Um, hi. It’s me, Penny. I’ve been away for a while.
Life got real hard there for a minute, you guys. And then it got easier. And then it got hard again. I assume writing is like riding a bicycle – you never forget how to do it? But… well, I’ve never been great at riding bicycles. And there are a lot of hills around here. And I’m super rusty. And so is my bicycle. Or it would be, if I had a literal bicycle and not a vaguely metaphorical one.
Where do I even start?
Sullivan and I are well and truly divorced now. It wasn’t all that hard in the doing-things sense; the paperwork got submitted and looked at by the state, it got reviewed and approved and stamped and signed, sealed, delivered (I’m yours! Ooh baby). There’s a new name on my driver’s license, one I chose that’s all my own. And that feels good. It feels like a concrete step away from some parts of my past I’ve been struggling to leave behind. New name has been my official name for over a year now.
Fun fact: Banks can not EVEN DEAL with it when you change all your names. Last name? Easy. First name? It’s been done, not insurmountable. First, middle, and last? Blank stares…. crickets… ominous clouds gather… a wolf howls mournfully in the distance… a wild wind tosses leaves across a cold pale moon… the pine trees rustle and sway… a raven bursts into flight from the shadows with a raucous cry… a quiet, soaking rain begins to fall… awkward cough.
It was hard in the emotional sense. In the space of a few months the conversation turned from being best friends, supporting each other, staying in each other’s lives… to jealousy, insecurity on both sides, squabbles about mostly petty things, and what I can only imagine must have felt like a pretty big betrayal.
I, uh… I fell in love. With a dude.
Not like I meant to. I was pretty invested in the image of myself as a lesbian. I was pretty sure of myself for a while there. I had an amazing summer romance with a lady I fell head-over-heels for; a lady I am still fortunate enough to count a dear friend. I knew she was moving away when we started dating, and that was fine. I didn’t want to give her any reason at all to rethink that decision, so I learned how to love deeply and let go freely. All that is to say, if I needed to prove anything to myself about my sexuality, I think I did. I’m definitely not straight.
Sullivan disliked that I was dating women while we lived together, waiting for the lease to run out. Tried to be supportive; but, I think, couldn’t shake the feelings of possessiveness that come with several years of monogamous marriage. Maybe he found it threatening. Maybe he didn’t like confronting such clear evidence that our marriage was ending. I don’t really know; he never told me, it just came up in hurtful ways. It made for some very mixed messages. We had a hard time communicating our needs and boundaries to each other. We argued. The lease ended. We moved out.
This dude, The Dude, was someone I knew through a shared hobby and a mutual ex-girlfriend. He had also been divorced. He was from the same city as me; in fact, he and Sullivan were in the same high-school class. (Sullivan was not impressed by this; I found it fascinating.) After Sullivan and I split, he invited me over for wine and trauma-bonding. We drank and laughed and took long walks and talked about our Feelings, Of Which There Are Many. By the end of the evening it was clear to me that this was a friendship I very much wanted in my life. I became close with The Dude. Trusted him because it was clear he wanted nothing from me but friendship, and that made me feel comfortable and respected.
I don’t really know what happened there, exactly. I mean, I fell for him and we started dating and so on and so forth but… like, how? Why? Wherefore? I dunno. As I suppose most of these things happen, it just happened. I loved spending time with my best buddy, and at some point I realized I loved my best buddy. I wanted things from my best buddy that were more than just best-buddy things.
We quietly started dating. I was very confused about what that meant for my newly-formed sexual identity, but pretty quickly decided that the whole point of the exercise was to be less concerned about how anyone anywhere thought I should express my attractions and desires and just kinda threw all the labels out the window. These days I go by queer, or mostly-gay. Or, if I’m in a particularly self-effacing mood, The City’s Least Successful Lesbian.
Sullivan was not thrilled to find out about me and The Dude. There was a confession on my part and some very angry highway driving on his part. By the way, people, for the love of – DON’T CONFESS THINGS IN MOVING CARS. JUST DON’T. DON’T EMOTE AND DRIVE PLEASE. We were fine, nothing happened, he didn’t do anything scary but fuck – come on. Emoting, much like driving, deserves one’s full attention. Never the twain should meet. Leave them twain. The twainest of twains.
Interactions between me and Sullivan got colder after that. More distant. More terse. It all sort of fell apart. I wanted to stay friends but could understand that he needed time to process, to decide if he wanted me in his life, to forgive whatever hurt I’d caused by destroying the illusion that the breakup of our marriage was solely about my sexuality. There are things I feel about a lot of this now, there are lots of things I could say about what went down and how it happened… but I am doing my best, with the benefit of hindsight, to try and see it from his perspective this time around. In the interest of being honest and not hiding things, in the middle of signing paperwork and exchanging stuff and figuring out what our relationship looked like now, I did sort of drop a bomb.
