on grief

I haven’t picked a word of the year for a long time, but this year, I am very aware that a word has picked me.

Grief.

It’s a hard word to wear. I know that usually, when people pick their words, the words are happy. They’re cheerful and positive and inspiring.

But this word picked me.

It’s a stone I’ve carried in my pocket. It has been there for so long, wrapped in layers of gentle protection, not coming into contact with my body at all, until the day I was emptying my pockets for others to see and the wrapping fell off that stone and when I put it back in my pocket, its jagged edges tore into my flesh. I shifted it to the other pocket but the same thing happened over there.

I could have retraced my steps and found some new protective wrapping. But that felt wrong, like ignoring the problem, so I kept shifting that stone back and forth between my pockets. My skin got tougher. I got used to the way it felt. I ran my fingers over the stone every day, rubbing those edges and feeling their texture and grit under my fingertips.

One day I realized: that stone wasn’t so sharp anymore. My fingers have worn its edges down. It’s not yet smooth, but it’s getting there. One day it will be whittled down and down and down and down until it is gone and I am standing in the presence of Jesus.

But for now, I carry it in my pocket. this stone, this word, this grief.

I name it. I own it. And I refuse to fear it. I know it will go away. I know it will change, that its shape will shift countless times over the years of my life, and that it will be smaller, and some days it will feel heavier, but it will get easier to carry the more I share it and talk about it.

Let’s wear down those stones together, my friends. Let’s rid ourselves of the piercing pain of grief ignored.

Quick Lit, episode 1!

Every month there’s a Quick Lit post over at Modern Mrs. Darcy, a site I like to read because of book recommendations. I make no promises that I’ll do this regularly, but I’m going to try to participate frequently because it’s a fun and low-pressure way to share what I’ve been reading (which feels like lots and lots of stuff). So, here are some quick reviews of the last four books I’ve finished, all in October.

29414954The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer. I like Amy Schumer, but don’t watch tons of her standup because it makes me cringe, and I’m definitely harder to embarrass than most. I started reading this book while I was sitting at Barnes and Noble one day and it was making me laugh, and then I looked it up and discovered that Amy reads the audiobook. I bought it with some Audible credits I had not yet used. I will say two things: one, it definitely made me cringe in certain points. Amy does not mind using words for genitalia (a word I never thought I’d use on this blog) that I don’t even think, let alone say. And two, this book was laugh-out-loud funny. I made myself have a stomachache from the laughter too many times to count. Amy writes about light-hearted stuff but also serious things as well and I thought it was overall a really great book.

29527139All the Pretty Things by Edie Wadsworth. I saw several people post about this memoir on social media so I grabbed a copy of it and oh my gosh, it left me breathless. I wanted to devour it in one sitting but I had to put it down at times because it reminded me painfully and beautifully of my own book. It felt like a comfort read in that I just got it. Edie has a story that seems crazy to believe, and she tells it with raw honesty that makes you root for her the whole way through.

 

18596375Made for More by Hannah Anderson. My friend Deeann and I have been reading this book together since March or April and I just finished it a few weeks ago. We’ve been discussing a chapter roughly every other week and it’s been so enjoyable. Anderson writes about us being imago dei, made in the image of God. What she says isn’t exactly new, but the ways in which she says it are refreshing and encouraging. This book is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read and is unlike any book about women’s identity that I’ve read.

26890725Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam. I got this as a Book of the Month Club selection (pst! use this link and get 30% off your own BotM membership — and a free tote bag, too!). It’s the story of two girls, now women, who’ve been friends for more years than not. One is getting married and they have to navigate the complexities of friendship amidst their own changing lives. I actually really liked this one, although I could not stand the way the f-word was used to reference sex. But I liked the characters and their respective arcs and thought the storytelling was solid.

That’s it for this month! What have you guys read lately, especially things you’ve loved? I love a good book recommendation!

up for the adventure

I have a countdown app on my phone because I love a good countdown. Recently I added a really fun one: a European cruise! I leave in 22 days, and I added it to the app about four weeks ago. It’s been a whirlwind four weeks and it still doesn’t feel like I am actually going. I feel like I will wake up the day we’re supposed to leave and it will all be some crazy dream.

