I remember sitting in the hospital with her after hours of waiting for a doctor to validate her illness and my decision to address it. It was exactly 7 hours after she took the pills, 6 and 1/2 hours after I picked her up, 6 hours after I started driving in circles praying that she wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t going home. It was 5 and half hours after I pulled into the front of the ER, 5 hours and fifteen minutes after I pulled the officer on duty aside and begged him to help me convince her to go in, 4 hours and 15 minutes after we got her to the desk, and exactly 4 hours and 8 minutes after I heard my best friend say to a nurse that they should be helping someone else because she wasn’t worth the bed that she was laying on in the under-crowded emergency triage, because in that moment in her mind she was worth less than the man yelling next door because the nurses wouldn’t give him painkillers for his sore thumb.
After over 4 hours of waiting for a doctor to explain that she was sick and worthy of treatment, using the words that I could not find he still wasn’t showing up, she was finally sober, and I was finally too tired to grasp her hand any longer. As I sat in the chair next to the bed wondering if watching her slowly die was a fate worse than her death itself, I looked at her and her big blue eyes, perfectly bleached hair, and somehow effortlessly beautiful outfit that – even after an attempted overdose and 5 hours of waiting – still would not wrinkle.
And I laughed.
In the saddest moment of her life in the scariest moment of mine, I laughed. And she laughed back.
Because even then – even in the most unimaginably painful and terrifying moment – she looked back at me, dead in the eye and with not a hint of irony, asked for a face wipe and a hairbrush.
As the doctor finally walked in on the two of us laughing like we were at a comedy show, rather than the potential prelude to a rather untimely funeral, I allowed my tired mind to muse over the events that had led us here. Through our combined experiences we had weathered assault, emotional and physical abuse, harassment, failed relationships, and now a subsequent failed suicide attempt. It was not lost on us how fallen we were, but much like so many other women, we had failed to fully address what those experiences made us.
Throughout recent history women have reclaimed so much of what has been taken from us using something as simple as words. We’ve turned slut into sexually free, victim into survivor, bitchy into empowered. As the connotations change we are more willing to identify ourselves by the terms that allow us to most easily tell our stories.
But as I laughed at the doctor’s reaction to our apparent amusement at a definitively unamusing event, I found one word I knew best described us and so many other women we knew and would come to know. The most all-encompassing adjective for the aftermath of all of our tragedies:
She was utterly broken and so was I. And so are most of the women I meet. You see, this world has a knack for ripping us apart before we’re even aware of the power of our pieces. As I listened to her describe her own brokenness to a man who could never fully comprehend the depth of the tears that have been ripped into her soul, the ones so similar to mine and so many others, I heard her even tone and her gentle spirit and the strength living beneath this broken life, and I wondered why – when the first step of healing is admitting that we are not well – why are we so hesitant to say the word out loud?
It was in that moment that I remembered what she told me in the car as I pleaded with her to fight for her life – and if she couldn’t to at least let me try for her.
“They won’t believe me and they’ll think I’m crazy.”
You see we have been conditioned to believe that broken is inherently less than. We’re afraid to admit that we are scarred because how could someone believe someone whose mind isn’t even whole? Who could trust the tales of a woman who can no longer trust herself, and who could show compassion for a soul so shattered it can’t even love its own host?
I sat, and I wondered how much faster our healing would come if we could muster up the courage to spit in the faces of those who believe us to be less than based on our pain, and instead hold our heads high against the stigma and start wearing our tragedy as a badge of honor instead of cloak of shame.
And so I assert that we must reclaim the word broken. Because that is what we are. But we are not broken like a puzzle waiting for it’s pieces to be put back together by an outside force greater than ourselves. We are broken like a mosaic. Perhaps beautiful before we were shattered onto the floor that is assault and harassment and abuse, but even more so now. I would argue that the best revenge will be turning our perpetrators into unwitting artists. Because, much like the pieces of glass that make up a mosaic, the broken shards of us may never be put back together again – but they have come out sharper, more colorful, more unique, and infinitely more beautiful than before. And although we will leave pieces behind, remember those pieces are the dust unworthy of being scooped to be placed onto our final sculpture.
We are broken, but only because we are not yet finished. And what a beautiful thought that is. That we get to decide which pieces stay and which ones go, who gets to bask in the beauty of what we’ve created and who does not deserve us, and that no matter what has happened or what is coming, we control the final masterpieces that are our own lives.
And finish them we will, one reclamation at a time.