House Therapy: Chapter Six
That word has been ricocheting around in my head the past week during the lead up to the U.S. Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. That little amorphous, golden cloud of a word represents for me memories of anticipation and dread and fear. As well as satisfaction and the beginnings of closure.
During the winter of 2019, John and I traveled to our new mountain house every weekend to work on remodeling projects, and during the weekdays I scoured thrift stores and estate sales, as well as Craig’s List, eBay and Etsy listings to find furniture, art and other pieces to outfit our new home as inexpensively as I could, while staying true to my vision.
For weeks I had scrolled through Pinterest pages and read books on design, and I had a “look” in my head I wanted to achieve: one that melded an existing retro Sixties mountain home with the clean lines and coziness of a more modern look. Old and new.
We worked furiously, as we needed to get our house on the vacation rental market as soon as we could to start bringing in the extra income that would help us pay the mortgage and continue the remodeling projects.
This is the period when the house started to become my canvas: I worked to help John, who did the construction and installation work, “make real” the vision in my head and bring to life a place of peace and refuge.
Simultaneously, I continued with the part-time job of pursuing accountability for my sexual assault.
Two years ago this week, on Valentine’s Day, I faced my attacker in person for the first time since he violently grabbed me in the bookstore, pushed me down at knife-point and tried to rape me, threatening to kill me.
Though I never actually doubted my desire to help prosecute and convict him, the justice process was exhaustingly difficult and long, and I felt the lure of escaping from it more than once. So yes, as many people have suggested with Donald Trump, being able to brush him under the theoretical rug of history instead of turning around and facing what he did sounded so attractive. Easier. Because justice took so much energy from me. And, yes, we are all tired now.
Here’s what I wrote several days after seeing him in court:
“I’ve been having a hard time writing an update after the arraignment. Not sure why. I feel like there’s this wall in front of me that I have to chip away at in order to get the words down. Like something is in my way or that I’m wearing a hundred-pound pack as I try to type. I don’t know. The only thing that actually could be in the way is my own brain, maybe protecting me in some way.
It was an impactful day for me, seeing Harris again. It took me a week to get geared up for it, and I cried much of the day before. But February 14th came, and I was good. No tears. I felt strong. I stared at him, examining him in a way that I didn’t before. I stared at the public defender, leaned forward in my seat. Body language. I wanted him to know I was there, for him to see me, for him to know that I’m in it for the long haul. That I’m ready to go to trial if need be. That I’m not fragile.
Harris looks skinnier, face pale again after prison; has a shitload of tattoos that he had covered up that day [of my assault] with his clean-cut disguise; has grown a long, skinny goatee, maybe nine inches; glasses are different, red. Those damned glasses. I see his old [wire-rim] ones in my head. … He didn’t look back at me, but I burned a hole in the back of his head with my glare. (Large tattoo on the back of his neck.) He was in orange; they brought him out from behind the wall – that’s what it seemed like, like some type of hidden space next to the defense table. Feet shackled, hands in cuffs in front of him. I stared. He didn’t speak.”
When I faced him in court, I was determined to show strength and evidence of my purpose. That was important to me. I just couldn’t show any weakness; that felt way too vulnerable. I was armed with calming seashells in my hands to ground me as well as coping tactics from my therapist, and was anchored by John on one side and a friend on the other. John wanted to leap toward him; I could feel his vibrating energy as he held himself glued to the bench. I couldn’t blame him; it was his first time seeing the man who had inflicted such harm on his wife and life-long best friend. I, however, had seen him every day in my head for almost a year and processed the assault at least 40 or 50 times in therapy. I was as ready as I could be.
But after each court appearance, I was physically and emotionally shattered for days or weeks from the retraumatization, then slowly recovered, got myself ready for the next appearance, and did it all over again. My brain in between dates felt overwhelmed and sluggish; I was highly emotional, had depressive bouts, and had trouble focusing on work tasks and life. It was hard to help those around me understand what I was going through.
I needed quiet and peace during the recovery periods, and the mountain house served that purpose for me on the weekends. The canvas of this house project, I’ve only begun to realize recently, became my art therapy and my distraction. When it seemed I couldn’t focus on anything else in the city, the peace of the mountains, the lake and this refuge, enabled me to concentrate, to create.
So yes, seeking accountability was hard, and yes, it would have been simpler at the time to brush everything under the proverbial rug and move on and just deal with the fallout the best I could. It makes me a little nauseous, even right now, thinking about having to go through that court process again. (And, yes, let’s please have ongoing conversations about making the process better so more and more Survivors feel the system works for them and feel able to report and get some type of accountability, whether through traditional means or restorative justice.)
But accountability is important.
I could write a book about accountability and Donald Trump, and many have and will. I’m no expert on politics or on him personally, but I do feel I am somewhat of a minor-league expert on trauma and the justice process, from lived experience. And so I write here from that perspective.
The effects of trauma live on and seep into every aspect of our lives and the lives of our families and all whom we interact with. Unless we deal with it, allow ourselves and others to acknowledge it and process it, we can remain stuck in time, unable to move forward, the imprint of the event or events holding us down, rattling us in our cages. So moving past now, quickly, instead of facing what happened, will hold us back in the medium- and long-term, will actually be counter-productive. Slow is sometimes faster.
Here’s why accountability was important to me, why I chose to pursue it and how going through with it impacts me today.
- I wanted to ensure Harris couldn’t hurt anyone else. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. He has left a string of Survivors in his path during his life. I was horrified to understand first-person what Survivors live with every day, and I was adamant he never victimize another woman.
- Two years on, I feel at peace knowing he is protected from himself, that I am safe from him, that the community is safe from him, and that I can experience knowing he is sitting in a prison cell right now for the effects he has had on my life.
- I wanted to do all I could, representing women and other Survivors, to participate in the process to best set precedent for future cases and to use the opportunity to educate the judge in my case on the effects of sexual violence and PTSD so that he understands. I want judges to understand better and issue appropriate sentences for these types of cases.
Here is the accountability I want from the U.S. Senate trial and any other future court proceedings involving the former President:
- Trump has left strings and strings of trauma survivors — both from the last four years and from the Capitol insurrection — and an angry and exhausted population in his path. I want to make sure Trump can’t hurt me and my country anymore.
- I want to feel at peace that he is protected from himself, that I and the country are protected from him, and that I can experience him actually held accountable for the effects he has had on my life and on our country, that those effects are not just dismissed.
- I want there to be a precedent set to discourage other political leaders in the future from trying to abuse power and incite violence and hate.
Accountability is accountability – from sexual assault to inciting a political insurrection. We want what we went through to be recognized as important, and we want it to not happen again.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of House Therapy.