Not an Object
When I was seven years old, in the hours of night, I belonged to Him. I became a sort of anatomically precise mannequin, whose existence served solely the purpose of doing His bidding. Wide eyed dark holes stared blankly into the darkness, holding back tears until they evaporated and turned to dust. My body – legs, arms, mouth, throat, anus, vagina – made up a sort of child sized doll, to be used and disposed of until the next time. My mind screamed and protested, and then stilled and went blank. My mouth opened when commanded to do so, and otherwise my lips stayed sealed. My body performed its duties as though it were attached to strings operated by another. I ceased to be, and my body – His object – attempted to protect me, and so I went Elsewhere until it was over. Except that this Elsewhere began to infiltrate my days, and I posed as a regular human among the others, speaking when spoken to but otherwise quiet, and very careful. I pretended to listen, imitated the ability to hear in class what the teacher was saying. I smiled at my mother and father and performed my duties as their only child. I began to cease to be, and grew practiced at feigning humanhood.
For the first few years my body trembled, sometimes violently, and then it learned better, like a dog well trained. I left myself, a state that is known by psychologists as “Dissociation”. The psychiatric definition is as follows:
“The splitting off of a group of mental processes from the main body of consciousness, as in amnesia or certain forms of hysteria.”
The Professionals tell me now that my body, brain and instincts were clever – they praise me and attempt to have me do the same – and then they tell me that unfortunately, the persisting consequence is that the body does not forget, and dissociation becomes a sort of uncontrollable and involuntary response that will sometimes trace and follow the once child into adulthood.
I learned to do as I was asked. I learned how not to gag, how to wrap my legs firmly around his torso as he did his work. I learned what he liked, and learned through punishment what he did not. My heart paused during these hours, and like a clock that’s forgotten its purpose my heart forgot how to tick, how to awaken, during the Other hours as well.
My confused arms lay sometimes limp and neatly at my sides, but obeyed when assigned particular chores.
My lungs learned how to hold their air until they were once again allowed the elixir of life.
My hands and fingers were crafted into delicate machinery that complied with orders.
My tongue stiffened and pressed itself onto the roof of my mouth.
My tiny breasts lay still and allowed what happened to occur.
My face learned how to appear and then become entirely void of expression, with the exception of when it was expected to do otherwise.
Perhaps my toes were the only part of me that dared to disobey. They curled in on themselves, assuming the responsibility of my voice and screaming for me in its absence.
15 years have passed since it ended. Today my body supposedly belongs to me again, and it is as foreign as a country I have never visited. My instincts bring my knees up to my chest when I sit, and I force myself to keep both feet on the floor, or sit crossed legged, when it is appropriate and polite. My hands still often lay limp and confused, uncertain of what to do. As a child I developed my own rules to follow, rules that could not be broken and that called for punishment when they were. Except that this time I was the perpetrator, and I violated myself. I starved and gorged and vomited. I scratched at, cut and burned my own flesh. I flunked out of school and have spent the last 10 years in and out of various psychiatric institutions, primarily those whose objective is to teach me how to feed myself.
And now, a miracle, my heart is beginning to tick again, slowly awakening. I am beginning to reclaim this vessel that holds me inside of it, this strange combination of parts that make up the whole of who I am – ultimately insignificant to the universe, but I am all that I will always have, I am the one who has been with myself for every moment of the 27 years that I have lived.
My lungs breathe when I want them to, and for years they did so when I wanted them to stop. My heart beats. My arms and legs obey my own commands and even desires – for so long I had forgotten the luxury of desire, of personal freedom, of choice. Today I stand timidly and tall, and I speak not only when spoken to. I write and I tell my story and carefully assess the worthiness of those who get to hear it. I am becoming whole again, a miracle of cells and neurons that work together to build a soul that exists again, that survived and that lives and loves and sometimes – often, even – laughs.
My arms embrace those I love. My vocal chords work, no longer rusted, and sing songs. My heart flies freely, still unaccustomed somehow to freedom – both from him and from my perpetrator self – and I am learning my way in the world, clumsily, slowly, surely.
My name is Sofia, and I am not an object.