The trial of telling trauma
Fifteen years after a terrifying ordeal does not lessen the horror of the memory, but it can be enough time to come to terms with it.
Lacy Johnson, director of academic initiatives for the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and creative writing Ph.D alumna, wrote “The Other Side” to shatter a long-held silence on domestic violence.
The memoir tells the near-fatal trauma of her kidnapping and assault by her ex-boyfriend in July 2000.
Despite a dogging fear for the man’s return, she has moved on. Johnson is now a wife and a mother of two. And her voice continues resounding.
The Cougar: Describe the moment you decided that you needed to tell your story.
Lacy Johnson: I don’t know that there was a moment when I made that decision. I was always trying to write (“The Other Side” through) poems and essays, and always hitting my head against that story, and not being able to tell it. It wasn’t until after I wrote my first book that I decided … it was the right time.
TC: What were the challenges of writing your story?
LJ: It’s an emotionally difficult story. To think about the very worse thing that’s ever happened to me, which I have never been able to articulate to another person, and forcing myself to write it is challenging. In the book, I talk about the person who kidnapped and raped me — how that was a choice he made. He’s responsible for that. But I’m also responsible for being in a relationship with him and not (leaving). It was challenging to take this person I think of as a monster for my self-preservation, and make him more like a person again and to be (as) sympathetic to him as possible and to portray him as a human. It was difficult to acknowledge that he was a person I loved.
TC: Were there self-discoveries while writing?
LJ: The biggest epiphany came when I was trying to figure out how to end the book. I realized that I had control over this story. The problem I was having was, how do I end this story when I feel like it’s still happening? He hasn’t been caught. He hasn’t been brought to justice in any way. The traditional narrative that we’re taught by crime shows — they get caught, they go to jail — didn’t apply. I had to I end a story that has no ending. It was as simple as deciding it was over, and I had the power to make that decision.
TC: How did you feel about that?
LJ: I think of myself like I did before. I think we come to expect there is some cleansing that happens when you write down a traumatic event. But that’s not the way it works. I think the greater change happened after the book came out, and I started talking about it in public. Up to that point, I still experienced fear. The first time I read publicly about my whereabouts, (I feared) he would show up with a gun and shoot me dead. When I made the choice to appear anyway, that was far more liberating than writing the book itself.