Ultimately, I did what I could. I told him I hoped to remain friends, but wouldn’t push the issue. He could reach out when he was ready, and I would wish him well in the meantime. I unfriended him on social media, hoping it would give me some freedom from second-guessing everything I posted, fearing he would see it and be upset. Trying to protect him from further hurt. Fearing that just being myself and settling into this new life would seem, to him, like I was rubbing it in his face. That’s part of why I stopped writing here, too. I sent texts for holidays and birthdays – just to say I remember you, you were important to me, the door is open if you want. I’m willing to talk, to listen. If you want. If you want.
I don’t think he did. The replies came later, got shorter, stopped coming at all. He moved away, spent his birthday with my family, which I found out through Facebook. This still disturbs me; not that my family is close with him, but that they never mention it to me. Like most uncomfortable things, they just pretend it doesn’t exist. Later, they told me he moved again; going back to school in a different state. I hear he’s been seeing someone. (Okay, the few times I’ve ill-advisedly looked him up on Facebook tell me he’s been seeing someone.) I truly wish him all the best. I hope his life now is better than it ever would have been with me still in it.
I’m sometimes sad that we didn’t stay friends. Sometimes I think maybe it’s for the best, that we would have just clashed endlessly as we tried to become the people that we are now. People who are each different from the one the other married, and yet uncannily similar. So much has changed for me that it feels really odd to step this far back, to remember how it was, who I was then. Reading back through the archives here feels like I’m reading about someone else. Someone very familiar to me, but whom I disagree with on some key points. Sometimes it all bubbles to the surface and seems very fresh; sometimes it seems a lifetime ago. Like clothes in the back of the closet that don’t fit anymore and aren’t really my style – is that mine, or did someone else leave it here at some point and I forgot who it belonged to?
So. I guess I have three years’ worth of posts to catch up on. Sorry I disappeared for so long, guys. Let’s get reacquainted, shall we?
In the heart is a forest.
In the forest lives a beast.
A great grey mane,
a wild white tooth,
my beast has a mouth that will mangle the truth.
In the heart is a forest.
In the forest, a tree.
A great green head,
a wild wide branch,
my tree has a bird no snare can catch.
In the heart is a beast.
In the beast is a growl.
A great deep bark,
a wild death groan,
my beast makes noises when I sleep alone.
In the heart is a bird.
In the bird is a song.
A sweet night song,
in the wild, cool air.
My bird sings a song nobody can hear.
In the heart is a tree,
at the tree lies the beast.
The great sharp claw,
the wild yellow eye.
The beast guards the bird and the bird will not fly.
Anyone who knows me – hell, probably anyone who’s met me – knows I am bad at asking for help. Not just bad at it, really… like, allergic to it. I’m the person who juggles 50 pounds of groceries and the house keys rather than asking someone to carry a bag or two. I’m the girl who drives herself home with a broken ankle rather than call a friend to come pick her up. (Yeah, that happened.)
I’ve just got this weird sort of stubbornly self-destructive independent streak. In a dude they might call it cowboy pride or something. And it’s super bad when it comes to money.
Just the thought of asking someone in my life for money is enough to put me on high-anxiety mode. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a lower-middle-class family. While my parents never really taught me how to budget or plan finances, they were good at telling me what we could or could not afford. I started to feel ashamed to ask for anything non-essential, and pretty soon I just stopped asking for anything. I started working at 15 so I could pay my own way. If I was going to waste money, at least it would be my own.
It got harder as I went through college. My dad got laid off from the company where he’d been a top performer since before I was born. My parents couldn’t send me to a university like they’d planned. The company stocks they were going to use all plummeted in value just before the layoff – that nest egg was essentially gone overnight. I worked to pay my way through community college, and they struggled to help me pay my tuition.
They also took over running a local business -one that was well liked and pretty popular. It seemed like a safe bet. The previous owners, though, had no idea what they were doing. They falsified the financial statements they showed to my parents. The stores were circling the drain when my parents bought them. My family worked their asses off for years just trying to get them to turn a profit. Of course, being the oldest and out of the house, that meant I was on my own financially.
Fast forward to today. I haven’t asked my family for money probably in the better part of a decade. I can’t even imagine starting that conversation. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve been struggling. Between the hassle it took to get into my new place after leaving my husband (the week I’d planned to stay at a friends house turned into a month) and a change in pay schedule at work, I have been emotionally and financially exhausted.
I mentioned to my husband that I may have to quit therapy for a while. It was down to either that or not eating for a couple weeks, since rent and deposit on the new place cleaned me out. My therapist is an incredibly kind woman who takes barter as well as cash – I’ve paid for therapy in pickles and hand-knit scarves before – but I have enough of a struggle just dealing with that bit of generosity. I’d honestly rather just pay the lady. Plus, I can’t pay my student loan or rent in pickles, so there’s only so far that can carry me anyway.
Well. I found out earlier this week that my husband went and did something amazing. He sent a quiet message to as many of my friends as he could reach, explaining my situation, and asking for donations. He told them not to say anything to me, that this was without my knowledge and that I would probably kill him if I found out.