I have this thing where I call my grandma from the airport. I do it almost every time because it’s a place where I am free from all distractions and can have a good catch up session with her. I called her recently from my house to wish her a happy birthday and to tell her about the cruise. She told me, “Oh Krista! You are such a go-getter!” I chuckled and agreed with her and didn’t think much of it until later.

It’s been a week since we had that conversation and I’m still thinking about it. I feel like I lead a pretty boring life, but I have spent the last week thinking about the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen and I am only starting to begin to understand that for someone who grew up the way I did, I have done a lot of amazing things. Well, honestly compared to most people I’ve done a lot of amazing things.

I’ve been to Africa. I’ve been to Central America. I’m going to Europe and Israel. I’ve flown to Missouri, Texas, Idaho, Alabama, Colorado, and Hawaii. I’ve driven to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I’ve driven to Idaho through Nevada and Utah. I have seen so little of this world, yet so much compared to so many.

I didn’t fly for the first time until I was 18 years old. I had graduated high school and was going to El Salvador on a mission trip. That’s right, my first travel by air was to a different country. I’d been to the airport dozens of times, nearly every summer as a teenager to pick my cousins up from the airport when they flew in to stay with their dad and his wife, my aunt. But I had never gotten on that plane myself until an early morning in August 2001.

I felt exactly one time before 9/11 happened. And I didn’t fly again until many years after that, when I went to visit people in South Africa. So my second flight? Also to a different country. A few years later I felt alone for the first time to Missouri to visit a friend. And every year since then, I’ve flow a few times a year, mostly to visit my friends, sometimes for work.

I don’t love flying. But I love the experiences I’ve had, so it’s worth a six-hour flight to Hawaii or a 24-hour series of flights to South Africa. What good is that fear if I cannot push beyond it?

That’s really what I want to write about — not flying but fighting fear.

So much of my life I lived in fear — fear of what others would or could do to me (physically or mentally or emotionally), fear of getting hurt, fear of being just like the people who hurt me. For a long time, that fear is what kept me down, and then, not long after I graduated high school, the fear became what drove me.

Something shifted. I wanted to do big things and be an amazing person and I realized that everything I was afraid of was what was going to hold me back. But I didn’t fully know how to fight through those emotions and it wasn’t until after I got put on academic probation for the second time while in college that the old fears fell away and the new fear told hold.

I was suddenly passionately afraid of failure.

I didn’t want to live like my birth mother did.

I didn’t want to struggle in a dead-end, minimum wage job.

I didn’t want to always long for adventure but never have the means to go.

I wanted to see people and places. I wanted to live a life that I was proud to look back on. I wanted to say, “I’m so scared right now but I am going to push through this.” And that is exactly what I did.

You guys. That is HARD. It still is hard! It is so much easier to let the fear dictate my life and plans. Fear makes it easy to say no. Fear makes me rationalize settling for less than my dreams and the things I want to chase. It is easier to be afraid than it is to be brave, but the thing about bravery is that it’s like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger and bigger it gets.

These days, I don’t live free from fear, but I have learned to see my fearful attitudes when they first begin to take root and I have learned how to crush them.

I think about how when my book first came out and people began reading it. I was terrified that it was in people’s hands and people’s brains because it was every sad and awful secret I could carry. I was afraid of what it would like for someone like me to work at a church. I was afraid people would look at me and think of me as less. They knew me as a young woman in the church. There would going to know we as a little girl and a teenager consumed by sin. How would, I feared, people reconcile the Krista now and the Krista then?

But I pushed through because God told me to be obedient. And the rewards of that obedience have been so rich. I have had countless women share their own stories of abuse and sexual assault with me. I have cried alongside of and walked through painful pasts with friends. And if I had let that fear win, none of that would have happened.

So when I’m walking on the streets of Israel in just a few weeks, standing where Jesus stood, I will remember that He called me to live a life beyond the fear. Whether that’s flying or writing a book, I am so glad He’s made me up for the adventure.

they have to get out into the world

arrangedpoem

Find a bright room, an uncluttered desk
so you can drive onto the frontier of writing.
Beautiful blank pages:
our letters cross
our gentlest strokes
of darkness upon light.
It veers from non-sense verse
to the most tedious of novels
and back
in just a breath.
Yet being my own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend.

