It’s funny, the details that a human mind captures and keeps. A typical human brain is made up of approximately 100 billion neurons, with up to 100 trillion connections made between them. All in all, the mind has a storage capacity of 2.5 petabytes. One single petabyte is equal to 1,000 terabytes which in turn is equal to 1,000,000 gigabytes. Wrap your brain around that for a moment, our minds have the power to store three million hours of TV shows.
And yet in all that space and in all that power and potential, the strangest things are the ones we remember. I can remember every word from almost every popular song from 2009 but I can’t for the life of me remember how the quadratic formula works. I can remember that one time I dropped food on the lap of that one customer, but I can’t remember my grandmother’s laugh. I can remember every detail and sensation of those men holding me down, but I can’t remember how my ex-girlfriend’s hair smelled after a shower. You’d think that this much memory and this much storage and this much capacity would be a good thing. But in the long run, all it does these days is make me want to erase everything.
Things also seem to come back at the strangest times. I’ll be standing in line at the tea shop or waiting to merge onto the freeway or sitting at dinner and suddenly all that’s in my head is how I didn’t fight. And I am not someone who doesn’t fight. I will fight and rage and kick and scream if someone I love has been wronged or is in danger.
But I couldn’t move.
My limbs froze, my voice hardened in my chest and I could do nothing but lay there. And now I can do nothing but remember it. Over and over and over again.
People tell me that that is good, that it will fade and become normalized and one day the coppery feeling of panic won’t rise in my throat at the sight of any man with dark hair and a mustache or any boy with wide-set eyes and an arrogant smile. They say that there’s no use trying to avoid the feelings because they will just fester inside of me.
I say that I’d rather have it live dormant in the recesses of my memory than constantly have this stomach-plunging, chest-tightening, oh-god-I-cannot-do-this feeling that emerges at least two times a day.
Because the memories run through the traps in my mind and I recall every look, every whistle, every catcall, comment, and situation, spinning around and around and around and around and culminating in the memories of the different hands pinning me down and the blind acceptance I had with what was happening to me. Because you see, it seemed natural. It seemed like the correct order of things that I flirt, and I go out for a drink and I go back to his place and I don’t feel comfortable driving home, so I stay over and even though I ask for separate beds he doesn’t see this as a no because the word was never said. He doesn’t see this as please let me be and he climbs in with me and who am I to tell him no? I’m in his home and I have nowhere to go and no one to protect me except myself but how am I supposed to feel comfortable saying no, screaming no, lashing out and defending myself when my whole existence has been about making room for others and either saying yes or not saying anything at all. I can’t say it. I can’t do it. And so I lay there, and my brain separated from my body and I floated off, knowing that this too would pass.
I have the storage capacity of at least 500 MacBook’s in my head. My eyes see things at 575 megapixels when cameras can only capture around 75. My body is made of thousands and thousands of nerve endings and connections and wonders all working in harmony. I am a work of art, a masterpiece of nature. And I belong to me. I do not belong to the men who have tried to claim me for their own, I do not belong to the eyes raking over my skin or the thoughts that others have of me. I am not the actions of others, I am not solely the bad experiences, I am not the piece of flesh and bone without a soul or a brain that I sometimes seem to become in the perspectives of others. I can scream and cry and rage and speak, I can fight, and I can remember. I can, and I will remember, I will remember the smell of my aunt’s house on a summer morning, and I will remember the helplessness that seemed to hold me down by the ribs. I will remember how I felt driving back to school with the window down, wind in my face and love and wonder overflowing from my chest, and I will remember the times I have wanted to never emerge from the cave I had created around me. Because in all of this storage and all of this capacity and all of this potential, there is me, and I am strong, and I am still perfect.
That is one thing I will never forget.
Reflective Essay by Fiona Harris
My experience with sexual assault and the resulting feeling of dehumanization and dissociation began in 2013 when I walked home from a friend’s house in tears after a boy who I considered a friend pinned me down with his body under a blanket while watching Planet Earth. The boy who walked me home that night said, “that doesn’t happen in my house”, referring not to the assault but to my loud and explicitly vocal reaction to it. In October 2015, following my graduation from high school, an ex-coworker who was 10 years my senior – a man I had considered a friend- assaulted me in his bed when I said I was too drunk to drive home. In 2016 during my third week of university I was raped by a fellow student in the reception office of my dorm. The same student then told me that I should seek out therapy because my twisted worldview was warping what actually transpired between us.
I write out all of these experiences not to harp about how I have been wounded, but to remind myself that I have been wounded and yet I am still here. I wanted to capture the helplessness I felt every time I remembered an experience, or whenever I pass a certain street in my hometown or see that student around campus. I wanted to change the rhetoric both in my head and in my community from “that doesn’t happen” to “this does happen, and it will be heard”.
Fiona Harris is a writer from Portland, Oregon. She is currently a student at Quest University of Canada, where she is active to promote safe spaces on campus and within the greater community. She facilitates and directs an annual show on campus that raises awareness for gendered violence against bodies.