Growing Magnolias

“I don’t need a national study to prove to me that I have experienced sexual violence at a higher rate that my white friends. I don’t need a research paper to verify the effects that intimate power dynamics have on women of color. I don’t need an academic study to prove that my PTSD and anxiety are valid responses to my traumas. I don’t need any of this because I have lived through it.”


Ting Ting Shi, She/Hers

 

**Content Warning: Sexual assault, racist language


Flowers (or, A Beginner’s Guide to Surviving Sexual Assault) by Daniel Garcia


1.

On the days where you feel

more victim than survivor,

remember that this was not your fault.

There is no blueprint for dealing with trauma,

so know that whatever you are feeling

is valid. With that said,


November 28, 2018. Bar night. Ninth week. I went out with friends, celebrating the near-end of my first quarter at UChicago. I think we pre-gamed in my dorm room, stumbling across the Quad, moving as fast as we could because it was freezing and we weren’t wearing enough. I don’t remember entering the fraternity house. But, I remember being in the basement, dancing. I remember taking another shot with my friend, of some unknown liquor, served from the bar. I remember being in a corner of the room, dancing on some guy and making out with him. I don’t remember where my friends went. I don’t remember getting invited to his room or walking up the stairs to his room. My memory flashes from being on the crowded dance floor to lying naked on his bed, a mattress on the floor. I don’t remember taking my clothes off. I don’t remember being able to move much except to look out the window. I don’t remember saying “yes” or anything for that matter. I remember bits and pieces of what happens next. His lips on my neck. Being unable to breathe. Laying there for what seemed like hours. Blood. There was blood everywhere; on my legs, staining his bedsheets, on his fingers. It looked like he killed me, my dark blood staining his white skin. And, that night, in a way, he did.


I don’t remember saying “yes” or anything for that matter.

I don’t remember leaving the house or walking home, but I somehow made it back to my dorm room. I woke up to bruises covering my neck and my underwear dried with my blood. I couldn’t recall what happened.


2.

You will be revictimized.

You won’t deserve it, you’ll never ask for it,

there’ll never be a reason for it,

but it will happen, and yes,

I use these phrases for a reason,

because sometimes, what they say

will take you back to that place again,

that place of shame, and pain,

and whatever synonym for murder

that you can come up with;

they will fight for the rights to your trauma,

as if you need protecting from the body

they’re trying to take from you,

which is to say,

they will tell you it’s not your fault in one breath,

then turn and ask why you didn’t report in the next.

Remember, they did not dig this grave for you.

They are only dressing it with flowers.


The week following was a haze. I remember telling my closest friends and anyone who accidentally walked into my panic attacks and decided to stay. Some knew what to say, most didn’t and stayed silent.


I’ve only ever regretted telling one person. My now ex-best friend. We were both young, and I don’t think she knew how to handle what I told her. Regardless, the tenth week bar night was the week after. I didn’t want to go. I knew that I would see him there and I wasn’t ready.


I’m still not ready.


Despite my hesitations, she pushed me to go, to have one last rally before winter break. I didn’t know how to talk about what happened or what I was going through and I still couldn’t say “no.”


So I went back to a place I felt was easy: I got drunk.


It was just the two of us entering the house that night. The moment I walked through the door, it was as if I was being violated again. The room was packed with people, the air was hot and humid, and I couldn’t breathe again. She pulled me to the basement and I could feel my stomach churning, my heart beating faster, and my throat tightening. And I saw him.


The moment I walked through the door, it was as if I was being violated again.

I was terrified that he would touch me, let alone come near me and I needed to leave. I remember interrupting my friend’s make out session to tell her that I had to go. I guess maybe she was too drunk to realize the urgency. I remember sprinting up the stairs, shoving past people as I tried to escape what had happened a week earlier. I collapsed on the floor, unable to slow my breathing. My body ached and my vision was blurry. I was having a panic attack on the floor of a fraternity. A sober monitor brought me into a back room and I broke down. I don’t remember who the monitor was but I’m grateful. I even showed him a photo of my friend and he went and looked for her. Despite texting and calling, she never came to walk me home. It was a stark reminder to last week, when I walked home alone, after a different traumatic experience.


I should have said no.


3.

It says on pill bottles as a disclaimer:

“Do not operate heavy machinery.”

The irony in all of this is that

trauma is heavy fucking machinery,

which is to say,

I’m not giving you permission,

but if you ever decided it was too much,

and you wanted to rip yourself from the soil of this world,

I would understand.


I’ve struggled with suicide, depression, and anxiety my whole life. I’ve tried three different medications. I’m still on one. I’m in therapy. And yet? I’m nowhere close to healed.


When I was in a sorority, I attended the annual All Greeks meeting in my role as Risk Manager. All Greeks is when the new or incoming presidents of the Panhellenic sororities and the IFC fraternities meet, generally to discuss the upcoming year with an emphasis on risk management and preventing sexual violence. The meeting was held in a Reg room and I, inconveniently, sat on the opposite side to the door.


The irony of seeing my rapist walk through the door as the new president of his fraternity, ready to discuss sexual violence prevention, was not lost on me. I was functionally trapped. There was no way for me to leave the room without getting closer to him. So I sat through the hour meeting, holding my breath, as if not breathing would help to prevent the panic attack that was bursting to come out.