I won’t put any numbers down here, but I now have enough to pay for a month of therapy in advance and still buy bus fare this week. I’ll be able to make it to next payday without overdrawing my account or maxing out the meager bit of credit I have left on my credit card. And I can eat.
This is what true love looks like. It’s not necessarily romance. It’s not flowers and chocolates and wine.
My husband – the husband I left, the husband whose heart I broke – was willing to find me the help I couldn’t bring myself to ask for. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank him enough. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank my friends enough. I don’t even know who pitched in, or how much – and honestly, I don’t want to. It’s all I can do to just accept this gift gracefully and humbly say thanks.
A friend of mine posted an inspired and lengthy rant on Facebook the other day about getting tattoos; namely, that several people has asked him if he thought it would be a good idea to for them to get one. In a nutshell, his answer was “Not if you have to ask me that question.”
It got me thinking. There are tons of things I wish I’d known before getting my first tattoo – and although I love the ones I have and have been happy with them for many years, I will admit that I would have done so much more if I’d known I could. So I figured I’d put together a list of Things To Think About When Getting Tattoos.
The art is arguably the most important part of the tattoo. What are you getting done? Is it symbolic? Is it something you’ll continue to like for the rest of your life? Life is both too long and too short to be getting crappy tattoos. If you’re not convinced, look here. There are hundreds of examples on that site of art you will not want etched on your body for all eternity.
If you’re getting a tattoo that you think is funny, for example, ask yourself: will this still be funny in 10 years? 20? 50? If you’re getting a tattoo that is meaningful, will it still be meaningful to you when you’re 60? If you’re getting someone’s name, will they still be important to you when you’re old and grey? Will they still be a part of your life? Are you sure?
Put together a sketch or some reference material that approximates the tattoo you want to get, and hang it in your mirror for six months to a year. Put a jar underneath it. Look at that thing every day. Each time you look at it and think “Hell yeah, that’s badass,” put $5 in the jar.
If you get to the end of the year without taking it down or changing it completely, then take all that money you’ve been saving up and go get your tattoo. Oh, which reminds me:
A good tattoo ain’t cheap, and a cheap tattoo ain’t good. It’s as simple as that. Tattoo art is one of the few industries left in (arguably) the world where you really do get what you pay for. A better artist will cost more. A better artist will also be booked farther in advance – which, honestly works out to your benefit. That gives you more time to save up, and more time to be sure it’s what you really want.
Like I said, a better artist will be booked farther in advance. That’s a good thing. Seriously, don’t go with an artist that takes walk-in appointments. Think about it this way: the more any artist practices, the better they get, right? So if your tattoo artist is sitting around waiting for you to wander in off the street and get a tattoo, how much practice do you really think they’re getting? How likely is it that they’ll be able to apply your artwork with a skilled and confident hand, without making any (permanent, un-erasable) mistakes?
The other argument against walk-in appointments is the artwork itself. Any tattoo artist worth working with is going to provide you with a sketch of the artwork they’re doing before they ink it onto you. I’ve had artists do this even when I walked in with the artwork pre-drawn and ready to go. It’s important that they sketch it themselves – it helps imprint the artwork into muscle memory and makes it less likely that they’ll screw it up later on.
Even better than that is to have the artist design the tattoo themselves. It doesn’t cost you any extra, and in my experience it looks way, way better. Remember: this is their job. They make art. It’s what they do. So let them do their job. They will do it better than you can.
Choosing an artist may take time. Every tattoo artist should have a portfolio out somewhere at the shop where they work. Look through all of them and keep track of the pieces you like best. Lots of artists have an individual style, or certain strengths – for instance, I chose my current artist because she specializes in cover-ups and is good at matching the styles of pre-existing tattoos – which is exactly what I was looking for. If I wanted someone who was good at realistic portraits, I may have picked a different artist. Same goes if I wanted someone who did really good Sailor Jerry-style artwork, or traditional Japanese tattoos, or cartoon characters, etc. Ask someone at the shop who they’d recommend. Ask your artist what their strengths are. Be picky. If nothing else, ask the artist for a sketch and compare it to the artwork you’re bringing in yourself. It won’t cost you anything, and then at least you’ll know you’re getting the best artwork you can for your money.
Ask how well they really know their stuff. This isn’t just about the artwork, either, but how well it’s applied. Unless you have sensitive skin or scar easily, a tattoo should be totally smooth when it’s healed over. There shouldn’t be any bumps or raised bits. There also shouldn’t be any lines or parts that look faded. If the tattoo isn’t applied well, it won’t heal well, and that will affect the outcome of the artwork. Make sure they know what they’re doing when it comes to poking holes in your body.
