There Is Strength in Our Stories: Phoenix – Nikki Marrone

I was told to wait,
For a man to come my way.
The one who would wear the crown,
And ride the golden mare.
Whose stare would have me enamoured for a lifetime.
A man so great I would prostrate myself on an altar of “love.”
Devote myself to deities of death and destruction.
Find joy in the cleansing fire of chaos and crumbling brick of derelict foundations.
They never stopped to warn me of false prophets.
Those who never learnt the difference between taking and giving.
Who think no means convince me.
Who take your reluctance for lack of conviction.
They soothe salt-licked wounds at the fire inside of you.
Abuse the privilege of your kindness,
While you learn the mantras of their madness.
Map scar to scar;
Until their songs of sadness,
Become the lullabies that soothe your own neurosis.
You will try to tame them.
Be the eye in the centre of the storm,
Or the milk in their veins.
But you are no antidote
No cleansing liquid
You are nothing but matter but what matters most is you.

So do not worship at the feet of those that kick you down.
Stand upon your ankles and wait for you to stand.
Do not seek comfort from the hands that hurt you.
That stained you black and blue.
Instead rise from the ashes of your grave
To be reborn,
Like leaves burnt bare for the fallen.
Striped back like the bones in shattered ribcages,
Air torn straight from the lungs,
Drowning on dry land.
Because you are not weak for needing trigger warnings.
Not damaged.
Not broken.
Not used.
Not a victim.

You do not stay for the ones who love you,
If you no longer love yourself.


Nikki Marrone is a poet, photographer, artist and traveller. When she’s not wandering around the world documenting her adventures, she splits her time between performing, running events and workshop leading. She is the winner of multiple Poetry Slams and has featured at various spoken word nights and festivals around the world.  Her work has taken her to some amazing places and she has been involved in some great projects.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Dear G—River Stillwood

April 23, 2017

Dear G—,

Six months ago today you came for Sunday dinner at my home, drugged and sexually assaulted me. You continue to deny it, to tell everyone I “came on to you,” “it was mutual,” but you and I both know the truth.

The police know, too. They know the drug was not in the wine you brought and left behind, but in the salad dressing – the already open, salty bottle of Zesty Italian accompanying the bitter green salad you’d made – the only thing besides your bowl you took home with you when you left.

Good news for you. It looks like you’re going to get away it. A problem with detecting date rape drugs, (especially oily, salty GHB), is that they metabolize very quickly, usually in 4-12 hours. They only show up in the urine during or shortly after consumption. That’s why it was long gone by the time I realized what you’d done. It was more than 20 hours after you’d drugged me when medical staff at the hospital performed the rape kit. I’d gone to the bathroom three times by then.

Because date rape drugs are metabolized so quickly, less than 4% consumed stays intact in the body long enough to end up in hair. Yet, some did show up in my hair – not enough to be “forensically conclusive” – but enough to show you drugged me. Everyone knows I don’t use drugs – social or prescription. The only way the drug got into my hair is because you gave it to me.

Unfortunately for me, it looks like I will be one of the 987 out of every 1000 sexual assault victims who never gets to face her perpetrator in court or deliver a Victim’s Statement. Therefore, I’m writing this letter to you. There are some things I’d like you to know and the half-year anniversary seemed like the best opportunity to tell you.

First, foremost, and very clearly, I want you to know that I know fully and completely that you drugged and sexually assaulted me. With unmitigated cowardice, malice, and dehumanizing intent, you drugged me and you sexually assaulted me.

I was out for 10 hours. Not the one or two hours you told the Sheriff’s Department. Or the “maybe three or four” you told our friends. Ten hours. My internet service provider proved it. I logged off when you arrived four minutes after noon and I logged back just as you were leaving at 11:37 PM Sunday night.

The detective said you likely have somnophilia (a rare condition where you can only maintain an erection when your partner is unconscious. “Sleeping beauty syndrome,” it’s more commonly called) or you’re a psychopath. While only you know which (and psychiatrists debate if there is even a meaningful separation between them), you and I know this to be true.

