Syntax By Lydia Havens


Trauma does not wear a name tag.
Every time I try to tell a therapist
or a friend or an audience what
happened to me, I cross off a
new term in permanent marker.

Saying the word “abuser” has always
left my heart in a cold sweat. Adding
a determiner only makes everything
worse. My abuser. That just makes
every window inside of me shatter,
makes all of the dogs howl, makes
every train blast my eardrums into
a new millennium.

I am always looking for the quickest
way to tell someone who needs
to know. How fast can I say,
I was 13 and looking for a friend
online? Or, I was afraid to tell him

Or even:

I dont know what his hands felt like,
only what they could type out
in a room only lit by the green light
of a laptop screen. But he knows
what my body looks like wearing
nothing but the mirror. He could
identify every part of me on a table.
How does that make you feel?
Because it makes me feel like I need
to be believed.

Goddamn it, I wish I could be
a good survivor. I wish I could
have a memory that is not full
of broken cameras and area codes.
If every word I use to try and
explain my past makes me want
to recoil back into the comfort
of flight-or-freeze, how will
I ever get past the beginning
of it all?

A determiner makes everything
worse. My abuser.

The thing is, I don’t want to think of him
as mine, because he always thought of me
as his.

By Lydia Havens


Lydia Havens writes and lives in Tucson, Arizona. A part of the literary non-profit Spoken Futures, her work has previously been published in Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Words Dance, and Textploit, among other places. In March 2015, she was named the Women of the World Poetry Slam Youth Champion. You can find more of her work on Tumblr,, or on her website,

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