Stay up late with the dictionary.
Comb every word (for sparks and silk) from ancient root to tender tip.
They have to get out
into the world —
who knows what will become of them?

“I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said.
“Take a deep breath and hold
words shy and dappled, deer-eyed in herds
and everything is pure imagination.”

I love words, bright words up and singing early.
I love smooth words.
I watch them waterski
across the surface
and torture a confession out of it.

I need help.
I want my life back.
Work is what you have done
and suddenly you’re through, arraigned yet freed
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Spend the next two mornings
working on a good title.


When I was in college, I was a writing tutor for my last year. It was such an awesome time and gave me so much clarity about what I wanted (and didn’t want) to do as a career. One of the things we had to do when tutored was take an independent study course. Throughout that semester, we had several papers to submit and one of them was allowed to be a creative piece. Of course I jumped at that idea.

I thought and I thought and I thought about what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something different, and then I remembered this assignment from my high school creative writing class. We took the first line from a poem and used it to start a poem of our own. What if, I thought, I did that, but every line of the poem I would write was taken from other poems?

I printed out dozens of poems about writing. Right away, I saw lines I knew I wanted to use in this new poem. I cut every line up and painstakingly arranged and rearranged the slivers of paper into a poem. I capitalized some words, made some lowercase, and altered some punctuation, but the words are in their original order. And I fell in love with my finished product.

I came across it recently when I was looking for papers to share at my book launch party and since I am a terrible blogger, I thought I’d post it here because I really love reading it. It reminds me so much of the current season I’m in when it comes to writing and that’s good. I want constant reminders of why I love what I hope will some day be my full-time job and career.

I’ve listed the poems with links to them in their entirety below (whenever possible; this was written in 2007 and some of the links are expired and I can’t find copies of the poems online).


“Blank Beauty by Judith Pordon

“The Author To Her Book” by Anne Bradstreet

“Introduction to Poetry” by Bill Collins

“Lesson 23: How to tell if your poem is really any good” by William Francis

“Writer’s Anonymous: A 3 Step Program” by Quentin Huff

“Free Verse” by Sarah Kirsh

“For the young who want to” by Marge Piercy

“From The Frontier of Writing” by Seamus Heaney

“How To Write A Poem” by Xanthe Smith

“When I Met My Muse” by William Stafford

“Writer” by Joe Wenderoth

“Pretty Words” by Elinor Wylie

love letter to a 7th grader

Dear Charissie,

Today I dropped you off for your first day of 7th grade. I won’t lie, I cried a little after I finally got out of the madhouse that is the streets surrounding your school. I didn’t cry because I was so sad to be dropping you off but because I am just in awe of the wonderful person you have become and are in the process of becoming. What a joy! What a gift it has been watching you blossom.

I am so proud to be your big sister. I am just honestly so proud to know you. I’ve known lots and lots of kids your age throughout my life and I have to say that you are the most amazing of them all. I feel like when someone first said the phrase “march to the beat of your own drum,” they had you in mind.

It’s mind-boggling how much that phrase applies to you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are so apologetically authentic in who you are. There’s no real box you fit into at all — you have friends in all kinds of groups, your interests are crazy-varied, and your humor is ridiculous. You are both a tomboy and a little girly at times. And you’re perfect. I wouldn’t wish you to be any other way. I want lots of things for you in the future, but more than anything else I want you to remain undefined by the world.

When I dropped you off, I said all of the things I always say when I get to take you to school, whether it’s the first day or the hundredth: have a great day, learn something, I love you. But because today feels heavier and more significant than usual, I added a few new ones this year: be brave, be kind, be the best Charisse you can be. You rolled your eyes a little at me as you gave me a kiss and a hug, but those are my three wishes for you, three things I am praying for you this school year.

Be brave, my sister. It takes such courage to be brave. I hope you can be brave with your life so others learn from you how to brave with their lives. I hope you are brave in big ways but also in small ways, in ways that only you can fully understand and appreciate. I pray you are brave when others are mean or fearful or hurtful. I pray that you’re brave and you take risks, even if it means you will fail sometimes. Be brave enough to try and fail, because you’ll be brave enough to grow.

