A Grey Anniversary

TW: Rape

Hope’s #MadCovidDiary 27.3.2020

Yesterday, it was ten years to the day that I was first raped.

It was weird that yesterday I craved jam on toast, because around the time it happened I was always having jam on toast before school, and if I didn’t go to school, I’d have two lots of jam on toast in the mornings. Usually I don’t do anything about these grey anniversaries, even though I remember them every year — I anticipate them coming, think about what happened, then sit tight and wait for the day to disappear — but I did not predict I’d be spending the day inside, eating jam on toast, staring out of the window at the sun; anxious like I was in the days after it happened ten years ago. These circumstances have, I realised with a bit of a shock, been recreated — by isolation during the pandemic, but also by my own brain, wanting jam.

I am very lucky that it doesn’t upset me too much anymore. I am lucky, but I have also worked hard to develop a sense of kindness towards my past self when I remember it.

I’m a diligent record-keeper. I started writing diaries when I was nine years old, intermittently at first, but by the time I was eleven and at secondary school I’d write almost every day. When I was an older teenager and became too restless to keep proper diaries, I’d make notes of important conversations, holding them in my head until I could write them down verbatim. I’d note the dates of activities and events, such as when I saw friends, or perhaps when a relationship began. This means I have a very specific and detailed record of my feelings from this time. Before I moved out to go to university, I typed up these diary entries so that I could keep the records but destroy the notebooks. This is how I can verify the jam-on-toast feeling.

Reading through them now, I can see that my experience of time has been altered by this event. For me, time naturally segments itself into periods of a few months, which all have a very distinctive sense to them. I mean this literally, they are associated with a series of colours, smells, foods, or pictures, which aren’t replicated elsewhere in my memory — and until university, I had difficulty remaining friends or going out with anyone for longer than about three to four months. This is because it took me three months, I think, to sever myself from my rapist.

Back then I was also very analytical about my emotions, probably because they were new to me— potentially a behaviour attributable to my Asperger’s. I write in April 2010 about how a few weeks go by and I’m confused: I’m sad ‘for no reason’, and longing for the company of my rapist, also ‘for no reason’. I think it’s these apparent causal gaps that are most vulnerable to feelings of self-blame creeping in, and I think one of the most important things that discussion among survivors does is to place ‘reasons’ in these spaces of confusion. It is apparent to me now that these thoughts and impulses happening ‘for no reason’ were actually trauma responses. I wanted to be near my rapist because it was important to me to convince myself that he was good, that I had made up or exaggerated the rape, because it was easier to believe myself delusional, lying or melodramatic, than for it to have really happened.

*

Landscapes have become more important to me in recent years, and especially now when confined to indoor spaces. I grew up in a rural northern town, and I always thought I hated the wild moorland, the hissing wind and horizontal rain. Having been away from it for about six years now I find myself thinking about its beauty more and more. In this sunny March, school friends who stayed there or have moved back are posting pictures on social media of their walks over the fields, where it seems the greenness of the imaginable world opens up before you forever. Part of what frustrated me as a child was the isolation of it— it was worlds away from London or the liveliness of university towns— but as an adult I don’t see it like that anymore.

I wanted to go back there yesterday more than I remember wanting to ever since I moved away. I was raped outside, in the trees. He was a friend from school in the year above. I stared at the trees behind his head and I sometimes wonder if that’s why I enjoy trees so much now— to look at, to be within, to study. When I was starting my PhD, I read Sharon Ann Coolidge’s 1977 thesis on tree iconography in medieval Christianity, and it remains one of the most original and captivating scholarly works I’ve come across.[1] When I studied for my undergraduate degree there weren’t enough trees— in the landscape around me and in the texts I was taught— and I missed them. I kept finding ways to talk about trees; part of why I’ve remained fascinated with the medieval poem Piers Plowman is because of its recurrent tree allegories and images. Trees make me feel safe and understood. When I was suicidal, I would walk into the trees and watch them until the aches started to calm.

So it’s hard at the moment being away from landscapes, and from where I grew up— which I wouldn’t have predicted would be the case. It took me a while before I realised that isolation and elevated anxiety as a result of the pandemic were colliding with my memories of home, nudged awake by the coming around of these ten years.

Photos taken by me, on the grainy camera of my old phone, 2012-13


[1] Sharon Ann Coolidge, ‘The Grafted Tree in Literature: A Study in Medieval Iconography and Theology’, PhD dissertation, Duke University, 1977 (ProQuest).

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