When I started "Voices of Vulnerability: A Chronicle of Casual Misogyny" I knew I couldn't be genuine or give a voice to others without sharing my story. It was actually the second painting I worked on. I planned on painting an abstract hand print, using colors in a bruise. But I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to be raw and possibly ugly. I put my brush down, and what I had in front of me was pretty, a cacophony of bright colors. I knew it wasn't done, and I let it sit for a long time.
One day this winter, I was listening to the radio and Kesha's song "Praying" flowed out of the speakers and deep into my heart. I cried, I screamed, I identified. I knew I found the place within me that was ready. I knew I could be genuine, face the ugliness, AND make something beautiful with my own vulnerability. So, here is my story, my painting:
As a teenager, I had my first run in with depression. There were life circumstances involved, but I felt ugly, unlovable, too much, and not enough. I couldn't see through the metaphorical fog. And then there was a boy. He was 18. I was 15. He told me I was beautiful. He told me that he loved me. He smacked me when I embarrassed him. He cheated on me. He left me. I thank God every day that the most destructive relationship of my life was so short lived. I can't even imagine the violence I could have been subjected to had it continued. But, this painting isn't really about him or that relationship. This painting's story starts two years later.
I had done a lot of healing. It took months for me to see that relationship what it was. If you had asked me during our relationship, or even immediately after, if he had ever hit me, I would have said no. That's how far down I was. I rationalized "he never left a mark" or "I'm sure he didn't mean it". But, in time, I came up for air. I healed. I found a clear head and joy and happiness. I learned that love is an action, and what that action looks like. And, like many others who have experienced the same or worse, I saw him in my everyday life.
We were both part of a youth organization. An organization where he was lifted up to leadership, to a place where he influenced and mentored teenagers. I had become increasingly bothered by his position of influence. But, I didn't want to disrupt my life. I didn't want to be questioned or to draw attention to myself. I just wanted to live my life. I'd healed, right?
But there's a part of me that lives for justice. And I knew that if I said nothing, he would continue to be in a place of influence, a place of power, and I knew that was wrong. I also knew that I was capable of doing something about it. So, with a pit in my stomach, I called his superior, a man I trusted.
I said the words "He hit me". I broke into a cold sweat, my stomach churning, guilt ridden. He asked if I wanted to press charges. Of course I didn't. He said some other things I don't remember. We hung up the phone. Not five minutes later, he calls me back.
"I just got off the phone with X, and he says he never hit you. He's says he has no idea what you're talking about. So, I gave him your phone number so the two of you can work this out."
I have no clue what he said after that. I have no clue how the phone call ended. My hands were shaking, my mind numb, and my phone was buzzing in my hand, caller ID now reading X. X called all day and I never answered. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I spoke to a mandatory reporter and he gave my abuser my phone number. I can't remember if I cried, or how I spent the rest of my day. But X stayed exactly in the same position, and nothing changed but me.
Since then, I've fallen in love with a man who shows me unconditional love daily,. I married him, moved across country a few times, and had a baby. Ten years have passed.
I'm happy. I'm free. I'm loved.
But, I've never told this story, and it needs to be told. This type of betrayal is commonplace and part of the deep sickness of toxic masculinity our country is seeped in. So, I painted how it felt to be swimming in anxiety, fear, and anger. I painted that betrayal. I painted the pit living deep in my stomach. I painted with violence and without fear of ugliness. I painted like those men treated me, without fear of consequence. I turned back to this difficult and dark time in my life and allowed all of that to flow out of me in the hopes of turning it into something vulnerable and beautiful.
"He Said He Never Hit You" 24x30 oil painting on canvas.