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Be kind, my lady man. There is enough cruelty in this world. You can contradict that poison with your gentleness, your compassion, and your love for others — it all comes from your kindness, your healing words. I’ve seen you do this with your friends. Keep doing it, every day. It is who you are and it is and will continue to make a difference.

Be the best Charisse you can be, my Charissie. You weren’t meant to be any other person. You weren’t meant to be like Heidi or Jane or Jader or Emma or anyone else but you and I love you exactly as you are. I tell our broken-hipped, noodle-necked Penny-dog all the time, “I wouldn’t want a Penny-dog any other way because it’s what makes you you” and even though you’re not a dog, the same applies. You are authentic because you embrace yourself fully. Be the best you. Don’t settle for less or for being someone else. Don’t let others convince you that you need to change.

I read a book recently called The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. White describes a scene where the main bird, Louis, is flying for the first time.

Louis was more excited than he had ever been. “I wonder if I can really do it?” he thought. “Suppose I fail! Then the others will fly away, and I will be left here all alone on this deserted pond, with winter approaching, with no father, no mother, no sisters, no brothers, and no food to eat when the pond freezes over. I will die of starvation. I’m scared.”

In a few minutes, the cob glided down out of the sky and skidded to a stop on the pond. They all cheered. “Ko-hoh, ko-hoh, beep beep, beep beep!” All but Louis. He had to express his approval simply by beating his wings and splashing water in his father’s face.

“All right,” said the cob. “You’ve seen how it’s done. Follow me, and we’ll give it a try. Extend yourselves to the utmost, do everything in the proper order, never forget for a minute that you’re all swans and therefore excellent fliers, and I’m sure all will be well.”

They all swam downwind to the end of the pond. They pumped their necks up and down. Louis pumped his harder than any of the others. They tested the wind by turning their heads this way and that. Suddenly the cob signaled for the start. There was a tremendous commotion — wings beating, feet racing, water turned to a froth. And presently, wonder of wonders, there were seven swans in the air — two pure white ones and five dirty gray ones. The takeoff was accomplished, and they started gaining altitude.

Louis was the first of the young cygnets to become airborne, ahead of all his brothers and sisters. The minute his feet lifted clear of the water, he knew he could fly. It was a tremendous relief — as well as a splendid sensation.

“Boy!” he said to himself. “I never knew flying could be such fun. This is great. This is sensational. This is superb. I feel exalted, and I’m not dizzy…

I was thinking about you and then a song called “Born to Run” came on the radio. I heard the lyrics, “Baby, we were born to run” and I thought about you and then Louis as he flies for the first time.

You weren’t born to run, my Goosie.

You might be scared to try that first time, but baby, you were born to fly. I am watching your body take flight, and let me tell you, sister, it is superb.

You are my greatest joy.

Love forever,
Sissy

dolphins, family, and dreaming big dreams

Dear President Beck,

Welcome to the dolphin family! My name is Krista Wilbur and I’m a CSUCI alum. I graduated in 2008 with a BA in English. I saw that you’re spending your first 100 days going on a listening tour and I would love to have you hear about my experience as a CSUCI alum.

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I began CSUCI in the spring of 2006 with a heavy burden on my shoulders. Life had dealt me some very unfair blows and I had very inadequate means to deal with those things, so when I came to CSUCI I was floundering. I struggled through my first semester, earning failing grades in most of my classes. Except one.

That one class was a lower division American Lit class required for my major. My professor had no idea about the things I was struggling with, but when I asked her to make up some work I’d missed, she gave me the green light. And that forever changed me, being allowed to make things right when for so long I had made things so wrong.

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I caught up in that one class and finished it with an A. My other classes didn’t follow. I ended the semester with a terrible GPA, and I had to appeal my financial aid, and I had to attend a special class for anyone on academic probation, but I kept on going. In the fall of 2006, I took three classes with that professor and she made me feel like I was going to be okay. She listened to me as I wanted to grow academically. She challenged on the papers I wrote, pushing me to find my voice as a writer and encouraging me to go further, dig deeper, and to rise above whatever it was I thought I could do.

