what i learned in school today, no. 2

17 May

i asked a few of the young women i work with if they thought it would be helpful to have a session on healthy relationships and safe practices in light of our upcoming prom. of course, they all laughed. “you can try ms. b, but people are gonna do what they wanna do,” one of them said. another student also reminded me (and how could i forget) that students have been planning whatever they are going to do for the entire year – “it’s goin down regardless of what you say.”

i suppose i wasn’t surprised by their responses. just disappointed. and scared. i remember the night of one of my proms. and i was super naïve – things happened that didn’t have to. as a senior in high school i hadn’t spent the year planning an extravagant outro that included sexin it up with some dude. but regardless – even though i didn’t ask for it, or even consent to it for that matter – it happened. and i suppose that while i am concerned about all of my girls, I am even more concerned about those girls who have gaga eyes for some close friend they’ve known their whole lives – that guy who is definitely thinking more about the night after the dance than the prom itself, and is sharing secrets with his boys about what he plans to do. i worry about her.

and so i told my students what happened to me the night of my prom. sort of out of desperation. it was like i was screaming, “but you don’t get it!” and the conversation that developed after that was much different from the conversation that inspired the confession. one by one, each of them began sharing their stories – experiences with rape and molestation. emotional abuse, manipulation, and the men and women in our lives who did not or could not help. i am no longer surprised by the frequency with which such violence occurs. but each time i meet this same portrait, i become more and more irate. and sad that these things happen to so many of us. i am over trying to understand it – i abandoned the question, “why?” years ago – though that is certainly a task for someone (who isn’t me). at this point, i’m in survival mode – more like, what i am i supposed to do now? the only thing i have been able to settle on is aggressively battling the silence that is so easy to nestle in.

after the prom that year, silence was home to me, and it was an ugly hell. i looked like myself, but i was the worst in me – for sure. when i finally shared it for the first time with my mother – nearly a year later – i was relieved. crying to purge the weight of wounds is not cliché. or dramatic. for me, it was necessary. human connection and empathy are my unsung heroes. to be clear, this relief (however amazing it felt) did not manifest in any miraculous healing. but i discovered that the more i talked about it, the stronger my language became, and the better i was able to identify the places that experience still lived. i am grateful for my mother, that she is who she is and that she listened – and understood despite the fact that i have made decisions that depart from how she raised me. she gets me. but everyone does not have that. and i literally cannot imagine what it would be like to carry my own experiences alone.

coming full circle (hopefully)… this is what truly inspired my asking my students whether a healthy relationships/safe practices conversation could be useful. an hour after I asked my students what they thought, the five of us decided we needed to have that conversation. and that i would tell my story with every girl attending prom, small group style.

i have to admit that (just in case someone has anything to offer about it) while i believe in this process, and i trust in it, i am incredibly vulnerable – and for that, i am nervous. my students having access to this particular part of me causes me to be naked in a way that opens me up for attack – and anyone (young people especially) can use that against me in moments of anger or frustration. but the discussion we had, needed to happen. and the possibility that the discussions these girls and i are planning could help a single person far exceeds the risk that i will incur any injury. i would like to think that it didn’t matter, but instead i will admit that it does and pray for the best…

(see also:  https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/what-i-learned-in-school-today/)

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6 Responses to “what i learned in school today, no. 2”

  1. denicepoet May 18, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Proud of you…making a difference is no small feat. But that’s what you were made for. Those girls need you…

  2. amelia May 18, 2010 at 5:56 pm #

    Patrice, thank you for being so brave with our girls, especially when so many of us still feel too shamed by our experiences to speak out in such a way.

  3. pearlnelson May 19, 2010 at 10:04 pm #

    This was very brave and touched me very much. Your students are very blessed to have you. I’ll pray they listen.

    Pearl

  4. bp June 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    you know it takes so much courage to be vulnerable. but there is nothing wrong with it. as a survivor of countless forms of sexual abuse i, too have felt that vulnerability i/was my enemy. i am learning now that it is the fear of being open and feeling like i have no control that is what i tried to avoid. but vulnerability is courageous.. and we have long translated vulnerability (i’ll email you the daily om i got this from) for fear. and it is not!

    i am SO proud of you PBerry!! i am SO moved by your courage. the girls in your school are blessed to have you there!!

    there will be a slight possibility that one of the girls may take it out on you..which i wanna say is a really slight possibility. cuz im sure they have so much respect for you that for them to sort of ‘out’ you would really ‘out’ them so i really hope and doubt something like that doesnt happen. i also wanna say that if it does happen all you can do is be mindful of how you react to it. we have power over our reactions. but that is also fear telling you to worry about something like that. and you should not!

    just know that you are already the fearless warrior i admire and love. you are a survivor!! you are here telling your story. you are present. you are alive. the fact that you lived (and are living a joyous, truthful and love-filled life) to tell about it is already a sign of your healing.
    the fact that your girls felt safe enough to share with you shows signs of their healing too!!

    kudos to you, sis!!! please hug yourself (from me!)

    -b

  5. mel July 6, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    killed time on facebook, made my way to your page and then this…my, my, my what a good writer you are. talented indeed. u done w/ school yet? if so, congrats Dr.

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  1. what i learned in school today… « Revolutionary Petunia - June 25, 2010

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