You, however, have convinced yourself that drugging and sexually assaulting women is a kindness, at best, a harmless dalliance, at worst. From the meticulous way you went about it – from spiking the dressing, to assaulting me, to posing me for hours naked from thighs to shoulders while you fondled yourself and drank wine in the recliner (I do remember some things), to washing my body and redressing me when you finished, to putting our Sunday dinner away, to doing the dishes, to waiting until I’d awakened and peed out the evidence and then collecting the salad dressing before you left — it is highly unlikely that I am the first woman you’ve drugged and assaulted. Even the police and crime lab officers assured me of that.

You suggested before you left that I took pleasure in your sexual manipulations — “You enjoyed yourself tonight,” you said – as though a physical response from me made what you did okay. To that I say two things:

1. I am lesbian. I was drugged. Never would I have had a sexual encounter with you if I had not been drugged. Never.
2. Human bodies are made to respond to stimulus. Had you put a match to my arm it would have hurt, my skin would have reddened and blistered, and I would have been no more able to yell “Stop!” or get away from you than I was when you were performing unwanted, uninvited oral sex on me (another unforgettable snippet).

Don’t for a second confuse my body’s natural response to stimulation with any indication that I wanted you to assault me or that it was not a horrendous act of violence.

And you didn’t just assault my body. You assaulted my mind, my soul. Quite literally, you took me from being my own person and objectified me to the point that I was nothing more than a living, breathing, warm-bodied blowup doll. I could not say “no,” I could not move away, I was in and out of consciousness, could barely think. If you had wanted to slice and dice me and fry me up for an after dinner snack, there is literally nothing I could have done to have prevented it.

G—, what you did was not harmless. In fact, it’s was an act of such a cowardly violence, it was such an intimate betrayal, it wrought such destruction, that I will never be the same because of it.

Here are the effects your assault has had on me:

I don’t trust anyone anymore. I mean no one.

No one except law enforcement has been in my house since the assault. No one is allowed inside.

I rarely go outside. I don’t want you to see me when you drive by – and you drive by so often. I don’t want you to know if I’m home or away, what I’m doing, how long or short my hair is or how much weight I have gained or lost. Nothing.

Inside the house is no picnic, either. Not once since the assault have I sat or spent time in the living room. Or dining room. I spend as little time as possible in the kitchen and wash dishes only when I run out of clean ones. Every time I stand at the sink, I see is you calmly, carefully washing away the evidence while I lie unconscious and exposed on the living room floor. And I wonder, what the hell were you thinking as you washed up? For the life of me, I can’t imagine.

Until you assaulted me, I believed that I could take care of myself. When you drugged me, in my home, without my realizing I was in danger, that I needed to protect myself, you took that essential piece from me – that rock solid core of self-agency – and smashed it to smithereens. I now know at a cellular level that danger can come from anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and that I cannot protect myself from it.

I keep a gun with me now, always. Even in the shower. If danger comes again, I will not be the only one hurt.

I no longer love life the way I did until you assaulted me. I do not want to die. I am not suicidal. But that wide, embracing enthusiasm that you so liked about me, that optimistic energy and elan, that wide open engagement with happiness that you always applauded … Gone.

My faith in humanity is destroyed. Until your assault, I believed the vast majority of people are good, that goodness itself was both a natural law and a sort of insurance against harm: If I was good to others, they, and life, would be good to me. I now understand that goodness is a force so weak it doesn’t take abject desperation to crush it. It readily collapses under the weight of selfish want.

You have turned my rich spiritual landscape into a cold, barren desert. I no longer believe in God, Buddha Nature, or The Universal Source. There was no “reason for this to happen.” You aren’t better for having assaulted me. I’m not better for having been assaulted. There are no valuable lessons to be learned.

G—, I picture you reading this and smugly thinking that what I gained from your assault, then, was clearer vision. That you brought me closer to some essential knowledge of “how things really are.” To that I say my illusions were not yours to take, nor is any clarity gained yours to claim, any more than were my body, mind and soul yours to take six months ago.

It feels very unlikely that I will recover much of who I was before your assault. But you’ve taken 10 hours, much of my personal agency and dignity and what I valued about myself. I’ve given you a few more hours today with this letter. You will get no more of me, ever, except this:

I hope one day you meet a fully loaded logging truck, on a curve, in your lane. Or Karma’s equivalent of that. While I no longer believe in Karma, G—, you do, and one of us has to be right. In this case, I’m hoping it’s you.