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She also gave me space to breath in the midst of those heavy burdens I mentioned above. When she wrote one-act play as part of a festival of one-act plays, I found myself relating to the lead protagonist in so many ways. I sobbed as I wrote her an email after the plays that night, telling her all of these things that had been bearing down on me for so long. She wrote back, words that soothed me — words that I carry in my wallet on a piece of paper folded into eights, its edges frayed and thinning and taped together. In the months after, that professor met with me every other week and helped me write a book, one chapter at a time. I hope you lead CI in a way that encourages professors to pour into students — not just the book knowledge but the personal stuff, too.

That is CSUCI.

In the spring of 2007 I attended an info session about being an orientation leader. I signed up to assist, not lead, and a few months later I ended up signing up to do the whole thing. I spent that summer, and the one that followed, helping plan new student orientation, leading students around a campus I loved, encouraging them to get involved and to let college go through them, as Doc would say, instead of simply going through college. I made friends and was encouraged to go to grad school, to pick a program that was entirely different than anything I thought I’d ever do. Those two summers taught me so much about having a strong work ethic, how to fight fair, and above all else what it means to love what you do. I laughed until I was sick to my stomach, the tears rolling down my face. I would go back in time and do it all over again if I could. I can’t look at those pictures from those two summers without a swell of pride coming over me.

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Being an OL taught me that whatever college you pick, you can find yourself at home there. I didn’t need a brand-name college. As Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book David and Goliath, I had the chance to be a big fish in a small pond and it was life-changing. I hope you will lead CSUCI in a way that allows students, no matter how large the campus may grow, to be Big Fish.

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That is CSUCI.

In the spring of 2008, as May broke open its first few days on the campus, I watched as people began to set up thousands of white chairs in the South Quad, then a stage parallel to Anacapa Village. I took graduation pictures on the upper floor of the Bell Tower, the Bell Tower Courtyard in the background. I sat in that very courtyard between classes, listening to the silence and watching the squirrels climb trees. I bought a graduation robe and cried at everyone of these milestones. It seemed liked I’d never walk across that stage with my history, but there I was. Some of the tears I cried were in disbelief, but most were in sorrow. I was ready to graduate, but I wasn’t ready to leave CSUCI. It had been the first of the four colleges I attended that felt like home. I hope you lead CI in a way that makes it difficult to leave because it meant so much.

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That is CSUCI.

I came to campus in the spring of 2006 with every expectation of being a parking lot student. After all, I was older than most of the people in my classes, except my professors. I worked full-time off campus. I was simply trying to find a place to finish out a degree that was going to take me forever to get. I didn’t want to make friends. I just wanted to get done.

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None of that happened. I fell in love with the history of the college, with the care of the professors, with the concrete walls of the classrooms and the beauty of being outdoors. I made friendships that have still lasted. I was pushed and stretched and I cried but I was taught never to quit. I found a place where finally, after so much searching, I belonged. I hope you lead CSUCI in a way that makes everyone who steps foot on campus feel that they belong.

That is CSUCI.

CSUCI is a culture of family, of inclusion. It is a place where it’s safe to learn and question, to make mistakes and figure out how to comprehend the consequences of your choices in a healthy, supported way. It’s a place where friendships are encouraged, formed, and nurtured. It is a place of learning, of growing, and pf becoming well-rounded. CSUCI has and always will feel to me like that moment when you get home from a long day at work, with tired and achy bones, and you put on your pajamas and sit down on the sofa and your muscles just stop having to work so hard and you feel free in who you are. All of the little moments add to that. I hope you lead CSUCI in a way that makes it feel like a refreshing breath, a place to relax.

That is CSUCI.

I visit CSUCI a couple of times a year, and although it’s changed since I graduated eight years ago, I always feel at home. The first place I like to go is the student center, to the wall where donors have their names etched in brick. I gave money as part of the Class of 2008 senior gift and my name is on that wall. See it there always thrills me because I feel so proud to have played a part, however small, in a school that changes people in ways so very big.

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I have never once regretted my decision to attend CSUCI. It was small and still so new when I began. It was a risk. And that risk has been the one of the greatest I’ve ever taken.

Sincerely, and with much dolphin pride,
Krista Wilbur, ’08

Just listen (#blacklivesmatter)

Nearly 15 years ago I was sexually assaulted in the parking lot of my favorite restaurant by someone I once loved and in a weird way, for a little while anyway, trusted. To have these safe things — a place and a person I loved once upon a time — taken away or used against me shattered me into the splinteriest of shards. Those shards ended up slivers of glass that pierced the skin of everyone near me, shrapnel that came from every direction, and pushed me away from them as the tried help but ultimately minimized my experiences.

