The Things We Carried

I’ve spent awhile mulling over whether or not I’d muster the courage to write a reflection on my thoughts of the success of Sheyla’s Law being passed. To the people who’ve supported me along the way, it felt necessary. Like writing a thank you card after receiving a gift, except I’ve always been bad at them due to the memory loss, and bad at compliments in general because I cry in private after people are kind to me.

I delivered an incredible testimony in the Public Safety committee the legislation was assigned to in February over Zoom. While Texas was experiencing apocalyptic climate change in the tune of winter storms, I felt closest to home for the first time in years after waking up to a foot of snow on my south Texas porch. We forgot to run our water over night so our pipes froze. I guess we have been in Texas long enough to forget what to do on the first snow of the year.

After the testimony, though, everything seemed to pile on all at once. The throes of the pandemic, legislative chaos in Texas, becoming a stay at home mom to two kids under two and giving birth in one of the worst crises my generation has seen, a cancer survivor, a full time college student, a part time soldier, a wife, a sister, a business owner, a daughter, an in law. Something in me was starting to really crack. Being strong for all those occupations for many years, there wasn’t much of a person there at the end of filling a role.

In April, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to return back to my basic training installation and tell my story to an entire brigade full of people. Ironically, days before I was set to leave for a week to the base to speak, the AIT side of the installation came down under a massive investigation. Go figure.

While compiling my slide deck, I was forced to reconcile with the fact that I was sexually harassed before I even entered the training environment at 17 years old by a man twice my age. A story I never felt entitled to tell because I wasn’t one of the women he would go on to assault while we were about to reach graduation. I didn’t know what sexual harassment was yet and although listening to a man regale a graphic story in great detail-about how he slept with his wife that day before she dropped him off at the Oklahoma City airport felt weird, I felt guilty knowing that I somehow could’ve prevented those women-my battle buddies-from assaulted earlier if I knew that that was sexual harassment. If I wasn’t scared shitless and just trying to keep the lowest profile I could to survive basic training that summer between junior and senior year.

I was forced to reconcile with the fact that I was sexually harassed after graduation by the favorite NCO that was entrusted to lead us new soldiers into the operational Army. Someone who identified himself as an ally to women. Someone who stood up for us when we caught sexist gruff from our male counterparts. At 17, I was invited to a former drill sergeant’s next duty station to sleep with him.

I was forced to reconcile with the fact that upon my return home, I would learn that my battle buddy from the local recruit sustainment program was raped by someone who lived down the street from me.

I was forced to reconcile with the fact that my battalion commander from the recruit sustainment program would go on to be relieved after sexually grooming his subordinates and threatened them against their participation in an investigation that would lead to him being honorably discharged with a preserved retirement.

I was raped on the night of my AIT graduation in 2016 by someone I trusted. I was denied justice by the local police that I was instructed relentlessly that were supposed to help.

Now, I’m in a fantastic unit with even better leadership that supports me and my aspirations in this fight and appreciates my contributions to the cause so far. But it still seems like a drop in the bucket when we’re surrounded by catastrophically awful headlines re: sexual assault on a weekly basis. Something about the features and not the bugs.

I’ve been disconnected from my thoughts and feelings for a long time and adapting to situations to get by making sure that I’m responding in the way that’s expected of me. Earlier this year I met with the judicial leadership of the county which I resided in at the time when I was assaulted to ask whether or not I had enough evidence to begin the process that I never got the chance to have. The answers weren’t what I’ve heard about in TV shows-it didn’t feel real. Not much has for a long time. Not enough evidence to charge. Maybe you might have a case but your entire character and every choice you’ve ever made in your life will be on trial. But that’s typical, apparently. I’m not upset with the county attorney at all. I’m just tired by the process. That’s a feature, not a bug, I think.

I wish I had some monumentally profound thoughtpiece on how I felt. The truth is-I’m certainly elated that the bill made it. The chances of it doing so in its conception were awfully slim. It was an incredible lift that was carried out by the efforts of other survivors from Minnesota, not just me, in conjunction with people who represent the other moving parts of the bureaucratic process that takes up so much of our lives after we’re assaulted. But I can’t really seem to get past the fact that this was my story, and that this is what I felt I had to do in order to get my closure.

For now, I’m ambivalent. I’ve been in therapy for three months and I’m starting to turn a corner, I suppose. I knew it was time to get help after realizing that I’m not just a homebody-I never leave the house alone. I haven’t been to the gym until recently for five years. I obsess about locking doors. I avoid massages and pelvic exams, and pelvic floor therapy even though I needed it. I put off a kidney stone until I couldn’t anymore because I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’ve never taken my kids to a park because I can’t bear the thought of something awful happening to them if I dissociate. I don’t remember either of my kids births. I barely remember being pregnant outside of the endless vaginal exams. Grey area suicidal became thoughts I couldn’t ignore. I can’t cry for longer than 30 seconds at a time because of the memories of doing it in uniform and how humiliating it was. I developed mild IBS and my digestive system does not function properly anymore as a result of the sodomy.

So here’s to my closure, facing post traumatic stress disorder.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for others is take care of yourself. If anything, it’s for my kids and my husband.