They Never Taught Me How to Talk to You

Written by anonymous. Photograph by Sharon Wu.

They didn’t teach me how to talk to you
When I have that scar too
A healthy distance, empathy
Do nothing for me when I also bleed

Those things you share, with no one else
Places I’ve been, pain I’ve felt
An empty hollow deep within
Invisible, he never bruised your skin
At least, I know, where others can see
I’ve been you, trust me

But now you need help and I’m at work
Praying you can’t see the cold sweat beading beneath my shirt
Or notice how I cross my legs
And try to keep my answers vague
GPAs, MMIs, MCATs, alma mater, Kalamazoo
None taught me how to talk to you

Don’t reply to that question, leave that box blank
Avoid their gaze so my lip doesn’t shake
Oh wait, that’s you, that’s your role now
And I have to listen, relive it, stay strong somehow
Ask questions I don’t want to imagine with answers I already know
Pretend it is all new, though I’m mouthing the words

The evidence says I can offer a comforting touch
But Heaven knows how a hand on your thigh will make you jump
and your skin crawl and your stomach knot
Cloud your vision, make you feel both hot and cold
I missed what you said, I was back in that night
My palms are so sweaty, my chest is so tight

My eyes prick with tears as I try not to laugh
I swallow down the sound by driving my nails deep into my calf
How ironic, feeling so tense, when they all called you loose
slut, whore, skank, hoe, the words choke like a noose
As much today if not more than back then

I pick up my pen in an effort to stay my trembling hand
and put it back down again as soon as I do
I’m trying to listen but my eyes dart around the room
Looking for an exit, a friend, a phone, that night painfully clear in my head
But I’m stuck in my chair, like I was in that bed

I’m still scared, I realize
When your voice makes me jump
As I’m jolted from remembering how I wished for a lump
or a cut or a bruise, something to prove I’d said no
To make it all clear, not she said, he said so

But instead I am trapped here, listening to your story
While I wrestle with my own memories I can’t shake
Only to offer “I’m sorry
And count down the seconds until I’m free from here
and can run to the bathroom, lock the door, hug myself on the toilet and succumb to the fear
and the hatred, self-loathing, hopelessness, disgust
Get lost in the fact that I don’t know who to trust

Because I asked for help, and I made myself clear
What else should I have said or done when it all fell on deaf ears

And I long for the days when I could sleep with clear conscience
Because now that place is a cruel trigger – the brink of unconscious

Even before that point, lying in bed is the worst
My mind replays and rewinds all the hurt
and I’m gripped with panicked confusion about what it all means
Does it count? What’s my number? Was he wrong, or is it me?

It might be my fault, I should have been better
Then I might not have this deep wound that still festers
No antibiotic can fix it, this ragged hole
that is left when your body wasn’t yours to control
Tried as I might to have left it behind
Focus on anything else, at least free my mind

But here in my work and my school
What I went through is talked about with statistics, another risk factor to pool
And I look away in shame when peers say that the journals prove it actually isn’t that bad
The survivors aren’t scarred, the numbers are high, besides what were they wearing and how many drinks had they had
There’s no point in arguing, I know that all too well
I know they won’t listen
And besides, I wonder all that in my own personal hell

When I get up the nerve to look at your face
Tune back into your words, “Maybe if my bra hadn’t been lace
I’ve missed most of your story, but please don’t repeat it
I don’t need to hear yours too, I’m there, I could speak it
Sure, the names and the dates may have changed
But the sickness inside that you want help for’s the same
And in spite of all that I’m struck mute

Because since I own that scar too
They never taught me how to talk to you


One thought on “They Never Taught Me How to Talk to You

  1. I wish deeply that we made space in our training for the reality that one day our own selves will confront us, and we will feel it All.
    Thank you for this profound and moving account. I hope someone was taught how to talk to you, and to listen. This is exceedingly hard, and you are not alone.

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