“I believe inconvenient survivors. I believe survivors I am told not to believe. I believe disabled survivors. I believe Black survivors. I believe Native survivors. I believe queer survivors. I believe trans survivors. I believe survivors of color. I believe survivors who have been in prison. I believe survivors who are currently in prison. I believe survivors who are homeless. I believe survivors with addictions. I believe survivors who don’t know how to talk about it. I believe survivors who talk about it too late. I believe survivors who talk about it too much. I believe survivors who talk about it casually. I believe survivors who can’t talk. I believe survivors who are kids. I believe survivors who know their abusers. I believe survivors who don’t know their abusers. I believe survivors who were in relationships with their abusers. I believe survivors who stay in relationships with their abusers. I believe survivors with mental illness. I believe survivors who don’t quite make sense. I believe survivors who are men. I believe survivors who have been broken by the news lately. I believe survivors, period, and I want a world that does, too.” – Elizabeth Miller

“There is a glint of
survival in my eyes that
everyone can see”
4/365, e.f.a.

I’ve written a lot of posts before about how to support sexual assault survivors, the statistics and public health crisis of sexual assault, my story of reporting and being let down by the legal system. This time, I’m looking through the lens of creative writing to mark the intersection of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Poetry Month.

For more than 200 nights when I was 21 years old, I wrote a poem to process my experiences from the day and see my personal growth over time. I had no idea that during those days, I would experience the trauma of sexual assault, followed by a drawn-out and perhaps even more traumatic experiences of fighting (and losing) within the legal system and living amidst rape culture that practically provides a blanket pardon for atrocities.

These moments pervade the poems. The collection of haikus, tankas, free-form poems, blackout poems and six- and ten-word stories form a living, breathing record of my grief, hope, loss, hopelessness, clawing my way out with others’ help, rebuilding, and reframing my sense of justice. A lifetime of experiences crammed into a year, signed e.f.a. My pencil marks and keyboard strokes are inextricably linked with my up-and-down journey of healing.

Though the daily rhythm has ended and the times I pick up a pencil are more sporadic, writing is still something that sticks with me. This poem is one of my favorites. It’s about when I got a check to buy new clothes in return for the ones I had handed over as evidence. Content warning: description of sexual assault.

“And All I Got Was”

He raped me
and all I got was a hundred-dollar check
soaked with rain
through a broken mailbox
a year and a half later

I refused to hold it in my hands
and admit to myself
that instead of a guilty verdict
or even a court time
or even a cop’s belief in my story
I got my apology in the form
of a piece of paper

Covered with numbers instead of words
because there are no words sufficient to say
“Sorry you got raped
(passive voice intentional)
and sorry you had to give an outfit
for evidence (that wouldn’t get
examined until you begged for
basic decency and the fulfillment of
bare minimum job requirements)

Your forgiveness and healing can’t
be rushed or bought or covered up
but we sure can try
because this is all we’ve got for you”

The painful symbol expired
still wavy from water
after 60 days on my shelf
when “void” became its value
on the very same day I became ready
to step into the glass box of the ATM
and appreciate its benefits more
than escape its distressing origin

I had to beg for a repeat
of the same sham of justice
an empty and pitiful echo of the
broken, unwanted, time-wasting
dream, first deferred, then denied
of seeing my rapist be deprived of
the ability to walk among us
and possibly make another person
another number
on his list of conquests

A year later
my mailbox had another symbol
tucked within it
because while it took him
one interview to convince my detective
that he was innocent and I just
a foolish girl who “asked for it”
and “invited him in”
it took 957 days
for me to get a sense of
penance

To the man who forced a “yes”
and did not heed my “no”
I still pray for you
and those around you
the people who know you
longer than a single night
your parents, shielded from knowing
what you did to me
that night and so many nights since
in the form of technicolor memories
soured moments
broken trust
and relationships stretched
to the point of breaking
by traumas not theirs

“The justice system,” the unearned title
“You’re our priority,” the unlikely reality
“You brought it on,” the terrifying “truth”
from my “expert” and “advocate”
police officer
about what I “really” meant
when I relayed that this man
slammed my head
into a wall and left my
body, mind, and spirit riddled with
bruises and bite marks
and the beatings of society on top
of the other scratches

I pray for you
but that’s the only
sense of peace I got to pocket
Where did you learn such violence?
Was it from the Scriptures you said
you grew up adoring?
O LORD, my God,
make him understand
that to treat a sibling of God
with such disdain
is to dishonor
Your holy name
and stomp on it
with muddy boots and
a cracked-open soul
screaming out pain so searing
that nobody can bear it

Can I bear this?

I screamed at the sky
struggling with cosmic chaos like Job
Jacob and other giants of the faith
who wrestled with God long before me
wondering where (and why)
God’s divine intervention
missed the mark and
instead let me drown

But after all this time of trying
to make flowcharts and summary reports
and understandings of how
A leads to B
God is gently turning me
around to show me that
I don’t need to agonize about why
but instead imagine
what comes next

I bought with that hundred dollars
products from community organizations
that support people experiencing
oppression and violence
because I now know
what it means
to fear for my life
and so I will spend my life
creating spaces for others
to be able to flourish
instead

He raped me
and all I got was a hundred-dollar check
and the priceless strength and empathy
that come with survivorship

Thank you for going on a piece of my journey with me by reading along.

If this piece moved you, I invite you to donate to the organization that stood in solidarity with me during my seven-month battle with the legal system, Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC). They provided me with advocacy, comfort, and legal advice at no cost.

If this piece brought up personal experiences of trauma, I encourage you to reach out to a trusted loved one, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673), or text the general national crisis line at 741741. I encourage you to practice self-care. I encourage you to remember – always – that what happened was not your fault and you did not deserve it. I encourage you to have self-compassion for yourself on the days that it hits differently. You’re just as worthy on the days when you’re hurting, scared, and angry as you are on the days when you wear red lipstick called “F*ck Kavanaugh” and feel powerful as all get out.

You are never alone.

Emmie Arnold

Emmie Arnold (she/her/hers) is a palliative care and intensive care hospital chaplain at a children’s hospital in New York; a candidate for ordination in the PC(USA); avid cook; traveler (on hiatus); friend and family member to many; writer; and musician.

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