That night gave me what I am sure is a PTSD, the effects of which I still feel at 33. I am hypervigilant. I don’t like being in the middle of large crowds where people can touch me and where I cannot see everyone. I don’t like hugs or most kinds of physical contact with people who haven’t earned the closeness of my skin. Loud noises make my startle far too easily. I wake up with my heart pounding if I hear a noise — I do not sleep heavily. Falling asleep is hard. Every once in a while a certain smell or sound or some sends me back to a very trying time.

Although I have healed so much, that experience has really shaped the rest of my life from that moment on. I was thinking about that tonight driving home. I was struggling to explain to someone earlier how I see value in the #blacklivesmatter movement, a movement some will call divisive. As I was trying to sort through my own experiences as a white woman to find something in my own narrative that could help me show why that movement is so important, it hit me: when I think about how own rape and its aftermath, I can understand this movement so much better.

– – – – – – – – – –

I haven’t always been so open to trying to understand the other side. In college, I hated the idea of white privilege — not because I had it, but because I didn’t really buy into its existence. I was, after all, really not that privileged because I was white. I grew up very, very poor. I grew up under the critical and judgmental eye of the public school system. I don’t think anyone really ever expected much from me. I couldn’t see my own privilege in my 20s but it’s so clear to me now the things I wasn’t able to see then: that people around me looked like me, that people on tv and in books looked like me, that my teachers looked like me… I wasn’t really so different after all.

Yet it wasn’t until my 30s that these things became visible to me. My last semester of my undergrad, when I was 25 years old, I wrote an editorial for the school paper. I called my article “Wasn’t Last Month Black History Month?” (I am cringing and embarrassed at the thought of this being published.) I wrote these words:

I stared at my computer with all of this information in front of me, trying to process what I was feeling, because it wasn’t a happy, peppy feeling. It was depressing and pessimistic, and then I realized what I’ve felt for a very long time about these “history months”: they’re kind of stupid and despite their best intentions, they actually serve to further divide people rather than unite them…

Let’s look at it this way: as a society, we say that we want all people to be equal. African Americans and Asian Americans and Hispanics are all the same as Caucasian Americans, right? Wrong. When we divide people up and force them to pick which group they “belong” to, we aren’t creating or even attempting to promote equality. Instead, by creating these sorts of divisions, these different groups, all we’re doing is highlighting how people are fundamentally different. These groups, and consequently, these [history] months, send that the message that African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and women are so different that they don’t deserve to have their history incorporated within a “normal” setting – they’re so different that they don’t deserve to be “integrated” – they have to have their own special month, just like they had their own special seats on buses and their own special camps and their own special schools.

I am actually ashamed to have written these words because I so totally missed the mark. In every history class and literature class in high school, I mostly learned about men and women who looked like me — white, Protestant men and women. I could barely tell you who those people so different-yet-equal to me where because I had no clue.

Something clicked inside of me when I was in those first few months of my 30s and suddenly I began to see that my world was made up of people who looking shockingly just like me. And not only do people look a lot like me but there are not a lot of people in Ventura County who are black. Info from the Census indicates that in Ventura County, the population of African Americans is 2.3% (source). This shocks me but it honestly shouldn’t, given how few black people I went to high school and college with. It shouldn’t, given that while I spent an hour at Target yesterday, I purposely looked at the races of those around me and saw exactly one black person.

I began to realize that my world was very, very full of white privilege as my 30s began.

– – – – – – – – – –

In the days after my rape, my body was like a rainbow of colors. I had intense bruises on my shoulders (from being slammed against a grainy brick wall), both my wrists (from having my hands gripped tightly by a man hell-bent on stripping me of my power, dignity, and agency of body), and one tiny one right in the small of my back (from where my house key dug into me as I was pushed against the wall). Blood, bright red and then brown when it dried and scabbed, covered my feet, hips, and thighs. Eventually the blood rinsed away and the bruises bloomed from bright purple to a sickly yellow and finally to nothing at all. All that color left my body and it seemed to take with it even more than the colors imparted on me in violence that night — it seemed to take with it everything that had once made me feel vibrant and joyful. The fading of the bruises and the rinsing of the blood made me feel like I was no longer alive.

