I am crawling through the remnants of a past I have bruised my knees on for too long. Sifting through names, stories, emotions. Cutting up my hands on the things I couldn’t let go. Silent fat tears race down my cheeks, one by one, falling in pools on my blouse. I blink in a bid to halt them but they do not relent. I take a deep steadying breath and tell myself that nothing can penetrate my skin. I imagine an armour covering every inch of me. A force field. A shield. I imagine an army. None of it helps. My hands still shake when I think of that moment: Continue reading Secrets and Lies.
Love. I hate the word. As I hate hell. And all Montagues.
That’s how I remember the quote. Or misquote. Yet in my mind it has become twisted into something impure. Something detestable.
Sometimes, when people do not get what they want from you, the easiest shot to fire is that you are incapable of love. This is one insult that will never harm me. I have loved. And I have been loved. I’ve felt passion, desire, trust, comfort, contentment. If there is one thing I know I am capable of, it is to give of myself to the person that I love. Eventually. Once they break down my defences, and read my mind. Twice. Without prompting or clues. Obviously.
Today, when talking about love, I was asked this question: Continue reading Love.
It’s pushing midnight. My hair is still damp from the shower, and I pad through the house in bare feet, a silk slip sticking to my skin uncomfortably in this heat. I lay on the bed above the covers and briefly entertain the possibility I am running a temperature. The heat from my body is making it hard to concentrate. To think of anything with any clarity. The season is beginning to change. I can feel the slow heavy air slinking in through the bedroom window, it will break soon, giving way to the abrupt flourish of spring. Continue reading Anticipation.
This will be the last post that alludes to recent events and contains only truth. From here on out I’ll resume resurrecting the tangled web and picking through the past of writing, the people, the dramas, the things I have learnt. Sifting through the past and weaving it into fiction.
Today. Just for today. I am going to be brutally honest one last time. This blog was neither meant as a therapy nor a diary and the last two posts have become such. Permit me this last truth and we’ll disappear back in to fiction.
This is for the people who picked me up, at 3am when I couldn’t sleep, at 10am when I was having panic attacks, at noon when I was sat unable to move on the sofa wondering how I could make my body feel like I own it, at 7pm when you just checked in to see how I was doing. This is for the people who gave a shit. There are no words I can muster that will convey how truly grateful I am for the time you have given me. For the words you’ve sent my way, and for the acceptance, through a situation that I cannot accept myself yet. This is for you, all of you, near and far.
In a bid to look after myself (something surprisingly difficult when you’re continually in fight or flight mode) I have read a lot. I came across this quote about friendship by Miguel de Cervantes;
“Tell me what company thou keepst, and I’ll tell thee what thou art.”
I’ve often heard it said that you can judge a person by the company they keep. I’ve never really heeded it until now.
The internet is a glorious place and hell, all rolled into one. I am lucky. I know I am. The people who have chosen to interact with me have been positive. They’ve made a difference. I haven’t been trolled. I haven’t had to face my fears in other people’s words. I’ve been cocooned. Accepted. And little by little, the beginnings of putting everything back together is starting to come into effect.
So, for the last time, I am going to tell you, honestly, the things that most days I cannot say. Even though you ask me. Even though I know it’s human to want details, to understand, to discuss it. Here is what I have been hiding.
I don’t sleep anymore. It has been just over a month. When I do sleep it’s for no more than three hours at a time. I wake in a cold sweat. Or I jump. Or I’m in the middle of a panic attack with no way of knowing what triggered it. I was sleeping. Nothing was threatening me. Yet my body is stuck in that moment. He came at me from the right. He grabbed my wrist as I tried to run to my front door. It is still sprained. Four weeks later. I thought things healed faster than that.
I don’t eat properly. I’m not starving myself (clearly). But sometimes in the middle of a lovely meal, I have to race to the bathroom and throw up because for some reason my mind rested on the image. Or the feeling. When he slammed me against the wall. When he removed some of my clothing. Or the look in his eyes. Or the force with which he held me. It will be a moment. Very brief. But it is like throwing a bucket of thick black paint over me. I can’t breathe. I can’t see. It turns everything to black. There is no way out of it.
