Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
an act of defiance...
I’ve surrendered to the words.
It is either madness or brilliance. I’ve hollowed out a place of existence here, a rather invisible one but one nevertheless very important to me. The women who fearlessly write their pain, I’m part of them now. The women who speak their truth whether it results in death or redemption. I am fine with either.
Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Anne Lamott, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou…the list goes on.
For those who haven’t read this dystopian novel or seen the pivotal work of Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, loosely translated, the phrase “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum means “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” One can go either way with this. The unfortunate handmaid who scratched this phrase into the molding of her closet hung herself. Offred made it more of a rallying cry. I’m still on the fence about it myself.
I now take it a day at a time, sometimes an hour at a time. I live in my thoughts which connect me with Sylvia and Virginia and Margaret. There’s an undeniable gift in here somewhere but one that is feared by the collective at large and in charge. Sometimes our words are carefully crafted in dark places, sometimes they are scrawled across walls in fits of rage. We have to weigh the consequences carefully, for words uttered at the wrong time or in the wrong way will harm. It pisses off the bastardes often provoking them to silence us through any means of violence and oppression.
Merriam-Webster defines dystopia as “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.” But my world wasn’t imaged at all, it was my reality.
I have experienced some of the tortures that the handmaids were subjected to. It’s probably why I find myself in this place of hollowed out existence. While I haven’t had my tongue cut out, my perpetrators used many of the same tactics. Shaming, beatings and violence were the mildest. Being tied down, drugged for the rapes, tied with belts around our necks, forced to watch other children abused were the worst. But the overall mind fuck was and still is the part that is most difficult to transcend. Often, after the lust of power was satisfied, I’d be led to the bathtub. It was there that I was to wash off all traces of their cum so that I’d be the clean baby girl when presented back to my mother. I never wanted to sit down the tub because I knew and anticipated the further searing sting to my genitals. Not only was I ripped and bleeding but then I was to “soak” myself. It was presented in a less violent but urgent manner almost cloaked with concern. The bath was given to soothe me. The men had all gone outside or left by now. My father vacillated between the men outside and me alone, staring, naked in bloody water. He kept peeking in to tell me that I was too young to be left alone in the bath, something might happen, I could slip and fall. Talk about cognitive dissonance and mind fuck. I still won’t take a bath.
I wonder whether the bastards have ground me down. I surely don’t feel like a success story but I know in some ways I am. As I relax into the words of my fellow writers, advocates, torture survivors, I feel a sense of belonging. And also, I’m ready.
I’ve come to terms that my words will aggravate the bastards. I have my plan in place as it has been for a long time. Death is simply a reasonable choice, a default when things get too irretrievably bad. The prescriptions are stockpiled, the final notes written, the bank accounts transferred. I leave my doors unlocked, in case a stranger or my husband wants to come in and kill me. It is my cynanide pill, carried by soldiers as a last resort usually to avoid further torture It was their last exercise of choice.
And just in case that the insanity of a lifetime frays that single thread that I hang by, I am ready.
The flip side is that your words are balm to an aching heart or fuel that lights someone else's fire. Your will to survive IS a rallying cry. Your ability to put words to the page is evidence of your survival. They can try to grind you down, but you will always come out the other side because they can't break what you're ultimately made of. Hope and truth and love.