Jul 212010

Me, passing my MSTs and proving that I can, indeed, take a hit

*Trigger Warning – some content in this post may be triggering for those who have experienced assault*

My name is Villainelle. I’m new here – new to Live Derby Girls, and new to derby too. You’ll probably be hearing more from me about what I don’t know than what I do. That’s the nature of being a sparkly new derby girl – everything is fresh and uncertain. It’s the first day of school. It’s the early stages of a passionate, tumultuous relationship. It’s discomfort and uncertainty. It’s possibility.

But before I get into telling you about the foibles and pitfalls of being new, I want to tell you about something I do know:

Roller derby saved my life.

You hear this one a lot, I know. The Live Derby Girls have said it before. Derby culture says it all the time. But I don’t know if anyone is really listening. I don’t know if anyone outside the leagues really understands how powerful a force this sport is. Because from the outside, derby may look like just another game. It may look like a bunch of rag-tag misfit girls. Or, if you’re watching the newbies skate, it may look more like a bunch of baby giraffes tripping over their own legs.  Either way, when you watch derby women skate around the track, you can’t possibly know how strong they are. You can’t possibly know that each one has been broken down into pieces, has seen herself split wide open and bare. You don’t know what derby has done for them; you only see the end result.

From the outside, you can’t possibly know that derby is the thing you need. If you’re falling apart, it can be the linchpin that holds you in place. It can teach you about the raw power of women. It can teach you about strength you didn’t know you had. It can carve you into pieces and show you what’s underneath. It can teach you how to shout down the wind, how to be the woman you’ve always been, deep down.

Roller derby really can save your life.

Don’t believe me? Let me tell you what it saved me from.

Three years ago, two days after I turned 26, I was raped. The perpetrator was a friend and colleague, someone I had known and trusted for four years. He left marks up and down my spine, bruises across my arms. He slammed my body so hard against the futon in his living room that the slats beneath the mattress broke and splintered across the floor. He made sure I was scarred in places no one could see, then threw me out of his apartment to drive myself home, baffled and sore and crying, through the early morning streets of Los Angeles county.

I don’t talk about this incident much, for lots of reasons – mostly because I feel like it’s off-limits, a socially inappropriate topic of discussion. People don’t want to be reminded that this sort of thing happens in the world. But it’s always there, lurking just around the edges of my life. And in the years since, I’ve allowed it to take over, sometimes completely. I left L.A. – a city I love dearly – and moved home to Baton Rouge because of what happened – because I suddenly couldn’t move, couldn’t hold down a job, couldn’t think straight. I quit my career as an academic and a teacher because standing in front of a classroom gave me panic attacks. My life got derailed just as it was picking up steam – just as I thought I was finally landing where I wanted to be.

And because every good damaged girl loves a pattern, I left one bad situation and landed fairly quickly in another. Small, scarred women who’ve lost their confidence make awfully good prey for rotten guys, and I managed to find one and stay with him for nearly two years. He was the sort who shouted and threw things, who wanted to know where I was at all hours. He was the sort who insisted I was wrong when I knew I was right, who would tell me the sky was orange just to make me think I’d lost my mind. He was the sort who left bruises too, as though I didn’t have enough already. He was the sort who thought I needed to be “tamed.”

When I finally left him, back in October, I felt as though I barely had a body or an identity left to cling to.  I was exhausted and terrified.  When my best friend Sarah (now my RSRD teammate under the fantastic derby name CupQuake) invited me to join derby with her in April, it somehow seemed like the perfect answer.  Derby, I though, could teach me how to be tough.

What I learned instead was that I already am tough.

In one of our first fresh meat lessons, referees Skunk Roller and Override explained to us the importance of recovery in a bout.  Falling isn’t such a big deal; what matters is getting back up again.  That was when I realized something I’d never noticed about myself: I’m a born derby bitch.  Because I never go down for good.  Things have been rough in the past, but I’ve found my way out.  Before the first time I touched the track I’d already been juking and blocking and standing my ground.  I’d been falling and rising over and over.  And I’d never given myself credit for any of that.  I’d paid too much attention to the falls, not enough to the recovery.

So if you’re prone to falling down, don’t think that means you can’t play.

If you give it a chance, roller derby really can save your life.  Honest.


  23 Responses to “The Woman You’ve Always Been”

  1. This was amazing to read. When I discovered roller derby I too felt like it would somehow lift me up and save me. It sounds like maybe you and I didn’t need saving after all. We just needed to open our eyes and see what was already there. Please keep writing. Pretty please.