I get up in the morning. Aching. Heavy from broken sleep. I don’t shower unless I have to leave the house. When I do, I have perfected a routine. I wash my hair and let the shampoo lather up. Too much. So when I stand under the water I am encased in bubbles. I can barely touch my own skin. When I do I use a facecloth. Or a sponge. I can’t bear the feeling of my own fingers against my skin. Any of my skin. My hands shake. I know these are symptoms of ptsd. I know my mind is trapped in those moments from when he walked in through the patio doors to the moment he was restrained. My mind is already blocking parts of what happened.
I know you want details. It’s human to need them. I can’t give them. I can’t say the words. I can barely manage to say the word ‘sex’ aloud. Even though it wasn’t. Because sex in my mind is consensual. You get to choose. And it’s fun and life affirming. And the only time it makes your fingers tremble is when it’s so good your body cannot cope with it. It’s not because of fear.
Most of my bruises have faded. There are two left. One of them is a long very straight unnatural looking bruise. It’s gone from almost black to purple. Now it is a pale greyish green with tinges of yellow round the edges. I can only see it in the mirror if I turn at an angle. I have only looked at it twice in just over four weeks. Today was one of those times. I haven’t been fully naked for more than the five minutes I spend in the shower. I keep two hair bobbles on my good wrist. The one that isn’t sprained. Because it makes me feel like I’m still wearing something. I wear too many clothes when I go out. Layers. Impenetrable layers. I still shake as if I’m cold.
I’ve never been so afraid of male attention. In a world that our looks define us, I’m running dangerously close to becoming invisible. In much the same way I did when I was married. By putting on weight. Not wearing make up. Wearing grey or black clothes. Hiding in plain sight. Yet this time I have fought against it. Every time my initial reaction has been to fall into that pattern. I’ve put on lipstick (something I never wear). Or bright clothing. If I seem like I’m shameless posting selfies it isn’t because I’m suddenly vain, it’a because I don’t want him to win. I don’t want to end up hiding away. I want you to see me. I need you to. Because maybe just maybe it will stop me from shutting down. I am constantly at war with myself.
I cannot tell you what he did to me. I know you want to know. I have used the word ‘rape’ seven times since it happened. This is one of them. I flinch at the word. I know it’s just a word. When Trump beat Clinton I sat on the sofa at 6am having been awake most of the night and I cried. That ‘locker room talk’ was the only thing I could remember about him. And I’m not stupid. I have other opinions. But it has drowned everything else out in my head. I wonder if the person who did this to me agrees with him. I wonder if he cares about politics at all. About human decency. About consent.
How can he?
Yet I know that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. I fear retaliation. The women who loved him. The men who are his friends. I torture myself wondering if they’re discussing it. That bitch in the nice house with the dog who wouldn’t put out. He showed her. I have absolutely no way of knowing what they think. What he thinks. I know it shouldn’t matter.
I also know his parents are in town. I drive round on my daily routine wondering if the people in cars could be his people. The pedestrians at the traffic lights. I am placed in a world I cannot control. Cannot fight. A constant limbo. I don’t even know if he will pay for his crime.
I have forced myself onto twitter. There have been moments. Long moments. That I have forgotten how I feel. Sometimes I read things. Mostly political. The heart breaking stories, the hate and the sadness, a world in flux. The uncertainty. And I start to shake. It isn’t like in the movies. I don’t look pretty when I cry. I look like I’m falling apart. I try to force myself into remembering I’m okay. At one point I googled the photo of the small refugee child who drowned and was swept up on the shore. His tiny body lifeless. I thought if I remembered I’m alive, I’m okay, that it wouldn’t feel like this. The emotion that overwhelmed me triggered something I couldn’t dismiss. I turned it into anger. I snapped at people who’ve tried to help me. I called a man a ‘mother shitting cunt’ when he cut me up in the car. No one heard me. Not even him. I was alone. When he was long out of sight I pulled over and cried. I wanted to slap myself for not getting a simple swearword right. But I’m still in pain. Physical pain that makes me move slower. I haven’t exercised in 4 weeks. My body is feeling the impact. I don’t feel strong. I feel lost. Like I’m unravelling.