I am a survivor. A writer. A lesbian. A sufferer of PTSD. G—’s assault was two and a half years ago. The rape kit still has not been processed. G— continues to drive by my house regularly. Soon, I am moving out of state.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Beneath the Layered Makeup – Rachael Ikins

The July day I turned 8,
we piled into my mom’s green Plymouth, drove to town from camp. Errands.

She parked in front of the butcher shop. Worn stone steps,
doorbell jingled, our feet creaked across a board floor. A man who looked like
Santa’s brother greeted us. Stained
apron tied over his belly,
straw hat, rimless glasses perched on a nose’s redness
underlined with a silver mustache smile.

He said, “How are you, little lady?”
“I am 8 today.” I said.
He reached overhead to choose from the forest of upside-down sausages
and waxed cheeses that dangled from the rafters to cut down a bologna.
Slapped it on the butcher
block, carved a slice, presented to me on tissue.

The scents of spice and dust, his aftershave and cured meats…
My mom collected white paper packages tied with string. Sweat-frosted glass hid cold cuts, liverwurst, other succulent secrets.

We walked next door to the 5 & 10. Penny candy, cheap toys, precious gems
in rings that turned your finger green by bed time, underwear, office supplies,
home goods and paper-dolls. When we were older, a friend and I filled paper
sacks–rock candy, dots, licorice whips and fireballs. A whole bag for a nickel. Meandering home along the lake as the waves chuckled, our gasps, fireballs exploding on our tongues.

We hurried past the doctor’s and dentist’s offices, their stacks of Norman Rockwell
magazines, places smelling of fear and disinfectant, that shared a foyer with the liquor store. Sometimes my mother took me into its dark depths as she chose bottles that chimed in their paper bag. The man behind that counter smelled of gin. At 8 I knew it a familiar smell from dinners, but not its name. I suspected he was a vampire.

As we grew older, my friends and I watched movies in the theater next door on main street. Chewing-gum-cobbled floor, ugly ladies selling popcorn and a giant who patrolled the aisles with a police-sized flashlight, ready to yank a kid out by the collar if she or he had sneakers up on a seat-back. Older teens sat in the last rows, slouched down, making out.
My small town at the head of a lake, tourist attraction,
wore makeup all summer long, summers we idled at our camp,
10 miles away.

Hikes, skinny-dipping, and fires on the beach, crawdads studied in buckets of water released come evening. Lullaby the water fall, whispers of cow-scented wind slipping down the cliffs with screech owl voices through night windows, cooled our bunks.

Lake licking beach stones beneath my bedroom. Canoe trips and rowboat races trailed by a school of carp.

The summer I turned 8, the butcher gifted me a bologna slice. My dad gave me a fishing rod and my grandfather, my own dinghy.

The spa built over the edge-of-town trailer park, not even an architect’s wet-dream.
My school, not the renovated sprawl that rivals a posh airport’s luxury.

The Esso station near my grandparents’ house where Frank made sure my mom had gas during the shortage to drive a sick child daily to the city for care. Boarded up.

The library hasn’t changed much.
I could borrow as many books as I could carry. You’d be surprised how many a kid can carry. Starved for stories, I stayed in the station wagon while she grabbed a few things from Roy’s Red and White, unable to stop myself from plunging into Dr. Seuss, Peter Pan, later, Catcher in the Rye, Nancy Drew, Mark Twain, stunned blinking when my mom knocked on the window to ask me to unlock the car.

I chewed my bologna the summer I turned 8, while we ambled past the drugstore, red and purple colored bottles in the window, $3 record albums, the hardware where you could buy jewelry from a shriveled lady, cigarette permanently screwed in the corner of her lipstick, collectibles in a glass case and tools, nails, screws or have paint mixed, to our car parked in shade of the theater marquee.

Nobody knew that a boy in my class, later it turned out to have been many boys, knelt, bent over in the locked men’s bathroom of that theater. A half block from two churches.
Choking and crying.

The big man with the flashlight.
No relation of Santa’s, and a child will do what he has to when a brush-cut giant and pale blue eyes promises,
“I will kill your mother
if you tell.”


