Her body screamed, “Don’t touch me.” Yet her words revealed her vulnerability. Deep hidden trauma. Visible. She was trying to hide her past. Or perhaps her present. But she unveiled her secrets to a group of us standing opposite her at The Scarlet Cord installation.
One of the Women At Risk volunteers offered her a brochure, “Would you like more information?”
“No. I already know too much.”
“Would you like one of the artist’s cards?”
“No. I know more than I ever wanted to know.”
We felt her thin arms extend—saying “don’t come any closer”—although her arms were rigid at her sides. Everything about her emitted “don’t-touch-me” signals. I’m in control. No one will hurt me again.
She walked towards me, but she kept the brochure table between us. Although I had offered my hand to so many victims of sexual abuse during ArtPrize, I didn’t this time. I respected her need for distance, her need for safety.
“You have used all the right words,” she said.
Only one word from The Scarlet Cord stories came to mind: raped.
She remained stoic and thanked me for my artwork. Although she tried to maintain the impression of being unbroken, this young woman was fractured. Hardened. She had learned survival skills. Self-protection strategies. But I wondered if these carefully laid plans were blocking the road to healing. Or was she doing the best that she could for now?
Learning to trust again would be a long process for her. Maybe it would take a lifetime to overcome such deep wounds. This young woman needed caring people to journey with her towards wholeness, loving friends who would help break down the six-foot barrier. As she walked away, I hoped that forgiveness would one day free her and that she would be able to touch again.