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CW: Sexual Assault – I Believe Myself

CW: Sexual assault.

I believe Anita Hill. I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. I believe Deborah Ramirez. I believe Julie Swetnick.

My best friend describes me as a logical person. I take this to be a very high compliment. Recently, the two of us tried to pin down exactly what “logic” means to us. I like to think critically about things—factors that shape situations; intersections between these factors; ways in which ideas, thoughts, and feelings combine to form outcomes. It’s a form of interrogation, and it always leads to my questioning my own motives, feelings, and memories. It’s usually a fun, stimulating exercise for me to consider why the world is the way that it is and why people, including myself, believe what they do.

This week, my logical impulse has been a fist clenched around my throat.

I cannot stop thinking about Brett Kavanaugh; I cannot stop thinking about my assaulter.

I cannot stop drawing parallels, revisiting my 16-year-old self’s anxious headspace and questioning how much of my then 17-year-old assaulter’s behavior to excuse.

I return again and again to one, until now, pretty unimaginable scenario for me: if I were to report that I was sexually assaulted at a party six years ago by a then 17-year-old boy, would I be believed and by whom?

This scenario is not a fun one to play out:

I struggle to remember every excruciating detail from a night I have spent considerable amounts of effort struggling to forget. The couch was L-shaped and green, the blanket was a duvet, the carpeting was beige, the TV was on. I include the details that fill me with guilt and shame.

I imagine pleading with a jury of nine men. I imagine, under pressure from an attorney, re-scrutinizing every single memory. I imagine the voices behind Facebook comment threads I’ve regretfully read coming to life; strangers judge and blame me. I imagine reading stories by people whose trauma is invoked by my recalling my own trauma. I imagine people from my high school signing a letter about my assaulter’s laudable character. I imagine, in that courtroom, what I would concede. What were you wearing? How much alcohol did you consume? Why didn’t you report? Why didn’t you scream? I imagine eventually falling silent.

A bikini is not consent to any form of physical touch. Too much alcohol is not consent to sexual acts performed on you while you are incapacitated. A mutual kiss is not consent to anything beyond the kiss. Silence is what takes place when you are alone in your room, reading your favorite book; when you are deep in thought; and when you are sleeping. Silence does not yearn for the touch of cold, clammy hands. Silence is not agreement, even when it keeps you up at night.

Imagining this scrutiny, putting myself through a trial of my own this week, has resulted in an affirmation of the details I do remember. Before this week, I felt as close as I could to being at peace with what happened to me six years ago. I felt and feel that I better understand the pressures my assaulter must have been experiencing: the pressure we put on boys to choose between feeling socially ostracized and objectifying girls.

But now that I have scrutinized—rethought every detail, every transgression of a boundary, every sip of alcohol, every article of clothing, every passive bystander—I am more confident than ever that I was assaulted. Inexcusably, willfully violated. I don’t owe you or anyone else the details. I am not testifying before a court of nine men; my country is not watching; my trial this week will remain, aside from this blog post, in my own mind. How utterly infuriating it is that I feel lucky.

I BELIEVE ANITA HILL. I BELIEVE DR. CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD. I BELIEVE DEBORAH RAMIREZ. I BELIEVE JULIE SWETNICK. I BELIEVE MYSELF.

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An Open Letter to my Former Friend who may have Sexually Assaulted Someone

CW: Sexual assault. The intended audience of this letter does not include recent trauma survivors. My heart is first and foremost with you.

Almost a year ago now, my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with “Me, too” statuses written to draw awareness to the scope and magnitude of sexual violence in our culture. I have grappled with whether or not to publish this letter, and ultimately decided it is an important piece of the puzzle. I revised this today, because I’ve done a lot of critical thinking in the past ten months. This letter is the result of that emotional labor, labor that, for me, resulted in more freedom and more lightness of being. For that, I am proud of myself. Disclaimer: In this letter, I focus on the endemic nature of male rape culture specifically. To all survivors, no matter your gender or the gender of your assaulter: I believe you.