Sometimes, when I have walked the dog, completed the school run and managed to shut the door on the world, I sit in absolute silence and listen to my own breathing. Trying to force myself into remembering that this will pass. It is temporary.
I read four accounts of assaults similar to mine. From women who had overcome this part. One woman noted she took eighteen months to be able to be touched again by another person. I sat on the floor and cried when I read it. Eighteen months. I am four weeks in and I’m already drowning.
This isn’t what I wanted to tell you.
My mind is a prison. I have always been able to write my way out of things. It has been therapy. My religion. The only thing that ever really makes me feel whole. Purposeful. I feel like he has tarnished that. When I sit down to write he creeps into it. I can still feel his fingerprints on my skin. I want to scrub myself. I plan it every day. I get the loofah. The body scrub. A body brush and a face scrub. I place them in the shower. I turn the water on as hot as I can manage it. I brace myself. I can do this. I can get rid of his fingerprints. But I just stand there, immobilised. The most I can do is squeeze showergel from a sponge and ever so gently clean my skin. The slightest pressure and I’m lost again. I’m back in my hallway, my back pressed up against the radiator. My feet slipping on the floor. And his strength. His sheer force. The pain twinges now. It doesn’t seer through me the way it did at first. I’m lucky he didn’t break my pelvis. I keep saying these words to myself. I am lucky.
When you ask me how I am I want to beg you not to make me talk about it. Yet it is all I can talk about. I want to tell you, I do. I want to put it into words. And write it off. If I could just do that. But I speak in euphemisms. We call it ‘the incident’. I don’t mention my pelvis. When I wince as I sit down, I’ll tell you it’s my back that is aching. It isn’t. It’s somewhere inside of me. I don’t know if those bruises have healed. I don’t know how you tell. But I can feel his fingerprints. His fist mark on my pelvis. I can feel the impact again and again and again. It is breaking me down.
Tonight, Alex, the hot rogue, the one night stand that never left, the friend whom I have come to adore, to rely on, told me I’m strong. He said it like it was a fact. And I hung on the words. I didn’t tell him. I let the conversation move forward. But I read the words again and again and again. For someone I respect, to say those words to me, about me, and mean them, without any doubt, well, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. The difference that makes.
When you ask me how I am I probably won’t tell you. I’ll try. Believe me, this is me trying. But when you tell me you get it. Like Perri did tonight on twitter. When I resurrected an old heartache and tried to rant my through it. When she said she understood. I lay on the sofa and I held on to those words. And something in me felt a little bit less raw. When my best friend tells me she loves me, again and again, when she persists, when she drops everything to talk to me, when she states the obvious and reminds me it’s okay, it won’t always feel like this something heals. Your advice, your words, even a brief tweet, I never thought I would need them, that they would really have so much impact on me. I’ve never needed to ask for help and somehow in all of this I still don’t, because you just keep giving it. When you take the piss out of me, when you listen, when you tell me it’s okay. They’re not just words. They’re something that he can’t touch. That he can’t have. Human kindness. It doesn’t take much. And I never thought I’d need it. But right now, between the panic attacks and the lack of sleep, and the throwing up, and god I hate throwing up. Between all those things I find you. Reaching out in one word. One throwaway word. One text message. One tweet. When you sit with me for hours and I sleep next to you. When you ring me on your way to work just to check in. When you take some time out of your ridiculously busy work schedule just to make sure you contact me. When you put your own insecurities aside, your own fears and experience aside and just say hey, how are you feeling. Or any of those words, something shifts in me. A small part of me that remembers what I felt like before he broke into my house. Before he took the things I was never willing to give him. It sounds stupid and small. They’re just words. You’re just people. But somehow you’re more than that. You’re defiant. Sheer bloody force of will. You remind me that we are stronger together. That so many of us go through this. This very pain. And in the moments that I am falling apart and trying desperately to remind myself that I’m lucky. That I’m okay. In those moments, they are everything. You are everything. And I don’t know how I’ll repay you or if you even understand what you have done. The one thing he can’t do. You made me feel something. And I am grateful. I am. However brief it is. However fleeting. You people are the only thing I can hold onto that stops him from winning.
