Resilience presents itself as a rare, amorphous quality amongst humans, manifesting in us physically, mentally, but more often both; and thus changing with accordant fluidity. The uniquely female strength required to endure pregnancy and childbirth, for instance, is a deeply impressive and equally so unappreciated manifestation of either form. Too, the boxer’s commitment to peak fitness and undeviating discipline paired with an extraordinary tolerance for pain is a fitting example of this trait.
It begins, as with most things, at the beginning, during childhood. They tell you to pick yourself up when you’ve been pushed down. Shake off the pain. Get back on the bicycle (and so on with the platitudes). They tell you to look adversity in the eye, and then tell it to go fuck itself — well, maybe not in so many words, but you get the idea. Her particular brand of resilience was bred of climbing trees, tall, broad and wizened wooden towers with gnarled spires wrapped in rough skin.
Most of these firmly bested the likes of most boys her age.
She loved the way leaves looked up close, how the colors they bore conveyed a vividness and vitality she could not understand, and how she didn’t need or want to. Bark became a dear friend of hers. They shared a tumultuous dynamic characterized by close examination and mutual dissection, so I suppose you could say it was her first foray into relationships. Trees always listened absent ego, agenda or judgment; and provided a surface off which to jump without getting into trouble, or feeling embarrassed when things didn’t go as planned.
These affinities, among others, made her prone to cuts, scrapes, bruises, and thus to scabs. Big ones, little, ugly and peculiar — some of them worrisome, others benign. Scabs became her collection of Boy Scout medals and quota of Girl Scout cookies, her marks of honor and accolades in life. This did not make her cute in the eyes of most, neither ladylike or endearing. Rather, she was perceived as being grotesque and androgynous, boyish in a manner which lent to parental fears of lesbianism and a childless future.
More to the point, though, these things made her resilient. She could fall and pick herself up without anyone telling her it was the thing to do, which made her different from the other children her age. Resilience inherent is not the same as resilience taught. If you can demonstrate fundamental qualities of human virtue without being asked to do so (empathy, ambition, curiosity, etc.), you’re going to be a lot better off than most of the poor saps sniffing rubber cement and eating erasers throughout their formative years.
This becomes even more important to internalize during adolescence, when the task of merely getting out of bed and being a person every day requires more willpower than it’s possible to conceive of at the time. Sex comes into the picture, as does acne, body hair, self-loathing, and fleeting notions that the world would be better off without you. Her scabs began to take different forms, and so, too, did her resilience. Bruising and scraping of the ego, then eventual healing of it thereafter. Validation began to draw meaning from external appreciation, even when that was little more than an exercise in objectification.
Her virginity wasn’t so much lost as it was taken from her.
The act wasn’t non-consenting in that obvious sort of way involving GHB or strategically placed Rohypnol, but there was certainly no welcome mat laid out. It occurred, perhaps conventionally, at a house party, one of those homecoming gigs where college freshmen return to winter in suburbia with a lustful vengeance after their first semesters of academic mediocrity and sexual atrophy.
The night was ice cold and the beer was lukewarm. Gratuitously lining the McMansion’s walls were photos of a wealthy, upstanding Baptist family, the members of which took solace in deeply rooted faith that the Lord Almighty would deliver those beneath their Mansard roof of white privilege from any guise of evil, temptation and sin.
She was emotionally underdeveloped in a way that was tragically superseded by how she was physically overdeveloped. Girls are not women simply because they look like them — and vice versa, needless to say — a fact often unknown to or ignored by the boys and men guilty of assaulting them.
The offender was a fallback fraternity brother dressed in company standard black North Face jacket and brown Sperry loafers, who had enjoyed appreciable social and athletic success in high school which did not extend into his undergraduate studies. He was three years her senior, almost twice her size, and a remote acquaintance of her eldest sister, a classmate he had long coveted with fervent desire but never ultimately acquired, so to speak.
The only thing he’d really learned to do in college was drink; not to get drunk, but to get so drunk that his belligerence was temporarily excused the night of and permanently forgotten the morning after. This habit had yet to result in any real damage thus far — apart from biweekly obnoxiousness plus an incident of public indecency — and this enabled him to feel comfortable, even justified in pursuing the habit with renewed fervor upon returning to his former stomping grounds.
The anger he drank with was easier to discern than the sadness, both of which stemmed from an inescapable need to escape the adolescent pain of carrying on.
This pain she was no stranger to; it could only be assuaged by the feeling of being connected to someone, something (that feeling she was very much a stranger to). Bonds which are authentic and lasting prove few and far between during teenage years, in spite of the cruel reality that there are few times along the trajectory of human development when they are needed more.
This need for validation enabled her to feel comfortable, even justified in pursuing some, really any kind of human connection with a little bit of makeup, a whole lot of jungle juice, and the reckless abandon consequent to hormonal discord and its pursuant symphony of loneliness.
Innocence, whether lost or taken, is a thing which can never truly be reclaimed —much like sight or time. Once absent, its memory is a constant source of pain and longing. All wait impatiently as children for the day we can call ourselves adults, then lament the burden and responsibility of being able to do so. She was cognizant of being caught somewhere between these two conditions, while he was incognizant of anything apart from the immediate urges of his neglected libido.
It happened in the backyard. They started out just making out, then things took a turn for the worse. She said no, and he listened the first time, even the second; but with the third advance and umpteenth beer, he threw caution to the rattling winter wind. It’s important to point out he didn’t lose control, because that would wrongly contribute to excusing his actions on account of intoxication.
He made a choice for them both, one to which she did not consent.
She tried to convince herself she was enjoying it (this soon proved futile), then instead tried to go somewhere else in her head; she went to climbing trees. Looking balefully at a lovely birch in the backyard’s corner, she envisioned the challenge of undertaking its first ascent, sustaining physical scars in the process rather than the emotional ones she was sure to bear after the incipient trauma. He didn’t enjoy it, either — not that that remotely matters — and though he finished very quickly, he managed to leave even quicker.
When it was over, she stayed outside and bummed a cigarette, her first cigarette, the first of many to come. While struggling to retain the smoke in her lungs, she remembered her first time falling out of a tree as a child — it was a maple, she knew by the leaves — and how much it hurt, really hurt. But then she remembered how the pain faded. The pain always faded, and the scabs always healed. She only hoped these could heal, and managed to tell herself they would.
Summoning up the last of her courage, she climbed the birch out back, sitting atop its branches, feeling the bark, smoking yet another cigarette. Then she summoned up that childhood resilience — much to her credit — and that memory of falling, then getting back up in order to heal.
And so, remarkably, heal she did.