A few Saturdays ago, after a party, no one knew where you went. I found you absolutely plastered in a mutual friend’s bedroom, half passed out. He had lent you his bed for the afternoon. I sat on the edge of the bed and asked how you were doing. You put your arms around me and pulled me down so I was laying on top of you. You sloppily rubbed my back and face. You felt sad and lonely, so I lay there and affirmed your feelings. I didn’t want to make you feel worse than you already did by pushing you away even though I felt uncomfortable. When I tried to get up, you grabbed the strap of my tank top and pulled me back down.

Had we not had a recent conversation about the platonic nature of our friendship, I would have been terrified. Had you been a stranger or a new friend or a boss, I would have been terrified. I eventually managed to pull your arms off of me so I could sit up, bring you a glass of water, watch to make sure you didn’t choke or spill on yourself while you drank it and insist you go back to sleep.

This is rape culture. This, and you, are how rape, assault and sexual objectification happen. The #MeToo movement shocked and appalled many people in my life, who posited the question, sometimes directly to me, “Where do these awful men come from?”

Rapists do not come crawling from the gutters, eager to ravage people. Rapists are not born; they are made. They are constructed by the cultural expectations they feel.

Rape culture begins by emotionally isolating men like you. Rape culture has taught you that female emotional intimacy must always be convoluted by potentially complicated sexual expectations. It has taught you that male emotional intimacy can be perceived as gay and as cause to be bullied and ostracized. It has taught you that attaining sexually and romantically intimate relationships with women is the only way for you to experience emotional intimacy without sacrificing your masculinity. It has also taught you that your validity as a man depends on your ability to obtain relationships with particularly beautiful (the capitalist, racist, cis-hetero, American standard of “beautiful”) women.

You have been programmed to scan every room you enter for legs, thinness, whiteness, breasts and hair. You see sex objects first and women second. Throughout our friendship, you have asked me, “Is she single?,” upon the sight of almost every woman you have encountered who meets your criteria. I’m neither blaming you entirely nor seeking to excuse your behavior. Unfortunately, you’re far from alone.

We all take cues from our environment, and sexual objectification permeates every nook and cranny of our culture. It is hard to see people before seeing sex objects when every ad we encounter features legs, thinness, whiteness, breasts and smooth, shiny hair. To make matters worse—to make matters violent—ads and movies also teach us that sexual aggression is the means through which people obtain relationships with women. These expectations have been deeply ingrained in your psyche. They have been ingrained in mine, too, and I fight them every day. I have struggled for years to see myself as a person first, and legs, thinness, whiteness, breasts and smooth, shiny hair second. I fight every day for my agency. I continually battle the internalized notion that I am meant to be passive.

The day after you were physically aggressive with me, you texted me, sad and wanting to talk. You told me you had done regretful things the night before. You told me you had gone to your fraternity house and drank more. You told me you had hooked up with someone. You told me you were worried you might have crossed a line and made her uncomfortable. Based on your total lack of memory that you had done anything to make me feel uncomfortable that day, I have no doubt that you did cross a line with whomever you even slightly remember making uncomfortable. I neither want to be a passive bystander, nor take a story that is not mine and make assumptions, but you left me with one half of a story—the half of the potential perpetrator. You left me grappling with your hazy uncertainty. You left me wondering what to do. I write because I feel it is necessary to say something to you. I write because I’m sure I am not alone in struggling to determine my role in ending this abhorrent violence, as the friend of a potential perpetrator.

Remembering this encounter was hard for you. Hard because of the alcohol, and hard because you were in disbelief that you could have assaulted or did assault someone. I know it is not easy to own up to being a source of hurt.

Frankly, though, I’m realizing my empathy is not enough. If you, despite your best efforts, find it difficult to prevent yourself from assaulting people, I do not know how to be in your life. I do not know how I can negotiate my emotional boundaries with you. When you prioritize your own feelings, you put me and others in a position of having to justify your wrongful actions to you.

Understanding the line between platonic intimacy and sexual aggression may be difficult for you, asking for consent more than once may feel strange to you, and rejection is painful, but assaulting someone is unacceptable. I feel like an enabler if I empathize with your difficulty to repress sexually aggressive urges.

If, on the other hand, I drop you as a friend, I still feel like an enabler because I can no longer talk to you about consent and about the pressure you feel. I can no longer work through your problems with you. I recognize that this is not my job, especially as a sexual assault survivor, but honestly, I worry that if I don’t step up to work with you on this, no one else will, and you’ve proven to me through your words and actions that you are incapable of doing the work on your own.

