Written by Melinda Jacobs Colwell after Standing Up on the main street in her community (be aware that there is graphic language used)
“Kids, put your sweaters on. Stay in the car while I put the blanket out. Don’t get out of the car yet. It’s not safe.” It’s never safe. Supplies are lugged to the corner. 6 posts and signs are hammered into the ground. I like the force of the hammer hitting the posts. I’m thankful it rained recently.
The nerves in my stomach jump in time with my skin as I set them up on their blanket. They’ve each got an umbrella, they say to keep the sun off their faces. I hope it also shields them from the words hurled at their mother as they sit 15 feet away. “Here’s a cartoon and a snack, babies. I will be right over there. I love you.”
I grab my sign in each hand, sliding it down to the bottom and with one big breath, I step to the edge and I lift it above my head. And the wound is opened. It’s there for all the world to see. It’s gaping and bleeding – can they see?
It is just me. Alone.
The tears fall. As I hold the truth above my head, the tears come and I won’t wipe them away. They are the world’s and I want them to see them. I am silently screaming and howling with the pain. The wind is blowing, trying to take my words and make them disappear. It doesn’t want to see them. It doesn’t want to know the truth. I won’t let it. I am stronger than the wind.
One honk. A wave. Another honk.
And then it comes. I knew it would. GET OUT! GO HOME! They find their mark. Deep in my wound.
A honk. Two honks. Another wave.
And so many eyes averted. Does my pain, does the world’s pain, scare you? Do you feel it in your stomach? Does a part of you know you are standing with me? That I stand here, naked, for you? Another innocent who couldn’t find the words or was afraid of the consequence of them. Is that you? I see you peek glances out your window as you beg silently for the light to change so you don’t have to face my pain, your pain, anymore?
More honks. Thumbs up. Smiles. Encouragement.
Why do these hurt as much as the bad? Why does it hurt as they see me? As they acknowledge my pain? I guess it’s like any wound. Even the things that will ultimately heal, will hurt first.
As he leans out the window, “There’s NO evidence!”
And I know this. There is no evidence from when I was 14 either. I remember very clearly how alone I was that day the 21 year old held me down and ground his erection against my stomach and asked what I was going to do about it. There is no evidence.
“YOU are the problem!” from the safety of his car. “I feel sorry for your kids! You are fucking them up. They have an insane Mommy. You are crazy! I am so sad that your kids have you.” His words hit my heart as he gestures to their innocence 15 feet away and I know, I know, I do this for them. I lay bare and bleeding so maybe one day they won’t. One day the world will value them for being.
He continues to yell to my silence, hanging out his window and I step closer to the street, hoping to draw his gaze back to me, away from them. I fear his voice will reach them. That the ugliness will pierce their innocence. I stand as a silent shield. I glance and hope their cartoon has not ended. They’re safe. They are in their own world. I’ll face this one so they can enjoy theirs.
Cars line up behind him at the light. I know they hear. His assault continues and as the light turns green, I follow his track with my sign, silent, until he can no longer safely hang out the window. My silent screams follow him. He will remember.
Behind him, a woman gives two honks of support. Another wave.
The good goes in. It scrubs me from the inside. It hurts. But it’s necessary to clean the wound. To get the bad out so that it may heal. The tears continue their path down my face, down my neck, wetting the collar of my shirt. And I know. I know these tears streak a path down my body and solidify. They become the steel in my spine.
“You are a horrible MOM!” They know where to strike. They know my love is great. My love is why I’m here. So they seek to destroy it. Why do they all laugh as they try to wound me? Why is it only men? This is not a question I need an answer for. I know.
Double honk. A wave. More thumbs up.
I don’t speak. I can’t smile. I stand silent with my truth, and the truth of too many, and send up thanks for those people who see me. Who see truth. The world isn’t all bad. I have to believe that there are others who feel seen by my truth. I have to believe.
A wave. A honk. Another honk.
Their eyes are straight forward, staring at the light. Avoiding me. I make them uncomfortable. Truth is uncomfortable. It’s easier for me to remain unseen, quiet. I am not comfortable either. But I can’t stay quiet and I can’t adjust for theirs. The world is not concerned for my comfort. My arms are tired. My muscles beg to be relieved. But my sign must stay above my head, marking me for the world to see, to mock, to judge. But it will be seen.
“He’s innocent!!!” “Fuck her!” A hand goes out the window, middle finger extended toward me.
In their voices, I hear friends and family. It pushes the dagger deeper.
He comes. He brings pizza and gathers the kids to take them home. Tears streak my face and I wish he would stay. Silently asking. Stand with me. Stand with us all. But he leaves with the kids. I know they’re safe. I’m not done yet. There is still daylight.
“I’m proud of you.” They say. But there is no pride in this. I did not want this. I do not want to stand here naked for the world to see. I did not want the truth ripped from the bowels of my consciousness and relived over the last two weeks. There is no pride here.