 

Rachael Ikins is a 2016/18 Pushcart, 2013/18 CNY Book Award, 2018 Independent Book Award winner, prize winning author/artist with 9 books. Syracuse University grad, member CNY branch NLAPW, and Associate Editor of Clare Songbirds Publishing House, Auburn, NY. Her new memoir Eating the Sun a love story narrative punctuated by poetry and garden recipes available 4/2019 at Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: a night’s expectation – quinn hsu

when they told you people would love
you for who you are
you never expected

a love for you as squirmingly as
your tongue against the mirror
shards of porcelain hemming it in

a love as fast and bitingly as
a bear trap’s chrome jaws
tearing at you desperately

until all that’s left is
a cavern for ruinous words
so you pull it open

and someday
you’ll figure out the secret to peeling
yourself inside out

but today you only reveal
a writhing tongue and
your own set of enamel jaws

but what else did you expect?


quinn is a transmasculine nonbinary artist who hopes to reach others by telling his experiences through the filter of pictures and poems. his work speaks openly about sexual assault and mental health as well as their interconnectivity, in hopes that others who are going through the same experiences feel they are not alone in their thoughts, and so that those who are not going through them may understand and empathize more.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: Ruby – LL McGlynn

No matter what she said, or what solution she came up with, he blew it off, as if nothing she could say would ever make sense. Her comments were not logical to him, the rational one, and nothing she could say would ever help the situation not even in the smallest way, which is exactly how she felt. Bent over the counter, hands outstretched, gripping the sink, she felt his piranha chew through her at incredible speed. She closed in on it. Close enough to smell last night’s left-overs. Grey is many things, but it is not a state of mind. Once one falls victim to it, the whole house is all sixes and sevens.

Hence, it began… again. That feeling of uselessness wrapping ‘round and ‘round that kept everything nice and tight. The empty greyness of which she now accommodates, speaks quietly to her in a gnawing tone of resentment. It helps itself to a little piece of her each day, until she is no one, and yet anyone, who is not Ruby. It happens to all of us at some point. For Alice, it was the day when she caught a glimpse of it in the bedroom mirror. A mangy, wet sponge had usurped the perfectly formed peach that once resided there.

The grey is not a color, like the bright red Santa sack that fills her socket. It isn’t even purgatory which would be a welcome reprieve right about now. No, the grey is not any of those things. It is merely a scene from an old classic film, black and white, where their mouths move but nothing comes out. But it will all be ok, because just as the lamb was taken to the cold, stainless-steel table and offered up on Mt Moriah, the sun came out.


McGlynn is a Visual Artist and Writer, currently living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario. She is a graduate of History from Western University, and a Fine Art Honours graduate with distinction from the University of Waterloo. As an emerging Artist, McGlynn challenges her studio and writing practice by pushing beyond the comfort zone, and to accept what the work is destined to become. She enjoys collaborative projects such as her recent obsession, MOTUS.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: walk these streets at night and know the truth – Evelyn Benvie

load your lipstick in a gatling gun
to get ready for the night

the sidewalk cracks are too wide for stilettos
and too deep for anything else

wear fishnets to trawl the river, sift and dredge
the filth at the bottom and the scum at the top

and you, panting as you run
seeking shelter on a rainy night and finding only

reaching hands and open legs
inviting you to places you don’t want to go

the city at night is no longer beautiful
or maybe it never was


Evelyn Benvie is the wooly jumper in a family of black sheep. Both a cynic and a romantic at heart, she writes diverse, queer-positive fiction and poetry that have been published online and in print. Her first novella, Something to Celebrate, was recently published by Mischief Corner Books. Find out more at evelynbenvie.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

There Is Strength in Our Stories: The Gift- aj forrester

Like a raft I float
on vicious waves
with what you gave;

you stole.

Made me less
made me more.
You gave confusion and shame.

Blame.

The gift remains:
in me, I found
strength.
Like fire hardens steel,
nightmares burn my heart,

my brain.

I strain;
I’d give it back, though,
if I could;
this gift you shoved
down my throat.


Amanda J. Forrester received her MFA from the University of Tampa. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Azahares Spanish Language Literary Magazine, Pink Panther Magazine, Collective Unrest, Trailer Park Quarterly, and other anthologies and journals. Follow her @ajforrester75