A Time to Cry
My Recovery from a Physical Assault
Trauma is bewildering. Whenever it happens, it does not seem to be any less shocking and disorienting, regardless of past experiences.
In last week’s issue of WPR, I wrote a short, rather cryptic poem entitled A Salt. I can tell you now that the title of the poem and its vague intimations directly refer to an incident in which I was physically assaulted just a few days earlier.
Without going into too much detail, I went to meet with someone in my neighborhood on Sunday afternoon, February 19. (For those of you who may not know, I live in a remote, rural, woodsy area just over an hour southeast of Nashville, TN.) That person instigated a conflict by flipping off a group of horseback riders who were passing through the area while I was with him. After the meeting, I was parking my car in a clearing not too far away before heading to a picnic on foot through the woods.
As I was parking, a group of those horseback riders came galloping down the hill and surrounded my car. Unfortunately, there was no one else around. They were furious and screaming at me (even though I was not the one who caused the problem). I rolled down my car window to talk, but despite still being seated inside, one of these individuals managed to reach into my vehicle to hit my face several times. His eyes were filled with rage as he glared at me and forced himself into my car. This is a memory that is seared in my mind.
I did not reveal the identity or whereabouts of the person who flipped them off. This band of horseback riders, who were all white males ranging in age from their 20s to 40s from what I can recall, called me names and yelled at me to “Take my car and get the fuck away from here!”
Needless to say, I never made it to that picnic.
I drove slowly away, and when I reached a safe distance, I called my partner. I decided that I needed to get home as soon as I could. The drive down toward my place was the longest twenty minutes I’ve ever experienced. At some point, I just broke down in tears. My head was hurting, and half of my face felt like someone had run over it.
The local police were made aware of the incident.
Over the next few days, I was a total mess.
Everyone responds to trauma in their own way. There is no right or wrong reaction. For me, I cried a lot. I could not help myself. It has been an incredibly emotional upheaval that I do not fully understand.
I mostly stayed in bed. Being under the cover of several layers was the only place where I needed to be.
The swelling on my face took some days to heal. I had a headache that took about three days to go away completely, and for some unknown reason, my allergies and sinuses suddenly flared up like crazy on the way home after the incident. I could not blow my nose fast enough. There was so much coming out. My body felt like it was going haywire.
I asked myself how or why someone like me, a queer person of color who is not particularly masculine or athletic, has any business living in this woodsy, rural, politically conservative area.
I asked myself if I somehow deserved this.
I asked myself if I feel safe living here.
I asked myself if I need to limit my trips out of my house and stay home more.
I asked myself if they would attack me again if they see me in my car out and about.
These are the questions that have been bouncing around in my head.
A couple of nights ago, I met with the president of the local association to which the particular horseback riders in question belong. We had a lengthy discussion during which he apologized on behalf of the association. I explained to him what happened, and he is preparing to make recommendations to the association’s governing body based on what I told him. He and I have made plans to continue our dialogue moving forward. I want them to do everything they can to prevent this from happening again.
I do not know how I am supposed to heal from all of this. I still cry, but it is more of a trickle, less of a downpour now. Three days after the incident, we already had plans to spend a few days in Florida to visit my partner’s mom and help out with a few things. In the land of warmth and sunshine, I slept and walked a lot. I felt like a zombie going through the motions of living. I sought refuge in a book I found, and time spent with my partner out in the world seemed to do me some good. I sat in front of the Gulf of Mexico for a while, just staring out into the distance.
I do not know if I am okay. I am still gathering my thoughts and trying to build some perspective out of the experience.
As far as trauma goes, this incident is not my first rodeo. I was once held at gunpoint and robbed in East Nashville, and there are traumatic moments from earlier in my life that haunt me in ways that I cannot explain. So then, I should be an expert at this whole trauma thing, right?
Trauma, as it takes hold of you, does not get any easier to experience regardless of how much you have been through in the past. Maybe for some it does, but my heart goes out to people who can carry that much heaviness.
Perhaps I can get better at how I deal with trauma in the ensuing days, weeks, months, and years afterward.
In that way, I will keep asking questions.
I will rest and be gentle with myself.
Find as much safety as I can.
Let my tears fall wherever they will.
Art by Roqué Marcelo
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I am so sorry. Years ago, I was assaulted and bones around my left eye were broken. It is such a sense of violation and stirs up so many emotions. My thoughts are with you, friend. In these dark hours it is sometimes hard to remember how beautiful life is. You are beautiful and that will triumph.
Sending you so much love and light my friend. I am so angry on your behalf. I am sorry you have to deal with any trauma at all, this is just disgusting. You are incredibly brave and your bravery will save others. Keep taking care of yourself, your body knows what it needs. I love you.