No matter what I do in this situation, there will be hurt. You will suffer if you feel your complicity in rape culture. You worry your complicity brands you as a bad person, incapable of change. Acknowledging your complicity, however, is not acknowledging something inherent in you; it is acknowledging your responsibility to own up to your actions and to do better. I will suffer whether or not you acknowledge your complicity, because you have left me with the reality that one of my most trusted friends can be and was sexually violent.

If you don’t acknowledge your complicity, the burden of this truth falls entirely on my shoulders. I am left not knowing how to tell our mutual friends that I no longer feel comfortable around you. I am left not knowing whether it would be a breach of your privacy, or more importantly, the privacy of whomever you likely assaulted, to do so. I suffer when it becomes my responsibility to educate you with extreme sensitivity and understanding, or else risk the loss of your willingness to listen. I also suffer from the fear that, if I don’t take on the task of educating you, you will assault someone.

The work of confronting your sexual violence is hard and we both will feel pain; there is no way around that.

I was assaulted in high school by a boy who probably to this day does not know he assaulted me. I have recently come to terms with the idea that he likely had no malicious intent. He likely was under a tremendous amount of sexual pressure because he was taught to be insecure in his adolescent masculinity, taught that if he wasn’t hooking up and having sex with girls, he was behind or falling behind.  He was taught, through media and peer pressure and cultural norms, that not hooking up would make him less of a man. Being perceived as less of a man could mean social ostracization, especially in high school. It could mean being less likely to receive opportunities for real, not forced, intimacy—intimacy so many of us crave. The night he assaulted me, he must have felt scared. He must have felt his emotional safety and security at risk. In trying to secure safety and belonging for himself, he took a piece of mine.

You might abhor sexually aggressive qualities in yourself. You might be trying your hardest. Sometimes trying is not enough.

I know asking for consent sometimes feels like a sexual buzzkill for you because you told me it does. It doesn’t have to, but our public school system does not teach adolescents sex-positive consent, so I understand why that knowledge might be new to you.

I know that when you explicitly ask for consent, you worry you’re more likely to be rejected than when you just act, and I know this feels scary to you. But the alternative to being rejected is not sex; it is sexual assault. It is sometimes rape. I know you do not want to assault. You want physical intimacy. You want human connection.

I do not want to publicly name you in such a way that you might be cut off from emotionally fulfilling relationships. I do not want to accuse you of having done something you did not do. Still, I fear speaking honestly about exactly what you did with me and said to me. I fear speaking honestly about the fact that you could have assaulted and likely did assault someone. I do not want you to feel branded as threatening.

But I’m being told, through accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s assaults, that this is also how rape culture happens—that my refusal to name you or speak openly about this makes me complicit.

What do we do when people we know and love are responsible for rape culture? Can we ethically judge people who are formed within a culture that purports toxic masculinity as the only way for them to obtain worth? Do we ostracize men who are assaulters or potential assaulters, and how many people must they have assaulted before we act? How do we negotiate the extent to which we empathize and the extent to which we push away? How do we know which tactic will be more helpful in preventing further assaults on our bodies and the bodies of loved ones? How do we know what will result in the least emotional damage to ourselves and the least disparity in emotional labor among genders? I do not wish to excuse violence, but easy answers evade me here.

I do not know how best to help you in your fight against your own sexual aggression, or if I should feel guilty for wanting to help you at all. I do not know how to prioritize my own feelings, as a survivor of sexual assault, in this situation.

You are not responsible for the culture that raised you. Neither am I. But both of us are responsible for its reproduction. I know it is not my responsibility to educate you, empathize with you, or to single handedly fix this. Ultimately though, this becomes your responsibility and my responsibility, or else rape culture continues. I am not asking you isolate yourself or to rid yourself of sexually aggressive and objectifying urges overnight, but I am asking you to deliberately and persistently fight those urges. I am asking you to recognize the context through which sexually predatory instincts arise. I am asking you to own up to your actions, instead of putting your emotional labor and your shame on others. I am asking you to not assault. I am asking you to try, as hard as you can, to intuit through empathy when you’re making people uncomfortable, and to err on the side of not making people uncomfortable, even when that feels isolating or difficult for you. Because when I am the one who is made uncomfortable, I feel violated.

So many of us have no choice but to expend emotional energy every day negotiating this problem. We continually reflect on our complicity in this culture and our responsibility to prevent sexual violence. This work is necessary, and it is your privilege to have led much of your life unaware of its existence. If you truly wish to stand with survivors, I impel you to join us.

Three weddings, one week

To have a large wedding in South India signifies wealth and prosperity. If your neighbor’s cousin’s friend’s sister-in-law decides to invite her Bollywood instructor, and, while she’s at it, everyone else in the Bollywood class, the more the merrier! Furthermore, to have foreign guests at one’s wedding is seen as an honor, and South Indians are very welcoming of [white, western] foreign guests. So, when I was invited to three weddings in one week, I wasn’t as surprised as you might expect. The weddings, themselves, however, were filled with surprises.

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When I groggily opened my door at 4:50am in response to fervent knocking, my ammaa was surprised I hadn’t already woken myself up. We had planned to leave the house at 6am for a 6:30am wedding, and evidently, I needed more than a full hour to get ready.

My ammaa dressed me in my saree, combed and pulled back my hair, gave me necklaces, earrings and bangles to wear, and of course, a bindi.

Hindu weddings tend to be morning occasions, because morning hours are considered “auspicious.” The exact time is astrologically calculated by a priest. This sets up the new couple for a happy marriage.

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The bride is a distant relative of my ammaa‘s. Decorated like a goddess, she was adorned in a gold and blue saree, her hair was meticulously braided and enhanced with rhinestones, her arms were painted with detailed henna, and her wrists were hidden beneath gold bangles. The wedding saree of the bride is a gift expected from the groom’s family. The bride receives it on stage at the wedding, and then changes her dress before the ceremony with the groom begins.

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I’ll be honest. For the majority of the wedding ceremony, I had no idea what was happening, and am not qualified to talk about the significance of each processional act (if you’re really curious what happens at a South Indian Hindu Wedding/why it happens, I whole-heartedly endorse your googling “South Indian Hindu wedding processional,” which I guarantee will grant you much more reliable knowledge than I can).

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Here’s my summary. The bride and groom separately entered and left the wedding stage multiple times. Family members often joined. Music blared throughout the hall (vows are not exchanged orally; audience members are free to talk amongst themselves throughout the ceremony). Multiple poojas (communions between people and God created through a series of ceremonial actions) were performed. Food was eaten. The bride was showered in rice, confetti, and attention. A camera crew documented the whole thing. The bride and groom exchanged garlands. We ate.

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To honor her parents, the bride washes their feet.
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The parents of the bride and groom exchange gifts, foods, and garlands.
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Relatives shower the bride in rice.

Suddenly, they were married. Two people who had probably explored each other’s Facebook pages to make sure they were suitable, who had then spoken on the phone a few times, and who had met in person once or twice, were now committed to spending their lives together. Their parents arranged the partnership based on knowledge of their future son’s/daughter’s spouse they acquired through distant relatives (Do they drink? Do they smoke? Do they have a reliable income, and similar habits of life?). The bride and groom are, necessarily, of the same caste. Marriage is a matter of practicality, trust, perseverance, and hopefully, joy.

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I couldn’t help but impose western biases as I watched this wedding, though. To me, the bride appeared terrified at worst, indifferent at best, and happy only once or twice. The bride and groom hardly, if ever, made eye contact. My Caste, Gender, and Politics professor explained to me, though, that women are:

  • A) Not used to such an inordinate amount of attention (literally decorated and put on stage in front of hundreds of guests)
  • B) Not encouraged to express too much emotion. Remaining reserved is more respectable
  • C) Not in control of what’s going on during the ceremony, and probably anxious for it to be over

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The bride, therefore, may have been (and hopefully was) excited about her marriage, but too stifled or anxious to express her happiness in the setting of a loud, crowded marriage hall in which she was the center of attention.

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My favorite aspect of the ceremony was a game played by the bride and groom on stage, in which they competed to fish a ring out of a large ceramic pot, as an ice breaker, of sorts. Both the bride and groom laughed and smiled. They seemed happy to be together.

