Stories you don’t want to hear.
A few weeks ago, a documentary of one of Sweden’s most cherished late singers, Josefin Nilsson, went viral back home. Since I watched it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. The internet connection was so poor as I streamed it the show buffered incessantly and the picture was blurred for almost the duration of it, yet for one hour I didn’t move a muscle, and I sat there with my gaze fixed to the screen. Listening to her life story being unfolded. A story about a woman with so much to give to the world, and a story about a man who took it all away from her. Who abused her so severely, she never fully recovered.
Josefin passed away in 2016, just shy of her 47th birthday.
As I sat there and the producer’s credits starting rolling down the screen, I felt a fire raging inside of me. Ignited by all the anger I had in my heart. The anger for all the people in this world who by their own petty limitations, their own ignorance and their own oblivion towards the people around them, have felt entitled to bereave another human being of as much as a fragment of their own self-worth. Because as much as that documentary revolved around Josefin, her artistry, her zest of life and how much she devoured it, as much it revolved around all the ones who’s ever been denied their inherent right to their own body. Whose narrative was chosen for them, not by them.
I came to think of something that happened to me in primary school when I was seven years old. An incident which doesn’t hurt anymore, but who scarred me. Scarred me invisibly, by opening up an abyss I sometimes still find myself falling through. It was a regular autumn’s day back in 1999. I was standing in the lunch canteen and had spotted the last vacant seat by a crowded table. As I sat down, the entire table simultaneously stood up and moved to an empty table nearby. They left me there by myself. And that shame. That humiliation. That social rejection is still a vivid memory, long after it stopped hurting.
I thought about a friend of mine. When she was about the same age as I was at that time, she routinely saw her school nurse. At one point, the nurse had blurted out, admonishingly, that she was ”a little chunky” for her age. Maybe this sounds harmless, but she only confided this to me quite recently, after yet another rant of me reminding her that she shouldn’t have to ”deserve” dessert, or ”be good” in order to ”feel” good about herself. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to not try a new dress, and it certainly is not easy to undress in front of a new person, when she hears those words each time she has to look at her own body. It’s not easy because at a point in life when fitting in meant everything, she was told off for not doing so.
I thought about another acquaintance. I remember when she first told she’d been sexually abused as a child. The first time, she was six years old. The second time she was nine. The third time, she was 14. She told me that she doesn’t know how to think, or what to answer, each time someone asks her at what age she lost her virginity.
I thought about him. He, who was never allowed to be himself. He, who got thrown out on the street when he was 16 years old because he told his parents about this boyfriend. He, who still has to pretend, even though he’s past 30. He, who also finds the world to be quite tiring after having seen it, several times over, but who prefers to travel somewhere new rather than to go back home for leave, since the price of completely new experiences is less than that of old lies.
And I thought about her. She, who is just as reluctant to go back home as he is. Not because she is not allowed to be whoever she wants to be. Because in her parent’s house, there’s a black and white photo from her childhood, framed on the wall. A blurry old photo with frayed edges, of her, her mum, and a late male friend of the family. Had her mother known about the memories she relives each time she lays eyes on the photo, that cherished photo she often dusts off, she’d live a half-life thereafter, and she doesn’t think her mother is deserving of that. Because she wasn’t the grown-up who let her down, but that’s what she would have thought.
I cried as I wrote this down. Cried for to the powerlessness. For to the incapability. For to the injustice. For all the bad luck. And for all the luck. Because it’s nothing more than just luck. Luck that the shame I felt sitting abandoned by a dining table 20 years ago, was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Luck that I’ve never had to question my own right to my own body. Or my own thoughts, my own curiosities, my own wantings. Luck that I was given something as rare as unconditional love, from so many people. And the responsibility it calls for, from me, from everyone who was lucky, to make sure that’s the love who lives. The love that encourages. Includes. Protects.
There is injustice we are powerless to change. People in need we cannot help. Stories we don’t want to hear but have to listen to. People we want to cherish, but have to question for their actions, and experiences we wish we didn’t have but have to share to prevent them from repeating. At the end of the day, we’re all solely responsible for our own lives, and no one but ourselves can pick us up whenever we fall. But no one stands strong on their own.
What is the value of buying a new dress, to someone who resents her body in everything she wears? What is the value of saving your body for someone you love, to someone whose right to decide over her own body has been revoked so many times she’s lost count? What is the value of sharing a dinner with your family, in a room with a picture of a man who bereft you of your childhood? We are not always able to save each one another from harm. But we are able to remind ourselves that we are fragile. and so are the people we love. Perhaps there no moments in which we are more fragile, than in those where we thought we would never have to be.
I also believe it’s good to remind that when other’s confide, you do best to stay silent. But when others stay silent, you do best in not staying silent.