One of the main considerations, obviously, is “Can I cover it if I need to for a job?” This might not matter depending on your chosen industry or your level of give-a-shittedness. It is also true that tattoos are gaining a wider and wider acceptance within mainstream culture – a sleeve down to your wrist isn’t as big a deal as it used to be. Still, a tattoo on your forehead or “Thug Lyfe” across your knuckles will probably limit your employment opportunities – so be very sure of your career path before going down that route.
Another, less obvious, consideration is “How will it look where it’s placed?” A good artist should be able to help you with placement. You want the artwork to enhance the body part it’s on, not clash with it. My tattoo artist described it to me this way once: “I like to leave the work sort of open-ended, so it can be added onto later if you want.” Rather than looking like the piece was just stamped on, your artist should be able to make your artwork look like it belongs there. Another thing to keep in mind is stretching. If you plan on getting pregnant, you might want to reconsider that ring around your belly button. And no matter what you plan, take into account the possibility of weight gain as you get older. It might not be wise to get tattooed in places where you have (or are likely to get) stretch marks.
I’m sure we all know by now that tattoos hurt. But, of course, not all tattoos hurt equally. In conjunction with The Part, The Pain is important to consider. Getting a tattoo down your spine will hurt considerably more than getting one on your ass. Getting tattooed in your ticklish spots will make your artist grumpy as you writhe and twitch on her table (trust me on this). I’ve heard that the underside of your arm is unbearably painful; a lot of arm bands have an empty space there for that reason. In general, spots where the bone is close to the skin or where the skin is thinner will be more sensitive and thus more painful – which explains why so many tattoos exist on the muscle of the outer arm, and the meaty parts of the back, and so on.
The other thing to plan for is the size of your tattoo, especially if it’s your first. Consider getting a small tattoo for your first one, or a small part of a larger design that would look ok on its own if the pain turns out to be too much to handle. (And for the record: there’s no shame in getting a small tattoo and deciding you never, ever want to go through that again. Seriously.) Keep in mind that larger tattoos will take longer to finish, and will cost more – all the tattoo artists I’ve seen charge by the hour. Know your limits. Don’t be afraid to end a session earlier than you planned if you’re reaching the limit of your pain threshold. You can be a badass once the tattoo is done and healed – no one wants to see you passing out on the artist’s table because you were too macho to say stop.
If you’ve spent this much time and money getting a tattoo, it only makes sense to put some time and effort into maintaining it. You wouldn’t spend $300 on a painting just to nail it up in your front yard and let the wind and rain destroy it, right? So protect your tattoo. Don’t let your asshole friends slap it while it’s healing. (Besides hurting like a bitch, from what I’ve heard, it can also break the lines and color and actually damage the artwork. That is a seriously dick move.) Let it heal properly – don’t pick at the scabs, and give yourself enough time between sessions. Wear sunscreen if it’s going to be exposed while you’re in the sun, no matter how long you’ve had it. Sun damage will make even the best tattoo look like crap. Keep it moisturized. Try not to get injured in spots where you have tattoos (i.e. maybe reconsider getting that wrist-length sleeve if you’re, say, a mountain biker who breaks falls with their bare forearms).
Look. I happen to think tattoos are awesome and super fun. They’re addictive – I’m not even done with my back piece and I’m already planning a new half-sleeve. They’re a great form of self-expression and a very cool art form. But that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone. Make sure you think it through. And if you decide to get a tattoo – don’t settle for anything less than the coolest, awesome-est, bad-ass-est tattoo you can possibly get. Whatever that means to you.
So, turns out Facebook lets you download old Honesty Box conversations. This is the actual Honesty Box conversation I mentioned in my last post, in its entirety. The only changes I have made are editing out names and other identifying details – those edits are identified by brackets, [like this].
Trigger warning for descriptions of rape and some pretty serious victim-blaming from the abuser himself.
On 2008-07-15 they said,
I think you’re a bit lost and always have been. You burned a lot of bridges with people who truly cared about you. There were times you cared and showed it, but something inside you must be too cold to ever really reciprocate any sense of true compassion. When you see these people over the course of your years, be nice, even if it is you just acting.
On 2008-07-16 you said,
Maybe that’s so. To be honest, I’m hurt to hear you say I’m cold inside — has it occurred to you that I’ve been hurt by people, too, and that maybe I’m trying to protect myself from being hurt again?
If I was cold to you, I am honestly sorry. I try my hardest to be kind to those I meet — and meet again — but I’m human and sometimes I fail.
I don’t mean to burn bridges, but I do lose touch easily. It’s easy for me to believe that if someone’s not keeping in touch, it’s because they’re not interested in me or because they don’t care. So, instead of trying to resurrect a dying relationship, I let it go.
Please accept my sincerest apology for whatever it was I did to you. I hope I can make it right.
On 2008-07-18 they said,
Everyone’s been hurt. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you hurt others too? I feel that nobody can say they’re the victim at all times. Maybe you didn’t realize that every time I’ve seen you over the years you’ve consistantly been not nice to me, when I’ve smiled and tried to ask you how you are most times.
