Getty Images/EyeEm
Ideas
June 27, 2022 5:12 PM EDT
Clarke is the author of the upcoming novel Love Times Infinity

It’s June 27. I’m 29. It’s my birthday. And I wish it weren’t.

I didn’t always hate my birthday. I distinctly remember turning 5 in my backyard with a small pony my grandma had found and the Hot Wheel cars my first-grade crush came to play with. I remember renting out the ice-skating rink when I turned 6. The bowling party when I turned 9. The sleepover with waffles and ice cream when I was 10. We sang karaoke. My mom and grandmother were the judges. They picked my shyest friend as the winner. I think that’s my earliest memory of seeing kindness prioritized over an easy choice.

At that time, I didn’t know my birthday caused anyone pain.

It happened at a gas station. In that moment of silence between when the key is pulled out of the ignition and the car door is opened to pump. I was being a brat, I’m sure. And in that space, my mother said it.

I should have killed you when I had the chance.

Even in the backseat, I could feel the truth released. One long smothered but always present.

That’s the day I learned to hate myself.

Now I knew my mother was young. At that time, when I was 8 or 9, my mother was in her mid-20s. I remember the shocked expressions on the other parents’ faces when my mother showed up to chaperone her first field trip. It was different, but not shameful. Not to me. Not yet. Years later I would learn the full truth—my mother had been sexually assaulted at 15. In addition to the pain and trauma, I was the result.

Read More: I Had an Unplanned Pregnancy, and a Choice

When I sat down to write what became my debut novel, in July 2019, that gas-station utterance was still heavy on my mind, just as it had been every day since. I had no intentions of publishing a book. At least not that one. I had no desire to mine my past. I wrote the story of Michie, a high school student who is estranged from her mother, for myself, to come to terms with something that in my mid-20s I felt I should be over. I had not spoken to my mother in several years. I still haven’t. But Love Times Infinity came out fully formed.

I worried myself sick about how my book would be received. Would people think I was pushing an anti-abortion narrative, a position that I had not totally figured out for myself? Writing through Michie’s journey helped me in that way, granted me better understanding and compassion. I worried in a general sense — the topic was something that vibrated just under the surface but was not at the forefront of minds every day. We were still living in a world where many believed there was no real threat to the status quo. And in that certainty, I was simply providing a previously untold perspective in traditional publishing. Nothing necessarily timely, at least nothing more timely than global climate change or a universal base income or universal health care.

And then Roe v. Wade was overturned.

And my book became a new kind of timely. Abortion rights are on everyone’s minds, and if you’re like me, almost every second of the day. I can’t stop thinking about my role in adding to a conversation where so many want to stand in as proxies for us, the children born of sexual violence. To be honest, it makes me angry. It makes me angry that people who stop caring for us as soon as we’re out of the womb pretend they know our minds, our hearts. So I will make it plain.

Read More: How I Lost Myself to Motherhood

I would have gladly not lived this life if it would have granted my mother peace and full ownership of her own body. In fact, my life would not have been impacted at all. Maybe my spirit would have moved to the next body, maybe I would have continued on in the nothingness that I already was. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. And while I am grateful for my life, beyond grateful, I do not think it is worth more than my mother’s, relationship or not.

I spent most of my teen years wanting to die. I felt the burden of my existence every day. I still cannot put into words the darkness that rips through you when you believe you were not chosen, not loved, and wished away. It was not strength that kept me here. It was fear. Fear that maybe I was destined for Hell, that a person conceived from something so dark, so evil, could ever have a place in the Heaven promised by those who would force me into existence and then leave me to suffer alone. Many children don’t survive that darkness, either by their own hand or by the hands of the parent forced to give their bodies to them.

I want to be clear. I don’t think a person needs to be raped or violated to have access to an abortion. I think the extremism used in the conversation is, while a real concern, unhelpful in the overall fight for reproductive equity. Harm should not have had to come to you to exercise full control over your own body.

But if you are also a child of sexual assault, just know that I see you. Maybe you are battling with appreciation for your own life, and a wish that your life did not harm another. I know you are tired of people talking at you, about you, but never to you, never for you. Not really. Because they are too busy speaking for themselves, pushing their own agendas, and using our stories to perpetuate harm. Today I am 29, and I wish, still, that I weren’t.

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.

Read More From TIME
You May Also Like
EDIT POST