The sculpture I am working on was inspired by reflections on memories. Specifically how I experience memories of my elementary school assault (I described it in Belong). The facts have never changed, but I have always struggled with looking at them, seeing them clearly, wholey. It’s a dark thing flickering around a lightless cage. I can catch momentary shards, but it takes great effort to illuminate the whole. Shame keeps it in a pinhole.
I did the first version a year ago (Call It, 2016). The kid who assaulted me died two weeks before the opening. He had a hard life drenched in alcohol and drugs. I developed an abscessed tooth the following week. I was drained and exhausted going into the installation. I wasn’t able to be publicly honest. In that artist statement I referred to another memory, which I did mine for visual clues.
Heavy breathed I dared remembrance to look.
Last time I stumbled on a carcass it wasn’t MY dog…
some stranger left it in the woods to rot,
left it in the woods for my run to find,
for my sneaker to get caught in it’s brittle ribs…
In a steeled room we hid to test this/heal this.
-excerpt Rabbit-Pit Diary
Brian David Dennis
I wrote that passage almost 30 years ago. There was a dog in the woods. But the first and last line have always been about the assault.
This subject is hard for me. I was in my early twenties when I first tried to deal with it in therapy. I couldn’t speak of it in full sentences. Two weeks after revealing it, I attempted suicide. One therapist called it a rape, his colleague belittled me in a group situation for repeating what he said. I was shamed all over again and couldn’t bear it. Luckily I survived. I never told the therapists what I did, I pretended I was fine and terminated therapy.
In my 30s I found a therapist who specialized in male survivors of sexual abuse. I forced myself to tell him, staring at my shoe, curled in a tight ball I told the floor as quickly as possible. I don’t remember if I explicitly said never to bring it up, but it was forbidden. Slowly overtime I could hear “the playground” and not shut down.
I started working with him again. It’s talked about, we converse about it. I asked him what to call it. He turned the question back to me. If I name it I can’t hide behind it being meaningless. I can’t write off my overwhelming feelings if it’s just “the playground”. I call it assault.
I’ve been open and honest with myself as I’ve been building it the week. A lot had come up, no time to write, just jotting down notes.
Big question is why the fuck did I go straight to shame? I wasn’t angry, I didn’t tell anyone what a shitty thing happened. The shame wasn’t gradual, I was instantly in it, as if I were primed.