I know I am not exempt from being someone who has hurt others, so I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you I’m sorry – for everything I said/did to ever hurt you. It was not meant as such, but nobody can ever know the outcome of their words and actions until they’re older. Especially when you’re young.
The last time I saw you I had one hell of a day. It was one of those days where you’re thinking about how bad your day was and you think, how can this day get any worse? But, then I saw you, and your attitude wasn’t inviting.
I thought to myself… I’ve been screwed over many times over the years, and most of those people I’ve made some sense of social ‘goodness’ with. I really would’ve hoped seeing you over the years would be totally different.
On 2008-07-18 you said,
I honestly don’t know what to say. I am so, so sorry that I was rude to you. I know I hurt others sometimes, and it mortifies me, because I try to do my best to be a good person and make a positive impact on those around me.
I have to admit I’m baffled. Call me clueless, but I can’t think of any interactions I’ve had –with any guy in my life — that would cause this kind of reaction.
I know this defeats the purpose of an anonymous post, but please — who are you? And what can I do to make it better? I don’t want to leave you with this kind of hurt.
On 2008-07-19 they said,
I’m actually pretty shocked you don’t know who I am. I’ll go over the last time I saw you and I’m sure you can figure it out.
I was walking by you after just slicing my hand doing something I love. You were with your friends when I saw you and I had no other route but to walk by you. I had just that morning found out that the girl I had dated for the last 3 years was cheating on me. I was worried about the living situation of what to do because I had also lived with her for over a year. Maybe it’s perception, but when I walked by you you said hi… it was very very standoffish. Maybe it was me feeling like my world was about to end, but it definitely was my topper on the day. I don’t think I’d ever wished that I could disappear more than that moment. I thought about leaving this that week when that happened, but I wanted to make sure I still felt like you were being standoffish and it wasn’t just me being emotional. Still to this day I feel like you hate me.
On 2008-07-19 you said,
It’s difficult for me to recall a specific situation based on the details you’ve given me. I’m sorry, I still have no clue. All I know is that someone passed me somewhere while I was standing with my friends, and the way I said hi made this person feel bad.
I have a guess, but I don’t want to respond based on a guess — if I’m wrong, it would be completely unfair to you. If I’m right…. then we have a lot to talk about.
Did we last see each other at [the student center at a local college]? If not, then I apologize for assuming and please tell me your name so we can resolve this. I don’t like the idea that I may have alienated one of my friends without even knowing it.
On 2008-07-20 they said,
I don’t think you could exactly call us friends, but for good reason. I know things ended badly between us, but I always pictured us being civil towards eachother over the years.
Yes, that was me. I also remember seeing you at walmart years ago, and it felt good knowing I could catch up with you and have a decent conversation. I had no intention of ‘making’ you talk to me, or push too fast like you said when you pushed me away. I feel you took me being excited about finally having things on a good note as pressuring you to hang out or even talk for that matter. I in no way meant that, and it crushed me when you told me you didn’t want to talk anymore. It reopened wounds that should’ve been long since healed.
Telling you this was not to hurt you [Penny]. I told you this because I hope that if I see you again that I won’t feel this overwhelming dissonance. I don’t want to feel as though your eyes throw daggers and your words, even as a ‘hi [his name],’ are out of malice. I really, truly, don’t mean that first message as it came across. I know me sending that and attacking you wasn’t right, but I do have some bitterness due to seeing you at walmart that day with our short time of talking afterward, and then when I saw you recently it was hurtful too. Please accept my apology for that much. I’m big on keeping tabs on my acctions and acounting for them these days. I never meant to hurt you by telling you what hurt me.
On 2008-07-22 you said,
Okay, good. I wanted to make sure it was you before I said what I need to say.
While I still am sorry that I hurt you, I feel I need to explain why I reacted to you the way I did.
I know our relationship ended badly for you. For me, it ended far too late. I want to explain to you what effect our relationship had on me. I’m not trying to attack you, but I need you to hear this. I need you, if you can, to understand what I went through.
It’s taken me five years to even face the damage our relationship caused. From what you’ve written, it’s clear you haven’t realized how far-reaching your actions are.
[Ex-Boyfriend], you coerced me into having sex with you. You pushed and pushed, and I didn’t know how to tell you no. I went along with it because I thought I was supposed to. I was young and naive, and you took full advantage of that. I remember finally coming to you and telling you I wasn’t comfortable having sex anymore… and your response was to get angry, cry, threaten suicide, drive off and crash your truck. You gave me the biggest guilt trip of my life. How could I possibly say no to you after that?
All the memories I have of us are bad ones. The time you pushed me over so you could fuck me from behind in my parents’ darkroom… the time you screwed me out behind the movie theater in broad daylight… the time you clamped your hand over my mouth so your roommates wouldn’t hear us, in the house on M[……] street… and how, each time, I was too guilty and afraid to tell you no, or make you stop. Do you realize that after we started, the only reason we spent time together was to have sex? For a full year, I was little better than a blow-up doll to you.
