Stepping Out of Hell
Yesterday was an important day. February 12th. That date has haunted me for the past four years. I’d see it everywhere, and I’d remember. Even if I hadn’t thought of it for quite some time, I’d remember when I’d look at my watch at 2:12. When my coworker from extension 212 would forward a call, or I to her. When I’d be given the hotel room 212.
Even the word “February” was difficult to see for the past four years. Last year, when I thought I was doing so well, February came and things went south. Turns out, it’s not uncommon for rape survivors to have a more difficult time on and around the anniversary of the assault.
As if my dear nephew’s birthday on February 12th wasn’t enough dichotomy, imagine my resigned horror when my coworker DM’d me that he was visiting Amsterdam and planning on meeting our CEO for dinner … on February 12th. Of course it was that date. Of course. That DM was the seed that transformed into a company fun day.
While simultaneously looking away from any incarnation of the numbers 2-1-2, I was looking forward to that day. This was the year I would reclaim February 12th through my newfound community.
It would no longer be the anniversary of the debilitating assault that robbed me of everything I held dear: friends, home, job, functionality, identity, sexuality, and (ultimately) marriage.
Now February 12th is the anniversary of this Fun Day.
When I got home, I posted this on Facebook: “Today was one of the greatest days of my life I was so happy and feel so blessed to be working with such a great company and such great people. It was the ultimate pleasure to meet them all today.”
Now I can look at this date with joy.
It no longer haunts me.
Looking back on the wonderful events of yesterday, I can’t help but feel a sad that it’s over, for there can be no joy without the sadness of its passing. Still, the loneliness today is in direct contrast to the genuine connection yesterday. The sweet sadness is a reminder of the joy, of the beauty.
We are a group of geeks and hackers working together remotely around the world. Some of us are in the EU, some in the USA, and some in Australia. Most of us had never met each other in person, and the only things we knew about each other were from online communications and teeny tiny profile pictures. Of course I felt anxious going out yesterday morning, not only because it was that anniversary (concerned of a humiliating myself with getting triggered), but also because I knew it would just be awkward. How couldn’t it be?
Amazingly. It wasn’t. From the moment I arrived, I felt immediately comfortable. Our conversations were natural; our enthusiasm and affection and admiration for each other, genuine. It was a beautiful day, through and through. I finally know what it feels like to truly be part of a team.
We started out doing an Escape Room (Sherlocked), and we were split into two separate teams. Afterward we had lunch at Café de Jaren and got a surprise gift from our CEO. Then was time for laser tag, in which I was utterly pathetic for both rounds and came in last place. I was my normal self-deprecating self and didn’t feel the least bit embarrassed at my ridiculous lack of laser-tag skill. Finally, we went to dinner at this lovely restaurant called Pasta de Basta, which had live Opera singing periodically throughout our delicious meals before finishing the night off with a final drink at a bar at Dam Square.
Although all those things were almost more fun than I could contain in a single day, the conversation and company were even better. I truly feel blessed.
I didn’t want it to end, and saying goodbye was difficult, knowing I wouldn’t see any of my beloved team again for a long time, if ever. It was the kind of day filled with so much joy and friendship and kindness and beauty that you wish you could put just a little of it in a bottle and open it up whenever you’re feeling lonely. It was perfect. It was family.
Surprisingly for me, I didn’t even feel like I talked too much! …Well, except for this once. At dinner, one of my coworkers I especially admire and who often inspires me in many ways through his intelligence, capabilities, and kindness asked me about my marriage. He apologized for asking such a personal question, indicating I didn’t have to answer, but I quickly reassured him that he could ask me anything. As anyone who has ever known me, I’m a very open person, but once the flood gates are open…
I told him of the confusion. How my husband says he’s been pretending to be someone else. How I had renewed hope for a few weeks. How I’m having a difficult time letting go of who we were, especially because he is deeply traumatized and sick and confused himself. This kind man said how impressed he was with me and my courage.
Thankfully, as if the universe was saving me from self-induced humiliation, it was time for another song. It interrupted my story, for which I am so grateful, as I’m often unaware when I cross that line and take advantage of that kindness in my desperation for friendship and connection, for basic human contact.
Although this kind, amazing man expressed how impressed he was with my courage and how I was transforming my life, living the dream, I understand that no one wants to hear about my husband’s near-fatal accident or intensely traumatic childhood or isolating mental illness and psychiatric injury. Or mine, for that matter.
No one wants to hear all the other horrific things that happened over these past, cursed 6 years, compounding the trauma and extending the recovery time.
No one wants to hear about PTSD.
No one wants to hear about how someone I loved and trusted raped me, or that our company get-together was on the 4th anniversary of that rape. Thankfully, I didn’t get that deep into the story. Saved by a song.
In short, no one wants to step into the hell that I’ve survived, and I don’t blame them.
I would step out of it, too, if I could.
Perhaps that’s exactly what I’m doing here. Day to day. With each corner I turn, with each ancient building I see, with each foreign word I learn, with each traditional dish I taste, with each mountain I climb, with each raindrop that touches my cheek, with each new friend I make, with each fleeting moment of serenity and joy, with each footfall across Europe, I’m stepping further and further out of hell and basking in the beauty of the world.