Self-Portrait

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The man who was once a boy that raped the once girl that was me has a daughter. 
    I know this because Facebook told me in the language of a single frame. 
As it happened, his face appeared on my timeline as one of Facebook’s helpful suggestions of people I might know, people I might want to friend. After a moment of hesitation, I clicked on his picture. Then, I read his name to myself, scanning his face, his eyes, that smile, all the same. I heard his voice in my ear threaten: If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you--as if it were yesterday and not twenty years ago. The non-linearity of our lives and our memories, and how they move and crash upon one another is beautiful and terrifying and fantastic and strange.  
    There is a little girl in the profile photo. Her hair is dark like her daddy’s. She is wearing a pink dress, and she is smiling, she looks on top of the moon. I have no reason to not tell you that she is darling, because she is, even though I don’t know her, I can’t describe her laugh. I think what it is, what strikes me is, is that pure beauty in her— that utter innocence only possible at the beginning of life. 
    I click on the image again, this time to read the caption and comments. There is no caption. But the comments say things like: “Nice photo!” And “She looks just like you!” In my mind, I hear him laughing, I hear him saying thank you, I hear him threaten.
    Then I thought: Mother fucker. Mother fucker, mother fucker, mother fuck—my own tears choking me. 
    Anger climbed up my spine and jostled me through the memory of being a victim and the fearless woman I am today, that I am trying to be today. After that, I felt resentment. I felt resentment because he went on to have a normal life and became a father to a beautiful little girl. He probably has friends who tell him he’s a great dad, and on top of that, she has his smile. I wondered what kind of woman she’d grow up to be, thinking about the way my father’s love worked through me.
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There is a photo of my father and me that I am thinking of. 
  I am sitting beside my father with my head resting on his shoulder. My body is facing the camera, but the front of his body is turned outward, toward the sea. We are on his boat. He has one arm resting on the steering wheel, and with the other, in his hand, he is holding a beer. A Budweiser. His face is turned toward the camera, and he smiling, probably at my mother, but also in his heart, warmed by me. Learning to love my father, and letting him love me, taught me that you have to move through a certain kind of difficulty, of violence to get to love. And love has been the reward I have sought my entire life.
    My father knew not to hit me. No, he reserved his fist for my mother and my brother and sometimes other people and at times, even animals too. How I think about it is, is that maybe, my father was afraid of me. Maybe I looked too much like him, as he stood there, a fist hanging in the air, his long-lashed eyes tearing up. This happened a handful of times. And each time, I wanted him to hit me. I wanted to know what he was made of. I wanted to know what being him felt like. And, I wanted to hit him back— isn’t it said that the human heart is the size of a fist?
    I look more like my father than my mother. We have the same long-lashed eyes. 
   
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I’m still trying to sort out the type of person I’ve grown up into. The other day, I made a list of all the traumas I’ve endured, beginning at birth. The first was when the surgeon cut my mother open during the emergency C-section to save my life. He cut my leg, and I have a one-inch scar to prove it. 
  The rest is comprised of sad, vile events, and I’m not sure listing them would do anything but appear gratuitous at this point. The facts of my life just are at this stage.
    In sum, the list is a common story told by survivors. It includes sexual abuse, domestic violence, gun violence, emotional abuse, and rape.
    I made this list to pick it apart. To feel the pain of my story in hopes to heal. Also, I wanted to be honest with myself and all the ways I’ve allowed my trauma, and my survival response to it, to have made into a toxic person. 
  I want to be better. 
    Below is a list of some of the things that have been said about me: Fierce, beautiful, smart. Dramatic, anxious, and warm. Nurturing, sexy, needy. Thoughtful. Intense. Loving, strong, and kind. Wild, wise. Insecure. Driven. Emotional. Sensitive. Too sensitive. Unstable. Full of heart. Passionate. Resilient, brave, and courageous. Sad. Very sad. Funny, a little nuts. Creative, a free-spirit, a force. Loyal, loyal as fuck. A fighter. Selfish, self-absorbed. And: Angry. A survivor. A victim. Sometimes: patronizing, self-righteous, condescending. Someone who triumphs; someone who is tired. Someone who is sober-minded. Honest, too honest. Cruel, crass, unfiltered. Soft, yet not back-boned enough. Determined, resolved. A terrible friend. And also, a good one. 
    The way I see it, a portrait of a woman.
    Who was once a little girl.

Jocelyn M. Ulevicus has a background in Social Work, Psychology, and Public Health. Her work focuses on exploring the terrain of family violence and re-humanizing oneself after trauma and has been published in magazines such as Mindful Matter and Life in Ten Minutes. Ms. Ulevicus currently resides in Amsterdam and is finalizing her first book, a memoir, titled The Birth of A Tree.

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