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Still, I wondered, what if he talks too much? What if they find each other to be tolerable, but nothing more?  What if they’re not sexually compatible? What if he doesn’t like her cooking? What if she doesn’t want to cook for him? What if they hate each other? What if abuse, what if domestic violence, what if, what if, what if?! The mentality surrounding marriages here seems to be that if problems arise, they can be dealt with, no matter how severe. If a problem is severe enough, the parents of the bride and groom will meet to discuss options, to intervene, and to solve the problem. Divorce is uncommon and highly stigmatized.

Granted, these mentalities are present in the U.S., too. Divorce certainly isn’t smiled upon, and people can (and do) radically change throughout marriages. A bride and groom in the U.S. can discover, within a month or within 10 years, that they’re completely incompatible. Domestic violence certainly occurs in the U.S., and marriages are not the fairytales our culture tells us they are.

People can find themselves stuck or will themselves to be stuck in mediocre partnerships anywhere in the world. This is not particular to arranged marriages. Nonetheless, at this wedding, perhaps because arranged marriages are so novel to me, I found myself thinking harder about the idea of “stuckness.”

The commitment to working through problems with a partner does not necessarily connote stuckness. This commitment in itself can be seen as a form of letting go: letting go of the idea of perfection, letting go of the happily-ever-after narrative we’re all fed, letting go of the perpetual search for something more, something better, something righter, something that may or may not exist.

To me, though, not being stuck also means having the agency to gracefully let go of things, people, and relationships not meant for us, especially things, people, and relationships that cause us harm. I believe all people are worthy of respect, and I believe in the freedom to move on from disrespectful partners.

I believe in freedom, period. I don’t intend to imply that people who find themselves in arranged, Hindu marriages are any less free than couples in the U.S. who choose the partners they marry. This was the very thought I struggled to combat as I sat through the wedding. As poojas and photo shoots and confetti throwing and garland-exchanging commenced, I tried, with all my heart, to temper my brain’s tireless resolve to ask, again and again, what if…? 

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Wedding 2

The second Hindu wedding I was invited to, I did not attend. The wedding was scheduled for 6:30pm, which was odd for a Hindu wedding (inauspicious hours), but nonetheless, adorned in sarees, our group of 10 American students showed up to the wedding hall, only to discover we were 12 hours late. The wedding had commenced at 6:30am, and our invitation had been misprinted. Instead, we went out for a delectable buffet dinner. Win-win.

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Queen Chloe, surviving and thriving in India.

Wedding 3

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The third wedding was a Christian wedding. I was invited by the founder of a non-profit I had just begun to volunteer for.

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We entered a giant cathedral filled with wooden pews arranged in a semi circle. A marching band greeted wedding guests at the entrance with the booming sound of drums. The bride wore a pink saree and a wedding accessory I actually recognized: a white veil. She looked stunning.

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The groom, and then the bride, walked down the aisle, meeting at the altar to alternatively kneel and stand before the priests who officiated the wedding. Guests were led in Tamil prayer songs. Verses from the Bible about love and commitment were shared by a priest, mostly in Tamil. The bride and groom were repeatedly blessed. They signed their legal marriage papers right there in the cathedral, and off to the reception they went!

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This, too, was an arranged marriage. But the smiles on the faces of the bride and groom throughout the ceremony gave me less pause about the arrangement than I had felt at the Hindu wedding.

At the reception, the bride and groom fed each other cake. Christian songs played (in English!), as did some Hawaiian music and some Elvis Presley, which made me chuckle. Honored guests made speeches. A video and photo crew, again, documented the entire occasion. Just like at the Hindu wedding, long lines formed, as guests waited to pose for pictures with the bride and groom.

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I congratulated the couple, and wished them happiness.

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Many of the same what ifs popped into my head as did in the first wedding, but I was a little more desensitized to my own questions after having thought about them so much already, and perhaps a little more comfortable with a wedding that incorporated features of the western weddings I’m used to.

This is why I’m here. I know I’m biased. I will always be biased. I will always be most comfortable with what I’m used to. But evaluating the things in this culture that make me tick, that make me ask, ‘How? Why? What if…?’ reminds me that I should be asking the same questions of things I readily accept within my own culture. On the other hand, I wonder if accepting what we’re taught without ample evaluation of each and every “norm” makes for a more contented life. How this contentment perpetuates systemic inequality, I’m still grappling with, but I’m thankful to be thinking.

