Dealing with past trauma in the era of Trump

This is gonna be a 100% rant, but I need to get this confusion and my swirling thoughts out somewhere.

Today the US Embassy in Madrid contacted me because apparently the Spanish Police have been trying to get in touch with me. They want me to do a photo line-up of suspects they believe may have been the one who assaulted me last February. It’s almost a year to the date, and I am so surprised. I really thought that was long gone and done, that they didn’t give a single shit about it. I haven’t heard anything from them since last year, the first time they asked me to come in and do a photo line-up where it was clear they hadn’t listened to one thing I said in my description. I had no hope for this case whatsoever because of many reasons.

From the beginning, I was appalled by the way I was treated by the police and agencies there. It was very clear to me, instantly, that I was on my own in this. It could be seen in the way I was surrounded by ten male officers in the backroom of the metro, trying to give my statement in Spanish without being given a translator. Meanwhile they all laughed and talked, having their own private conversations while I stumbled to find the words, being handed a cell phone to talk to the metro agent’s girlfriend because she spoke some English, just to make sure I really meant sexual assault, that that one phrase wasn’t lost in translation because it was just so damn unbelievable to them. How they told me over and over “no pasa nada,” no worries, it doesn’t matter, you’re not in danger, there’s no need to be upset. That I had to compose myself into unfeeling apathy in order to be taken seriously or heard at all just moments after this happened, when I was completely alone in this room in a foreign country at 22 years old trying to keep my shit together. And I kept it the hell together, but that didn’t matter much.

The whole time, I was so angry. Angry at the perp, angry at the police, angry at Spain as a whole. And I kept thinking to myself, “this would never go down like this in the U.S., I know we have an even bigger issue of sexual assault but I would have resources, they would care, they would have a sense of empathy and compassion, there are basic things that they would just know to do differently!!”

I felt so deeply wronged.

To be completely honest, my first reaction in hearing from the Embassy was excitement. I was excited, thinking this messy, unfinished, open box I’ve tried to store away in my head somewhere could be neatly closed for good. Immediately after that, I thought, “wait, but would that mean he goes to jail?” Because that’s not what I imagined in this moment of fleeting happiness where I got my hopes up. And almost as instinct, I thought, “no, that’s not right and that’s not what I want.” I began to question myself — why do I feel this way? I tried to think back to when this was fresh last February, when I toiled with it in my head walking the streets and enduring long subway rides in the heart of Madrid. I was angry and afraid and hurt, but I don’t think I ever once wanted this person to sit in a jail cell. I’m not sure what I wanted.

This brought up a lot that I’ve been grappling with lately. How do I navigate being a survivor as someone who believes strongly in prison abolition? And does that or should that look the same in Spain, a different country, history, and system?

So, now I’m asking the most complicated questions I think we all need to think deeply about — What even is justice?

Compassion is easy when we think about people we like, people we can see ourselves in, who are aligned in some way, even remotely, with our values, preferences, aesthetics, etc. but what does compassion look like for people we despise? Who we can’t find these things in?

Can we collectively imagine a justice that is removed from punishment? In which justice is not a term applied when we really just mean vengeance?

So, what did I want back then? I wanted him to know what he did was wrong and that he was being held accountable, that this community saw him for what he was, that he was somehow outed for his actions. I wanted him to learn to be better and do better, I wanted him to get treatment. And I wanted to feel safe and supported.

But most of all, in the days and weeks following what happened, I wasn’t even angry anymore at him. I was so angry 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.

And now, well, here we are in America, and all those resources I thought about in those weeks of furiousness are being cut, and the person in the highest office in the land brags about sexually assaulting women. So honestly, I don’t know how to feel. I have felt more in danger and under threat and afraid (for very real reasons) in the time since coming home, right here, than I ever did abroad, even taking all this bullshit case stuff into account. I just realized that and, wow, just wow.

I’ve been angry, still, in all the same ways. I’ve been so maddened by how women and their bodies have been talked about, surveilled, ranked, judged, pushed down, thrown out. How survivors and the way they feel about this election has barely been talked about, taken seriously, or supported beyond some signs at a march or a side note on a newscast. How over and over, they have not been centered and central. I know that they have been some, but I don’t think it’s enough.

