absence of evidence

summer feels like motion and sweat and emergence.

new york is thick with humidity and i’m watching a murder mystery series based in scotland. rows of dimly-lit cottages on grassy hills vibrate my shoulders.

a woman who taught me many formative lessons — how to bike and how to swim and how to swallow vitamins without chewing and how to dip strips of toast in soft boiled eggs and how to laugh hardest when you’re hurting — was scottish. the country’s folklore imprinted on my little heart and i always get a happy chill when i hear someone speaking with that wry lilt. i’d like to travel there with someone i care about, maybe stand on a rock and look at a sheep and feel in a place.


in the past seven months, my ptsd/dissociation is the worst it's been in over eight years. 

i’ve had a major adrenal surge almost every day. it usually starts in my kidneys, a familiar tightening, a squeezing of poison. then the ground slips and my chest tightens and then my arms numb and i feel like i have to sob and my breath falters. when this happens, i do what i know how to do. it helps.

i'm aware of the series of events that set this imbalance off. i know all i can do is keep working to eat, move, hydrate, take the fistful of herbs i’ve found give me some relief (holy basil, ashwaganda, milk thistle), make stuff happen, care for others, work, laugh hard.


it hurts


my therapist asks, could this adrenal activity be a manifestation of anger?

i respond, maybe when a powerful force has nowhere to go, it twists inside out.


it's true: a shadowy rage has been steering my psychic ship. i try to direct it into useful action but sometimes i have to sit and let it burn through me so it doesn’t twist into violent and repressed shapes.


in grief group last week, we discussed the relationship between violence and grief. i surprised myself by blurting out, where there’s violence, there’s grief.

and where there’s grief, there’s a forgiveness-shaped hole.


in march i wondered if we could forgive without an apology.

i think i'm closer to an answer now and that answer is: nobody knows how to forgive or why we should forgive but we try to do it anyway because we have forgiveness-shaped holes and we want to live.


forgiveness is not like releasing a balloon into the atmosphere. forgiveness, like grief, is an impossible calculus river. it's a letting slip into deep water, knowing the ghost of the thing can resurface. but for now, it’s an easing of grip, shifting the domination of the experience away from being transgressed upon.


when we forgive, where does the rage go?


when i call my dreams sleeping visions, it makes them feel more real. when they're occurring, they feel real. 


in a sleeping vision the oldest life form is a collection of pinkish rocks at the bottom of the sea. the rocks can meld and unmeld at will to create new formations. i open a scientific american article that says they've discovered this life form is a pisces, like me.  

this of course makes no sense but i feel a sense of relief and an immediate affinity with the creature. i put down the magazine and swim towards it.

after this vision, i wake up next to a sleeping woman. i kiss her on the shoulder. i unkiss her on the shoulder. 


nothing is like sleeping with a woman.

nothing is like sleeping with a woman is like two rocks, melding.


when we touch, where does the absence go?


earlier this month, a rainbow formed outside the window of my grief group. we paused the group to look at it. later, i disclosed details about a traumatic incident and sweat right through my dress. 

someone remarked, it seems there were two injuries. the abuse and the silence around it.

i felt my shoulders expand.

i leant forward in my chair.


things that injure: violent presence, silent absence.


there’s another side to the rage-forgiveness coin. it's a three-sided coin now because emotional math creates impossible geometries.


i’ve been haunted by the idea that i haven’t done enough to protect others from those who hurt me.

i flash to the lawyer declaring, you'll only be re-traumatized if you press charges.

i flash to a. suggesting, you could write an anonymous letter to the press.

i flash to k. wondering, do you want me to mess with his life?

i flash to e. asking, he still has a license to practice?

i flash to reporting a verbal violation by a bouncer in november. i flash to the bar's owner firing the bouncer.

i flash to the leader of a bystander intervention workshop announcing, when we report danger, the danger is not gone. we just move it elsewhere.

i flash to an article in which a man who hurt me is profiled. he comes off as a hero.

i flash to n. on the phone: if he doesn’t realize the impact of what he’s done, he’ll do it again to others.

i flash to myself, in bed, imagining the others.


we have to begin from the premise that justice is not possible, dionne brand announces at that talk in april.


when men aren't held accountable for the injuries they perpetrate, those injured carry more than the injury alone. they carry: the injury, the story, the burden of proof, the absence of justice, the others, more. 


when we seek justice, where does the danger go?


i think about this phrase a lot: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

sometimes i invert it to: evidence of absence is not absence of evidence.

both feel true.


sometimes evidence of injury is in the body and nowhere else. we must believe those who say they are hurt. we must believe those who say we hurt them. we must believe in absence. we must consider the power structures at play and believe. 


earlier this year, i reconnected with a. we've spent a couple full days together since. years ago, she saved my life by showing me i could save my own life. with only my story as evidence, she believed me. she is hurting now because somebody hurt her. with only her story as evidence, i believe her.


a few days ago, i was told a story about my mother’s mother, my bubby. in the late 1930s, her parents spoke of divorcing at a time when divorce was rare. as a child, my bubby would sleep on a row of kitchen chairs that she'd dragged to block the front door of their home. that way, if her father decided to leave in the middle of the night, he would have to wake her. perhaps she could convince him to stay.


my bubby is gone but her stories linger, absent even a body. 

i believe that little girl.

a fourth side to the coin: intent. a fifth: repentance.

what is it to live after unknowingly hurting someone and never knowing?

what is it to live after unknowingly hurting someone and being made aware and apologizing?

what is it to live after unknowingly hurting someone and being made aware and never apologizing?

what is it to live after knowingly hurting someone and apologizing?

what is it to live after knowingly hurting someone and never apologizing?


absence of evidence forms, like dusky caverns, in the shoulders of those who perpetrate injury. how like a flashlight is an apology. 


when we apologize, where does the guilt go?


in another sleeping vision, one of my abusers emails me photographs of himself on a beach. the email includes several close-ups of his face in the water. he is relaxed, his eyes half-closed.

i receive this email while in an office on a boat with a lawyer. it's the lawyer who told me you don’t have enough physical evidence. he's saying what he said in waking life: he's well-respected. everyone will want to believe him.

i remember my only evidence is my story. i remember the prison industrial complex is something i oppose and that sending him there is the best case scenario in a carceral state. 

i look at the photographs again. the entire ocean is this man’s bath. it believes him, every grain of salt believes him. 

i exit the lawyer's office onto the boat's main deck and i see another man i used to know. he is laughing and talking and i think, the ocean is his bath, too. i move to the opposite side of the boat.

i stand by the railing and notice a woman. she recognizes me and moves as if to speak but the laughing man walks over and twirls her around. she forgets about me. he is an articulate white guy, he takes up space, the social world is built for him. it ignores the dusky caverns in his shoulders.

i feel afraid. i spit from the railing into the water. i taste my tongue. it tastes quiet.

i leap from the boat.

the light crackles on my skin.

i plummet into the water, fall through a collection of pink rocks, and drop from the bottom of the sea into open air.

i’m floating. two hands are carving into my body with a sharp curved tool. my pelvis is made of apple flesh and the hole being carved into it is in the shape of an apple. i become aware that the apple signifies not sin but forgiveness.

maybe both.

i remove the absence of apple and take a bite. it tastes clean, like a storm.


when we die, where does the forgiveness go?


more in the future

which is happening already,


Siena O.