And I think of you on twitter. On my phone. Arriving at my door. (But not on facebook, never on that shit). I think of who you are. And for all the moments that I can’t untangle myself from him, from what he did, you rock up and it shifts. For anyone looking in, judging me. I know that Cervantes was right,
For to judge me by these people, you people; is high praise indeed.
I have never been in the situation that I have felt that words are failing me before. No matter the subject, my lack of knowledge or the overwhelming emotions I was battling with; I always managed to write my way through it or out of it.
Whilst the internet explodes around me with the rape apologists and the rape culture and equal amounts of vitriol on either side, it seems that everyone has an opinion on it. From Brock Turner to Trump to Ched Evans to the many threads on social media stating points of view, sharing stories and experience or trolling others, there is nowhere I can look, nowhere I can go without seeing that word in print, hearing it on the news, in conversation, in passing.
I can’t bring myself to say it. And you won’t detect this but it took me a full thirty minutes just to type it out twice. I hesitated each time. But there is no euphemism for it that will suffice. And we all know that fear of the word just increases the fear of the thing itself, right? I’ve never hid from a four letter word. Some of my favourite have that many letters. I won’t list them.
Here is what we don’t tell you. Continue reading The Four Letter Word
This. This is for the other three women. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know if this will reach you. In the age of internet anonymity, part of me hopes it won’t. Yet, this is for you. I hope you find peace. That you forgive yourselves. That you have people that can make this okay.
I am sat in my house alone, for the first time since he came in. I slow my breathing down. I rack my brain for the moments that hadn’t been washed in black. They feel like a dream now. The details slipping away with every waking hour. I want to sit in my living room with the patio doors open. To hear the birds singing from outside and not flinch at every sound. I want to feel settled again. To feel safe.
I wonder where you are. If you are sat in student halls, an apartment, a house, or drinking away the memory in the student bar. I wonder if you have children. A family. A life before he came in to it. I wonder if you met him the same way I did. If he had a ‘system’.
I don’t know how old you are. What you look like. Your names. But I know what you are feeling. Shame. Regret. Pain. Caution. I know that when you turn out the lights long after you feel exhausted that the image still flashes up in your mind. He was inhumanly strong. I know the questions you will ask of yourself. The why’s and how’s. I know how your breath will quicken at the most inopportune moment. How something stupid, out of the corner of your eye can make your blood run cold.
I wonder where you were when he got to you. If you were on a date with him. If you were out with friends. Or alone in your house like I was. I wonder if he scaled your fence, entered your house through your patio doors, broke every rule of polite society. Violated every defence. I wonder if he told you he needed the points. If he let you in on the game he was playing. I wonder if you too circle the word ‘sociopath’ in your mind and hope it is enough to make that image go away. That feeling. That pain.
This morning I sat in front of a doctor as he went through my injuries. I wonder if you saw him too. I wonder if the kindness in his eyes brought about the point that you finally cried. I wonder how long the shock took to subside. Or if you’d think I was stupid for reacting the way I did. For going in to shock at all. But you have to understand. I am not a child. I’m not eighteen. Or twenty five. Or whatever you are. This isn’t the first time I have been hurt by someone who pretended to want me. Only to break things into pieces. You’d think I would know what to say. That I would know how to react. And I do. I have supported women, just like us, through this and worse things. Much much worse things. I know the moment to be kind, the moment to be practical, I know what I am supposed to say to you and what is off limits, especially in those first few days. So you’d think I’d know how to do this. But I don’t. I’ve never sat on this side of the table. In this chair. Giving intimate details of my life, of my body, to a stranger and hoping they can make it okay again. That they can help me make it mine again. Without his fingerprints. Without these fucking bruises that pinch every time I move. Every time I try to find comfort. The endless fucking pain that seems to defy every painkiller they prescribe in ‘cases’ like ours.
