Friday, 24 May 2013

Connecting Mrs. Dalloway to This Week at School

I keep thinking about our high school's struggle to contend with the news that one of our recent graduates has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault at his college. I am not bringing this up to focus all over again on his particular case, nor do I want the conversation to be about him--who he is, whether or not he did it. 

As I reread Mrs. Dalloway this year, I'm thinking a lot about the life of the mind, our interior worlds, the things that make up our lives, the relationships and environments that determine them. Clarissa calls her parties "an offering"; she feels "quite continuously a sense of [other people's] existence" and she feels "what a waste" and she feels "what a pity"; "if only they could be brought together." The parties are an offering; "to combine, to create; but to whom?" (107)

This novel acknowledges--in rich, profound, heartbreaking ways--people's love of life as well as their anguishes. The novel, Virginia Woolf, makes important the life of the mind, our inner worlds and feelings, everything that has ever happened to us, how it feels, what it means. She shows the simultaneous meaninglessness and meaning of one life. 

This, to me, is the ultimate affirmation of being human. 

Rape is exactly the opposite. It is a denial of humanity, an assault on another person's humanity. When someone rapes, he (or she) is failing to honor, in the most horrific and offensive way, an individual's personhood, what is sacred, what is felt, what makes us human. 

I will be haunted all my life by the rapes of women I love and have loved. 

One of my college roommates, a friend I cherish, transferred to my school as a sophomore because she was raped at her first college as a freshman. She knew the guy. His fraternity often mixed with her sorority. He was powerful and known. She didn't press charges. Her parents, learning that she was in hospital, put her long-distance boyfriend on a plane to see about her. I still get chills. I got in her car one night in the pouring rain; we drove away from the dorm, and she told me the story. 

One of my friends from high school, our class speaker at graduation, hugely loved and admired, was raped our senior year of high school when she visited her sister at college. She fought an eating disorder and self harm for several years in the aftermath--I remember seeing the marks on her lovely legs and arms--and has emerged in adulthood as one of the most loving, passionate leaders in her field and one of the most loving, passionate people I have known. 

I was "rufeed" right after college (when I was twenty-two): Halloween, costumes, snow, a big tent party in the ski town where I lived, and I took a drink from a cute guy I didn't know wearing a Rasta costume. I can still see his hovering figure sometimes. I woke up screaming in my apartment, half-clothed, with stitches in my face. My roommate and her boyfriend, my saviors, told me what had happened: how they had crossed the icy parking lot; how I was bleeding, had broken a heel, was falling, was trying to get away and being pursued; how my roommate's boyfriend challenged the guy and pushed him away from me; how they took me to the emergency room to get my face sewn up; how I was practically catatonic for hours. I remember nothing, not even shades of that night after I took the drink. 

I didn't go to the police. I didn't understand what had happened. I blamed myself. I had been drinking. My sister said over the phone from Tennessee, "God is punishing you for wearing that outfit."

The stories proliferate. I could write several further posts all about the girls I've known in high school and college who suffered assault. Some of them got away (like my sorority sister who escaped a cab driver who locked the doors and tried to crawl into the back seat with her), and some did not. All try to heal. Everyone wants to be free. 

I don't want to scare anyone. I want girls and guys, my students, all of us to go into the world boldly, with love, with hope, without fear. 

Mrs. Dalloway advocates for life, even as it explores death. They are two sides of the same coin. 
All the same, that one day should follow another; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; that one should wake up in the morning; see the sky; walk in the park; meet Hugh Whitbread; then suddenly in came Peter; then these roses; it was enough. After that, how unbelievable death was!--that it must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all; how every instant... (108)

1 comment:

  1. Mrs. Tally - I really like the analogy you make "It is a denial of humanity, an assault on another person's humanity". Your post actually led me to write my sequence on rape, and how it has effected me being part of a community that has known a victim, and someone being charged for an assault.