….And, I’ll be honest, I’m thankful that I don’t have to worry about my parents arranging a wedding for me anytime soon (ever)…

Two Weeks in India

India. I’ve been in India for two weeks. It confounds me that two weeks can feel like a lifetime, but as I perused the shelves of a temple’s library last night, I smiled at the title, “Timelessness in Time,” so maybe I am picking up some of the culture.

I don’t know if I’ll ever not be overwhelmed, here. Between the Hindi ceremonies and the meals and the countless new experiences for which I am immensely grateful, I miss time to recharge. To rest. To reflect.

My brain struggles to keep up with the constant stream of basic, day-to-day activities I’m relearning. Eating. Sleeping. Conversing. Writing. Reading. Walking. Dressing. I often feel like an infant. Simple things evoke strong reactions, whether of reverence or of disgust. Diligent self-examination follows.

I would love to pet my dog right now, or toss a frisbee around CC’s quad, or spend a night Netflix bingeing like never before with a pint of vegan Ben & Jerry’s and no tomorrow.

Comfort, thus far in my Indian stay, has been rare.

But, in the midst of the heat, dust and incense smoke; new faces and copious amounts of rice; jasmine flowers (mallikai puu) and little boys asking to shake my hand; and feeling lost and feeling found, there are moments of transcendent clarity.

When my host dad is speaking to me about destiny as we sit on temple steps and, out of nowhere, it begins to rain.

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When I don a freshly washed salwar kameez after a cool shower.

When my rickshaw driver laughs and laughs at the five American (TALL) women who try to fit into the backseat, successfully, might I add!

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When my taataa, who hardly speaks English and generally remains silent, emerges from his bedroom in the morning, approaches me, and says, slowly, “my granddaughter.”

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When I notice the light of our shrine’s candles reflecting in my ammaa‘s eyes as she prays to Krishna.

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In these moments, I let go. Breathe in … and out. In these moments, my total disorientation makes me feel more oriented than I ever have in the U.S. My body becomes my comfort and my home.

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These are the moments I think of when I need to remind myself that, as a wise friend once told me, “Wherever I am, I am where I’m meant to be.”

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When I type the word, I-n-d-i-a, and it is more to me now than a concept of a place half a world away.

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Madurai, Tamilnadu, India – en vitu (my home). 

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A Walk through Thanjavore (I’m in India!)

36 hours of travel later, I made it to South India! There is too much new right now to summarize with words. I’m enjoying my ignorance, though. It is unbelievably refreshing to know nothing of a place, to look around every corner in awe, and for daily experiences to require skills I don’t yet possess.

Because I know nothing, I feel so much freedom to make mistakes, and thus, freedom to try. Here’s to learning Tamil script, which chutney pairs best with idli in the morning, how to use the eastern latrine, the appropriate number of rupis to pay for an auto-rickshaw ride, and how to take photos in focus while managing to avoid getting hit by buses or losing your cohort of adventurers.

Speaking of, this was my best attempt at documenting our brief walk yesterday through Thanjavore.

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Walking through the streets is as crazy as everyone told me it would be. And then some.

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People often notice and look into my camera, whether I intend for them to be the object of my photos or not.

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I am privileged to spend the next few months exploring as much as I can of this place, these people, and this life.

we did keep living, didn’t we

Sometimes I think about all of the things that happen to us in our lives, big things and little things. Wind whipping hair into our mouths as we walk to school one morning and people who just show up and change the whole world and skyscrapers and rivers and twisted ankles from cracks in the sidewalk we didn’t see. I think about how things would be different if that apple didn’t (allegedly) hit Newton’s head and if Jamie didn’t kiss me in the dark and if … we weren’t here.

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How did we get here?

And I ask myself why we kept living. How did we manage to survive all those years of shouting into the void and scraping our knees looking for a light switch, only to discover the power was out? How did we persevere through paper cuts and sore muscles, friendships that faded with no warning and years that passed as if that’s just what years do.

We did keep living, didn’t we?

