October 4, 2012

Holding My Own Hand

You see that lady with the red double stroller in the very back?  Yeah, that's me,
(Photo from the SlutWalk Chicago facebook event page)
My daughters turned three on Monday.  But I'm still not going to write about that.

Instead I'm going to write about what we did on Saturday.

You may recall that last summer I participated in Chicago's fist SlutWalk.  When the previous organizers began looking for help to make it happen again this year, I was ready to jump up and volunteer.

...except that I couldn't.  I was pregnant and having constant complications, I was embroiled in what would be my last semester of college, and on top of that, well, I'm a mom.  So I just didn't have enough of me left to stretch that far.

But I was determined to go.

This year's event was a very different experience for me than last time.

You see, when I was seventeen, my parents let me run off on what might possibly have been the coolest road trip ever.  I spent the summer driving around, all by myself, visiting family and friends and interesting places all over the eastern side of the U.S., and a few choice locations in Canada.  I had a blast.  But there was one thing I did that was pretty much a big mistake.

No, it wasn't getting my traveler's checks AND register stolen in Capetown.

No, it wasn't allowing a creepy trucker to flag me down and attempt to flirt with me.

No, it wasn't experimenting with contact lenses and nearly dying when an eyelash got stuck underneath one while I was in the far left of five lanes of morning rush traffic outside of Providence.

It was my visit to the National Holocaust Museum.

...alone.

I walked in, alone.  I went through the children's exhibit- an interactive ghetto- alone.  I walked through room after room, reading every last word, lingering over every last photograph.  Alone.

And as I moved between floors, I closed my eyes and held my breath.  Just willing myself to feel like I had somebody just holding my hand.  Anything.  A hug.  I don't know.

I stood inside of one of the train cars that the Nazis had used to transport their victims to Aushwitz, alone.  I imagined the tiny car crammed with people, so full that if I fell asleep the other bodies would keep me upright.

Alone.

I walked through that final room, completely unable to cry, and into the sanctuary filled with yarzeit candles.

And I finally felt a little less alone.  Because suddenly I felt the weight of all the relatives I had lost.  As though they were physically with me.  And I said the mourner's kaddish and I lit a candle.

Alone.

A rare, and incredibly inconvenient, sight.
Last year, I went to the SlutWalk with some friends and my daughters, who were largely non-verbal.

This year, I went to the SlutWalk with only my daughters, two of whom are verbal.  And this year, I missed the walk itself.

M was busy, some friends were moving... the weekend was just generally less convenient for everybody.  Myself included.

I had to reschedule DD and SI's birthday party so that I could make it to the SlutWalk.

Unfortunately, I didn't actually make it to the SlutWalk.

As we approached downtown, we were completely cut off.   Because all of the drawbridges were being raised to let the boats back to their harbors for the winter.

I sat there for what felt like forever, knowing that the march would be short, and that I would miss it entirely.  Especially as I would be slow moving once we were out of the car as well- we'd probably have to park blocks away, and I hadn't even considered that roads would be closed that I might need to use for the SlutWalkers to move through.  I got through all of these concerns and frustrations by talking to DD and SI about what we were about to do.

I explained to my children, we were going to a parade, because there are people who are mean.  Who want to be mean to you- who might want to hurt you, and say it's because of what clothes you wear.

And that's not okay, I told them.  You can wear whatever you want, and nobody can hurt you because of that.  And if they do hurt you, it's not your fault- you didn't do anything wrong.  It's the mean people who are wrong.

We parked the car- as I had feared, five whole blocks away from our destination.  I strapped RH to my chest, loaded the girls in our twin stroller- unused basically since the last SlutWalk- and discovered they were pretty much too big.  I tied the diaper bags onto the handles, grabbed my water bottle, and memorized where I'd left the car.

And then I hauled ass to the protest.

I arrived at the end point of the walk as the first leg of the SlutWalkers showed up.

I didn't have a sign.  I had no way to carry one.  I wasn't dressed in any sort of slutty way- I was dressed as practically as I could.  After all, I was going to be marching while wearing a baby and pushing a stroller filled with some 70lbs of preschooler.

I sat there, and the SlutWalkers filled in around me.  Carrying signs about consent and about choice and about rape.  And I wanted to talk to everybody.  I wanted to shout to people, "I'm here!  We're here!  We're in this together!  I WANT TO FIX THIS!"

But mostly I bit my lip and tried to keep myself from crying.  In between looking at signs or listening to speeches, I would close my eyes and hold my breath.

I just kept thinking about how much I don't want my children to grow up and become victimized, but answering all their questions about the clothes people were wearing, the signs they were carrying, the things they were saying...

It was hard.  It's so hard to explain to a two-days-shy-of-three-years-old child about rape.  About consent.  About how we're here because I want to protect them.

I let them play on the giant Picasso sculpture in the plaza, I let them play in the fountain... they had a blast, and the whole I time I was thinking to myself...

Please remember this.  Please remember that we were here.  Please remember that this was a good thing for you to do- that this was something you want to do.  Please remember that these people are here with you, and that you never need to feel the way I have felt.

SI and DD going down the "slide" of an
iconic Picasso sculpture
I chatted with a few other parents hanging out at the SlutWalk.  Most of them also had daughters.

Last year, I felt like I was part of a huge thing, something meaningful and wonderful and important.

This year, I felt like that, but also incredibly, incredibly sad.  Weary.

Like, here we are again... and nothing has changed.

Nothing has changed.  Except that this year I have three daughters.  This year the one in three statistic is terrifyingly real to me.  And this time I missed out on the cheers.  I missed out on walking through the streets with high fives and shows of solidarity, this year I only saw the speeches.  How things are.  How bad things are.

This year, I missed out on the hope.

As we sat at the rally, SI kept looking around, concerned.

Finally she tugged my skirt, "Mommy?  These people are mean?"

"No honey, these people are not mean.  They're here because of the mean people, the people who would hurt them and say it's their fault.  But they don't think that's good.  They're here because they want things to be better."

I was there because I wanted things to be better.

But what I really wanted was for somebody else to give some answers to my children.  Not because I couldn't, or because I didn't know the answers, but because I was emotionally exhausted.

I was reliving, in my own mind, all the things I've been through.  All the harassment, all the sexism, all the violence.

It all kept playing through my head like an endless reel of silent films.  And I just wanted somebody else to lean over my children and say to them, "Things were bad, and things were bad for mommy, but we're here to make sure that it's all okay."

I kept closing my eyes, and desperately trying to pretend that there was somebody there, holding my hand.

Because as much as I told people that I was there for my children, I lied.

I was there for me.

I was there because I hate that I have to answer these questions.  That I have to worry about the horrible, no good, very VERY bad things that might happen to my children.

SlutWalking
I was there because sometimes I need to be recognized- to say outloud that I have survived something awful, and that it's not okay that my experience is ubiquitous to womanhood.  To girlhood.

I was there because I was angry, and sad, and scared.

And I am still angry, and sad, and scared.

I am still desperate to fight for a future where my daughters don't need things like the SlutWalk.

I am still ready to stand up and be counted.

Chicago SlutWalk 2013, here I come.

2 comments:

  1. wow. Sending you peace and love...

    ReplyDelete
  2. WOW....someone needs to lose custody of her kids, and FAST! I really feel sorry for these kids, and any kids that are forced to grow up with a lunatic like you raising them. You should be kept as far away from children as humanly possible, for their good.

    ReplyDelete

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