This is a piece that I wrote several years ago after hearing the stories of several women who were experiencing sexual violence. I’m revisiting this piece because whenever I read or hear about violence against women, my mind always wanders back to this piece. Please note that there may be some triggers in this piece for anyone who has experienced sexual assault.
Hope in the Hem
(A Midrash on Luke 8: 43-47)
My story begins with my earliest childhood memory. Even though I couldn’t have been any more than 5 years old, I remember this like it was yesterday. I was lying in my room next to my two year-old sister Sarah when my uncle walked in (he lived with us at the time). He started tickling me, playing with my feet and my hair. I giggled, but he shushed me as to not wake little Sarah. So I smiled, squirmed, and tried to escape the reach of his hairy, big hands. It’s kind of strange to think about how quickly something that started out as so much fun turned into such a horrid nightmare. In a flash, Uncle’s fingers turned from ticklish feathers on my feet to …to evil devil-horns up my nightie.
Seven years later, my father caught his brother raping me. Enraged and embarrassed by my so- called “chastelessness,” my father demanded that I be sewn back together. He told Dinah, the midwife (for she was the only one in our town who knew anything about the female genitalia), that he wanted me to be like a virgin again. So, while my mother and Sarah held my legs apart, the midwife sewed me up, tight – “like a virgin.”
It felt like every stitch that Dinah put in me represented the death of another part of me. By the time she was
finished, I was numb. I did not cry. I was not angry. I felt nothing. Yet, I longed to feel something. I wanted to cry. I needed to grieve. I wanted to feel anger towards my father who allowed my uncle to stay in our house. I wanted to feel the hurt and shame that came with being “chasteless.” Yet, it seemed as if all of my emotions had been sewn up, tight.
That night after Dinah left, the bleeding began.
They all assumed that the blood was Dinah’s fault (funny how no one ever blamed Uncle…), and Mom said that I was sure to heal in a few days. But how dare she think that I would heal so quickly! How was I to heal when my rapist stilled lived in my house? How was I to heal when my father continued to look at me with disgust? How? How could I heal?
I found healing in my bleeding.
For twelve years, I cut myself. I cut my upper thighs, knowing that no one would dare to look. I cut at the shame. I cut at the embarrassment. I cut at the fear. And I bled. Everyday, I bled the tears that I could not shed. I bled the anger that I could not express. I bled the hate that I had for my uncle, my father, my mother, and myself!
I never wanted to touch a man again, and because I bled, no man wanted to touch me. It was perfect, except there was still so much of me that was dead. And so I went into town one evening searching for hope – searching for life. I didn’t know where I would find it, but I was determined to find me some hope.
You know the rest of the story. The writers of Mark, Luke, and even the “Q” source got most of it right.
Yes, I did touch the hem of his garment – and yes, the bleeding stopped. However, the writers of the gospels said that I was healed because of my faith, but the reality is, I was healed because he gave me hope!
For the first the time in my life, a man responded lovingly to my touch. He called me daughter. He called me daughter! And love, love glistened in his eyes. At that moment, I felt again.
I felt love.
I felt hope.
As I knelt at Jesus’ feet that afternoon, tears – the tears that I couldn’t shed twelve years ago – the tears that I couldn’t find when my father refused to look at me – those tears, so many tears – they streamed down my face. And there, there at the feet of Jesus, as my tears ran down my cheeks, I vowed that the blood from my cutting would never again run down my legs.
© Kimberly S. Jackson