You would think I’d know how to feel.
But I don’t. I just sat there in my neighbour’s car on the way to the police station in stone cold silence. I can’t even tell you if that’s when I started shaking. I watched the police car up ahead taking him away. I watched it all, as if watching someone else’s life play out in front of me. I remember the face of the female police officer who took my statement. I think I’ll always remember her face. The woman who coaxed me to speak when my mouth was dry and my lip was bleeding and the bruises just seemed to keep fucking coming. I wonder if she spoke to you too. I wonder if you had a neighbour that came to your rescue before, before the damage he inflicted was irreparable. I wonder if anyone heard you scream. Or cry. I wonder if you made any noise at all. I wonder if there was anyone for you. In that moment. I was lucky. Five police officers repeated this to me. And the doctor. I was lucky. I keep telling myself the same thing. I was lucky. My bruises will heal. My finger is sprained but not fractured. The other x rays proved no internal damage. The doctor said I was lucky. The bruises will all disappear. I’ll stop bleeding. He didn’t quite manage to break my pelvis, even though he clearly tried, even though he was strong. Inhumanly strong. Because I was lucky.
I wonder when it happened to you. I know that one of you went through this on the morning before me. Before he came to my house on that bright sunny morning. Before he scaled my fence. On the day that the story broke about Donald Trump groping women and dismissing it as ‘locker room talk’. As twitter exploded with the #NotOk hashtag and endless stories of women who have survived harassment, sexual abuse, assault, or the word I still cannot bring myself to say. I wonder if you feel the same about those words. I wonder if you scrolled through your news feed reading those words wondering if all those women felt like this. Alone. Lost. Unable to really feel anything for fear of him winning. For fear of breaking. For fear of him coming back. I wonder if they told you he is still in custody. That the extent of his crimes won’t be taken lightly. I wonder if it gives you any peace to know that it stopped with us. That we scuppered him. We broke his pattern, his ‘winning streak’. I wonder if he’d labelled you too. I was the ‘milf points’. I could have been the brunette or the over 30. He could have categorised us by eye colour or height or sexual proclivities. Or maybe nationality or how much we fought back, how easy it was to overpower us. I don’t know his system. I just. I know there was one. I know they found his chart. I know that only half the labels were ticked. And I wonder if you know, we saved half the list. The four of us. We stopped him. I wonder if you did know, if you do know, that it makes any difference. If you force yourself to think that every time you move and wince, or if you have panic attacks, I wonder if you talk yourself down by reminding yourself you were lucky. We were lucky. Right?
I had said no to him three times before he came to my house. I had been firm. I did everything right. I didn’t give him my phone number or my address. I told people where I was going when I met him. I went to public places. He had followed me home to find out where I live. He had sent me flowers. I wonder if he did that for all of us. Some psycho discount at interflora. Pick your victims a pretty bouquet 20% off if you group them all on the same day.
I wonder if your mind races like this. If you question too how he could make such seemingly banal things turn into sick, twisted pieces of his game. Of his system.
I wish that I could tell you, he was arrogant when they arrested him. He argued with the policemen. I wish you could have seen it. He was bleeding. From his leg. That big strong rugby player with those thighs like rocks. He was reduced to a tantrumy child in a quiet surburban street. Whilst our children were at school and our gardeners were mowing lawns on one of the last warm days of autumn. I wish you could have heard the police officer arrest him. I don’t remember the words. I remember how he fought hard against the handcuffs. The indignity of it. He kicked their car. I remember that. My neighbour hugged me and placed himself between me and the police car. And I think that’s the only thing that held me up, On my feet. Then my neighbour’s wife made my house secure. She locked the door where he had come in. I wish you could have seen it: How they took him away. I wish she had been there an hour before. I wish I’d locked my door. I wish I’d called the police the first time he came here. And I’m sorry. If you’re number three. I’m sorry if he got to you after he came here first. I’m sorry I didn’t stop him before then.
