I am Not a Punchline

Yesterday, I was told a rape joke by an acquaintance who knows my story.

He then got mad when I didn’t find it funny.

“I thought you were over it,” he said.

Firstly, I never said I got over it.

Forgiven, yes.

Trying to move on, yes.

Over it, no.

I don’t know how you get over something like that:

He slammed my locker shut every day. He teased me relentlessly. He asked me out. I said “no.” That’s not the way I wanted to be treated.

To him, a simple ‘no’ was the end of the world. He decided I needed to be punished. He got his friends and they raped me in the school bathroom.

As soon as they finished, they left as quickly as they came. And I was left to pick up the pieces. The shattered pieces of my dignity fit in the palm of my hand. I washed off the traces of their crime. I covered up the developing bruises, and I went on my way.

I told no one.

They told me no one would ever love me, and I was eager to prove them wrong. So when my best friend asked me out too soon after, I eagerly said yes. I needed to prove them wrong, but I tried too soon.

We were too young. I was a mess, and I didn’t know how to help myself. But I kept my secret for over a year.

I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want to be blamed.

I started cutting and starving to erase their memory from my mind. My parents wondered why their showers were always cold.

(I was trying to burn away their touch from my skin)

We’re out of razors already?

(I was trying to carve a new person from my hollowed out soul)

I was a broken-down frame of a burned out house, and I needed to rebuild myself again.

And I needed to do it from the ground up. I needed to figure out who I was as a person; who did I want to be?

We needed to break up; it was a long time coming.

And almost seven years later, I’m standing on the other side of this inferno. Like a phoenix, I’ve risen from the ashes. I’m standing on a mountaintop, surveying the demolished parts of me, which serve as a reminder for who I was.

I’ve forgiven. I’ve rebuilt. I’ve stopped cutting, started eating. And I have pretty much healed.

But I don’t know how I will ever “get over this.”

I’ve stopped being a victim. I’ve started living. I focus on how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned, where I want to go.

Firstly, I don’t know if I will ever get over this.

Secondly, I am not a punchline.

There’s nothing funny about any of this.

It’s a cliché that shouldn’t have to be repeated, and yet, here we are.

We have to teach this old dog new tricks because I’m tired of wearing this old hat.

I can’t let you laugh this off.

There’s no punchline in being a statistic.

I refuse to be the victim, and I will fight you tooth and nail if you try to pin this on me:

Capital S for “Slut.”

My name is not “Bitch.”

I refuse to be somebody’s unwanted leftovers.

Out of the broken-down frames of a burned-out house, I have built myself again.

Like a phoenix, I rise from the ashes.

I am Everest.

I am stronger now than I was before.

But I refuse to be a punchline.

I am not a punchline.

People Watching

I sit at my table in the library, the same spot everyday (give or take). I think I have OCD. No, wait. I know I have at least a mild case of OCD.

I tried studying in a study room, once. The library’s always so loud, which is ironic because libraries scream quiet, and sometimes silence is the loudest scream of all.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. The room in which I studied once. Just once. Because, apparently, my mind needs distractions in order to be productive, which seems contrary to function. I’ve never been normal; it’s boring, anway.

So I sit at my table in the library, and I’m not so maladjusted that I can’t be flexible. Just as long as it’s a table, and I can sit facing the door. I people watch to think. Sometimes too much I think. But people are fascinating creatures, and sometimes I wonder if people notice the same things I do.

For instance,

1. Everyone has their own unique walk.

2. The way the computers get filled up is an interesting study on human behavior. No one likes making eye contact with someone they don’t know, which is why of the 4 computers in the campus library that you can stand at to use, people use the two where their backs are to the door first. And at the computers where you sit down, four to a table, people never sit directly next to or across from someone. They always sit diagonal. Unless the other user is a friend, in which case, all rules go out the window.

3. You can tell a lot about a person from their eyes. Eyes are the windows to the soul, which is why nobody sits directly across from someone they don’t know. Nobody wants to admit the truth: we’re all hurting.

