By MARY BURGETT
Last Wednesday I gave a speech at the Every1 Campaign’s event, Cornell Cares. I talked about what happened to me: the sexual assault, my suicide attempt and my traumatic brain injury. Our purpose for the event was to educate and show that Cornell is a caring community and we support those who are survivors/victims of sexual assault/rape. In my speech I was brutally honest about how alone I felt even though I had friends and family around; I was alone because I felt humiliated and ashamed to talk about what happened to me. No one talked about the difficult issues, no one really spoke out, so I didn’t either. No one should ever feel like this. No one should ever feel that they cannot ask for help. Is Cornell where it should be in terms of support and opening the conversation? No. But we are making progress. While at the event, a friend asked me about my tattoo. I always get the questions, “Why did you decide to get that particular tattoo,” and “What does it mean?” So I decided to write about why I chose to get an elephant on my left wrist.
I have always wanted a tattoo. My mom made me promise to wait until I was 21 to get one and I did. (Thanks, Mom, for making sure I waited long enough to get something truly meaningful!) In my sorority, the unofficial symbol of my lineage is the elephant. We are the lucky lineage, so an elephant fits because they are a symbol of luck. In case you don’t know sorority lingo, a lineage is basically a smaller family within the sorority. A lot of people think that I decided on my elephant because of this, and in part I did. But it’s more than that.
When I was in the hospital for my suicide attempt, I was humiliated that I had such a weak moment. My parents came down to the hospital and I had a friend who came as well. She climbed into my hospital bed with me and just hugged me. She wanted me to know that she was there, which helped a lot. But I still just couldn’t believe that I was lying there waiting for the doctor to stich up my three deep cuts. It wasn’t a small injury. I will always hold those scars to remind me of what happened that night, but they also remind me of my strength. I wanted something beautiful on my arm to combat the scars. It just felt right to get my tattoo on my left wrist.
Why the elephant? I always tell people it’s a long story. But really it’s sometimes just difficult to put into words the emotions I get from seeing my elephant. I feel safe because it reminds me of how lucky I am to be here. When I have difficult days or triggers to a flashback, my elephant keeps me safe and brings me back to the present. It reminds me that I have family and friends who are there for me to lean on. It reminds me that I am not alone. It encompasses the pain that I experienced, but also the strength that I had to pull myself back up.
My elephant is strength. My elephant is love. My elephant is survival. My elephant is safety. My elephant is more than a tattoo.
Mary is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. On campus she is involved with the Every1 Campaign and is in a sorority. She loves reading, watching The Office and Friends and geeking out about Disney and The Lord of the Rings. Olaf the snowman is her spirit animal. Mary’s Musings appears on alternate Thursdays this semester. You can reach Mary at email@example.com.