The irony of it is, on the morning that it happened, when he went to one of your houses, when he exerted that inhumane strength to fill out his chart, to complete his game of women that he would have, that he could tick off and hold up like trophies, on that morning I ranted about Donald Trump, about how we should teach our boys not to attack rather than teaching our girls how to avoid it. And I know how to avoid it. I was in my own home. It was bright sunshine outside. I have a dog. I live in a dead end street: no through road. We don’t get passing traffic. Nothing ever happens here. We are safe. I thought I was safe. I don’t know if this is irony. I always get that mixed up. I wonder if you’re sat alone right now, wondering these same things. Nursing the same bruises. Kicking yourself for ever clicking on his fucking profile on that fucking dating app. I wonder if that’s how you met him.
I don’t know who you are. But for each of you, I am thankful. I am thankful that you were strong enough to talk to the police when you did. That you went through the same examinations and the same humiliation from the full statement and the words that made it feel somehow worse, to the deep panic that your neighbours, your friends, your family would somehow think you brought this on yourself. That they would question your judgement, your safety, your decisions. I wonder if you know the same things I do. If the female police officer told you. Or the doctor with the kind eyes. That doctor told me that I had injured his knee. I cannot bring myself to use his name. And somehow, I don’t feel like he deserves a nickname. Me, the woman who nicknames everything. Every person, every event. This time, I’ve come up with nothing. I wonder if you feel the same. If you’ve nicknamed him. If you use a pronoun with that tone that shows how much it hurts to just say one word. Those four letters. That you can’t even bring yourself to type it in a message. I wonder if you use ineffectual euphemisms, leave sentences unfinished, in the hope that the police knew what you meant, that the doctor, that your close trusted friend understood. I wonder if you’d look at me and understand. Or if you, any one of you, would turn away. Too caught up in your own pain. Like I am. And the shame that laces everything else you try to do. I walked through the town today, on my way home from the hospital. I thought about you. All three of you.I wondered if you had been there at the hospital today. If any one of us has anything in common other than this. Other than him.
I wonder if you still vomit when you think of it too much. If you feel like your body is betraying you. I wonder how far he got, how hard you fought. I wish I could tell you that it gets better. I hope, for your sake, and mine, that it does. I hope there is a point it makes sense. I hope there is someone that walks into your life and shows you that what he did, the way he made you feel, it wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t reflect badly on you. And I know, those words are empty. I feel that too. Because they’re just words. These are just words:
The one thing I always had, that got me through everything. And they’re failing me.
This is for you. The three other women that fell at his hand. That fucking strong, evil heartless excuse of a man, who doesn’t deserve the amount of emotion he has caused, the amount of hours or bruises or fucking tears that once they start you can’t seem to fucking stop. I hope this reaches you. I hope you sleep. I hope you have a friend, like I have, that makes it okay, even when every ounce of your being is screaming the opposite. When the police come back, when you see them on your street, in your halls, in your house. I hope you feel it too. That one small feeling that eventually I hope will conquer all of this. That we need to hold on to, because I think it’s all we can do, because we stopped him, you and me. We stopped him.
Before the ten year void in which my life fell apart, I loved – and was loved by – more than my fair share. Youth is confidence. Experience. I was the best kind of flirt. I knew what my strengths were, and I knew how to use them to get what I wanted. Yet there is always a catch; I was fickle. Once I got what I wanted it changed. I bailed. I was always the one who bailed. Somehow I was passionate enough to always be forgiven, and if I wasn’t, I had long moved on from whom I had scorned. I kept friendships with exes like some proof of my worth. If they had forgiven me, maybe I would too. But that is experience and time placing meaning on it. Back then, I didn’t care if they hated me. I gave them everything I could. And I left as abruptly as I arrived. Without so much as a note.
It is not with nostalgia I recall such seemingly halcyon days, but with regret.
All thanks to one man: The boy who loved tragedy. Continue reading The Girl Who Loved Tragedy.