There are weird things going on with my heart lately. In the metaphysical place-where-I-feel-feelings sense, not the literal muscle. My physical heart, as far as I know, is doing just fine.
But I’ve got this weird ache. It feels a little like loneliness, but a little like freedom too. I am untethering my life; casting off the lines and floating up into the sky. It’s terrifying. Exhilarating. And lonely. But not necessarily bad lonely – just solitary. I keep trying to tell myself that I need solitude. Time to stand on my own two feet. Chart my own course.
At the end of the day, when everyone who inhabits the spaces of my life goes home to their own dreams and desires, I am left to face myself in the gathering darkness and ask: what do you want? The question is enormous. I was never taught how to make decisions for myself. There was always someone else to consider, someone to defer to.
What do I want? How do I get there? If I acted thinking only of myself, where would I be and what would my life look like? What dreams would I dream for myself?
It’s not like there’s nothing I want from this life. I’ve just lately been realizing that I’ve put my career and professional dreams on the back burner for over a decade while I searched for that fairy-tale romance the movies promised us. Like somehow finding a husband would land me a role in that movie somewhere, or get me a job correcting the spelling and grammar in novels by newly-discovered authors. Funny enough, though, the harder I searched for that perfect relationship the more I sacrificed of myself in order to find it and keep it. Being alone was worse than being mediocre and meaningless and unfulfilled. Somehow.
Don’t think that I look back on the years I spent married as wasted. I learned a lot about myself, about how I function in a serious relationship, and about my limits. I learned how to speak up for what I want and need. I learned how to even figure out what I want and need. I still have a wonderful friend in the man I married, and I am finally at a point in my life where the life I’m living seems authentic and my own.
Sometimes I think it is easier to pair up. It is so much easier to give someone else what they want than to forge your own path and follow your own bliss. Especially if you’re doing it alone. That aloneness can really get to you. It can convince you that you’ll never get what you want. It’s scary to forge your own path without a partner there to share the load. It’s hard to walk your own path, knowing there’s no one there to guide or encourage you. It can be tempting to settle into the path of least resistance instead – to find the spouse, have the kids, dedicate your life to the tedium of surviving… rather than seeking out the thrill of really living.
So there’s this weird little ache in my neurotic little heart, telling me to keep looking for that fairy tale ending. It’s telling me to get swept away. It’s telling me my own dreams aren’t worth following, because I’ll never get them anyway. I am doing my best to ignore it. I know where that leads. Instead I am doing my best to remind myself of the freedom I feel when I’m walking on my own through the city; the feeling that I can go anywhere, be anything. The feeling of being untethered. The feeling of standing on my own two feet. The feeling of floating free.
It’s time to see how far I can fly.
I have tucked you away
with foods I don’t like to eat
and restaurants with bad service.
the cold mass of linguine
molded to the bottom of the Tupperware,
no longer individual
noodles, the sauce congealed;
no microwave in the world
can make this good again.
the apathetic waiter
who leaves my glass totally empty,
and who forgets
to bring the side dish;
and comes in halfway through my dinner
reeking of smoke.
You nearly break the plates when you plunk them down.
I know life must be disappointing for you.
You don’t have to make it disappointing for me.
So you’re in that cobwebby corner now,
staring out from dusty windows
with what you imagine is a sad and forlorn expression
and as we wander by you
(my musings and I),
one says “Let’s go in, I’ve heard about this place,”
and I can say,
“No, I had a bad time there once.
I’m not going back.”
(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.