It’s funny, the things that get you. We refer to our pasts as if they are a destination once passed through, accessible only by an intentional backtracking of emotional breadcrumbs, inhabited merely by ghosts and other transient, translucent entities. In fact, they are not so linear.
I think it’s like RAM on a computer. Random Access Memory. A seemingly magical system of shortcuts that, when combined, allow bits of randomly-stored data to combine and deliver you some concrete information. In the case of memories, that information is a destination that is neither ghost like nor transparent. It is concrete and can change you, completely, into a past incarnation of yourself. Thankfully, it is transient.
I have spent more of my life as someone who has been raped than not. It was so long ago, and I have paid so much attention to its fingerprints on my soul that I am rarely surprised, or even moved, by my memories of it. I know what my triggers are – they are few. I know the ways it has changed me – they are many.
I was raped by a black man whose face I never saw, though I saw his hands. He wore surgical gloves, and a condom when he raped me. Because I never saw him, my body stored memories from all my other senses, and from the few things that I did see.
For many years, black men triggered me. Then only black hands. Now neither.
For many years, the smell of condoms triggered me. Now it doesn’t.
Every now and then I run into sheets that have the same floral pattern as the pillow case that my face was held into, and that would trigger me. I saw those sheets at Goodwill recently, and smiled when I realized that they didn’t trigger me any more.
For many years, the sight of a doctor’s hands in surgical gloves would trigger me. Now it doesn’t.
It was a beautiful day in Seattle today, I found one excuse after another to not go inside. A late afternoon walk with the dog had me reflect on life and love. The dog arrived in my life at the end of a leash held by a man who became a lover, and “the” great love. He snuck into my soul in a most unexpected manner, and left just as unexpectedly. The dog is, sometimes, a trigger to that past reality. That past incarnation of me.
The dog, on a sunny day, when I admire the beauty of the world, and my life and the potential I see everywhere, is a big trigger. It reminds me of the future I once believed I could have with this man. It reminds of how powerless I can be. But also how powerful. After all, I am the one walking in the sun admiring both the beauty and the potential of life. And of myself.
The dog and I head home. It is colder than I thought, but my face is sunburned from my stubborn refusal to seek shelter throughout the day. (This metaphor is not lost on me. My stubborn refusal to do the safe and logical thing is often the cause of unexpected pain. But, more often, the cause of great joy.)
As we cross the street, there is a surgical glove laying in the gutter.
I am triggered. I can hear it as it snaps off the fingers of a rapist who removes it and tosses it in the gutter as he just goes on about his life, with no regard to what he has done to the girl who is left quivering, afraid, confused, unsure why it happened or what to do next.
I stop. The dog sits, obediently, and looks at me, acknowledging that he knows this pause is different. I am shaken. By the glove. The dog whimpers, rubs his face on my leg, and flops his belly onto the grass.
I am still frozen, looking at the glove. The shaking in my body subsides, slowly. My breath returns to normal. Years ago, this would have been a full-blown panic attack. Many years ago.
These things fascinate me. These randomly accessed memories delivering me data, and the ways in which my body first, then my brain, process it all.
I wanted to call the lover who arrived with the dog. But I don’t. I had just tried to call him, as I was sundrunk on the beauty of everything. He didn’t answer (I knew he wouldn’t,) and it would have been the first time we’d spoken since we broke up. Since he broke up with me, as mysteriously and silently, and forcibly and without my consent as…. If I hadn’t just tried to call him, I would have tried now. But why?
I know that if he knew why I was calling, panicked from the trigger, he’d be there. I smile at my inability to see the worst in people or situations. I realize, thanks to the glove and the dog, that more than anything, I am defined by my ability to keep going, to learn, to grow, to change. To see the potential in everything, the magic everywhere.
And I stop shaking. I fall utterly in love with myself. I am not the rapist, I am the one who emerges as a sensual and brave being regardless. I am not the one who shuts down when things are hard and scary, I am the one who stays open.
I am the one who can feel the triggers, but decide what it is they will trigger in me.
I tug the leash, and we walk on up the hill. I realize I’m smiling. I still want to call him, but realize that not only is there no point, there’s no need. I got what I needed from the moment.
But, just in case it wasn’t clear enough, I walked past a bumper sticker that said, “Change is inevitable, Growth is optional.” I wanted to look at the bumper and say, “duh!”
Instead I said, “thank you.”