How to Survive Surviving a Crisis

Poet and professor Orchid Tierney has organized a virtual reading series called Distāntia. She calls it “an experimentation with intimate social distancing through remote access poetry.”

My poem is about the value that people who are often forgotten bring to a crisis. The wisdom of survival doesn’t always wear a three piece suit. Sometimes it wears a Chewbacca onesie and hides out in its blanket fort, thank you very much.

Due Process

Originally published in December, 2016
content warning: sexual assault, police, swearing, big emotions,
ugly humanity, broken bits, honesty, the president

Due process: fair treatment through the normal judicial system, especially as a citizen’s entitlement.

Due Process Step One

Tell someone. This person may be yourself. Often you are the first person you tell. 

If you are young, you may tell yourself after a book, or a flyer in your school, or an episode of Degrassi confirms that the tearing and ripping inside of you is not an anomaly, but a reaction. 

There will be an overt message that you are not alone in numbers, but one thousand subtle messages that you are probably alone regardless. 

If you are an adult, telling yourself can happen during the assault, or just after, or years later. It can happen when you do that math inside your head that says if I scream he will kill me or if I just make it to the end it will be over and she will leave. Math is a process. Math figures out how much more they have to weigh than you to hold you down. It’s not that much. It figures out how damaged you have to be to be believed without being so damaged that you are not believed. This window is infinitesimal.

It is not fair that this is how you must talk to yourself, but neither is it judicial, so we will move past this step.

Due Process Step Two

Tell another someone. Maybe a friend, perhaps using code words.

There is a fair chance that the person you tell will not believe you. They may explain to you, kindly or not, that it was your fault. This blame is not about you. It is about constructing a safe cocoon of control that says I would not have made those choices, so it will not happen to me or I did something similar once and I am not a villain

They may believe you, but since they have spent a lifetime watching dashing heroes on film win love by hands-over-ears ignoring no and stop and I mean stop, they will wonder if it isn’t just the way things are. This is also not fair. 

Now that you have told someone, you are drifting into the judicial. Everyone you tell, even your diary or your mother, can be called upon later to testify. That’s the process.

Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all, and to smile in pictures at picnics, but then, those pictures may also be called to testify. 

Anyone/thing you tell is likely to come back at you. This article could come back at me. Every time we speak, we give a piece of ourselves to that process that we cannot take back with honest words. Words are not proof.

Due Process Step Three

Tell the police. We use ‘the’ with police because everyone knows what you mean. No need to give qualifiers, adjectives. They are the police. The police with candies at parades and dirty looks when you walk in groups with other people from school. The police who, perhaps, look more like your assailant than you. The police may not be safe or effective to tell if you are not yet a citizen, or if your skin is Black or Brown, or if your family has lived here for thousands of years and has survived a genocide. This may also be true if you are not of one assigned gender and attracted, exclusively, to another, if you are poor, if you are disabled, neurodivergent, or just different. If you live in more than one of these identities, it is even less safe and effective.

If you make it to this step, it is here that the process part of due process comes due. You are one of roughly six out of one hundred survivors. The rest need to stop at or before step one or step two. 

Here, you sit in a room, or curl up in a ball in a room, or pretend you are not in a room, and try to take something that is bigger than any part of you and break it down small enough that it will fit on a piece of paper that can go in a file in a drawer, or on a computer, and maybe turn into fair treatment in the judicial system. 

If this outcome were common, there would be more than six of you. It is not common. Numbers show that. Stories show that. Our arms, and our medications, and our nervous ticks show that.

Due Process Step Four

There are two ways this step in the process can go. You may find, like I did — like a fall from a high height that lands you square on your back — that the last step takes all the wind out of you. It is okay if your process ends there. You are allowed to end your process where you must.

If you proceed, the next step involves lawyers. Lawyers are people who went to school for a very long time to study a system created before most folks could vote or own property or avoid being property. An apple tree can grow a thousand ways, but it is still an apple tree. Until we plant something new, this is our only apple tree. This apple tree sucks. People will tell you to have faith in it. They may point to new branches that have grown since you were considered a person. They may say that the roots are strong enough to maintain us through change. That is bullshit. 

Only one out of sixty-five of us will see fruit from this tree and that fruit is often small and full of worms. Have I lost you? Anyone who tells you that you should not have feelings about your assailant or someone else’s until due process is served is choosing not to see that, no matter how nobly an idea may grow, it is only by its fruit that we can truly judge it. There is no fucking fruit.

Due Process Step Five

Some people may think that the previous step is the last one in the process, but there is another. This is a step we take when we’ve exhausted one of the previous steps and found that, no matter what the promise of fairness is, the social contract we have signed has crap clauses. It has the clause that wealthy people, and famous people, and popular people, (and really any people), can succeed despite what they do to us. They can be free. They can be loved. They can be president. It has a clause that says we are to stay very, very silent, no matter what happens, unless the due process tree gives us grand, ripe fruit. 

They do not point out the very small text that says it rarely does, except when attractive and convincing humans with pristine pasts and no scars point at very mean looking humans and say, “It was them!” 

So what do we do? We hold our hand to our mouth and with a theater aside, we whisper our stories in quiet spaces. We write maudlin poetry and carve lyrics on our bellies. We cry when we masturbate and flinch at gentle touches. We sometimes throw the contract out and shout and shout and shout, only to be met, finally, by a two words that I can no longer bear:

Due process.

Food To Spare

by H. E. Casson

“You eat meat?”
She asked, incredulous
I said no
Then I said yes
Sometimes
I suppose
It feeds my gut
And teases my nose
It sits in my throat
And flavours my tongue
It’s comfort food
From when I was young
And mother would feed me
A chop so big
I forgot when I tasted
That it was a pig

But then, she cares
Her eyes are wet
She is a cow, in dreams
I’ll bet
(Just look at those eyes)
So I rationalize

That I was hungry for almost a year
(No politics for that, I fear)
An empty belly made me see
That I eat them
Or they’ll eat me

And lettuce didn’t fill me up
And orange juice didn’t please my cup
But a pizza pie with bacon strips
Pleased my lips

Reminding me of mother’s chops
The happy smell in butcher shops
And times when hunger was not there
And times when I had food to spare

Published in the Meat issue of (Ex)cite magazine in Winter, 2001.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Don’t Hit Me Dance

by H. E. Casson

It was a hopping from one leg
To the other
In front of mother
A hop-hop
Muscles tensed
I sensed her anger
Stand as I can
Taking it like a fully grown man
But beforehand
My performance
My only chance
The don’t hit me dance
(I gave it that name
In remembrance)

And the partner
The parent
That sent me ahead
The tensing
The dread that began with the words
Get the yardstick
The ruler
The wooden spoon
And wait for me
In your room

What caused the dance
Was the game in my mind
That wanted to run
And to leave it behind
But knowing my size
And my age
And relation
Prevented me
From leaving my station
Beside the bed
With the dance in my head
And the stick in my hand
She would use on me
Repeatedly

I would do the dance in public places
When she would show one of the faces
Saying
Wait till we get home
Wait till I have you all alone
And anger
Hid behind the stare
Of righteousness
And only this
Defense I had been given
To dance
And keep on living

Published in Fireweed.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.