An Inconvenient Truth

How facing up to, and publicizing, a painful history resulted in a little bit of grace.

September 2010

We all get badgered to do things we don’t want to do. We sigh. We roll our eyes. Our lips start to form the word no.

Being hounded to say yes is a simple fact of life. I’ve come to accept it as a part of my existence. I’ve also gotten better at saying that simple word. No. No, I cannot. No, I will not. No. No. No.

But recently I’ve taken to examining why I don’t want to do such and such, and if, once I examine my list of excuses, the reason has to do with emotional cowardice, I say yes, just for the sheer pleasure of driving myself crazy. I recognize the need to shake up my fairly shake-free life, I suppose. Perhaps I am oddly addicted to anxiety. And I love to listen to the argument that starts in my head the moment I’ve mouthed that word: yes.

Which is why I said yes to the Zonta Foothills Club of Boulder County. Zonta is a volunteer organization that helps women in a variety of ways—by giving birthing kits to poor countries for sanitary childbirth, by offering scholarships to single moms, and by preventing violence against women. All good stuff, obviously. Who would say no? Only a jerk. And yet, when I was asked to give a fund-raising talk for a Colorado chapter of Zonta, I started to say just that.

Oh, you coward…my brain said.

Oh, shut up, I told it. I’m sick of you and your new I-can’t-be-a-coward rule.

I think you’re being a jerk, my brain said.

Leave me alone, I told myself. Fine. I’ll say yes.

I had vacillated because there was something I’d have to face if I accepted the invitation; there was a secret truth I’d finally have to acknowledge. How can you be asked to speak at such an organization, and then sidestep the main issues? Sidestepping is not ethical, not right, not my style. It drags the world down into beige mediocrity and falsehood and appearance for appearance’s sake. It makes us all seem more brave and sturdy than we really are.

So I agreed to give the talk for one reason, a deal I made with my own brain: I would publicly discuss something private. Not to be melodramatic, not to elicit sympathy, not to navel-gaze, but to increase the public discussion that women, all kinds of women, get abused. Which is just to say that I know what it feels like to reach up and touch the sticky warmth of blood, look at the man who just made that happen and, horribly, know that I would stay with him.

Until I didn’t.