When I Call Myself Survivor

by Amanda Saunders

It’s Sunday morning and my uncle is telling me about the “levels” of assault, How it’s wrong, but a girl should not be able to have sex, regret it, and cry wolf; How she should have expected that grab when picking out her skirt. And he doesn’t know that His voice is the one inside my head whenever I try to write this poem. I fight until my body is earthquake against everything he believes, But will not call myself survivor. Do not feel the right to my history. The 15-year-old girl I once was shrinks into her corner, As I think of my first boyfriend.

The boy was quiet and safe, until he wasn’t. When I left, he yelled at me for wasting his time, And I learned my body’s worth based on what he wanted from it.

And I still don’t know if I’m a survivor. There was no scream, no protest, no force. Just a 15-year-old girl, Backstage in an empty theatre

The whole of me, quiet wait Stomach churning, Surprised he couldn’t hear the avalanche in my head, I said, hold on. It was all I could manage.
It was not stop, not afraid.
Violence did not live in his fists.
It was not no, but it was there,

And maybe he didn’t hear me.
I did not think to yell,
Did not recognize this in my shallow understanding of consent,
Had not been taught of lack of consent in the absence of violence.
This was no alley.
He was no stranger.
I was not pinned down,
Could’ve run,
But there was no reason to.

I didn’t know the smart words yet.
The 4-year-old in me kicked,
My voice, dead-
Up against so much

I said wait, and he kissed me
Until there was only the sound of his breath in my ear.

But I am 20 now, not trapped under the weight
Of a boy I need to love me.
I am in the kitchen
With an uncle who tells me
I have no right to this trauma
And I want to explain how destructive it is to paint dark alley and screams,
Over every statistic,
To tell those who did not know they could say no,
Who were silent or scared,
That they are to blame,
That their stories are not theirs.
I want desperately to make him understand
But in my family of lawyers, the emotion gripping my throat in debate is weakness, not trauma.
And he does not know.

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