I didn’t have any kind of words to explain this to anyone. I just had rage. I snapped at everyone. I felt constantly exhausted. I was afraid all of the time. No one felt safe — I only could ever relax at home, but even then it was hard because tv shows show rape. The news shows rape. Songs talk about rape. I couldn’t protect myself from rape no matter how hard I tried. Even if it was hearing or seeing a rape on tv, all I could feel were the bruises and blood that lingered in my body and radiated down to my bones, like a phantom limb itching and aching. Nothing was there, but the pain lingered.

Hearing others’ comments about how they would fight if that happened to them, or how they would rather die, or this or that made me feel like I would throw up. How dare they say those things?! How dare they even try to understand what it was like to be pinned up against a brick wall, barely breathing as a man’s hands wrapped around your own so tightly you felt your fingers go numb? How dare they say they’d scream when they had never had someone’s arm shoved so hard against their mouths that it felt like their teeth would shatter from the pressure? These comments made me so sad and so scared that I could either remain silent or act out in explosive rage. Rage is what won because the silence felt like it would kill me — or even worse, allow me to be killed.

– – – – – – – – – –

I cannot for a single second pretend to know what it’s like to be a black person living in “post racial” (in quotes for a reason) America. I have never been racially profiled. I have never been followed around a store by security guards. I was actually thinking about this yesterday because you know what happened to me once? About a year and a half ago, I was so terrified that my car wouldn’t pass smog, and that I wouldn’t be able to afford to fix it and renew its registration as a result, that I drove around for five months with expired tags.

If your tags are six months expired in California, your car can be impounded if you’re pulled over.

During month five, I was on my way to work one Sunday morning. I work seven minutes (five on a Sunday) from my house and about a minute away from the office, I saw blue and red lights flashing in my rearview mirror. My heart sunk and then it began beating faster. I pulled over into a parking lot just outside of work and put my hands on my steering wheel where they were visible, just as my dad, who works for the same department as the deputy pulling me over, had taught me.

The deputy asked for my license and registration, which I handed over. I explained my fears about my car failing smog and he saw my dad’s card in my wallet. A second car pulled up behind him — backup — and the first deputy waved the second car off. Then he gave me back my license and insurance and gave me a stern warning to get my car smogged because he didn’t want to see me again in town without current tags. He drove away and I drove to work, relieved that I didn’t get even a fix it ticket.

I was thinking about this today because I wondered: what if I had been a black man? I don’t know if I would have gotten away with a warning if the deputy hadn’t seen my dad’s business card. That is its own kind of privilege right there and that’s for a different time and place. And I don’t know that I didn’t get in trouble because I was respectful to the deputy — after all, I admitted that it was my fault and honestly it was. I couldn’t be mad that I got pulled over for a problem I created. But even if those exact circumstances applied to a black man, would it have all unfolded the same way?

I don’t know and that is what bothers me.

– – – – – – – – – –

My junior year in college, I attended some one-act plays one night, one of them written by a professor who has turned into a friend. In her play, her female protagonist admits she is raped. That night is the first time I was able to ever tell anyone “Me, too.” It was the first night I began to share the things that were burdening my heart, that were draining me of color. I wrote my professor a long email and she wrote back and said “I’m so sorry.” She listened to me talk about my experience. She read the words I wrote about it. She helped me process it and she helped me begin the healing. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so full of rage. Suddenly, it felt like instead of being drained of color, I was simply just washed out, that there was still something there, some kind of light waiting to burn brightly again inside of me.

A few months later, I participated in my first Take Back the Night event on my college campus. The following year, I helped coordinate and lead the Take Back the Night event. A year after that, I helped with parts of a Take Back the Night event at the university where I was interning for grad school. I also helped coordinate a Jeans for Justice/Denim Day campaign. I interned with a Rape Prevention Education Program at a university. I heard more and more people who helped legitimize my own experiences as a rape survivor. I heard others’ experiences, some vastly different than my own. Their own paths to healing looked nothing like mine.

Finally, there were people who validated all that I had been through.