That’s why I broke up with you. I couldn’t stand to let you abuse me anymore. And then, when we did break up — you called me a bitch, and a slut. You said I was only breaking up with you so I could “sleep around.” You were my first, [Ex-Boyfriend]. And you made sex so bad for me that there are times I want to give it up completely. It’s not worth the heartache.
You want to know why I’m cold to you? Ask my fiancee, who has to hold me after sex as I cringe away from him, crying, barely able to breathe, because after two years together I still don’t trust him not to abuse me the way you did. Ask him why I wake up screaming at night. Ask my ex about how my incredibly low sex drive drove him to cheat on me three times — and how my incredibly low self-esteem kept me with him after every one. Ask my parents, who took me to three different therapists, trying to find out why I was cutting myself. Ask my friends, who are encouraging me to get therapy now.
I am trying my hardest not to make this an angry letter. But the naked truth is, you traumatized me. Since you I’ve been through a string of relationships where I let myself be abused, where I let myself be a toy, because you taught me that saying no is wrong.
You want to be accountable for your actions? Apologize for raping me. Thank me for not sending you to jail for sexual assault. Beg me not to reconsider.
But don’t you dare tell me how I hurt you. Don’t tell me about the bitterness you have, or the old wounds I’ve re-opened. Everything I’ve ever done to you was a direct reaction to what you did to me.
If, as you say, you “truly care” about me….. apologize for what you did, and leave me alone.
On 2008-07-22 they said,
Wow, you are distorted.
A – I never ever ever ever ever had sex with you when you told me you didn’t want to.
B – I tried to get you help for cutting, and because you were ‘so upset about the religious’ persecution from you not wanting to go to church and believe in something you didn’t believe in.
C – Someone in a relationship of a committed relationship usually has sex. People from 16-old do it. I never ever held your mouth EVER or even knew that you were even wanting to break up with me because of me wanting to have sex with a girl I loved??
If you had felt that way you should have said it. You never ever told me that you didn’t want to have sex with me. The night I crashed into the fence you told me that you loved [mutual friend] still and didn’t want anything to do to me. Remember? You’ve distorted what really happened and I don’t even know how someone could do that. You’ve made some of these details up. I NEVER raped you. If you had told me you didn’t want to have sex, I would’ve felt bad because I had been picked up and put down by you so many times, but I would’ve respected it. Do you not remember the nights in the hot tub at your parents where you’d tell me about how you wanted to be alone with me?
I mean seriously [Penny], have you really turned out to be someone who would make up stuff about someone else???
And no, I never did anything with you in your parents dark room.
Obviously, with me sending you messages and telling you how hurt I was/am, I never viewed you as a blow up doll.
Yes, I was very insecure when I was younger, and it hurt me when you’d tell me you wanted [mutual friend] more, or I’d hear about you hanging out with other guys and liking them, but I NEVER EVER crossed the line with you and have never with any girl I’ve dated after.
Ask them if you don’t believe me, I urge you. Each one would stare you bold in the face and tell you that I’ve never ever done anything of the sorts with them. Whatever you’re going through psychologically, please remember the facts, and make sure you remember the truth and not made up lies.
On 2008-07-22 you said,
Well, thanks for letting me vent, anyway. This is a letter I’ve needed to write for the past five years. It doesn’t matter if you think I made it up or not, because I know what happened. The people close to me believe me, and those who knew both of us at the time believe me. Either I’m a very convincing liar, or there’s something there that you’re not comfortable taking responsibility for.
I’m not sure why, after five years, you think this is a friendship worth salvaging. I’ve left you alone because you’re a chapter in my life I want to forget.
Let me make this perfectly clear to you: This conversation is over. I don’t want to hear from you again. I don’t want to see you again. If we run into each other, I will do you the courtesy of pretending I don’t know you. That’s as far as this goes.
I’m not willing to let you back into my life, [Ex-Boyfriend]. Please leave it at that. I’ve been willing to keep it out of the courts, because I don’t think it will solve anything, but at the same time I need to protect myself. Please consider this a warning. If you contact me again, I will consider it harassment.
I’m sorry it had to come to this. When I found out it was you that sent that message, it gave me hope that you’d changed.
(Trigger warning: descriptions of rape, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts)
I have spent the last ten years sifting through the broken fragments of dreams, plans, and life goals. I have spent the last decade trawling through the rubble of a building that burned to the ground, turning over charred bricks among the ash, hoping, still hoping, to find something that survived.
And worst of all, there’s a small part of me that wonders if I didn’t just imagine it all. Maybe something happened, and I cracked. Maybe I went crazy and made it all up. He certainly wants me to believe that. Ten years of trying to rebuild from the ashes, and he still says it was out of love. Maybe I burned my own house down.