  2. I literally have tears in my eyes.

  3. You’re damn right you’re tough already.

  4. Someone said to me once during a massage session, “its amazing how much pain you can take when you know someone is not trying to hurt you”! Glad you clearly are understanding the difference through derby and regaining your personal power and spirit. Enjoy your new family of derby love supportive woman power and know victimization is no longer an option now, especially after learning how to take a hit from the the beautiful ladies of RSRD, who will pick you right up after and tell you how awesome you are for falling small, and getting up quick! AND, they tend to gang up on people who hit dirty :) OH, and remember, YOU saved your life by choosing derby!

  5. Awesome article, so glad we are teammates :) .

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story and proving what a brave, powerful derby girl your truly are!

  7. So glad you are on my team! You are one tough derby girl!

  8. Wow what a powerful story. Incredibly insightful.
    Thanks for sharing that.

  9. Thank you for writing this post. It truly is amazing how this sport has taught me so much more about myself than I could have ever figured out on my own. I joined a team a few months after some jackass in my department assaulted me. I dropped off the face of the earth… almost completely. I quit all my classes, abandoned any and all friendships/professional relationships I had, and spent all of my time locked up in my bedroom. I have no idea how it came about, but a few months later I was helping some other ladies start a league.I think Derby was the only thing that I would leave my house for. For a while roller girls were the only people I trusted. I’m starting to get more of a grip on my non-derby life (a year and a half after the fact), but I owe so much to this sport and to my teammates.

    I would like to make a suggestion to add a *Trigger Warning* somewhere in the intro. While I found this piece to be moving, and even empowering, the discussion of rape still catches me off guard sometimes, and I like to be prepared.

  10. I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing your story. Roller derby is the best sport in the world!

  11. You must feel so much more powerful having told this horrific and painful story. I admire your strength and courage. Glad you are on track for happiness. :) . Glad to be on that track with you.

  12. Your post was very honest and brave. I really liked the metaphor about falling and getting back up. Beautifully written!

  13. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s probably the most powerful and affecting thing I’ve ever read about roller derby, and a great testament to its transformative and healing powers. Please consider submitting this to a magazine–it deserves to be read by a wider audience. I look forward to reading more from you!

  14. Thanks, everyone, for being so sweet and commenting so much. When I first wrote this it took me AGES to post it because when you write about something like this you’re always a little worried about what the response will be. You gals have kept the derby love alive even through the net, so thanks for the support.

    Also, Margaret, thanks for the point about the trigger warning. You’re totally right, and I’ve gone back in and added one.

  15. Great story.
    I too have come from a long line of abusive relationships. The abuse started with my stepfather when I was 7. Lasted till I was 14- then I moved out on my own… which just took me from one terrible situation and put me into another. At least this time I felt like if I sad “no” the guys would stop. But I never did, probably because I was afraid they wouldn’t and I would feel like a victim again.

    Roller derby to me is about refusing to be a victim. I am complete fresh meat- I started 2 weeks ago, and I already feel myself getting stronger; physically and mentally.
    Well done lady and keep it up… Us RD girls are here for ya.
    -Chee Kaboom

  16. Shay, I’m so glad you were able to tell your story, and I love the amazing responses here. I just want to reiterate that I’m always here for you. Oh, and the Dragon Lady, too.

  17. I love you Villainelle. And I love your writing, and I’m honored to be working on the same site with you. I’m so glad you came.

  18. You are amazing.

    I am also a rape survivor and though it happened nearly 18 years ago, it still afects my life though since getting stronger and more confident with derby that affect is not as prominent as it once was.

    Derby is such an incredible thing – every one of us are strong, powerful, stunning, and fabulous women and I am reminded of how awesome women are every time I go
    to training or play in a bout or even just look at my skates.

  19. Vill this is so moving and so honest, I’m truly honored you shared this story with me. I too went through nearly the same experience as you when i was 19, almost ten years ago now, and I rarely ever speak of it to anyone. I too ended up in a destructive 3 1/2 yr relationship after that and it took me years to recover from the two experiences. I just want you to know that I can totally understand where you’re coming from and what you’ve been through and I will always ALWAYS be here for you if you ever need anyone to talk to about it. And you’re right, you were already tough :) I love you!

  20. Thank you for sharing your powerful words and story.

  21. Oh, Vil. I know. Going through the same thing over here. Really have a hard time talking about it. Love you and love that you are my teammate.


  22. Bravo!

  23. thank you. your post has made it even more clear to me that I need derby in my life. As soon as I can afford some skates I will be fighting the good fight.

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