In all honesty, closing this case means nothing to me. And shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t it?!?

But I feel nothing. Because there is no way I will feel safer, happier, empowered, or supported when we are here, in this place, in this real, immediately threatening country I call home. Here, I feel everything.

Yesterday, I signed up for a self defense and mixed martial arts class so I can feel safer protecting myself and standing up for other people. Today, I received this news about my case from thousands of miles away while I read about all the ways Trump is cutting funding and resources to organizations and initiatives working to end violence against women and help survivors. And I keep seeing that damn transcription of his comments about grabbing women by the pussy, bragging about sexually assaulting women everywhere I turn. Tomorrow, who the hell knows. Through it all, I am so, so angry. Maybe that sounds too simple. But I am just so angry.   

Holy

When I fell in love with you,

I finally knew why people believed in God

but it wasn’t Him who made the world sound like gospel

or the sun glow through tree lines or glitter off icy sidewalks

or made the rain smell like coffee in the morning

or every song and poem speak to me

or sex feel like becoming

it was all you.

It has always been you.


And maybe I am not your woman but I am always your woman.

No matter the one you sleep beside now.

I am still your woman.

And I stand in front of you,

ready to kneel to us,

the way one does before an altar,

the way one does when they are offering themselves

to whatever is holy to them.


Somebody asked me what I will take with me

when I die.

I don’t think life has ever been about the taking

death is not a matter of us leaving

it’s a celebration of all that we leave

what we have given and given and given


and if I have given you joy,

if I have grown smiles across your brilliant face

like white daisies splashed easy on river banks


if I have given you love

naked and holy and whole

all learned together and self-taught

and stubborn for survival


if I have given you grace

if you have found gratitude in your falling

and power in your rising

if you have been willing to let the world

bear witness to all of you


if I have given you courage

to face yourself, to face the ones who want to condemn everything and everyone you love

calling yourself queen

calling yourself worthy


if I have given you comfort

if you have made bed of my chest

and not run from fear but embraced it

the way my arms did you


if I have given you belonging

if I have given you everything

you have given me

that will be enough.


All this is to say that

loving you has been my own religion

your eyes, northern lights

your touch, the sanctuary of grand cathedrals


and I miss you, like a child

who has seen death in far too many

unjust ways

to believe in anything beyond his pain

and the knowledge that it is coming


but I believe.

I believe.

Sometimes this life feels like a succession of funerals

like the more we live, the more we are losing and have lost

the more that has been taken

but loving you

loving you

is like leaving everything I possibly could behind


to be nothing but soul.

standing alone in irving plaza

I have not spoken of you in months. The other day I was trying harder than usual not to think about you, and failing. I was supposed to go to a concert that night, a band I discovered two years ago when they opened for the woman who played the song you said was ours. We were both in the concert hall that night, but not together. Still freshly broken. Their music played on repeat for months as I watched you fall for another girl in the city we shared, then. I always skip their songs when they come up from the pain of it, how their beats and melodies could instantly bring me back to those first weeks of losing you more and more. But I bought the ticket. And I have not spoken of you in months. Until that morning when an old friend asked and I couldn’t help but admit to our latest end in contact two months ago. That same day, in the middle of the concert, you messaged me and I felt half my torso sink right there beneath the club lights and familiar inflections of the singer’s voice. My friend replied to my frantic text, said “you’re speaking shit into existence.” Somehow, we are still hardwired for our connection. Call it telepathy, call it coincidence, call it nothing at all.

I stood motionless and entranced as he sang:

“I’m gonna tell you, tell

I’m gonna tell you how I feel

I’m gonna love you, love

I’m gonna love you till you’re here

Try to leave my heart alone

You’re the one for me

(Did you know?)

You’re the one for me

(Can you show it?)

Show me where the love is gone”

I don’t know what to say but everything he’s been belting out our last two times around the sun.

Do you speak of me? Are you still running the way I was from those lyrics? Did your heart race when you pressed send? Did you close your eyes in loss at my reply or did they roll in frustration? Did you tell yourself you hate me either way? Do you still hate me either way?