There’s this episode of Grey’s Anatomy that for the longest time has been engraved into the back of my head (in all honesty, almost all 14 seasons I have watched of the show are).
I’ll set the scene: It’s Season 8. Dr. Teddy Altman has tragically lost her husband, Henry, at the hands of her most prized student, Cristina Yang. Now being a widow, Teddy has been dealing with an overwhelming fluctuation of emotions. Having recently joined a grief counseling group centered on being a widow, the head of the group asks the widows to complete a task before their next meeting: stand in front of a mirror and call themselves a widow. Let the reality sink in. Follow Teddy’s storyline through episode 18 and midway through, we find ourselves watching this brave, grief-stricken woman stand in front of a mirror and unleash the one word she had been struggling to grasp: widow. “I am a widow,” she says. “I am a widow.” She begins to cry.
This scene haunts me on nights that I cannot sleep— it sometimes is the reason I cannot sleep. I am not a widow. I am not dealing with these circumstances. I do, however, have my own trauma and a word — words — that I am constantly running away from. I am running away from them in all circumstances: in my therapist’s office, in my writing, to my partner, to my family, my friends.
I wrote an essay for Obvi my first year on the team. It felt nice to tie a bow in solidarity around the circumstances I had been dealt. Unfortunately, sexual assault isn’t a very rare thing. Once I got to college and gained distance from what I had gone through my senior year of high school, I felt a wave rush over me that awoke something in me. I felt like I had to share this understanding with the world and admit that I was a survivor! I was strong! Hear my voice it will never be silenced again!
But it was.
I let it be silenced. I run away from my reality on a day-to-day basis. Biweekly, when I step into my therapist’s office I shudder at the thought of verbalizing my truth. I shudder at my truth. I stray away from the topic and ramble out any bad thing or slightly off-putting circumstance that had happened since I had last seen my therapist to cover up the fact that hey I’m doing quite alright besides the fact this and this happened to me and I can’t seem to talk about it with anyone.
This scene with Teddy makes my skin crawl, it makes me want to scratch off every dead skin cell on my body. Maybe tear off some viable new cells, too. Just to invoke a sense of pain I can understand and characterize.
I was sexually assaulted during my senior year of high school. We know this. I’ve told you all. The end. You think, “it happens once how could it ever happen again? How could your body be taken as someone else’s against your will— again?”
But it happens.
And it happened to me.
And I was drunk.
Regained my consciousness in the middle of the act, uncertain of every single thing happening to me.
So I take myself back to that scene with Teddy. Dr. Teddy Altman of Grey Sloan Memorial. Staring in the bathroom mirror at her job, staring at her reflection and saying aloud the one thing she wishes she did not have to say, to accept. “I am a widow.”
And I wish I could stand in front of my bathroom mirror, look myself straight in the eye and say my truth. Accept my fate. But I can’t. And I don’t know when I ever will.