[general trigger warning for child sexual abuse, abusive relationships]
I want a survivor funeral.
Seven years ago, I was in an abusive relationship. It was relatively short (just a few months), but it happened at a time in my life when I was extremely vulnerable (the same year the sexual abuse was discovered, among other issues). I was easily manipulated— too needy and eager to please the other person.
When I finally came out on the other end of everything, I wanted to destroy things. I wanted— needed— a concrete, visceral way of saying, “I survived you, and I’m still standing”. So I took all of the notes and letters, the little trinkets and mementos I had collected from that time, and with my friend S, we burned everything in her backyard. It was a shoebox full of things. My friend helped me tear paper apart so that it would burn faster— she knew it was too much for me to handle on my own.
I ripped up the letters, trying not to reread them in the process, trying not to rekindle the nostalgic feelings of attachment I still had to my abuser. I watched a receipt from Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom crumple up and melt; I tried not to remember the time we laughed at the way the water ride soaked my shorts through so that it looked like I had peed myself. I tore the pages out of a notebook, and, growing impatient with how long it took to go one by one, I wrestled the wire binding out and dumped the whole thing in. It was liberating. I freed myself from that abusive person by destroying the objects associated with them.
It took me a year before I fully understood that relationship was an abusive one— before I could even name it. But on that day, without even realizing it, I had had a funeral of sorts, a death and rebirth of who I was.
I want a funeral now. Being abused has completely destroyed potential mes that could have existed. It’s rewritten my possible avenues of happiness and future success. It’s warped my sense of safety and self in ways that I may never completely understand.
I deserve a survivor funeral. Chungyen deserves one, now that I am Elle. I want to say goodbye to the president, the astronaut, the soldier, and the school teacher I once thought I could be, in a time when my future seemed full of possibilities. I want to say goodbye to that “normal” person I could have been. I want to say goodbye so that I can start to create my own future out of what is still here. I need to if I am going to continue surviving.
I want to say goodbye to the little boy who died so long ago, in a dark place with no light, alone and hurting so much— more than anyone, child or adult, ever should. I want to say goodbye so that this hurting boy— still clinging on to a world that wasn’t meant for him— can finally get the rest and peace he deserves.
A survivor funeral doesn’t signify an end— it points to a beginning. It means “live as fully and as well as you can, because it might not be this way forever.”
It means I am still here, surviving.