Literature

The Source of All Things: Boulder-based author Tracy Ross on her harrowing journey from sexual abuse victim to survivor

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WW: What do you hope others take away from your story? TR: If they've been through this, or something like it, I hope they take away the idea that your abuse and the things that happened in the past don't have to define you. There's always an opportunity to create whatever life you want outside of the abuse. In sort of a twisted way, I feel like I came out of everything that happened to me with some strength, with an extra gift of empathy and a deeper ability to feel the whole spectrum of emotions that has helped me as a writer. As cliché as it sounds, going into the darkness can help you appreciate the other side so much more.

And then on the other hand, I really hope this book falls not only into the hands of victims and survivors, but also parents and caregivers and relatives, and that it will make them more aware of, first of all, just listening to children, really hearing them and observing them and watching what's going on. And then to take the next step and believe them: Resist the urge to assume that kids are storytellers. I think it's critical to take what they're saying at face value until proven otherwise.

WW: You've built a successful career out of telling other people's stories. At what point did it become important to you tell your own story? TR: I actually had not had this burning desire to tell this story at all. Quite the contrary: I've felt resistance to telling it in myself forever. It's been hard for me even to sort what has been real and not real in my own life and my perception of the world, so I didn't even trust myself to be able to tell it. I struggle constantly with my ability to trust my own perception, and that's a huge problem as a writer if you're trying to write accurately and factually about what you see in the world. But I knew that there was a link between the lies that I had been living as a result of abuse and my whole family covering it up, and me not being able to understand or trust myself.

So before it ever became important to share my story, the first priority was that I had to sort out what was real and what was not real in my own life, in order to go forward and have more confidence in my own abilities as a journalist. And the other part of my answer is, here I am living my version of my dream life, but at the same time I was also living with this undercurrent of depression all the time. I'm a pretty ambitious, happy, vibrant person on the outside, and was just plowing over everything else, like, "Oh, everything's great." I realized I needed to reconcile that conflict within myself to move forward.

WW:How did you come to your title, The Source of All Things? TR: It ties into a fish metaphor: the salmon returning to Redfish Lake. It's a really special place, and it's the source of life and death, the beginning and end of an incredible journey, 800 to 900 miles, that these fish take. The headwaters of the River of No Return burble up -- literally, just right out of the ground -- with the Sawtooths in the background. Redfish Lake was the setting for the best possible moments I ever had, the most beautiful moments that were defining me as a kid, and that just got completely fucked up in every possible way. And yet it's still such a powerful place for me, and such a draw, and so instructive. I couldn't help but go back there. It's the literal and metaphoric source of everything in my world.
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Colin Bane
Contact: Colin Bane