I shall be released. Bob Dylan wrote the words in 1967 (and bless him for it), but I grew up on the Nina Simone version. And if you’re looking for my opinion, it is Ms. Simone’s song through and through. You believe her. She is completely triumphant, even in the sweet desperation heard in her voice. And there are times when the words and the melody plant themselves in my ear. I don’t always have the best luck falling asleep. Though tossing and turning isn’t really in my wheelhouse, either. So I mumble and hum and sing this song until my tongue won’t move anymore.
In the course of my twenty-three—nearly twenty-four—years, my parents have been my primary caregivers. Just an extravagant way of saying the dear old mom and dad see my naked body on a more regular basis than some of us, we’re fairly adept at carrying on a conversation while I’m lying flat on my back with my legs up in the air. You know you can trust a person fully after they wipe clean your hairy nether regions and put you to bed in pink pig pajamas. That’s true love.
When I get my period, it’s my dad who prepares for and cleans up the bloody mess. I rag on him about it, too. “Papa, it’s happening again! The lining of my uterine wall is sluffing off in real time.” He looks at me blankly, and says something like, “Congratulations, Miriam” or, “How nice for you.” My mom is usually the one to bathe me. We keep all sorts of homemade lavender-and-mint-infused soaps on hand, so I get an hour to vent my thoughts about my emotions and my emotions about my thoughts, and bonus: I come out smelling like an herb garden after the rain. It’s all very endearing stuff.
And it makes no sense that I should be in physical agony for the majority of my days and nights. But I am. Nothing inside of me fits right. I can live with the pain; it’s bearable enough. That form of discomfort (the expectation of strain and limitation) is quantifiable, easily articulated. What is unknowable is the number of times a man, old enough to be my grandfather, forced his tongue into my closed mouth throughout my adolescence. Or how many times that same man fondled me over bathing suites and sundresses and baggy T-shirts. I can’t tell you the particulars of how I was sexually assaulted at twenty-one by a good and kind friend. He made sure I was unconscious during the act. But I can surely tell you how it made me feel, and I’d even be willing to describe the extent of the bleeding in the weeks that followed, if you’d like. Beats me why it took a whole year to tell my mother, and why I still haven’t told my father. And I really have no idea why that guy who reeked of alcohol shoved his hand down my sweatpants five nights ago. I wasn’t asking for it. I was reading a book.
And it’s so stupid that all I wanted to do right after was go to sleep. All I wanted was for Nina Simone to come down from the sky with her piano and reassure me about the coming light, or some such inspiration. Only I want other things, too.
Artwork by Jasmine Williams, an artist based in Mountain Rest, SC. She is a senior at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, and in her time there has had her work featured in various shows and publications. She works in a variety of mediums, and her pieces focus largely on (but are not confined to) femininity and nature.
Connect with Jasmine on Instagram: jasminerwilliams
Read other writings by Miriam: