There isn’t a moment in time when I feel safe. It’s a constant battle fighting off triggers coming at me from social media, television shows, or strange men who take a seat beside me on the train. Part of me knows they are benign. But I still can’t help clutching my bag to my chest, fingers itching for a pencil, anything to protect myself just in case because I can’t let it happen to me again.
I sit on the train and plug myself in. The sounds of shuffling bodies, muffled coughs, and murmured conversation are drowned by the soothing tunes filtering through my ears. I don’t have a recipe for how to deal with my shifting moods. I cope with them as they come. Yoga helps. There is something about deep breathing and controlled movements, the feeling of physical exertion, and the soft ringing of the bowl at the end of class that makes me feel whole again. I forget I am broken or stained.
Working at the front desk of a yoga studio gives me a chance to notice elements in that simultaneously connect and differentiate students. Women, tight lipped and wary, practice different styles, but I believe they all come for the same reason—self betterment. Healing. Spiritual regeneration. There are many types of trauma, but the ones that cut deeply don’t show on our faces.
Hatha Therapeutics is a class made for gentle movements, deep breathing, and essential oils. Alexa, a woman who must have been a Valkyrie in another life, with her stark features, and strong gaze, created this class. As months pass, I notice how she develops special a bond with her students. One that is different from the others who attend her regular classes. When I ask Alexa what makes her class feel so alive with emotion she says, “It’s trust. Many of my students come to me with stories of trauma, and we trust each other to find healing in ourselves by listening to our bodies as we flow through the asanas. Our heart chakras are open. I think a lot of my students, and even myself, need to learn to connect with our bodies and let the light in.”
At the end of every practice we say namaste, which translates to: The Light in me thanks the Light in you. It’s a beautiful statement, one that’s said while our palms are pressed together and held at our heart’s centre. There is a hush about the room while everyone sits on their mats, facing the teacher. We glow under the candlelight that lines the walls of the room, and everyone beyond the closed are silhouettes and breath. For a moment, all that matters is the silence in this space.
My past is nothing but ribbons winding around my wrists. I try to ignore the tightening at memories of my grandfather’s withered hands and how he held me on his lap when I was four years old. His knuckles, thick knots. Veins straining through paper skin. He often held apples to my mouth, telling me to take a bite.
What’s next? How can I forget being twenty-seven with a man holding me down on a mattress on the floor? Past midnight somewhere in Richmond Hill, he took me in a room full of bottles with one shaped like a skull. I remember his thick curls in my face, the smothering weight of him, and that faint exhale whistling through his nose.
The room belonged to someone I once considered a friend before that night. She thought she was being helpful because young girls should have fun with young men, even though if they needed a bit of powder slipped into their drinks.
It’s common for women who have been raped as girls to experience it again when they are older. It’s also common for these women to start drinking to alleviate the fear of a man’s touch, even when it’s something as benign as her younger brother’s hand on her shoulder.
I am sitting on the train, trying to focus on the support I have from my family and friends. They’ve been with me through all of my triggers, helping me tune into my heart’s centre. The train pulls into Osgoode station and I step off, head upstairs, push open the doors, and feel the fall air coat my face. Jane and Katherine are waiting for me at The Town Crier Pub. We have a few drinks, talk about work, school, love. Katherine tells us about the tribunal she had to attend, and how she just couldn’t stop crying. Jane reveals her gratitude for the sun the other day, since it gave her chance to hide her tears behind her sunglasses, when she suddenly remembered her absent father.
“It sounds cringe worthy,” she says, “but I needed that shield or I couldn’t stop it.” I roll my glass between my palms, watch the amber liquid slide back and forth, reflecting the lamplight above me; the give and pull in the awareness of this moment. We’re sitting at a little booth in an alcove, our circle separated from the rest and I’m filled with waves of emotions as I realize how intertwined our roots are.
Our experiences are different, our reasons for expression vary, but we understand each other through the similar ways we feel sadness and compassion. There is nothing that can change what happened to me or to any of us. We can only move forward with open hearts, strong support, feeling comfort in stillness or laughter. Memory is ephemeral and fragmented, but it’s our relationships that help make us whole. The light in me thanks the light in you.
Kristine Sahagun didn't think life would be this way. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in the Hart House Review, The Lyre, The Hamthology: Ham Sandwich Literature, and Raconteur Magazine. She was the recipient of the Norma Epstein National Award in Creative Writing, and is struggling to complete her first novel. Her dog believes in her.