4. The way the same person acts around different people is fascinating. And terrifying. Which is real? Can the person be trusted?

5. Every person has their own unique walk.

My friend has a purposeful gait, not like a horse’s. She walks deliberately: long strides, with confidence, as if she owns the place. Head up. Shoulders tall.

I do not. My posture is meager at best, as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and sometimes I don’t know if I can do it all.

But then I see the people working around me: I realize we’re all the same.

There’s the girl over there who is clearly hungry trying to convince herself she is not.

There’s the guy over there trying to put on a macho face when he’s clearly falling apart inside.

I wonder if she knows she’s beautiful, if she’s heard it today?

I wonder if he knows he’ll be ok, if he believes that today?

The hardest thing about being a poet is that I see all these things about people. And I haven’t figured out how to say, “Hey. I don’t know if you know this, but there’s something about the way your eyes light up and meet your dimples when you solve a tough problem that reminds me there’s hope” without sounding like a creeper.

So, I people watch, and I wonder what people would say about me if it were socially acceptable to say such things.

So, I people watch.

Because sometimes I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, and in order to distract myself from this feeling in my chest of impending doom, I make up stories about the people around me.

I’m not crazy. I have problems to solve and things to figure out, and I find the best of me in other people, and also the worst. And sometimes I need a little perspective.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, which is the best way to sum up life.

I’m really bad with small talk. The “How are you?”s and the “How about the weather?”s make me really uncomfortable. Is this a rhetorical question?

I’m better with intellectually stimulating conversations about what you think death is like, what is the meaning of all this? I think our answers to questions like these say more about us then “I’m good” ever could.

The mind is a funny place.

I think about death a lot and life. I’ve faced my own mortality by my own hand. The future terrifies me. I don’t even know what I’m doing this summer, let alone forever.

I need to take it one day at a time right now. That’s all I can handle. The world’s a big place, and I’m a small part of it.

And so I people watch. Because people fascinate me, but also terrify me, which is one of life’s great ironies.

Just like the Hulk’s secret is that he’s angry all the time, I’m afraid all the time. That’s how I survive.

I want to do big things, write a book, change the world, but I feel insignificant. The world’s a dangerous place: there’s war, violence, murder, hate, and sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.

But there’s always hope. Sunrises, sunsets, summer and winter. Life goes on.

And so will I.

And so I people watch, because everybody has a story. Stories fascinate me, and they should fascinate you, too.

Empathy goes a long way.

I write to figure things out, and I don’t know what this poem is trying to say, but I think it has to do with the confusion that’s inside me, because how do you know if you’re in love, because I think he’s kind of great.

He makes me want to eat pancakes with him, but I don’t even like pancakes. I don’t even know who ‘him’ is.

This is what goes on in my mind 24/7, and I promise I’m not crazy. I’ve just been hurt a lot, and I’m trying to heal and deal.

Because life is confusion and chaos and order and beauty and a paradox wrapped in a conundrum shrouded in mystery.

And I love every minute of it.

War and (No) Peace for the Weary

It didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong until I entered a room filled to the brim with people–faces I knew, faces I didn’t. It didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong until I entered said room and felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest, as though my lungs were filling with water, and as though my spinning head was going to rotate off my body and fly away.

And I blamed it on my asthma, but asthma can’t be blamed for everything. No, this is worse. Much worse. Because inhalers can fix asthma, or at least get it enough under control that I can breathe almost normally.

This is anxiety.

This is the feeling of complete and utter doom that springs from fears that have their roots firmly established in things I’ve experienced.

Because even though I go out of my way and actively avoid large groups of people, it’s not large groups of people I’m scared of. It’s the overcrowding, the not enough space, the I barely have enough room to squeeze by you, claustrophobia. And I didn’t used to be this way. I can remember the time and place I became claustrophobic: 8th grade, in a school bathroom. And that memory is probably why I can never go to the Bathroom by myself. It’s probably why when I’m in a large crowd, I make myself smaller to give myself more room.

