Writings

Of rage and despair and a right to speak

A small statue rests in a field in western Nebraska.

I sat behind my computer last Friday waiting for the latest installment of Supreme Court decisions. I do this regularly during each session to see what the court has ruled on.

I opened a tab to the Supreme Court website where decisions are posted, then opened another tab to the SCOTUSblog website, where a live text feed is available when decisions are handed down.

Not long after, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision was announced. Everyone knew it was coming, if not last week, then maybe this past Monday. The leak in early May signaled what the court was going to do. If you listened to the oral arguments on December 1, 2021, you had an idea what was going to happen.

I looked at the link, terrified to open it. I switched back over to the SCOTUSblog. I still hoped the court might revise the decision and not completely overturn Roe and Casey. I was hoping for a more measured approach of overturning parts of Roe, but not all of it.

Everyone knew the decision was coming, but it was so devastating now that it was real. There was no hope to cling to, no last-minute change to save bodily autonomy, no reprieve from the inevitable deaths that will soon come.

I sat alone in my living room, staring up at the ceiling fan, spinning and spinning. My eyes watered, but I held back the tears as best as I could. In that moment, I was numb.

My cell phone went off. My friend, Candice, had texted me. “Looks like conservatives got their fucking way,” read the text. She was checking in on me. She already knew how I was feeling. We texted back and forth until I went to see my therapist. We texted a lot more after. Then, we made plans for lunch on Monday.

My feelings shifted quickly and often. By the time I sat down in the waiting room at my therapist’s office, I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I remember her speaking to me as we headed down the hallway to her office, but I have no idea what the words were.

Sitting on her couch, my brain was filled with a whirlwind of mixed emotions and words I could not speak. The tears flowed freely, though I desperately tried to stop myself from hyperventilating. Words were difficult – it was hard to put words to my feelings.

My therapist asked what emotions I was feeling. Despair. Sadness. Anger. Rage. Hopeless. Worthless. Fear. I should have said fear. My emotions were raw. It was only an hour before that I had learned the news. A gut punch isn’t enough of an apt description of how I felt.

I said I was so angry I wanted to punch a hole in a wall, but I doubted I could afford to fix it afterward. We both chuckled a bit. She said it was OK to feel all the things I was feeling. I said I was shifting between them all. She said that was OK, too.

We’re allowed to have these feelings and we’re allowed to feel them for as long as we need to. And when we can, we need to decide where we go from here as a country and what we need to do to get there. I’m better than I was on June 24, but I’m still trying to figure out what to do next.

In my therapist’s office, I felt like I was 14 again. All those emotions had bubbled to the surface and I tried to get a grasp on them and handle them as an adult, but it didn’t work. In the 38 years since I was raped by my cousin, became pregnant, and had an abortion, I’ve never dealt with any of it.

The tears continued to flow. I cried so much, snot oozed out of my nose and, like 14-year-old me, I instinctively wiped my nose on my flannel shirt sleeve. Then, I used tissue after tissue and tried to speak.

There is real pain behind the despair and rage. There is grief that must be dealt with. We all have to find a way to come to terms with what is going to happen. For me, it puts me right back in 1984. I feel the panic, the confusion, the hatred toward me, and the despair of not knowing what the fuck to do because I was 14 years old.

It comes rushing in and overwhelms my mind. There are, right now, hundreds of girls feeling those same feelings, but they are living in states where they are not afforded the opportunity of an abortion because their states’ trigger laws banned abortion the moment the Dobbs decision was made official.

I don’t have to sit and think about what I would do in such a situation. I was in that situation and my mind automatically switches back to that time. I never dealt with any of those emotions. I was sworn to secrecy, which has destroyed many aspects of my life. All those feelings arise and then some. I cannot separate the 14-year-old girl from the 52-year-old woman.

I feel helpless. I feel worthless. I hear the words of shame and blame used that day in the hospital and the many times since then – one just in May. The words of shame linger like rotting blood from a chicken sitting in a garbage can on a hot summer day. It’s repugnant, yet I can’t seem to get away.

I continue to feel and hear the hate hurled at me by “good Christians” I’ve known, even though their vileness was covered in Christian sweetness. Their words were daggers jammed in my heart and my mind. They made me feel like a lesser person, unworthy to even be alive. I’ve felt that kind of “Christian love” whenever people learned my history.

During my therapy session, the tears kept dripping down my face and onto my new shirt. I often looked at my hands clenching into fists and fighting the urge to rage. Words were still difficult to form. It was no longer a matter of knowing what I wanted to say but couldn’t say it. I couldn’t even form words around the feelings to express what was happening inside my head.

Eventually, I was able to put those feelings in a box and pushed them away for the rest of my session. They were still there when I drove home. They are still there now. I am terrified of tearing the lid off the box and completely letting go.

My friend, Charissa, texted me. We are both worried about the direction the country is headed. She had just had a root canal and is not allowed to drive because of the meds, otherwise, she would have already driven the 2.5 hours to come see me.

She told me she was worried about me. I tried to reassure her I would be OK, even though I have no idea when that will be. She told me it is “perfectly reasonable to be in despair and anger for as long as you need.” Her words echoed those of my therapist.

Charissa got me through the end of Friday. I cried in my sleep. I woke up to the dried liquid on my face. The flashbacks came as I knew they would. I dealt with the aftermath as best as I could.

I know people would rather read the happier stories from my life, but this is also something that shaped who I am. The years of abuse I endured as a child fundamentally changed my developing brain. It affected who I was to become and will always be a part of me.

I’m still struggling with the news. Although this is something that happened to me in the past, it is still ever present. I deal with it every day. Right now, it’s more raw than usual and it’s going to take some time to feel anything close to normal again.

The happy hiking stories will be posted again. Despite what five justices said, I have a right to speak. I just need to find my voice again.

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4 Comments

  1. You do have an absolute right to speak your truth. I so feel for that 14 year old you, having to go through all that and not being able to process it then and having to deal with it now, on top of the insane Dobbs decision. Hug yourself, from me, you are stronger than you think to have survived this long.

    • Irene

      When I look back now, I never really got a handle on my life because I was never able to process what happened to me. I’m working on that now. Some days are just tougher than others and Dobbs didn’t help much last Friday. I’ll keep pushing though. Not much else I can do but keep trying.

  2. KT

    I’m so furious. It feels so scary to know that my country no longer views me as a full person worthy of the same right to bodily autonomy as the rest of the population. I keep thinking about 14-year-old you, and the other young people out there who are also caught in horrific circumstances, and the utter cruelty of these laws. So many other possible complicated, cruel situations that people are conveniently choosing to ignore.

    I can’t help but burn a little more inside when the response from my elected representative to my letter to him pleading not to let Nebraska follow the wrong course included the statement “huge push to go Big. That’s a quote from the catholic conference”.

    Excuse me what? Since when was Nebraska a catholic state? What happened to separation of church and state?

    And then the irony of this news lede today “The FBI has opened an investigating into sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans”. Mind your own damn house.

    • Irene

      Thank you for your kind words. Like you, I’m still trying to figure out where to go from here and what we can do.

      I have yet to hear back from Gov. Ricketts or Sen. Stinner. I emailed my letter to both and I printed it out and mailed it to their offices. Sadly, I don’t think they care about me or any of their constituents at all. We are entering some very scary times and these lawmakers who are happy to make me a second-class citizen, at best, and chattel, at worst, don’t think far enough ahead to know or understand what they are doing. Either that, or they are purposely being cruel.

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