Trigger Warning: This piece depicts intense and potentially triggering physical abuse and sexual assault.
A song reminds you of all those years ago
Upon the screen words of “survivor”
and “not your fault” inked upon the forearms of a chorus
In a moment,
all the gains of strength and safety cut,
as if by a razor as air is choked off,
and you are held up by the throat,
feet dangling off the ground.
Then slammed into a wall,
the back of your head hitting first.
Fighting blackness, wanting to yield to it for peace,
fear keeps you from giving in,
when another backhand hits across the mouth.
You reel, turn, struggling to move forward.
If you could just make it to the phone,
just to the kitchen, maybe grab a knife,
Your hair grabbed from behind,
pulls you back, off balance, you fall.
“Get back here, you fucking cunt.”
Your dog barks, bares teeth, growls.
Laughter, “Only have to kick that wiener dog like this—“
You feel ribs crack. You can’t breathe.
“And I’d kill him.”
You find enough air, tell your dog it’s okay and to go to his bed.
“This ends when I say, bitch.”
Your hair is grabbed and you are pulled down the hall to your bedroom.
“Now, you’ll give me what you owe me, you fucking cunt.”
You are pulled to your feet, and as you stumble against the wall,
you wonder what your fever is up to now, after this.
After all, you were sent home from work by your principal
because the school nurse said a teacher
with a fever of a 102 shouldn’t be around the kids.
“Thought you were gonna get to that phone, didn’t you?”—laughter,
“Just imagine, the police showing up for a domestic disturbance at a lesbian’s
apartment. You know those TV cameras would follow. How’s your job after that?”
You’re thrown across the bed, T-shirt ripping.
Now. Now is the time to fight. You react—flail—use anything,
nails, elbows, fists, knees—anything to connect, cause pain,
open a window to get away.
You feel a fist to the jaw, taste blood.
A fist to an eye. It’s hard to take a breath. Your side hurts.
A hand at your throat.
“Stop it, cunt.’
Something in the timbre, in the octave, in the venom,
makes you stop then. This can’t happen. Can’t be. Thought stops.
It all barely registers after that—
teeth biting, something tearing upon entering, a fist to the face again,
“I said kiss me, you bitch.”
You taste blood again. You’re rolled over when you don’t comply.
“Think you’re better than me, you stupid cunt? I’ll show you.”
You think you must have screamed when your hair is pulled and used to shove your face into the mattress.
You don’t know if you passed out or not.
Rumbling. A crash. Cursing from the kitchen, then the living room.
It’s best not to move yet and you don’t know if you could.
Then you hear the front door slam shut.
Movement returns to limbs.
Struggle swollen, bleary eyed to the door,
lock the dead bolt, chain latch and all.
Hurts to take a breath,
but you have to clean,
have to wash,
have to scrub,
the apartment and yourself.
Erase, erase, erase it all
all the traces, any trace at all
of what happened.
It didn’t happen.
Can’t have. Couldn’t happen.
It did not happen because it could not
as you step into a scalding shower,
wash away the blood,
the touch. Memory.
Then you realize more soap doesn’t help
the bleeding between your legs stop
and realize then
there is blood
from your anus too.
You aren’t sure now what to do.
How could you answer
the questions of a doctor
at a hospital ER?
You sink down in the shower,
thinking what to do.
Call into work, they expect it,
you are, after all, sick with the flu,
break the lease,
find a new apartment,
movers are required, no time to wait on friends and a u-haul.
Begin to rebuild, to regain.
Only to wake,
in a new apartment across town,
hiding with your dog behind clothes in a closet,
and know you need to do something.
you won’t live like this.
You didn’t work to overcome
the damage of an abusive alcoholic parent
to live like this.
Find a therapist and begin
to pick the shards of safety shattered
from the wounds,
Find the strength and begin.
“You’re going to have to admit what happened to yourself.”
listen to the therapist’s litany of description for a moment:
Facial bruising and swelling
that prevents the victim from returning to work for fear
of having to answer questions about the bruising.
Bruised, if not broken ribs from being kicked.
Bite marks on the neck and breasts.
Vaginal and anal bleeding for over three days.
“What does that list of injuries sound like to you?”
Your words tumble, fractured,
broken by truth you thought to scrub away:
….what you’re trying to get me to say…red flags
….addicted to speed or cocaine…cut it off
…showed up at my apartment with soup
since I was sick…became irate… still said no to seeing each other…
hyped up on something that night…so damn strong…
couldn’t fight…..another woman, for God’s sake…Not the same…
“Was anything that happened that night consensual?”
“That’s the definition of rape. Not consensual.”
In the admission, the rebuilding,
the redesign of strength, of safety, of taking back control,
you recall the words:
All the words you have been told
by friends and girlfriends who said they loved you—
–One woman can’t do that to another. Lesbians don’t do that to each other.
–It couldn’t have been as bad as a real rape. It was only a woman. So get over it.
–You must have done something to make it happen, to push her to that point.
–Women don’t rape.
Yes, so you thought too, even after it happened to you—at least for a little while,
until you admitted it was true
but you learned to stay silent,
trusting very few with the truth.
Even after all these years— Twenty-seven
To have survived, regained control, found safety
and know it wasn’t your fault,
Yet deeper down
there remains a pebble of shame
since your community said—
It wasn’t real
since it wasn’t a man.
It was your fault
since you caused it by refusing sex after
six weeks of dinner dates.
It never happened
since lesbians don’t rape,
Since lesbians can’t admit
what some of us
You stand and watch the video your daughter shares a second time.
Find yourself close to tears at seeing the words “Not Your Fault”
inked upon an arm.
Your daughter wants to know if you think it’s cool.
You say it’s great. It’s empowering for those involved.
Quickly turn away. Can’t tell your heterosexual daughter
that it happened to you.
If your community couldn’t accept what happened to you,
could she? A risk you can not take.
And so if you move, twist, walk a certain speed or way,
that tiny pebble of shame bruises still a little,
as if still rolling around in your shoe.
Perhaps for those in the community who are your daughter’s age,
Things are different and they hear
Lesbians do rape
It was real
You did nothing wrong
It is not your fault
It is your thought.
It is your silent
reverent, fervent prayer.
I am a retired teacher, enjoying said retirement. I have been active in the gay and lesbian community since I threw away my Ken doll at the age of four.
You can read more of my writing at Hearing The Mermaids Sing