I remember being ready to discuss material ways to make parties safer for people, especially women of color, and to actually push these new, white fraternity leaders to be better than their predecessors. But, how could I meaningfully advocate for women of color when I hadn’t processed my own traumas? How could I protect people from sexual violence when I couldn’t even protect myself?


It was as if I had been shoved into a tiny box and I was slowly losing oxygen. I had been in those places before, trapped by my surroundings. One was freshman year of high school when a peer called me a “chink” from across a crowded cafeteria. Another was not even 6 months later when a substitute teacher kept trying to pronounce my name, unable to form the phonetic syllables with his mouth. Another happened during my first year at UChicago when I heard about the jokes that people who I thought were friends would make of my name, laughing that it fit the classic punchline of “How do Chinese people name their kids? They throw all their pots and pans down the stairs!” The most recent was this past summer, when a subletter jokingly commented that her friend had been called a “chink”.


But, how could I meaningfully advocate for women of color when I hadn’t processed my own traumas? How could I protect people from sexual violence when I couldn’t even protect myself?

The worst part of all of those situations was my inability to speak up. Every time I would feel the breath rush out of me, as if I had been punched in the gut. I couldn’t think, let alone speak. I never told anyone off, I was never my own defender.


4.

Some nights, it will feel like their hands

are reaching for you in the darkness,

and some nights, it still feels like his hands

are reaching for me in the darkness,

but when you wake up, gasping for air,

take it as a reminder, because even though

it still feels like they’re still here,

so are you. You, survivor, are still here,

so outgrow every storm

the universe rains on you:

the sleepless nights, the flashbacks,

the triggers, the shame, the guilt,

the mouths of every person that said

your name was victim;


I remember laying in bed with the guy that I was having a “situationship” with. This wasn’t long after. I was viscerally aware that he was aroused, terrified that he would ask me to do something or that his hands would wander. Every time he moved his hands or adjusted his body, I flinched. His hands felt like his hands, and the breath on my neck felt suffocating. The worst part was that I couldn’t move. My brain was stuck in the replay of my rape; my body frozen in the same way it was that night. It was as if I was watching myself from above, unable to even beg my muscles to move or to whisper “stop.” I was lucky that night. He fell asleep.


5.

You are not a victim. It doesn’t feel like

you’ve survived anything, but I promise you,


I remember being asked if I said “no. Does it matter if I did? I never said “yes.” Regardless of whether I literally said “no,” I had just become another statistic.


In general, women are three times more at risk of experiencing sexual violence the moment they enter college. In fact, more than 50 percent of campus sexual assaults occur between August and November. This period of time is known as the “Red Zone”. And the timing is not coincidental. The Red Zone coincides with countless back to school parties, with Greek chapters holding their “rush” events and other student organizations hosting apartment parties. First years, like I was in 2018, are particularly vulnerable because they are unfamiliar with the campus, including what and who to avoid.


This period of time is known as the “Red Zone”.

But what statistics were available for women like me, for AAPI women? Despite more than a century of the sexualization of Asian women, national studies documenting sexual violence in the US have failed to measure levels of violence within the AAPI community. In a study of Chinese-American women, like myself, conducted in 2006, 16 percent reported experiencing intimate physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime, a number that almost certainly skews low as AAPI women are the least likely to report rape and physical assault of any racial or ethnic group.


But 16 percent doesn’t seem to capture the experiences of sexual violence that only I have experienced. Because I couldn’t count the number of times white men have whispered phrases in my ear like “Chinese bitch” or “China doll” as they shoved their hands nonconsensually down my shorts. Or the number of times white men have texted me wanting to “cure their yellow fever” or wanting to “try their first Asian woman.” Or the number of unsolicited dick pics that I have received with captions referring to how exotic and Oriental I am.


But 16 percent doesn’t seem to capture the experiences of sexual violence that only I have experienced.

I don’t need a national study to prove to me that I have experienced sexual violence at a higher rate that my white friends. I don’t need a research paper to verify the effects that intimate power dynamics have on women of color. I don’t need an academic study to prove that my PTSD and anxiety are valid responses to my traumas. I don’t need any of this because I have lived through it.


6.

You are a flower, beautiful and fragile

as you may be sometimes; this is your garden,

so fertilize it with all the bullshit they told you

and when they try to take your body,

you remind them who’s living in it,

and when they try to take your voice,

you tell them, I am a survivor,

because on the days where you feel

more victim than survivor,

more desert than rainforest,

more wasteland than giving tree,

you will feel broken.


I wish that I never went to Bar Night that week. I wish that I didn’t drink as much. I wish that I said no. I wish that he had asked me if I wanted to have sex. I wish that he had asked me if I wanted to go to his room. I wish that my friends had asked if I was okay, before letting me go with a stranger. I wish that I was stronger, because maybe if I was stronger I could’ve fought back.


But, I can’t go back and change the past. I can only change the future. Every day I remind myself that I am stronger than my trauma. I remind myself that my traumas don’t define me. I remind myself that I am a survivor, not a victim. I remind myself that it was not, and will never be, my fault. And I wish that we, as a society, as a community, as a campus, were better.


Every day I remind myself that I am stronger than my trauma. I remind myself that my traumas don’t define me.

7.

It is okay to feel broken.

Broken is where the healing begins;

this is where we begin,

this is where we begin, again,

and again, and again,

so shake off these growing pains,

stretch your arms toward the sun

and do the one thing all flowers were meant to do:


Bloom.