– – – – – – – – –

This is why I believe there is such value in the #blacklivesmatter movement. My own narrative with rape is so short compared to their narratives of living black lives and with the history that comes with being black in America. I won’t try to argue that the two things come even close to each other. I am simply saying my own experiences with being victimized, and of ultimately finding myself and becoming a survivor, have helped me to understand what it must feel like to be constantly:

  • minimized
  • marginalized
  • criticized
  • invalidated
  • mocked
  • judged
  • shamed
  • and so much more

When I see rape portrayed on tv now, I remember. When I see rapists like Brock Turner receive a slap-on-the-wrist sentence, I feel like it’s happening to me all over again because it’s like no one even cares about the girls and women being raped. When I hear people say Josh Duggar doesn’t deserve more punishment because too much time has passed I feel like the color it took so long to get back could be sucked from my bones so easily if I allowed it to.

Instead I try to listen to the peacemarkers. Last week I went swimming at a friend’s house and her two kids, who are 10 and 12, a girl and a boy, were swimming with us in their pool. The kids were messing around and suddenly the game that had been fun for my friend’s daughter was no longer fun. She told her brother to stop and he didn’t, because 30 seconds before his sister was laughing at him. Her mom called them over to where we sat and told her son, “Even if she liked it a minute ago, as soon as she says stop, you stop. That’s important for everyone but especially for you as a boy.” I almost cried while were swimming because those words were like the most beautiful arrow piercing my heart — healing it, not hurting it.

I listen to those who tell me, “Me, too,” when they hear my story. I listen to the ones who sit besides those who been raped and are in the hospital, advocating for the ones who feel silenced. I listen to the ones who grew up and spoke out instead of being hushed.

I listen.

– – – – – – – – – –

I want to go back in time and speak some tender words to the 25-year-old Krista who typed these words in anger on her computer: “When we divide people up and force them to pick which group they ‘belong’ to, we aren’t creating or even attempting to promote equality. Instead, by creating these sorts of divisions, these different groups, all we’re doing is highlighting how people are fundamentally different. ”

Dear Krista, I would say. A day is coming where you will see yourself as different. You will understand that your rape separates you on a real level from others who haven’t been raped. You will know that they don’t understand, but so many will eventually seek to hear your wordsm to read your story, and they will celebrate the things you have done and the woman you have become because of that thing that makes you so different. You are fundamentally different, and sister, it’s okay to let it be so.

– – – – – – – – – –

I have utmost respect for law enforcement officers. My dad is one. He is fair and honest and kind and I am proud of the work that he does. A few months ago, just down the road from where I work, one of his fellow peacemakers had to shoot a man who was advancing at him with a knife at an incredibly close distance. Someone, stuck with countless other cars in the traffic created by the incident, filmed the whole thing on their cell phone and the video was posted on a local news station’s facebook page. It was heartbreaking to see it happen. But it had to happen. Sometimes the police have to to these things as they keep the peace. No one wakes up in the morning hoping they get to kill someone — that would make that person a lunatic.

But it happens. As when it does, I listen to the why. I seek to understand. And I feel so thankful for the men and women who put on a uniform every day and protect me. What courage and bravery that takes, never knowing what your day will look like, or how it might end. This isn’t a bash against the police, the vast majority of whom are also fair and honest and kind like my dad, who I love so much.

This is a cry to stop what you’re doing and simply listen.

When you don’t understand: listen.

When you feel like the other side is wrong: listen.

When you cannot see how your skin has given you a VIP pass in life: listen.

Just listen.

If we would simply listen black people when they say they’re hurting, maybe the rage they feel would be tempered because we would stop attempting to invalidate them and their experiences.

– – – – – – – – – –

You cannot tell me the sorrow and grief I felt when the future Krista died the night of her rape wasn’t real.
You cannot tell me sorrow and grief they feel when their brothers and sisters are dying isn’t real.

You cannot tell me it didn’t happen.
You cannot tell them it isn’t happening.

You cannot tell me it wasn’t rape.
You cannot tell them it isn’t death.

You cannot tell me it didn’t impact everyone around me somehow.
You cannot tell them it isn’t impacting everyone around them in countless ways.

These things are real and I get to feel them and share them.
These things are real and they get to feel them and share them.

– – – – – – – – – –

Even if it is the only thing you can do:

Just listen.