“Yeah Kavanaugh!! WOOHOO!” “VOTE KAVANAUGH! YEAHHH!!!”
I’m sorry, Anita. I’m sorry we are not better. I’m sorry we have not grown since you spoke your truth. I’m sorry you must relive yours on repeat, like an eternal Groundhog’s Day. I’m so sorry.
Averted eyes are louder than the screams. Women who turn their faces or snarl in my direction.
It starts to drizzle. I feel the drops light on my skin and look to the sky. Still daylight. I’m not done.
A window rolls down. “Go, woman! Thank you!” she says. And then smiles sadly “But you know what’s going to happen, right?”
I know. I know my truth will not change the direction the world is going. Will not bring justice to the victims of his past, or the innumerable victims of the future as he takes his place on the bench. But I can’t be quiet.
“How late will you be here?” she asks. “I’ll be right back.” An angel. I pray she will return.
These glance off my body. My arms solidify in their hold. Relief comes when I push them higher to the sky. My body strengthens and I stand tall as I see a line of cars coming down the street. I brace myself.
Honks. Cheers. Thumbs up.
And she’s back. My angel. She parks in front my car. She gets out. She’s brought her daughter. She smiles as she comes up to me. She sees me. She puts her hand out to shake mine and I ask if I can hug her. I need to feel connected. I need to feel grounded. She asks “Are you a survivor? Me, too” “Do you need a break? Can I help you hold your sign?” And I want to cry. Connection. Compassion. Humanity. We stand together. The three of us.
And then across the street, a car stops and lets a woman out. The car drives off to turn around. She starts to cross the street and I think, another angel. My heart starts to soar.
“YOU ARE VILE! You can’t be here with this bullshit!” She screams. “You are a disgrace! I was raped. This woman is a LIAR!” as she points to my sign. Her hatred is visible in her shaking. Her whole body hums with it. I am silent. She stomps to the edge of my signs, within 3 feet of me, as I stand behind them, my truth held above my head. She screams as cars line up at the light, watching. Watching it happen. It feels raw. I can’t even comprehend all the words she hurls.
“SHAME ON YOU!”
I see her pain.
“Fuck you! Fuck all of you!”
I hear her pain.
“I was raped. I came forward. He was arrested and jailed. This woman is a LIAR and you are the problem with this world!”
I am scared but also want to hold her hand. I stay silent.
She gets as close as she can, but she can’t cross our line of truth. It holds her back. We are shielded by truth and silence as her tirade continues.
“FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” As she crosses the street. From across the street, she turns again, “YOU ARE THE PROBLEM! You are what is creating this entitled victim mentality! FUCK YOU!” And she crosses the street the opposite way, to her waiting chariot. I ground myself to the earth and breathe.
It isn’t just men after all.
I am thankful for the angels who stand beside me. We stand. Us three. Together. Her daughter talks of just turning 18. She just registered to vote. There is pride and excitement in her voice and in her eyes. And I am hopeful for what will come. For all those who will grow up in this time and pick up the reigns that I shamefully neglected for too many years. Her mother is proud. And I am, too, for this woman-child who will be the catalyst for change.
She shares she doesn’t feel safe here. In our town. She’s been here 5 years. “You know you’re fighting a losing battle here, don’t you?”
Is the battle already lost? I question it daily. But a text from my sister: “You stood and for all of the pain, you found another.” And she’s right. We cannot lose. We stand. Together.
I feel the scab starting to form over the wound. It is not healed. It won’t be for a long time. But it’s started. The sun has dipped and we don’t have much light left. It’s time to pack up. I pull the stakes from the earth and imagine they are the daggers in my body, hurled by ignorance.
We exchange names, a photo, and they help me drag my things to the waiting car. We load it and say our goodbyes. The night is not done with us yet.
As we get in our cars, a man walks down our side of the street. He’s holding up his phone, taking video of us all. He gets in front of her car and captures her license plate. He goes to the driver’s window, where her daughter is driving and takes shots of her face. He moves to my car, smiling, snarling, as he tapes my license plate, and to my window for my face.
I ask for what purpose. I step out of my car. Foolish, but still the same, I do. He’s at the back of my car now, still taping. Smiling at me. Smirking. Confident in his place in the world. I ask again what purpose?.“First Amendment Rights. Just like you and your foolishness. I will die to protect that right.”And he laughs.
And with that, the scab is scratched off and the wound bleeds anew.
I get in my car and drive away. Two and a half hours I’ve been gone. Or has it been 36 years?
I’m only two miles from home. I will be there in less than five minutes.
I need to hug my kids. I need to be seen.
I need to feel safe again.
But I think it will be a long time before I feel safe again.
Written by Melinda Jacobs Colwell, Connecticut