I wince at the images of female strength and power in the media. Women in armor swinging automatic weapons over crowds. Women in bikinis shouting into microphones that respect means spending thousands on a ring you can’t afford. Women in Spandex punching other people into submission.
These aren’t so much portraits of strength as they are displays of entitlement and violence.
Strength is cradling the bodies of our dead and weeping. And then, when we are done weeping and we are ready, burying them ourselves.
Feeling what we feel.
Dealing with our own shit first.
Not by taking up guns or crushing our opponents or coercing people to give us what we want.
But by sitting with ourselves until we calm the fuck down.
No productive conversation can happen until the anger is handled first. The addiction to control and getting what we want, the rage and bloodlust and thirst for vengeance—no healthy relationship is even possible while these are the forces that drive us.
Show me a person who is calm and clear-headed on a sinking ship.
That is strength.
* * *
I was not calm.
I didn’t want to be calm.
After I got back with Top, I wanted to fucking hurt people. I wanted to make them pay.
People asked if I believed in God, and I answered, “God is dead, and I killed him” and slid my sunglasses down over my eyes.
I was 24 years old, and the first person I could hurt, the easiest person to hurt, was my brother.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re such a pathetic excuse for a human being.”
The next person I could hurt was Top. “God, you can never do anything right. Do I have to do everything for you?”
I had been assaulted, harassed, abused, shunned, and stalked. I may have been an adult, but that doesn’t give you a clean slate. Abuse was familiar. It was comfortable. And as an adult, switching roles from abuser to abused became easy as double-dutch. This rope, that rope. Back and forth. Hour by hour. Now I hurt you. Now you hurt me. Round and round, where it stopped, nobody knew.
Child abuse is easy to sort out. The adult is wrong. Nice and crisp and clear, black and white. This is your job. Don’t berate a child until they collapse into helpless tears. Don’t beat them. Process your own feelings on your own. A few simple boundaries. And my parents just couldn’t do it.
But adult abuse is this: Shards of glass in everyone’s hands. Threats to use it on you, on myself. Smeared blood. Yours, mine.
We’re all wrong. We’re all victims.
The only way out is out. Grab your coat, drop the shards of glass, bandage your hands and jam them deep into your pockets, leave the keys on the kitchen counter, and walk out. For good. Don’t look back. Just keep walking.
But it would be six more years before I had the strength to do that.
In the meantime, there I was, my father’s face staring back at me in the mirror. The same jut to my chin. The edge in my eyes. The snarl on my lips. Hurting everyone I could, just to make my own ache stop for a few minutes.
Rage can feel so much like power.