I once danced in the chorus of a professional production of A Chorus Line. I got paid way too much to dance for less than ten minutes, and I spent the rest of my time in the wings, watching the better paid dancers sweat off five pounds of stage makeup. Anyway, there’s this part in the show when Diana Morales, the good kid who happens to be from “the block,” recalls her attempts to really “feel it” in her drama classes with a clearly racist and potentially drunk teacher. When she hears that said teacher has died, she remembers: “I dug right down to the bottom of my soul, to see what I had inside. I dug right down to the bottom of my soul, and I cried, ‘cause I felt nothing.”
And there, in the wings of that big theatre, in a shiny silver body suit and a sequined top hat, I too started to cry. Because I realized that I felt nothing. And it was glorious.
Just days before these revelatory tears, I had rid myself of an abusive prick who thought he had the right to my body whenever he wanted it, whether or not I consented. I had never been in love, and I certainly hadn’t loved him. I’d never had a boyfriend, and I definitely didn’t want him to be my first. But suddenly, it was two years later and I didn’t know who I was anymore. Apparently I was a slut but it was hard to take ownership of that title when all I’d done was woken to someone on top of me. So I stopped eating and I stopped moving and I stopped caring and I figured no one else cared, so why should I? I figured this was just what my life would be like from now on. But somehow – and honestly, I’m still not quite sure how – I mustered up all of the courage I had left, and then I ran away without a word and I never saw him again.
Needless to say, it had been a wild ride of emotions leading up to this moment, in my fake eyelashes and my high heeled shoes in the wing of some fancy Toronto theatre. Honestly, at this point in my recovery, I had no idea what was happening half the time, because I was taking full advantage of my new legal drinking age whenever I could. But as Diana was belting out her final notes, I realized that for the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt nothing. I didn’t feel happy, but I didn’t feel sad; I didn’t feel whole, but I didn’t feel broken.
Ever since that guy whose name I refuse to say took away my ability to choose, I’ve felt way too many things at any given moment, I’m consistently thinking about 5 or 10 different things that are potentially going to end the world. My brain is always developing several half-baked, ridiculous apocalypses, and while I have anxiety to thank for the overload of thoughts and emotions which fill my brain at any given second, I have that prick to thank for making me feel like I don’t have any choice in the matter. He made me question my autonomy and my strength, he made me question my sanity and my personhood. He made me feel like I was nothing, like I deserved it, like I had asked for it, and I believed him. Sometimes I still do.
I didn’t go to the police. I honestly haven’t told very many people at all. I didn’t think anyone would believe me, and given that this asshole was supposedly my boyfriend, I certainly didn’t think the authorities would care. I can’t imagine what the process of attempting to pursue those assaults would have been like. I admire and wholeheartedly support my fellow survivors who had the bravery to find out. But when we read cases like R v Ewanchuk, when we see the backlash faced by Madame Justice L’Heureux Dube, when we hear sexist, stereotypical remarks like those from Justice Camp…it doesn’t make me feel any more like sharing. I have enough voices in my head making me second-guess every choice that I make (and whether I even had the right to make it). I don’t know if I could handle the voice of a judge asking me why I didn’t just keep my knees together. I don’t know if I could stomach the voice of a judge telling me that I had asked for it because I wore lululemon pants instead of a crinoline. I don’t think I could take the voice of a judge saying that I was actually walking around in a state of perpetual consent, until I yelled otherwise loud enough or kneed someone hard enough in the groin.
Sometimes, even though I know I was sick, I long to feel like I did that day in the wings, watching a pretend Diana Morales sing about nothing. I wish I could still feel nothing. But I can’t, so instead I feel rage and confusion and frustration at the fact that my right to use my body the way I so choose is still in question (for some people, anyway) to this day. And that is definitely not nothing.