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July 15, 2019


I lay sleeping on my left side, palms pressed together beneath my cheek, probably snoring lightly.  Deep in a dreamless sleep that follows a night of excess – that single during the holidays kind of drunk. While my friends were busy exchanging gifts with their in-laws, I’d exchanged my black romper for his grey long-sleeved shirt – not quite long enough to cover my hips beneath the sheets.

I was awakened by him gripping at my lace panties, his erection pressing firmly up against my backside.  I played dead for a moment, a rush of adrenaline pouring over me as the blood sucked out of my limbs.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  He replied by forcefully pulling at the flesh of my butt, the skin feeling farther and farther away as my brain commenced its natural flight response to a familiar situation.

Familiar but different.  Familiar because I’d grown accustomed to men taking from me what they wanted, regardless of if or how I wanted it, whether or not I was conscious or crying, saying no with my words or my body.  I’d learned early on to remain silent in those moments, to float away at the first sign of danger or discomfort – it was less painful than to speak and be dismissed.  And sometimes, it was just easier.  But this was different because unlike most of those other times, I wanted him – badly…  still.  And wasn’t I supposed to be getting better at this sort of thing?  God knows I’d spent enough money on therapy.  So part of me stayed, fought to be with him.  To let his warmth and desire sink into my body.

Then he grabbed my hand and shoved it down his boxer briefs.  “Stroke that cock,” he ordered.  I was able to muster a feeble, “wait” or two.  But I couldn’t get my actions to match my words as I mechanically complied with his request.  A confusing mess of excited, terrified, turned on and disgusted.  I squirmed my hips away from the heat as he struggled to pull down my underwear.  “Wait,” I said a little louder.  He pulled my hips towards his.  It felt like each time I tried to wriggle away, his grasp became more determined.  He thought it was a game, I could tell.  But I couldn’t figure my way out of it.

“How about trying ‘no’?,” he would later yell.  Sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t.  Some subconscious neuro-pathway in my brain had already been tapped, triggering a series of automated behavior.  And part of me wanted to say “yes”.  Part of me wanted to avoid the discomfort of fumbling through “learning to express my needs”.  And some of it was genuine shock and fear, because I didn’t know this person at all.  He was not the man I’d fallen asleep next to, enveloping me tenderly in his arms to keep me warm – a man who, if not for circumstance, felt like the closest thing I’d found to what I’d been searching for: someone to call me on my bullshit, who could talk and laugh about pretty much anything, even the weird stuff, and who seemed to accept all of the parts of me that not even I could accept.  He could immediately calm my nerves with a smile, and his presence conveyed “I’ve got you”… He was good.  Most of all he cared about me and I cared about him, deeply, from our first meeting and through some of our darkest moments.

But the man here now was full of rage and he hated me in the moment.  How would he respond if I actually did say “no”?  I didn’t know him at all and he couldn’t see me.  He was forceful, vengeful, almost as if in a trance.  But I suppose so was I.  I could not will my vocal chords to make a sound, I was small, my legs indescribably weak.  And so I surrendered – to him, to my body, to the experience.

Besides, it felt good.  He felt good.  My body was saying yes despite myself, which only intensified his grasp on me – literally and otherwise.  I tried to remember who he was, who I was – to hold on.  “Is this what you wanted?” he snarled as he choked my neck with one hand and shoved the other deeper between my legs.  I almost cried out loud.  I let him experience the gratification of my body’s “yes” in answer to his question, while my heart withstood the regret of having ever wished to be there.  The ache of how this could not have been farther from what I wanted, how I imagined this moment in the weeks prior – and I did imagine it, I let myself fall for a fantasy that could never exist.  A fantasy that I didn’t even realize I had formulated until I bore witness to its rapid destruction.

The reality was nothing more than a re-run of a played out story where nobody wins and there’s no hero, no likeable characters.  Like some Woody Allen movies.  But I was in it now.  The train had left the station and I’d walked right on, eyes open.

And at least I was on it – that was better than watching him pass me by – not pretty enough, too small-breasted, too crazy, too mean, too superior, too neurotic, too… bad.