Things changed. We grew up. How funny how few words can contain so much of us, of our hearts. And everyone goes through it and everyone is always going through it, so we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about what’s happening to us. It’s never the last time until 10 years have gone by and we’re drinking a beer with a close acquaintance and we remember that night we had a dance party with all of our friends outside the hockey rink on a Tuesday, or closed the 7th Harry Potter book and smiled, or asked our parents to help us soften butter in the microwave for m&m cookies, and it dons on us, like the chill that slowly sends goosebumps down your neck after the sun goes down, “That really was the last time.” Like you don’t realize you’re cold until you feel yourself shiver.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be who I was back then. I don’t know if I’ll ever be anyone else.

Sometimes, it hits me when I’m riding my bike in the middle of the street just past sunset. Or sitting on my front porch, thinking about everything and nothing simultaneously.

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I think about all of the things we make happen in our lives, big things and little things. We make love and we make mistakes and we make art and we make boredom and terror and definitions that help us feel like we have something to hold onto. Sometimes, it hits me like a brick wall I’ve been running at full speed since I was seven years old and suddenly I’m seven years old again. And I still don’t have all of the answers. And I feel a tug on my heartstrings to write something like this, and then I read it and laugh because I’m reminded that I’m not unique. How extraordinary that this is universal! I think about how, evidently, I’m here. And evidently you’re here-there, somewhere in the world. And if we close our eyes hard enough, we can feel, just for a moment, as though we’re together in this.

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We did keep living, didn’t we.

welcome to my blog

I  sometimes hear voices and see pictures in my head.

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Short stories. Photos. Poems. Songs. Videos. Long and rambling late-night thoughts, essays, and rants.

Usually, they end up taking the form of notes filed away somewhere in my long series of half-finished Google Docs. But today, that’s changing.

Author Caitlin R. Kiernan said, “Language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we should use all the words we can.” I agree with Kiernan. I love the idea that I am feeling some particular way in this particular moment, some way I will never quite feel again, some way you have never felt in the exact way that I feel it, and that no matter how hard I try to express myself, words and images will fail me. (Or if they succeed, I’ll have no way of knowing, and neither will you.) My goal is to bring you as close to my truth as I can, and to strive to understand yours.

Right now, my truth is muddled and I am confused. I am confused about the disjointed state of my community, my country, and my world. I feel desperate for more love, more effort between people, and more optimism.

I also feel confused about myself. This year, I became more aware of my own unreasonable expectations, ego, and fallibility than ever before (heartbreak is a b*tch). I see how this fallibility is applicable to my relationships, to my core beliefs, and to my most cherished, guarded dreams.

Photo by Corrina Leatherwood
Photo by Corrina Leatherwood

I am confused about the role of resolution in letting go. I am confused about the line between self and other, where independence should end and where community should begin. I am confused about how to make a home within skin I haven’t yet learned to love, in an environment that is constantly shifting.

I am searching for something solid to hold, uncertain if that solid exists, unsure of where to find it, and often I wonder if the act of searching is a childish and ultimately fruitless pursuit.

Sometimes, I feel like Andy Dwyer in this gif:

Nonetheless, I am deeply hopeful.

I look at the people around me, and the storm in my heart calms. I am immensely thankful. I see so much work, so much strength, and so much thought. I hear stories of inexplicable resilience, bear witness to overwhelming bravery, and am inspired. I see frustration and forgiveness. I see faith. I look at humanity, and, at its core, as far as I can tell from my mere 19 years of life, I see love.

shoutout to mom & dad

I’ve gone through more and less outspoken phases of life. There’s a Jack Johnson song that goes, “The world has its ways/To quiet us down,” and he’s right. But I see such a dire need in our world right now for more authenticity. And, to be honest, I see a dire need within myself to become more me again.

KaitGrad2
Unapologetic, fearless (aside from fear of spiders), and strong-willed Kaitlyn. Lake Siskiyou, California. 1999. Photo by Nancy Hickmann.

This begins with reflection, vulnerability, and resolution. Sharing what I see, hear, and feel empowers me, despite feeling timid about sharing it.

So I started a blog. And I’ve accumulated quite a few of the aforementioned stories, poems, photos, videos and rambling thoughts over the years of self-censorship. I hope you enjoy!

Peace, love and hugs,

K