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The Three Train

A few weeks ago Linda Kay Klein (author of Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Women and How I Broke Free as well as the founder of Break Free Together "a nonprofit storytelling organization dedicated to helping people release shame and claim their whole selves." Linda also offers purity culture recovery coaching, check out her website and other offerings!) reached out asking if I'd like to apply to be part of the Voices and Faces Project (V&F is a nonprofit using stories to advocate for policy change) Religious Trauma Storytelling cohort. I was so honored to be asked to apply to a cohort for writers by a "real" writer (I still have a hard time believing I'm a real writer even though I've, ya know, written a book) that I jumped at the opportunity! I didn't think I'd get accepted because this was for real writers, remember? And then I got accepted!

So I speedily bought a flight to Chicago, having no idea what this weekend would entail and proceeded to experience a weekend I will never forget.

I sat between a hospice chaplain and a Franciscan nun, so you know the whole group were my kind of people. This "dinner party" as we called it, was full of ex-missionaries, pastors, pastor's kids...we all spoke the same language, not only of Evangelical parseltongue, but of abuse. Some of my fellow cohort members were survivors of incest, paternal rape, partner physical and sexual violence. I heard story after story of trauma I felt mine paled in comparison to, which was good fodder for my next therapy session. "My trauma was just run of the mill internalized purity culture that allowed for multiple instances of sexual assault and then all out date rape." I thought to myself. A judgement of one's experience, by the way, that often keeps victims quiet.

These two days were packed full of serious storytelling healing. We discussed literary devices used in some book excerpts and had breakout sessions for writing based on prompts. Truth be told, I was very nervous about the writing part because I was afraid I wouldn't be the kind of writer they wanted (even though they selected me to be in this cohort lol the imposter syndrome is STRONG) because I'm not dark and broody enough. I don't know how to use flowery language or literary devices! I'm incredibly literal. I only write memoir. I am probably just a one trick pony!

In reality, I was just afraid to "go there." Go to the darkest places of my hurt, let alone share them with others. What I've experienced in my life is something I still place so much judgement on, all these years later. And also, it suuuuucks to respect and honor that grief and trauma healing are not linear. That shit is always with you. It may not define me, but it has certainly shaped me.

And then there's the sharing piece. I'm afraid I will be judged by others, as I often have been throughout my life, as being "dramatic." That what I've gone through wasn't "that bad" and I need to stop being such a baby. I ended up telling the group this before I shared my piece on the second day.

When I shared this piece I'm shocked emerged from my psyche, I was actually shaking. Reading a rough draft of something you came up with in 30 minutes is increidbly vulnerable! Reading something incredibly vulnerable in content is doubly vulnerable! And if Brene Brown has taught us anything, it is that vulnerability is hard.

So without further ado, here is a piece I wrote last weekend, unedited, unrefiltered: The Three Train.


I was sitting on the 3 train headed downtown to babysit some rich kids before going to an audition, not unlike how I spent most mornings during that time in my life. I liked living off the 3 train’s last stop in Harlem because I always got a seat. I needed a seat that morning because I really needed space to sit down and focus on this dialogue preparation for my audition. I needed every minute of that commute.


The train starts to move and I am immediately approached by a gentleman asking for food, or something. I don’t really know what he’s asking for because I’ve got noise canceling headphones in, my favorite essential garment of living in New York City. I can drown out the spectrum of humanity New York City forces me to experience constantly, against my will. Except that, I think consent for this specific discomfort and chaos is given just by, ya know, me choosing to live here.


But anyway, I’ve recently read some Brene Brown and attended educational workshops on how to advocate for and better understand the issue of homelessness in New York City, so I decided not to be a completely avoidant asshole that day. Brene Brown says to look hurt in the face, not to turn away. In the workshops I’ve learned one of the biggest mental and emotional damages done in homelessness is that these people go months without even hearing their name said by another human. They go months without even being looked at, acknowledged. “So” The presenter-reasearcher said “A very basic thing you can do to make a difference is to connect. Say hi. Ask for their name and say it back.”


“I don’t have anything, I’m sorry.” I say “But…what’s your name?”


“Nelson” He replies, definitely surprised.


“Nelson. I hope you…errr…have a great day.”


I realize immediately this is such a stupid fucking thing for me to say to a person whose – regardless of their reasons – circumstances have brought them to begging on a subway car, but I don’t know what else to say and I am just trying to do the right thing and acknowledge him and say his name!!


“Thank you” he says kindly. I put my headphones in and go back to my lines. A few beats pass before I realize Nelson isn’t leaving, and in fact, he is still talking to me. 

I pull a headphone out. The rest of the conversation I don’t really remember. I just remember telling him “I’m not trying to be mean, but I really need to focus on my work during this commute.” 

“Oh no no, of course” he says, verbally honoring my no, and then sitting down next to me. 


This is why you can’t be nice to strange men. 

Nelson continues to try to talk to me, taps me on the shoulder. Again I say, sweetly, ever so politely as to not seem like a heartless bitch. “Nelson, I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t want to talk. I need to focus on my work.” 

He continues to talk to me and puts his arm around me. I look around the subway car. Is anyone else seeing what’s going on?

“It’s just so exciting that a beautiful girl like you is talking to me on this beautiful day. A beautiful girl like you can make a man’s day beautiful.”

I wish I could tell you every detail of the next couple of moments. My body language, my verbal language, but I don’t remember. All I remember was how I felt. So scared and so mad.

A few months prior I had been date raped.

A few days before that, a man proudly proclaiming to sexually assault women was elected president by Evangelicals -- my former community.

A few months before that I said no repeatedly to wanting to have sex, but the guy kept pushing and pushing until I finally gave him a blowjob just to get him to leave me alone. 

Years before that I’d been taught that if I dare show the skin above my knee cap or --

god forbid -- my belly button, I would unleash the uncontrollable sexual urges of a man. And if he hurt me with his guys are just wired that way desire, it would be my fault. 

Nelson is closer and closer to my face. And then he kisses me.

“That smile” he says through a grin “get a man like me excited.” 

I stand up and get off the train a few stops early and walk to work. When I get there I apologize for being late, not sure if I should tell them what happened for fear of sounding dramatic.


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