Day Three of guest blogs; there will be one more tomorrow morning, although it won’t be strictly necessary since I’ll be home. I’m incredibly proud that James trusts me enough to let me run this; it’s an amazing piece and it deserves more attention than I’m probably able to produce for it. That said, for the second time in two days, I’m gonna let y’all have a trigger warning, as this one also could be hard to read.
I do not have the sort of readership who I need to warn to behave in comments, so I won’t.
Man, I hope this con is going well.
We were sitting in the room together, me and my friends. I’d been warned, and so I warned them.
“I might need to leave the room while we’re watching, just so you know.”
“So… Pause it?”
“No, uh, I was told there was some content I might not be able to handle. So if I can’t handle it…”
“Got it, so you want us to give a holler when it would be over?”
“Yes, that would be wonderful.” I love my friends, it was good they got it, without me having to explain further. I tucked the blanket under my feet. Good, we can finally watch Jessica Jones.
I’d been waiting for this show for a while now, but I’d been scared. I thought about watching it alone, but I decided it was a bad idea. I’ve mostly dealt with my issues, mostly, but some things don’t ever really go away, you just hope you dealt with them enough to that you can stop dealing with them on a day to day basis. Eventually you stop crying yourself to sleep, eventually you stop having to leave parties because you feel so worthless you can’t stand being around people. Eventually you stop yelling at people for what seems like no reason when they say something innocuous about a TV show. Eventually.
But it still comes up. A few months ago I drove down to visit a friend, and he decided to show me one of his favorite story arcs of a show I’d only seen the first season of: the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. We were watching it, eating sloppy Taco Bell food and discussing things when there wasn’t much dialogue. Usual, normal.
Then the scene happened.
When I next was in control of myself, I was in a Wal-Mart. I’d driven there, I guess, I mean, I had to have. The tiles in front of me were strangely white against the florescent light. I had put my shoes on, but I hadn’t grabbed my coat. I recalled that it had been dark outside, that was something. I had texts on my phone, and I reassured my friend I was okay. I’d lost maybe twenty minutes. This hadn’t happened in years. It was terrifying. I paced the aisles, and decided I’d try to fix one of the license plate lights on my car. I went out to it. I found what kind of light I needed. I bought it, and realized I didn’t have a screwdriver. I bought a screwdriver. I went back in because it was the wrong kind of screwdriver. I bought another screwdriver. My hands shook. I fixed the damn light, and went back into the Wal-Mart, shielded by its 24-hour capitalism. Eventually, I cooled down enough to drive back to my friend’s. The roads were empty. I put on “Keep the Streets Empty for Me” by Fever Ray, because a lack of subtlety is my specialty.
When I got back, I tried to play it cool. I got hugs. I hated that this still affected me.
What exactly happened to me doesn’t matter. Don’t ask. Its not even one thing. That’s not the point here. I’m not telling. I don’t want to tell you.
What does matter, is that I watched Jessica Jones, and my hands froze. This might sound strange, but it was a reassuring reaction. Usually, when sexual assault is portrayed in media, its for shock value. It happens so people can react to it. Its a motivator, and then the heroes can sweep in and save the day, or whatever. Sometimes what happens isn’t even treated as a serious issue, its laughed off, its forgotten about the next episode, or the perpetrator is brought into the main cast. Sometimes, I just can’t take seeing it. Sometimes, the only thing my body can do is run. And then I end up in a Wall-Mart in the middle of the night.
But when I watched Jessica Jones, I didn’t run. It was hard to watch. My hands froze: I couldn’t make my fingers move, and I was sure the guy next to me could hear me whispering to my fists “come on, you can do it, you can do it…” as I slowly got my arms to work, then each of my fingers (my legs followed after), but I didn’t run. Sure, I cried myself to sleep later, but whatever. There was something different about this show, and while it was difficult, it felt safe in a way it didn’t usually feel, because the show understood that Jessica Jones wasn’t a victim to be saved, but a person who had to keep living her damn life.
So often when rape or sexual assault is portrayed, the narrative treats the survivors of the assault as needing to be redeemed. They need to be saved. They need to be purified. But we were never dirty, we were never in need of redemption. We were just us, and people did horrible things to us, but fuck them not us. Jessica Jones isn’t broken, she has PTSD. She uses techniques to get herself steadied and stop dissociation I’ve used and seen others use. She goes to work, she does her job, she has friends, she lives her life, she has flashbacks, she struggles, but she lives. She pushes other people away, she lashes out at people she shouldn’t, she has problems, she won’t ask for help and hates it when people do things for her, and I know exactly how she feels.
David Tennant plays Killgrave, aka the Purple Man, aka the scariest character ever, who manages to pick up on so many traits of rapists and abusers that you could probably make some sort of checklist out of them. He controls your mind, and honestly I can’t think of a better analog for the feeling of powerlessness that those things do to you. There is damage done by it. His careless hedonistic evil is so casual, so compassionless, and so shockingly real. At one point in the show, spoilers, he makes Jessica send him a picture of her every day at a set time. He doesn’t need to do this, he can mind control people to take her picture if he wanted to. No, he wants the power over her. He wants to know she is under his thumb. To me, Killgrave is the scariest villain, because he is the villain I know. He is the villain who is given fist bumps over beers afterwards, and the one who is defended later. He’s the one people don’t unfriend on Facebook, because sure what he did was wrong, but everyone makes mistakes. I’m sure you both did something wrong, they will continue. Smile, they’ll say, he’ll say. The look in their eyes will tell you they think it shouldn’t bother you anymore. They’ll call you broken behind your back.
I got my fingers unclenched, and I could move. I’d conquered by body, and I could enjoy the rest of the episode. It was still hard to watch, but it understood. It understood like so few people really did, that you can heal the damage, wipe away the bruises, but the damage lingers inside you. And I’m damaged, but I’m not broken. I’m a superhero. And even if you ran away, you are too.