What draft is this? Five? Six, maybe? I have sat down to write this out, oh, so many times now. The first draft— a familial past I’m still too ashamed of to talk about. The second draft—too angry, too hostile. Was that gas-lighting I smelled in draft number three? Self-doubt consumed four. And then existed those in between. Nebulous amalgams of five and three, a dash of one with a pinch of four, and two with some sugar to tone it down, which merely rendered it tone deaf.
So, what is this story I need to divulge? Be out with it already, I not-so-gently coax myself. Come on, GRRL, four boys sexually harassed and bullied you at work, and you trained for and ran a marathon to cope…OK, you take it from here…
Within me, exists this Janus, this dichotomous, split personality of wanting to purge by hastily spilling experiences on to a page while battling the distrustful perfectionist who guards the narrative. They’ve battled over draft after draft, sentence after sentence, secret after secret, but on one point they agree: part of my healing necessarily entails writing my truth.
The high school I work at touts itself as a safe space for people who skirt the fringes of what society deems acceptable: the trans teen kicked out of her home for living her truth; the student of color who felt silenced by the suffocating privilege of neoliberals and their self-serving, selective allyship; the young person tired of being slut-shamed and the recipient of unsolicited dick pics because they wear a crop top. But when you cater to the subversive individuals, you also pull from their subversive counter cultures, some of which, ironically, have yet to progress beyond the poison of toxic masculinity and misogyny. Counter cultures in which the young cisgendered men celebrate fucking chicks behind a dumpster, adopt social media handles such as Dead Bitch in a Pool, degrade each other through intensely homophobic rhetoric, and reduce women to holes and crevasses in which to thrust their prepubescent penises. Older generations pass down this sickness to their successors like a right of passage, marking their transition to manhood with cheap beer and a blowjob from a toothless hooker. Their mothers applaud the presence of “positive older male role models” in the lives of their formidable sons. They brag about their children’s athleticism and potential to “go pro.” They flaunt their privilege and wealth to manipulate those who pose a threat to their sons’ supremacy. These boys and their families, completely devoid of any motivation to swallow the social justice pill we’re serving, were not ready for my school, and my school was not ready for these boys and their families.
This subjugation and sexual objectification of women, once quite normalized within their circle and willfully ignored by their mothers, manifests in truly sick ways. The fodder for a joke emerged when a much older male (you know, one of those “positive older role models” their mothers love so much) in their incestuous community gave them access to a naked picture of their teacher. Hahahahaha! Hilarious! So hilarious, in fact, that they just had to share it—at school—with other students. Because everyone needed to be in on the joke because women are comedy material because women are just fuck toys, right? Hahahahaha! Yes, these boys laughed and shared, laughed and shared. But not everyone was laughing. One of their female-identified peers—sacred. A skate shop owner—disgusted. Me, the teacher in the photo—um, name and emotion, I felt it. Sorry, Calvin Harris, some feels are not worth catching. Once their parents swooped in with their “boys will be boys” rhetoric and one flexed her “I’m-a-big-bad-lawyer-so-there” muscles, my administration was rendered helpless and the school community a playground for unfettered bullying and sexual harassment. Now more emboldened and enabled than ever, the boys arrogantly ignored orders to stop sharing the image and talking about it with peers. Instead of engaging in restorative justice to repair the damage they inflicted, they hurled at me in the halls gendered insults. “Cunt!” “Shut the fuck up, slut!” “Because she’s a bitch.” They drew other peers into their sick plot to defile me for fun, unleashing a tirade of emotional and verbal abuse. Punch—“We’re gonna get you fired!” Uppercut—“Sign this petition to get Julia fired!” Roundhouse kick to the head—“She threatened to curb stop us!” They defied pleas to leave me alone, knowing that anything they did would be shielded by Mommy. So, like a good, submissive little slut, I lowered my head and took the beating.
The irony, here, is that I am ok with being what society deems slutty. A woman who defines her own sexual identity and defies the patriarchal prison that we owe one man our virginity. A woman who threatens men’s fragile notion that their masculinity is somehow grounded in a sexual prowess not becoming of a lady. So, I embrace my “sluttiness” as a queer polyamorous woman. But my slutty story is one I get to control, not an insular group of mini misogynists. Attempts of others to dictate and narrate my story chips away at my soul and diminishes, with each incident, my desire to exist. I find myself in an abusive relationship with myself, questioning whether or not I am worthy of self-love, of life. During this past school year, I stopped fantasizing about destination races, lesson plans, strategies to support my daughter, and vintage wardrobe ensembles. Living in fear and utterly consumed by my anxiety disorder, I obsessively visualized placing a gun to my head. And while I never pulled the trigger, this scenario, this exit from life, consumed my being. I entered a sick cycle after each incident at school of days spent deteriorating then rebuilding only to return to be victimized again by those boys. Bed became one of my only safe spaces, where I would languish under the covers envisioning the cool metal of a gun pressed against my feverish temple, having to remind myself every so often to breathe before my chest exploded. I lay there, petrified but panicked, knowing I was failing my children, my students, and myself and yet for these same three, I had to live. I had to fight.
Get up, GRRL! You have a hill workout. Get up! Today you hit the track. Move, it’s just an easy five. Today is steady state or tempo, you’re favorite, let’s go. Long run with Eliza. You can’t stand her up for 18. And so on and so forth. I lived by Coach Michele’s plan for me. Even during those stretches when depression and my bed swallowed me whole, I ran. Even during those dark conversations with myself, when my fictitious gun pierced layers of my temple in a futile attempt to silence my thoughts, I acquiesced that dying today would prevent me from completing my run tomorrow, so live I must.
And, so, to the boys who relentlessly bullied me, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.
To their mothers who enabled and excused, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.
To the colleague who coddled the boys and minimized their toxic behavior, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.
To the therapist who slut-shamed and victim-blamed me, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.
To the “Union Cowboy” who did not believe me, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.
To the patriarchal systems that historically silence women victimized by men, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.
As with life, there came a point during the marathon when I wanted to give up. I am certain anyone who has ever run a marathon knows exactly at what point that was. Yes, mile 22. Ah, those last four miles: so close to death, yet so close to the finish. But unlike the 10k or half marathon distance, where I can talk myself through those last few laps around a track, I found myself losing a battle to fatigue and self-loathing. Tears gathered, panic set in, breathing became even more labored—and then my run angel spoke. “You cannot cry,” Paula ordered sternly. “If you cry, you will not be able to breath. You cannot cry.” I remember looking at her, this beautiful human who had joined me all fresh and perky at mile 20, like, bitch, who the fuck are you to tell me what to do?! Can’t you see I’m dying here? But, of course, Paula was right. No, I could not cry, and, god damn it, it was time to suck it up and finish! I looked at my watch, turned to Paula, and replied, “OK, let’s get this shit over with.”
I wish I could run through the trauma of this past year with the same perseverance. I want it to end in the same definitive fashion. I want to stop sobbing so I can again take a deep breath. Even as I write this, I am fighting a heavy bout of depression as I contemplate returning to work this fall. What am I walking into? After lawyers, lawyers, more lawyers, and an independent, comprehensive investigation that concluded the conduct of the boys constituted sexual harassment and bullying (duh), there’s talk of “making things right.” But as August ticks way, I grow tired of talking and my confidence wains. Can I do this? To be honest, I don’t know. But I do know one thing for certain. I can train for and run a marathon, and so train for and run another marathon I will. Because even in those moments when I don’t want to live, I want to run, I need to run, and, consequently, I live.