2 Y ago

Horrible Judges, Memory, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Recently, a judge in California made a bad decision in a rape case. Make that a horrible decision. An unbelievably stupid decision. An incomprehensible decision.

And a devastatingly cruel decision. For the victim . . . and for others — including me.

The victim was drunk at the time of the rape and doesn’t remember what happened. It haunts her and I can relate to that all too well. One of the hardest things for me to deal with is my selective memory. I’ve blocked out years of my life because of PTSD from a sexual assault that happened when I was only fourteen. I don’t remember the attack fully. I see it in snapshots. Broken images that I can’t quite fit together. Some nights these impressions keeps me awake until the morning. My body remembers. It recoils and shakes. But my mind is stubborn. Maybe it thinks it’s doing what it best for me. I haven’t decided.

But I do know that not knowing exactly what happened haunts me. Part of me is missing. And, that is probably why, I find that the words of a poem written over 160 years ago, My Lost Youth, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also haunt me. It seems a strange choice — a poem written by a man filled with nostalgia for his lost youth. It’s a fairly long poem, and only certain portions speak to me — and in a way that Longfellow never imagined. I don’t read it the way it was intended to be read. But the following lines seem to resonate within and help me put back the pieces:

 

Often I think of the beautiful town

That is seated by the sea;

Often in thought go up and down

The pleasant streets of that dear old town,

And my youth comes back to me.

And a verse of a Lapland song

Is haunting my memory still:

“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long, thoughts.”

 

I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,

And catch, in sudden gleams,

The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,

And islands that were Hesperides

Of all my boyish dreams.

And the burden of that old song,

It murmurs and whispers still:

“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

 

[…] There are things of which I may not speak;

There are dreams that cannot die;

There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,

And bring a pallor into the cheek,

And a mist before the eye.

And the words of that fatal song

Come over me like a chill:

“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

 

Superficially, I have obvious emotional connections to Longfellow’s words. I grew up on the Jersey shore, able to see the ocean from my window. I miss it very much. But that is not the part that shakes me. It’s that fateful refrain — a boy’s will is the wind’s will. A boy’s will almost destroyed me. In my youth. In a place where I should have been safe. A boy’s will stole my adolescence. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about missing and longing for his youth holds a different meaning for me. It helps me remember and process what happened to me — my sexual assault.

I can’t sleep at night like other people can. A boy’s will and the resulting neurosis took that from me. I simultaneously do not remember and never forget. My past is blurry but still very, very real. It’s there all too often when I close my eyes. There are dreams that cannot die. I’m fourteen and pressed against a wall again.

Insomnia and psychosis makes my present blurry. I am terrified that a blur is all I will ever be. That I will drown in the sea I used to love. How can I have a clear future when I can’t even make out the past? I tell myself I cannot let my trauma own me. But at times I don’t even know what my trauma is. I cannot name it. I cannot fully remember it enough for it to fit into a box. Sexual assault, molestation, rape.

What I am writing may seem unclear or frazzled. But that is my reality. It is how I feel much of the time. Constantly trying to make sense of a past I don’t fully remember, while trying to stay in the present so I can plan for the future. It’s exhausting. The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts. I work with my therapist four times a week and it’s still not enough time. There will never be enough time because of the time I’ve lost. Gone. Four years. How can you mourn for something you can’t identify? How can you mourn yourself?

Sometimes I worry that my writing comes off as a cry for sympathy or a cry for help. I am not crying for help. I am crying for truth. A male judge has attempted to alter reality. To muffle, if not completely silence, the truth. In the face of this I have no choice but to scream. Scream for every little girl like me with lost youth. Scream at the top of my lungs today because I can’t remember what happened in a long ago yesterday. If there is one thing I must believe in, it is voicing the truth. No matter how hard. And my truth is messy. And unclear. And blurry. I can only hope that voicing it can help others. It’s all I know how to do.

The truth is that some nights you cry so hard you throw up because of something you can’t even fully remember.

The truth is that’s okay.

The truth is somewhere in between. And I find myself repeating like a mantra, “A boy’s will is the wind’s will, and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

 

 

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