And maybe there was still a way to save it.  I let him remove my underwear.  “That’s a nice pussy, you little slut.”  “You’re a whore aren’t you; ya, you take that you little whore.”   I loved the sensation of him but I hated hearing those words.  I hated knowing in this moment, to him, I wasn’t me – I could have been anyone, I was one of his so-called “fucktoys” or “slaves”.  The knife twisted in my gut.

There was none of the connection that I’d been seeking – that inaccessible part of him that felt like maybe I could be the one to reach it. The fact that he’d told me how elusive it was only made me want to climb over the ledge even more, to reclaim my power.  To be special, to fix him; for both of us to feel okay, not alone, if only for a moment.

“Don’t call me that,” I said.  Now we were face to face.  The trance was broken.  He remembered who I was, and so did I.  I demanded respect, kindness, intimacy – he had none of it to give.  He’d warned me, I didn’t listen.  “I have intimacy issues,” he’d told me.  We shouldn’t sleep together.  He was angry.  He couldn’t connect with women sexually since his wife had unexpectedly hit him with the divorce.  I ignored all of it.

He went to the bathroom and washed himself with Listerine, as if he should be the one worried.  As if somehow I’d made him dirty instead of the other way around.  Maybe he was right.  I couldn’t have imagined the exact details, but I saw the train coming from a mile away and I couldn’t stop myself from hopping on.  He was broken.  I knew he couldn’t give me what I wanted, but the problem was that even I didn’t know what that was.  I just knew it felt good to be with him.  I went prodding at the embers because the prospect of feeling warmth seemed worth the possibility of getting burned.  It wasn’t.  It’s colder than I’ve ever been before.

In the weeks following I sought validation for my experience.  He’d scared me, hurt me – didn’t that deserve an apology?  I didn’t want to play the victim, paint him as the perpetrator – I’d spent too many years retelling that story of powerless and disconnection.  I was owning my part (I told myself), couldn’t he own his?  No.  I was met with dismissal, blame and the disabling suffocation of sudden and total abandonment.

He’d taken me to breakfast the morning after, we’d watched the sunset, a movie, had ice cream – were back to being the “friends” that he’d insisted we be in the weeks prior.  He’d thought things were fine… because, I acted like things were fine.  And now it sounded like I was accusing him of a crime – a setup… he felt blindsided.  But I wasn’t fine – I’d been in shock; felt traumatized and confused.  Our conversation about what had happened couldn’t fix the impression that he’d preyed upon my weaknesses to make me into something he knew I did not wish to be.  I desperately wanted to go back to when I was “me” and not that “something”, when he was safe and we were innocent.  And so I pretended in hopes of rendering it true – idling in another sort of fantasy.

But we were no longer the same.  Each of us believing so for different reasons; altered and disparate experiences of the same event.  Because by being silent, I’d allowed myself to experience abuse at the hands of someone who cared about me.  And relaying this sort of information can be met with at least two possible responses: denial and a feeling of betrayal.  Denial because if the other person were to truly understand how damaging and painful their actions were, how traumatic the experience, how frightening they were to you in that moment, they would feel like a monster; betrayed because you let them become one without even giving them the choice.  Perhaps in this particular case feeling as if I’d preyed upon his weakness to turn him into something I knew he did not want to be….

In actuality, we betrayed each other – no victim, no perpetrator – co-conspirators in the same crime.  Or maybe when the crime is self-abuse, there can be more than one victim, one perpetrator.  Either way, we were reckless with ourselves… thereby reckless with each other.  What I couldn’t see until I gambled it away is that we already had the connection I’d been pursuing, an intimacy of the platonic variety.  “Just friends” – as if that person you can call up at any hour, when you need someone to just sit on the phone with you in silence, or to offer up a reprieve from yourself with a night out or a night in or a warm touch, is a commodity in mass production.  And yet we’d treated each other as just that: used each other to subconsciously play out the worst parts of ourselves and relive our own deepest traumas, at the expense of participating in the other’s.  In short, we took aim at ourselves but wounded the other; and in the process, lost each other.

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