Here’s what I remember. I was sixteen. He was seventeen. I didn’t even want to date him at first. He kept asking. He wouldn’t leave me alone – kept pestering me to go on a date with him. Finally, I relented. There are only so many excuses a lonely teenage girl can make.
I remember we went to the mall. He could drive – I couldn’t yet. (Didn’t have a car? I question that – I got my driver’s license as soon as I could. Maybe I was fifteen?) We wandered around, not doing much of anything. He bought me a Pearl Jam CD. I’d never heard of them. (I’m still not a fan.) He drove a white Toyota pickup, some mid-80’s model with the three brown stripes that bent at an angle on the cab and streaked to the end of the bed. My parents were nervous about me going out with a boy. I didn’t have a cell phone back then, so it wasn’t as easy for them to keep tabs on me.
I remember we went to a local coffee shop. It was always warm and inviting there, and they had tons of comfy mismatched second-hand couches to sit on. Took pictures together there. He met my best friend. That was kind of our hangout spot, I guess.
It gets hazy after that. We saw America’s Sweethearts in the theaters. There was something on the way home about running yellow lights, and something about how yellow lights meant we should kiss… or something. I think it was kiss. I seem to remember him bringing up oral sex, too, but I’m not sure if that’s accurate.
I remember being in a public park the first time he touched me in a sexual way. I was wearing a neon green tank top. He slid his hand up under my shirt, under my bra. I don’t remember if he asked or not. We were sitting against a tree. I felt weird about being out in public. I don’t remember anything else from that day.
(I remember being in that same park later in our relationship, and he put his hand down my pants without any warning. He told me how moist I was down there. There was a giant cloud of gnats behind his head. Or am I making that up? I can’t remember.)
I remember the day I lost my virginity to him. My parents were out of town, but coming home that night. He and I had tickets to see a stage production of Narnia that some of my friends were in. He had condoms in his pocket. I don’t remember if we’d agreed to have sex or not. I don’t remember being eager or particularly willing to try it. I do remember we were late to the show. I also remember sitting there for less than a scene before he decided we should leave and go back to my house. I remember wishing I could stay till the end of the show and congratulate my friends afterward. I don’t remember wanting to leave.
I remember my bedspread – hearts in every color of the rainbow on a white background. Old and a bit worn. I remember the weak November sun shining in through the window. I think he did ask if I was sure. I think I said I wasn’t. We did it anyway. He used a condom. I wrote about it in my journal. I said that it hurt. I don’t remember if it actually did. (I know I thought it was supposed to.) I didn’t bleed. I didn’t feel different. I was terrified that someone would see it in my face – that my parents would know. They didn’t.
I remember having sex in the passenger seat of his truck, parked in a lot near a church after dark. I was worried we’d get caught. He threw the condom out the window. That bothered me.
I remember having sex on the lower floor of his house, while his father took a nap upstairs. I got carpet burn, right above my tailbone. It stung. I had a scar for a while.
I remember having sex in a vacant construction lot next to the two-dollar movie theater. He pushed me down into the dirt, in a ditch where no one could see us. I remember the rocks and the grass on my bare skin. I remember watching the sky, the clouds. I don’t remember feeling anything at all. It seems like so long ago. I didn’t want to do it.
I remember lying to my mother on the phone, telling her I was at the mall, when I was at his dorm room. He hated his roommate. I remember he made a playlist for us to fuck to – it had Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” Bloodhound Gang’s “Discovery Channel,” Metallica (his favorite band), some ridiculous song about beer… it was on a loop, the whole thing played probably three or four times. I remember his computer desktop was a smiling girl about to deep-throat a balloon. He told me his roommate had put porn on his computer as a joke. He told me he got so annoyed with his roommate once, he jacked off onto the guy’s keyboard while he was out of the room. He gleefully told me about how his roommate ate Cheetos at his computer later on… how he kept licking the cheese dust off his fingers so he could continue typing…
I remember when my best friend turned eighteen, we decided to watch porn since it was legal for us now. He brought over a DVD. It was called Gonzo’s Gang Bang Auditions 6. It was nothing but women being stuffed full of dicks – degraded in every possible way. They looked like they wanted to cry, like they’d been tricked into it. My friend and I were horrified. He said it was his roommate’s, that he’d never seen it before. He took it out and scratched it with his pocketknife.
I remember having sex in the house he shared with two other guys and a girl whose parents owned the place. I remember his face, looming over me – he always stared blankly ahead, mouth hanging open, never looking at me as me pounded himself into me over and over. He’d tell me he was envisioning his grandmother so he’d last longer. I remember he’d never use lube. I remember he’d always have to push himself slowly into me, because the condom would stick and skid on the way in – I had no idea that meant I wasn’t wet, and that in turn meant I wasn’t turned on. I remember him telling me to shut up so his roommates wouldn’t hear us.
I remember having sex crammed into the back of my car once, along the dirt road where I lived, on the way home. Got a stain on the seat. I think someone drove by. The windows were fogged.
