TW: brief mentions of physical and sexual violence
Last night I was cleaning and reorganizing my home writing space and found two manila folders stuffed with poem drafts, some nearly 10 years old.
I’m a very organized person, so this discovery was surprising largely because I thought the folders were lost when I moved almost three years ago. I mourned them and forgot them. It’s atypical for me to have printed poems anyway. I draft on screen and only print my work when I’m ready to edit or order a manuscript, because I like marking up my own poems like school; but then I usually recycle them. I’ve never been into saving drafts because I’ve always tried to trust that I’m making a poem better with each round of editing, and won’t want to revert to an earlier version. As soon as I opened the folders last night, I remembered how I had decided yeeeeeaaaaaars ago to keep this particular batch—rife with plenty of horrible writing, but solid ideas and the occasional bit of gunpowder—in case of a technology disaster and so I always had something on hand to try to polish.
Finding these folders was transformative and my skin is buzzing. I’m sipping coffee now, touching the folders in between writing this post, still processing what lies within, because I sat on the floor until midnight and read them all in one sitting when I should have been finishing the reorg and doing yoga and then, you know, maybe sleeping a little. I’m both tired and shot-from-a-cannon awake. I learned some things from my former self.
First of all, I did have a technology disaster. Four years ago, my ex threw my laptop at my head, then smashed my external hard drive, and I lost a lot of writing. Except I didn’t, because here so much of it is, which forced me to remember that I used to print stuff at work and hide it, apparently for my future self to find because the self printing the poems was too distracted with staying alive to remember where I’d put them, or even that I’d written them.
Second of all, some of the poems I’d written before being involved with an abuser are, well, prophetic. In 2009, I wrote a poem called “Assaults” (ugh I’m better at titles now, promise) about a consensual encounter that overlapped with the memory of one that was, shall we say, less consensual. The memory intruded so strongly that I began to wonder who I was actually with, where in space and time I actually was. The feeling and experience in the poem–“he beat me where we joined”–is one I had again just a few years after the “Assaults” draft slipped into that folder.
Third, in 2010, I started a verse novel that envisioned the same doomed relationship in five different contexts: Was, Wasn’t, Could Have, Should Have, and Would Have. See, the two and a half years I lived with my abuser was round two for us. I don’t know if I’ve told many people that. We dated for a few months in college. He was not abusive to me then (though of course now I can see warning signs, which is maddening). We were unfinished and I thought about him for years, which of course made me more susceptible to his pull when he resurfaced. To try to put it to rest, I wrote that relationship every way I could conceive, with “fictional” characters. In the section Would Have, I wrote him as a batterer who impregnated the female speaker with a son and eventually killed her. And I didn’t remember that until last night. Tell me trauma doesn’t affect memory. Tell me I didn’t miss my calling as a psychic.
My former self knew on some level what could or was going to happen. All the vulnerabilities that primed me to be a victim were already there. All the strength and self-respect that primed me to escape and live were there, too. I am more like my former self than I thought before finding those folders; and also, I am less like her than I want to be. She wrote her ample ass off and kept everything, worked every day, turned ideas over and over until they became bigger and more clear. She believed in shit. She was loud and defiant. There is no fear in those drafts, none. She had never been mortally afraid before. I miss her. She was smothered on a dirty floor on her birthday three years ago. Rest her soul, or resuscitate her? Neither. Both.
At the end of a long and difficult year, I am exploring notions of self (and what erodes self) in the aftermath of intimate violence, and realizing that the theme is not a new one for me. I am new. Not shiny and improved, necessarily, but…repurposed. A different kind of person. A different kind of writer.
To all our selves, to being someone again, and to 2017: cheers. Save your drafts, kids. Love and light.