By Taylor Heussner
“It hurts so much,” I whimpered, chugging pain medication down with cranberry juice. After I suffered my first UTI when I was 18, the nurse told me to be careful - apparently my body was prone to these infections. Something to do with my biology and how my organs are structured - too short? Too small? The information is blurry. All I know is my body turns against me quite easily.
With my feet stacked up on the toilet, fire making it’s way down my stomach and out into the bowl below, I called my mother to get some sympathy.
If you’ve never have had one, then let me describe this pain to you. It starts out with an incessant need to pee. But when you reach the empty toilet bowl, nothing comes out. It grows to an unbearable pressure to pee then stinging fire comes out instead of urine. Like a rock trying to squeeze through a too tight of hole, pressure builds and nothing releases. The desire to pee starts to take over your thoughts and sweat starts to pour around your temples as your anxiety grows.
At the point when I called my mother, I had become a professional at catching UTI’s. At the first sting, I’m instantly going to the doctor’s office, barking my want of that shit that turns your pee orange and numbs the bottom half of your body. The nurse will ask you on a scale of 1-10, what is your pain? You’ll answer her to the best of your ability with words because unless she’s felt your pain, she’ll never really get it. Then, once you take that lovely drug with the antibiotics prescribed to you, you’ll be feeling back to normal in a matter of days, if not hours. If you don’t, I really admire your pain tolerance and hope you don’t get kidney stones.
On the phone, my mother said she was sorry.
“For what? This is my own damn fault,” I said, thinking about how I didn’t shower after a furious gym session. I blame my OCD of cleanliness on UTI’s.
“I never really taught you about sex.” Oh god, I thought, she thinks this UTI is from sex.
“Mom, this isn’t from sex.” I rolled my eyes.
“Yes, but I never told you the truth about sex.”
“No I mean…” she paused, her Christian roots taking over, “You know you have to pee right after having sex, right?”
“Yes, mom,” I said, rolling my eyes. However, at age 18, I didn’t know this rule of life. And that’s how my first UTI happened. I was unaware, naive.
“Well, I’m still sorry for not talking about it. It’s a part of life and I feel guilty about it sometimes. Especially with what has happened.” I didn’t respond. She continued, “I just wish these conversations could be more open.”
Both of us went quiet and I knew where both our minds went. To the sexual assault that also happened when I was 18. The sexual assault that ignited my first UTI.
The UTI pain seemed to disappear with that memory. The SANE nurse told me my body was prone to UTI’s. All I could think about was how I didn’t want her to touch me. I ignored her warning. Why would I care about a fucking UTI after I woke up in a stranger’s bed, not knowing why I had bruises scaling my body?
She gave me a handful of medication, the police gave me a handful of questions including what was I wearing and what had I been drinking. The spiel that every girl will hear no matter what happens in society. The pessimist inside me believes this will never change because rape is not seen as murder. With a murder, it’s easier to see the victim had been hurt, because they can’t voice their opinion - they are dead. But the murderer is still seen as “innocent until proven guilty.”
With a rape victim, since they are alive and visible, I feel like the “innocent until proven guilty” is spread over both parties. The victim must carry a part of the burden - either they did or did not tell the truth. That makes them a suspect, too. If only our world was perfect, if there was no sexism, no inequality...
“It’s fine, mom.” I said shortly. We no longer talked about the assault. It was boxed away in my mind, sitting on a dusty shelf and abandoned. Sometimes I would feel the box shake. Either after waking up from a night terror or when a man would approach and touch me casually without my agreement. Or when I would get a goddamn UTI. My day would then turn grey like the day after a thunderstorm when the sun is there, but chooses to stay hidden. Thoughts would filter through this muddy scope and my interactions with others would be (as some men call it) nasty. I never speak about it anymore - there’s less judgment healing in silence.
We shortly hung up and I started to scroll through Twitter since I couldn’t do much else sitting on a porcelain bowl.
Recently, post-Weinstein, more and more survivors were coming forward saying #metoo if they had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted. Scroll after scroll, my heart throbbed into my throat when I saw the amounts of women sharing their story.
I never posted a #metoo. Why did I need to tell the world about a private experience for it to be real? For it to be believed? Of course, the survivors sharing were, and are, brave. But the survivors who choose to not share are not cowards. Knowing how many other women are keeping their assaults quiet makes me yearn for a cleaner world. It can be incredibly bleak thinking about all the transgressions that take place with justice nowhere in sight. The thought alone makes me tired. I also wondered if the media circulating the campaign truly cared for the survivors - or if they just wanted higher clicks, page views and impressions that they knew would come from this vocalization.
I eventually peed and it didn’t sting anymore. It took five years, the five years since my assault, to be at peace with this UTI and feel the pain level recede. I flushed the toilet and walked over to my rumpled bed sheets. My phone screen lightly glowed blue in the darkness of my room, tempting me to post a #metoo, tempting me to join my voice in the sisterhood of women who have made it.
But the hesitation is where I currently dangle, the in between of reaction and healing. We live in instantaneous society - with a few clicks, you can be able to travel the world, see what your ex-lover is doing, apply for a job, submit your bills, call your mother, buy pain medication - but healing isn’t immediate, it’s not even linear.
One day you’ll be feeling the sun on your cheeks, outlining your insouciant smile, the next, you’ll be burning with a pain in your femininity - and you’ll be reminded how little words can say.
Pain may be relative, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
I believe you, too.
Taylor Heussner is a writer currently walking the streets of Denver, Colorado. She has written for publications such as 303 Magazine, the feminist zine Coin-Op, the Fort Collins Courier, and the feminist literary magazine, Stain'd Publishing. She currently contributes to the Stain'd Publishing online blog and attends too many open mic nights at local coffee shops. You can visit her website here.