I remember working in the darkroom my parents built for me when I got interested in photography. I remember he was with me; he came up behind me and put his arms around me. I thought he was being sweet; then he started undoing my pants and bent me over the worktable. I had to process the photos twice because he made me have sex with him on the floor of the darkroom, there under the red light, with the smell of chemicals all around us.
I remember going out to dinner with his family. A locally owned Italian restaurant. He and his mother got into a screaming match. His father and I exchanged uncomfortable, sympathetic looks. Neither of us knew how to get them to stop.
His mother was the first to find out we were having sex. He had wrapped the condom in a tissue, then set it down on the front step when he’d gone back to lock the house door. He forgot it there. She told us later she found it and thought it was a present like he used to leave for her when he was a little kid. She was in tears. I don’t remember how that argument went. I remember hugging him after because he was upset, and she yelled at me not to take his side.
I don’t remember any of the classes I took at school that year. I don’t remember spending time with my friends. I don’t remember what my family did. I don’t remember that Christmas. I don’t remember my birthday. I don’t remember waking up, going to work, going to class… I don’t remember the day-to-day. I don’t remember anything except what he did to me. I don’t remember what order things happened in, or what year, and sometimes I don’t know if they ever happened at all.
I’d get angry at the littlest things. I hid in my room a lot. I started cutting myself. I used a pair of scissors at first, on the sides of my wrist. They were tiny and shallow, like cat scratches. That’s what I told people they were. No one ever looked twice. If you look really closely, the scars are still there.
Later I started using an Exacto knife. I’d cut my thighs – a body part I wasn’t particularly fond of, and easy to hide. I cut my ankle once – it bled and bled, and the scab was sunk in deep when it finally closed up. I probably should have gotten stitches. That was the one my parents finally noticed. They sent me to a psychiatrist. I didn’t trust the first one. He referred me to someone else. I didn’t tell her about my boyfriend either. I was afraid she’d tell my parents. She made me draw a picture – the way the world saw me, and the way I saw myself. I drew a perfect porcelain mask for the first one. The second one, I couldn’t draw at all. I didn’t know how to draw it ugly enough.
I wanted to talk to my parents about it. He said I couldn’t – if they knew, they’d make us break up. I told him I wasn’t sure I wanted to have sex anymore. He told me that sex was how he showed his love for me. He said that if I didn’t want to have sex anymore, then I didn’t want his love anymore. If I didn’t want his love, it meant I didn’t love him, and without my love his life wasn’t worth living anymore so he might as well commit suicide.
If I stopped having sex with him, he was going to kill himself.
He called me on the way home from that conversation. He’d driven away angry, and hit a gate with his truck. He was crying. His mother was going to be so upset, he said. His headlight was a little cracked and his fender a little scraped, maybe dented. He didn’t want to go home. He had kept a handkerchief I’d used in my hair… said it smelled like me. Said it kept him sane. I wanted it back but didn’t know how to ask for it.
I kept dating him after that. I don’t know how long. We had sex all the time. I don’t remember doing anything else. I don’t remember going on dates. I don’t know which of the memories I’ve listed happened after that conversation.
Eventually, I broke up with him. I have no memory of how I did it. I remember he texted me afterward to tell me that I was only breaking up with him so I could sleep around. He said his roommate called me a dizzy bitch; he said he defended me. He said he went and drove his truck into a statue of Jesus, because he was angry at God.
He came to the haunted house I was working, later that year. I think I spoke with him; I don’t remember.
Seven years later, he contacted me anonymously on facebook. He wanted me to apologize for being rude the last time we’d run into each other at the college’s student center (I’d awkwardly said “Hello” and walked past him to continue what I was doing). He said he was having a terrible day and I made it worse.
When I found out who he was, I told him all the things he needed to apologize for; namely, raping and abusing me for over a year. He said he never raped me; that it wasn’t wrong for a guy to have sex with the woman he loves. I told him if he ever contacted me again I’d take action.
I’ve seen him once since then. I was working at a shipping company; he came in to mail some packages. He saw me and stopped cold, turned pale, a look of utter dread on his face. I greeted him cheerfully, helped him with his packages, sent him on his way. I got a weird charge out of pretending I didn’t know who he was. It was a little thrilling, too, to see him panic momentarily.
I want to put his name here. I want to post it on Facebook, and send a message to everyone I know who knows him. I want to print posters and put them up all over my hometown. I want to speak out and tell the world This Is The Guy, This Is What He Did To Me. I want everyone who knows him to know what he did. I want his girlfriends to know. I want his bandmates to know. I want his parents to know. I want him to know. I want him to understand.
I want to step forward, and I can’t. Stepping forward means stepping into the line of fire. My word against his. He’d call me a liar just to save his own skin. He already has.
So I’ll tell you what I remember. I remember being raped. I remember being abused. I remember wanting to die. And no one can call me a liar for that – all those things are real. Regardless of my lack of proof, regardless of my lack of memory, I remember those things. I will never not remember.