KNOW MY NAME and the Complexity of Post-Assault Relationships

I’m reading Chanel Miller’s memoir, and I don’t know what music to listen to. I bought the book, Know My Name, tonight, while my partner was out at rehearsal—I hadn’t realized it was out yet, I should’ve preordered, I was supposed to grade papers but instead I blazed a trail to the New Releases section of Barnes & Noble—and burned through the first five chapters in just over three hours, which seems lightning fast for some but is painfully slow compared to my normal pace. I’m taking my time with it on purpose, the way I try to anytime I know a book is going to change my life, like I’ve been doing with Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me, which I’ve coveted for years but stumbled upon in a five-hundred-square-foot shack of a bookstore near Monterey this summer.

The Solnit book is a collection of essays, and it’s easy to break into weeks. Know My Name is a memoir full of little detours and side stories that color the broader narrative arc, so it’s harder to put down. If I didn’t have to be in Paradise Valley at 7:30am tomorrow, I’d stay up until 3am or so and read straight through. But my first alarm is set for 5:45, and I knew I’d only make it so far before I needed to call it a night.

Still, I’m scrolling Spotify trying to find something that it makes sense to listen to in the wake of those first five chapters, and nothing fits.

I probably should have seen this coming. I knew my emotions were quickly moving out of whack early on—I texted one of my best friends around 8:45, asking if he was going to the jam downtown tonight. This, at least, is somewhat routine: I ask him if he’s showing up to play, he pretends like he doesn’t know I’m asking because I hate sitting by myself. It’s a comfortable, time-honored exchange, a dance of knowing shrouded in idle curiosity.

But he’s not going tonight, so I curl back up on the couch with the teddy bear I took from my grandad’s house last time I visited. And I worry over my phone for a minute, then fire off a follow-up: “can I have a hug next time I see you?” No capitalizing the beginning of the sentence, because my emotions are already chewed through with barbed wire tonight, and even though I know I can have hugs without asking or explaining, I still need him to know I need one. The reply is swift and simple: “Of course.” And I breathe easy and dive back into the book.

And now it’s two hours later, and I’ve made it through five chapters, and I don’t know what to listen to. I have 4,402 Liked Songs in Spotify, but none of them feel exactly right. I’ve been writing down quotes from Know My Name that jump out at me, but I don’t have a song for “If the goal was to heal, to move on, this was not the way to proceed.” I don’t have a song for “I said, I do. Words I thought I’d speak first at my wedding, not my rape trial.” (If I did, it’d probably be a mix of Carrie Underwood and early Taylor Swift. “It’s a love story, baby, just say yes” bounds across my mind like a startled deer, and against the backdrop of what I’ve just been reading, it’s profoundly disturbing.)

I’ve put Demi Lovato on repeat lately, but the idea of enjoying sexuality inspires such a vicious recoil that I feel like a turtle who’s decided maybe it’s better not to leave the shell today. Pop-punk feels too love-focused. Post-hardcore feels violent in the wrong ways. I settle in on All Time Low’s “Somewhere in Neverland,” just to serve as a placeholder, something to fill the silence. Somehow it sticks, but not in the triumphant, head-banging way it usually does. It’s not a confident, “let’s take over the world!” anthem right now; it’s a plea, a prayer. I hear “Run, dear, run away with me,” and I picture Chanel’s summer of printmaking on the East Coast, the couple of months she spent in Philadelphia with her boyfriend before the legal battles started. I switch to the acoustic version—I hate the violin, but what can you do—and then it’s Michael Arden’s version of “Run Away With Me” that almost makes me cry every time I hear it, and then I’m staring down Ghost the Musical even though I’ve only listened to it like twice but “Suspend My Disbelief” sounds pretty apt, and then I realize I’m just listening to love songs endlessly and I stop.

Because the thing, I think, that I’m honing in on is one Chanel talks about in Know My Name. I’ve really latched onto her relationship with her boyfriend, Lucas, because through all the chaos he is steadfast and supportive and I can feel the same feelings of “how can you possibly stay through all of this” in Chanel’s writing that I experience with my partner and close friends when the lights dim in my own life. And I realize I’m looking for affirmation-based love songs because of moments like this:

“I recently asked [Lucas] about all of this, after writing out the chaotic timeline of how we met, all that followed. I said, How were you willing to date me, when all that stuff was going on? He said, Because, you. I pushed back, Yeah, but what about the assault, my drinking, all of it. He said, what about you as you?”

And I see myself in that moment, in wondering why my partner stays when current events turn me into a trainwreck of a human being, in asking myself how some of my favorite people in the world were quick to welcome me back with good music and unlimited hugs even though surely after two years without me they must have realized how much easier they’d have it if I weren’t around to be angry and critical and self-destructive and needy all the time.

Or, as Chanel says, “Until then I’d never contemplated how to present love as evidence.” And I think that’s the reality of a post-assault perspective: the need to prove to everyone else that you did not deserve for this to happen to you, coupled with—juxtaposed against—the need for some way to convince yourself that the people closest to you aren’t just there out of obligation. The need for reassurance that they’ll still be there time and again, even though at this point it should be a given.

I open my phone again.

“can I have a hug next time I see you?”

“Of course.”

And now, only now, does it feel like it’s time for bed. ♦

Thanks for reading! I didn’t think I was going to post this tonight, but I think I’m going to present these blogs about reading Know My Name as bonus blogs—I don’t want to wait a month to put them up. They matter too much now. Feel free to poke around if you like what you read. To follow my ramblings and creative process in real time, or to support the work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @honestlyeris on Instagram.