I need room to breathe, and room to pace to sort out my jumbled up mess of thoughts. I thrive in wide open spaces.

But, not too wide. If you get too far away from people, it’s easy to imagine yourself as the only person left. And that terrifies me more. I like being alone, but I hate feeling alone. And yes, there’s a difference. At night when I sleep in my own room, I’m alone. But I can hear the snores of my family as the house settles in for the night, and I can hear God in the wind that makes my house moan and groan.

And even though darkness is wide, it can make you feel claustrophobic. Because sometimes, the weight of it all makes you feel like you are suffocating. What lies beyond my field of vision is mysterious and foreboding. The future terrifies me.

This is anxiety.

When my heart is racing so fast I count it in beats per second, not beats per minute. It’s paralyzing fear. Similar to the time I went to Niagara Falls in 8th grade and had to cross a glass bridge. I had to be pushed across by my friends, because I’ve always been scared of heights.

And eventually my fear of heights became synonymous with the urge to jump and end it all. But one time I climbed to the roof of a mall in Guatemala, and I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t want to jump. And that’s the biggest step toward healing I’ve ever taken. But when I went to the mall the other week, I found out that escalators still make me feel anxious.

Anxiety is not a trend. It’s not something you should use to make you feel cool, because believe me, it makes you feel totally uncool. When most girls wear over sized sweaters, they look cute. When I wear over sized sweaters, I look like how anxiety makes me feel.

Anxiety is not a trend. It’s not something you can shrug off when it’s too warm outside. It’s not something you can decide doesn’t fit with the look you want today. And anxiety looks different on everybody. I’m 5 years old, and there’s monsters in my closet (and by closet, I mean my head). Because one day, you realize the monsters hiding under your bed were really inside you the whole time. Right now, I’m 19 years old, and the monsters in the closet still scare me.

Anxiety is not Instragramming a pumpkin spice latte while watching Dr. Who on Netflix, all while sitting in your room alone. It’s running your fingers of your left hand over your right thumb and wrist, tracing the scars left behind, because you don’t know what else to do when your Lit Class is discussing a book about sexual assault. It’s tapping your foot in Health Class when they discuss eating disorders. It’s leaving the crowded dining hall of your college campus to pace up and down the book lined halls of the library.

Anxiety is sleepless nights and silence. I’ve been so open about my struggles, but I’ve remained silent on this. Nobody wants to seem weak. It’s the silence I wish my mind would impose upon this freight train of my mind, the racing thoughts that I don’t deserve to live a normal life. I don’t deserve to be happy. But I also don’t deserve to be unhappy, because, comparatively, my life isn’t so bad.

Anxiety is questioning. Why are they being nice to me? Why are they laughing? Is there something on my face? There are so many questions and not enough answers. Not that I deserve answers anyway,  because there are beautiful people out there, beautiful sweaters stitched together with greatness. I’m a lackluster wool turtleneck held together with mediocrity. Turtlenecks make me feel like I’m choking. And wool itches like anxiety makes my skin crawl.

And maybe one day, I’ll be a fantastic heroine in some award winning novel. I’ll be characterized by my beauty, charm, and confidence. But, right now, I feel like a bunch of equations haphazardly thrown up on a black board some where. Maybe one day my numbers will add up to greatness or something close to that, but right now my 5 and 8 and my 11 and 14 don’t add up. No matter how I do the math, add, subtract, multiply, or divide, my life still equals zero. I hope one day it equals one. Because in statistics, a correlation coefficient of 1 shows a strong relationship. Maybe one day my correlation coefficient of 1 will signify the relationship between my past struggles and how great I became.

Right now, I’m waiting for the day when I meet someone who says, “Here, let me take your oversized sweater for a while. I’ll give you a break from the itching.”