Stone Heart/Paper Skin

Stretching to See the Light of Day

*CW: Sexual Assault discussed.

I remember five years ago when I read Chanel Miller’s words as “Emily Doe,” describing her rape by a Stanford student and the lengthy, painful medical process and trial that followed.

Her words are shattering. Concise and quick like a knive’s edge. Raw and oozing like an exposed wound.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read it.

That day, I read her words and this kept looping in my brain:

“I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.

I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.

I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.

I read Chanel’s words, and the words of the lawyer hired by the rapist to defend him, and I felt lead-limbed and parchment-skinned all at the same time.

I know many of you are familiar with that particular feeling of sorrow, trauma, or depression (or the trinity, AMEN). It’s that visceral, contradictory mix of heavy and weak when your whole body and everything inside of you feels as hard as a boulder and as tender-thin as tissue.

I remember reading her words and then forcing myself to go out into my garden.

I told myself “You don’t have to plant anything, you can just put your hands in the dirt.” But a little while later I was covering tiny seedlings with soil, willing them to grow with the power of sun and water and my wanting.

That’s the thing about tricking yourself to move forward, right? Somehow, you bamboozle yourself into another minute, another breath, another moment of going on. And you’re always capable of more breathing and going on than you thought.

That day, I put seeds in the ground and I reminded myself that surprising things grow out of darkness—that even entombed carrots twist and stretch and hope to see the light of day again after weeks in all-enveloping dark.

Another minute. Another breath. Another moment going on.

A year or so after reading Emily Doe’s words, I wrote this song. At first, I didn’t realize that it was Chanel’s story. That happens to me sometimes when I’m writing lyrics—as if someone else’s truth has been ticking in my blood, mingled with the air and atmosphere to shape-shift into something new.

Here are the lyrics that I want to change in the song:

“This is not my body I’m living in.” 

Because it doesn’t do justice to Chanel’s complete story—the refusal to be othered from her own being and name, the crawling forward on fingernails, the warrior work of moving on, the standing up and saying “Yes, this has happened to me but is not WHO I am.”

Chanel is a force and a talent before and beyond her trauma—a gifted writer and artist and brilliant soul.

And I know not every story needs a final, defiant fist shake but this one deserves one. So next time I sing it, the last verse will be:

“Stone heart and paper skin, this is my damn body I’m living in. And I won’t sink in the river or float away, but don’t tell me everything’s ok. I won’t sink in the river or float away. I won’t sink in the river or float away, I won’t sing in the river or float away.”

Thank you Chanel for your twisting and stretching to see the light of day,

Annie B.


THREE GOOD THINGS

1) Get thee to the RAINN page and donate, good sirs and madams!

2) Watch Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Maybe even watch it again. Especially the last 10 minutes. For real for real for real for real.

3) Do you like an extra side of comedy with your trauma processing and social activism? Cameron Esposito is another frickin’ hilarious force and her special Rape Jokes is “A standup special about sexual assault from a survivor’s perspective” and the proceeds for streaming benefit RAINN.