I was recently named the 2015 A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Courage Fellow. This fellowship was created by Michelle Wing, a survivor and writer herself. About the fellowship, she writes, “For me, the spirit of the fellowship truly is in its title: Courage. It takes tremendous courage to pick up the pieces of one’s life after being battered physically, emotionally and/or psychologically.” She also writes,”I hope the recipient of the Courage Fellowship discovers she is now part of a strong and committed group of women writers. I want her to know that AROHO women are sisters, not competitors. We gather together to learn from each other, to inspire one another.”
I am inspired. And honored. And so thankful to be a part of Michelle’s community.
Here is her story. Please take the time to read her amazing bio at the end. She is changing hurt to hope.
The Girl in the Hallway
The twelve hundred students in my high school spent each weekday on an expansive campus, stretched across a large tract of land, all enclosed to keep out the bitter cold of the Montana winters. One particular hallway, lined with lockers, was especially long. Filled with voices and the clanging of doors between bells, it became morgue-quiet once classes were in session.
One afternoon during my sophomore year, a teacher asked me to run an errand. I stepped around the corner to enter that hallway, expecting to hear only the echo of my own footsteps. Instead, I came upon a private scene now imprinted in my memory.
Two upperclass students, a boy and girl, stood at one of the lockers. The boy had drawn up to his full height, his words ringing out in an intimidating manner as he gestured wildly. The girl cowered in front of him, head down, holding her books. Without warning, he struck her full in the face.
There are so many things I could have done in response. If I had been very brave, I could have called out, then and there, made my presence known, said, “Stop it!” The girl would have known she was not, after all, invisible. But maybe that would have placed her (or me) in more jeopardy.
Or I could have very quietly and quickly gone to the principal’s office, the counselor’s office, which were very close by, and asked for intervention. Perhaps I didn’t do this because, like most teen-agers, I believed in that inviolate rule: Never tell the adults what is going on.
I didn’t know this girl. Being only a sophomore in a three-year high school, with so many students, I didn’t, couldn’t know everyone. But I saw where they were standing, the locker number. I could have waited for her later on, watched for her, and approached her privately, asked if she was alright, if she needed help, if she wanted to talk. I didn’t do that, either.
I did nothing. Worse than that – and this is what has stayed with me for all these years. Not what I did or didn’t do. But what I thought.
In that moment, when I saw the boy hit the girl, I did not think, “He’s an animal. What a jerk!” I did not think, “That poor girl. I wish I could help her.” I did not think, “No one deserves to be treated like that.”
I thought, “She is so stupid. I would never let anyone do that to me.”
Six years later, during my last year of college, I met a beautiful, charming man. He wooed me with his talents – a writer, an artist – and his sad story of a childhood of neglect. Shortly after we moved in together, he totaled my car. He wrote bad checks; he asked me to take out credit cards, then ran up debt. The lies piled higher. I struggled to keep us afloat financially while he was fired from jobs repeatedly for bursts of temper. At home he began breaking furniture, then throwing things. Plates smashed over my head, soup cans splashed against the walls, a door knob disappeared under his stomping foot as I attempted to leave the room. When he finally grabbed me by the shoulders and heaved me across the room, it came as no great surprise. Still, it took many more episodes before I found the strength and courage to leave.
I had no words for what happened to me. I blamed myself, and kept it a secret for years, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, and even being re-victimized. Only when I began to write, to put my experiences into poetry, did I begin to find a way out of the quagmire.
I would never wish abuse on any woman. But I like to think that somehow, someway, everything has a purpose. I have taken my own trauma and turned it to good, working with other survivors, helping them to write their stories, to move towards healing. I try to pass this message on to all women, especially girls: No one deserves to be hurt.
I have never forgotten the girl in the hallway. I wish I could replay the scene, with who I am now, but of course, that is not possible. I can only hope that she, too, is safe and has found peace. May she forgive me for not being there when she needed someone. May I forgive myself.
Michelle Wing is a writer of poetry and creative nonfiction, and the author of “Body on the Wall” (poems) and co-editor of the anthology “Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence.” She is the founder of Changing Hurt to Hope: Writers Speak Out Against Domestic Violence, a program affiliated with YWCA Sonoma County, which began in 2010. Michelle lives in the country in Northern California with her wife and a menagerie. She is assisted in all her creative endeavors by her service dog Ripley. Find out more at http://www.michellewing.com and http://www.cryofthenightbird.com.