keep everyone around me happy and comfortable. Maybe if I got paid for all the emotional labor I do for men (and women alike), it would make up for the wage gap.

Maybe most of us won’t get a call from the FBI in our lifetimes, but there is nothing unlikely or special about my story. In fact, it is all too common. When I got asked to come speak to you all today, I got nervous because what happened to me was not as bad as it could have been. It does not fit the very singular, horrific story our culture has about sexual assault. And I have spent a lot of time thinking this makes me undeserving of empathy, barred from identifying as a survivor, stupid for sometimes being afraid and paranoid, and silly that I even have a case still ongoing. 

The DOJ defines sexual assault as:

“any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”

In February, 2016, I was sexually assaulted coming home from work on the metro in Madrid, where I was spending my year, post-grad, teaching English. I’m not going to go into the details of my case that may surprise or disgust you, because I want to talk to you about some of the other, less talked about issues survivors deal with in the aftermath. I am angry at the person who did this to me, but I am even angrier for a lot of other reasons.

I was so angry (and still am) with the way I was treated by the police and all the other systems and institutions that were supposed to help me, who were supposed to know better. How I was treated after was worse than the actual assault. And I know that I’m not alone in that experience. I am angry that for all the friends I felt I’d always been there for and given so much to, many of them did not show up for me. I was angry that the only agency I’ve been given is to look at some photos rather than tackle this messed up system, that not once has anybody asked me what I want, that I still live in a world where I feel I am under the gaze and threat of sexualization and violence on a daily basis.

And this birthed a resentment in me, a resentment towards everyone involved in my case, towards a whole country, towards some of the people close to me, towards the world.

I realized that I have a sort of documentation of my feelings and thoughts, through my personal blog where I post a lot of my writing. And so I wanted to read some excerpts to you, because a lot of what I want to say today is in these posts and they work to tell more of the story than meets the eye:

February 9th, 2016 (a few days after)

Friends make us tea because warmth

is always good.

Bosses calculate their empathy

based on how much our traumas

will cost them.

It is all so costly.


There is too much sorry.

Always “I don’t know what to say.”

There’s the before and there’s the after and

sometimes we think they are the same but

then there is the remembering.

And it is all different.

The anger where there wasn’t before.

The heartbeat in our throats.

The clenched fists.

The third eye on the nape of our necks.

How the men all look the same, anyway.

Is it still paranoia if our fear has proven rational over and over?

How could we forget that as long as we have our bodies,

there is always more

to be taken from us.

February 22nd, 2016:

For the first time in my life, I was feeling good about my body. I cared for it more. I loved it more. I opened myself to feeling sexy and young and enjoying myself, to owning all of this, to wearing things I never thought a body like mine could wear, to not giving a shit about what anybody else thought. And then my body was used. And all that stuff started to fall away. But I’m not going to let it anymore. I refuse to shame myself for my body, for sometimes feeling crazy and paranoid and small and anonymous — all the things I’ve been most afraid of being my whole life.

And I hope, as survivors, as non-survivors, as people, we continue to support each other. Until we are all free.

So, here we are.

Learning how to love ourselves not despite our traumas, but wholly, with them.

Learning how to give ourselves after what’s been taken.

Learning how to be sexual and yet not sexualized.

Learning how to be a body that can feel its memories.

Learning how to exist alone and here and together and there.

Learning how to hold our own hands, to take care of ourselves the way we would each other.

Learning how to build back a dignity that isn’t going anywhere.

Learning how to stop apologizing.

Learning how to breathe and breathe and breathe ourselves into a better world.

May 10th, 2016

The truth is, your education doesn’t prepare you for your personal life. Your attitude doesn’t protect you from a fist. Your voice can’t always stop the violence from happening.

I’m not saying this to be depressing or hopeless. I do believe we have more power than we know; we are strong and loud and capable. I walked away thinking about all these small moments that go unaddressed every day. How I will remember this, add it to my growing folder of experiences of misogyny.

