My earliest memory of writing was around the fifth grade when I was supposed to write a fictional short story. I don’t remember writing as much as I remember sitting down with my mother crying from the painfully constipated block of words. Like any mother, she coached me through it. She encouraged me to push it out, sometimes helping with the occasional sentence or two. I don’t know why some memories stick while others, probably more significant ones, don’t. Nonetheless, the hours of hard writing in which my mother broke down and wrote an absurd story about a Christian ghost who haunts bad children is one memory that has stuck with me; I ended up hating writing and stopped reading. I never moved past R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. In high school, Cliff notes saved me from having to dog-ear a page or crease a spine, which was perfect for an easy grade but a disservice to the would be lessons. I could have learned from Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage protagonist, Henry Fleming, about the difference between courage and cowardice. If I would have read George Orwell’s, 1984 I probably would have never joined the military.
I joined the Marine Corps without having read such stories stories, if I had they could have spared me some hard lessons. Instead, I stepped into the world, on my own, without any concept of how cruel it could be. For my eight years of service I was raped twice. At eighteen, I had no clear definition of sex, consent, or rape. It wasn’t something that was talked about. I never knew a person could or would want to physically abuse another person’s body like a pincushion. I was told I was raped the second time when I finally worked up the courage to tell my roommate why I wasn’t sleeping in my bed and constantly looking over my shoulder. She reported the crime up the chain of command. It was her duty to. Since we were at the bottom of that chain more people found out than needed to. It split our unit in two and shattered me to pieces. It felt like my life was exposed and being judged. The crime went to trial, and he was found guilty of consensual sex not rape. They split the metaphorical baby down the middle.
At this time, I was in therapy for insomnia, depression, alcohol abuse, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), something else I was unfamiliar with. Now that I knew what rape looked and felt like I could recall feeling the same way when I was younger. It was a lot to be made aware of at once and it sent me spiraling. I blamed myself for being so unaware and vurnable. I hated being in my skin because it felt used, like trash, absolutely filthy. I sank into a deep depression and tried to kill myself mostly with tequila and once with a knife. I wanted to cut out the memories playing on loop. As horribly broken as I was on the inside I had to hide it every day. I had to do better and be better than my rapists. I never wanted them on top of me again not even in rank, and so my alter ego was created Sgt Flores. She was a model marine by anyone’s standards, solid at physical training, lethal with a rifle, and could hold her own grappling with the best of them. She wasn’t afraid of anything and conquered everything. It felt real and true as long as my uniform was on. But once it came off, I was back in pieces.
Those pieces couldn’t be held together with cloth and stitching for long and they didn’t. I finally broke when my best friend was drugged and violently raped. Like a fly in a spider’s web, I felt caught. Trapped in a world I tried so hard to hide. The harder I fought to free myself the more caught up I became. I did my best to help my friend through the invasive scrapping, prodding, and scanning of the medical exam, the pills to prevent pregnancy and STDs, but it all got to be too much. The smallest pieces of me were torn and burning as I ached for her. I had nothing left. I tried to kill myself before the spider came back for me. But a good friend stopped me and check me into rehab. It was a hard adjustment. I had to find an outlet for my anger, pain, and guilt other than booze and sharp objects. I fought every step of the way. I had gotten used to the sing of alcohol on my wounds.
Finding a different outlet was the simplest because there were no alcohol or knives around. The sharpest thing in rehab was a pen. I used the pen to gut the dirt out from under my uncut fingernails. I used rehab in a similar way, as a way of escape rather than for its intended purpose. I would sit in group therapy and not share, sit alone for each meal, generally avoid other patients. I shut everyone out. When we were given a notebook I put my pen to its intended use. All those moments when I didn’t talk, sat alone, or hid from peeping eyes, I would write. I etched my thoughts on the page instead of my mind. Slowly, very slowly, I cut away the webs holding me in place determined to use my pen, not a knife or tequila, to stab the spider to death.