It’s been my first year out of the bubble of my women’s centered college, and I have experienced more violence, looks, and comments from men than I ever have before. And I’m not ashamed of saying it — I’m scared. Let’s not think our empowerment means it is shameful to be scared or sad or silent. Imagine all the little and big moments women experience throughout their lives and all the memories they collect. All the looks, comments, insults, catcalls, threats, and abuse we experience, from the street to our beds, reported and unreported, reportable and unreportable, noticed and unnoticed. What does it all add up to and where does it go? Because I am just trying to keep my head above them all, high enough to still see the sun. To still see the good. To still see myself.

And I can’t help but thinking.

Is this what it means to be a woman?

To be hunted and haunted?

To be prey of both men and our memories of them?

I refuse to believe gender violence is an inevitable, unchanging part of society. I do not accept it as a fact of our world. But I am also not naive enough to think it will disappear in my lifetime, to simply relish in “progress,” to trust a damn thing without one eye open. We are in some middle place, we are out on a bridge somewhere with fog too thick to see what lies ahead. I do not know where that is or how long the journey may be. I just know I’m going to keep walking. 

Today, April 6th, 2017

This may not be the most beautiful or empowering thing I can say. I don’t think empowerment is something to be given, it exists within us. And we already know the truth. We can speak a better reality into existence, but first we must have the audacity to imagine it. So I just want to share three key things that I’ve learned:

      • 1 – We need to figure out what we need and want (and not knowing just yet is okay)
        • We often know how to support others and even prescribe self care to the people we care about and yet we don’t allow ourselves the same care. Think about what you want and need. You likely will not be asked, but if you want to fight for yourself, you need to know what you’re fighting for. We’ve all been taught the phrase “treat others the way you’d like to be treated” how about we also start teaching “treat yourself the way you’d treat others.”
      • 2 – We must amplify the voices of those at the center of this issue and actively create spaces that allow for people to speak up and out.
        • Take a moment and think about the last time you were truly moved by something, that something caught your attention, that you felt you deeply cared about something. How many of you thought of a story? Personal narrative straight from the mouths of those most directly impacted by an issue is deeply effective. Storytelling is one of our most powerful social justice tools, and we should center it as such.
      • 3 – We better learn how to listen and fight alongside each other for our collective justice (and a justice that is not one single pathway).
        • human dignity should be the nexus from which we design and execute all of our prevention and response work — for everyone involved
        • according to Vera Institute of Justice’s latest report, policy and practice should be: survivor-centered, accountability-based (both on the perp and our society), safety-driven, and racially equitable and should be community led approaches. And I could not agree more.

The common theme among all of this is empathy. So what can a culture of empathy do?

      • Empathy can make men care about women’s issues not because a woman is their daughter, their sister, their mother, their wife, but the way one should care about the oppression of other whole human beings. Shocker: Women’s existence is not only relational to men.
      • Empathy can change our toxic ideas of American masculinity, and also allow men and others to come forward about their own experiences with sexual abuse and violence.
      • Empathy can replace old and ineffective systems.
      • Empathy can initiate new policies and programs by, for, and about survivors.
      • Empathy can develop restorative justice programs, anger management and violence prevention programs for people of all genders.
      • Empathy can make us all accountable to being better listeners, supporters, advocates, and change-makers, to name a few.

I could go on. I do not have all the answers. I am still out on that bridge somewhere, in between a disturbing reality and a daring future of magnificence and justice, but I am literally and metaphorically marching on, persisting on, anyway, with a whole lot of other amazing human beings.

To anyone and everyone who may be experiencing domestic or sexual abuse, whether it be in the past, the present, or the looming fear of it in the future, I just want to say — I see you. I hear you. And I am with you.

I am not what happened to me. I am not a tragedy; I am not America’s blind eye turned. Maybe some of the people in my life and the system and the president don’t care about me as much as I’d like them to but I care about myself. I will fight for myself. I love myself. And that is the most revolutionary thing I have ever done.

This is just a part of my story, my future will surely be a mosaic of joy, loss, successes, mistakes; just like all of us but always, always, the light will pour through the cracks and the colors alike and narrate our lives in vibrant survival. When shame and pain transform into power, we become the authors of our own lives.

I believe stories can change the world because they start by changing hearts and minds. And frankly, as with all oppressions, it is on all of us to listen, to create a culture of empathy. One voice can make a difference, yes, but a whole nation of listeners is unstoppable.