Big Little Lies
This can happen to anyone
Celeste's words kept replaying in my mind. I wanted to identify with Madeline, the strong, sassy, undamaged one at least according to her husband. But still, I found solidarity in the sadness of Celeste. I am attractive. Perhaps not the striking beauty Celeste was made out to be, and certainly not rich but still we shared that same porcelain demeanor. My first love, when I told him about my assault had said, "I can't believe something like that could happen to someone like you."
This...can happen to anyone.
When I heard Jane describe her assault. The nasty words he had said to her swirling around in her present consciousness, the flipped switch of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the eating... I couldn't cry because I was so...relieved? Immediately I texted two of my best friends, Jennie and Tre. No trigger warning for the sensitive subject material. I just blurted out her rape sounded like my rape. Her aftermath sounded like my aftermath. We both, right now, hate food. We both, right now, really had no desire to look or be attractive--though I do try, sometimes. I felt somehow validated that there was someone else in the world with the same story as me even though she was Australian. Or...wait. Even though she was fictional? I decided not to look up anything about the author. I did not want to know if she was Jane or if her best girl friend was Jane. Instead I just clung to the lifesaver that she existed now to everyone who had known her, and so did I. Right?
This can happen to anyone.
I still periodically check my body for bruises. Just like Celeste did. Watching them change color, her sick hobby. My delusional one. After...they covered my back and thighs. I felt them anytime they were accidentally bumped. A sharp inhale. "Don't tell me 'no', Beautiful". The words brought the taste of bile to my throat. My cousin kept her eye on me as we drove home. My eyes overflowing with tears because I'd just been delivered a hefty amount of truth. Emma had said clear and directly, "You have to stop being with Takers." I considered that. Thinking of my recent trip across the country and the emotional strain it had been to quickly finance the trip. I kept wishing I had someone who...I could lean on. Someone other than my friends who had been holding me up for so long. Stacie asked if I had taken the time to recover and heal. I know she was talking about the assault, but I hadn't healed from any of it. Any of the taking.
I quickly made parallels between my rape and my relationships. I thought of the fight. The first time he took. The time that left most the marks. It didn't stop there. There was more. I performed with tears in my eyes, uncontrolled sobbing. Nose running. I begged for tissue at least. He allowed it. Why hadn't I run away then? Why didn't Celeste? I cleaned up my face. "On your knees, Beautiful." Is it going to be over soon? I wondered. I prayed. I assured myself.
This CAN Happen to ANYONE
Celeste watched Perry change before her eyes. Place ice gently on the wound that he had caused. Guide her lovingly into bed to rest. "Do you want me to take care of you now, Beautiful?" I played it cool just like Celeste had. "Oh, oh no I'm okay." It didn't matter what I said. It hadn't been a true question. Emma reminded me that Takers are rarely direct. Passive aggressive and slippery, leaving enough grey area to inject pure, antagonizing confusion. Takers were quite skilled at surviving off the energy of givers. "They do NOT respect you." Emma said. The words cut because they were words I'd just said earlier to Stacie. So strong and sure of myself then, I told my cousin "When people respect you, they don't put you in awful predicaments and make you feel like you have to compromise yourself." My words came flying back at me like a boomerang and slapped me in the face. Jane had thought of how silly it was that she left her assault with a dopey and 'bovine' "Bye". Well, Jane! I drove the bastard home! Insisted. Part of me didn't want him to have my address written down in an app. Part of me wanting to make sure he left. Part of me...wanted to be kind.
"Do you mind if we stop at Jack in the Box, I'm hungry. Are you hungry?" He had asked me. I'd forgotten until last night. "No...I'm good." Internally twisting into knots because I wanted this drop off to go quickly. I wanted to get home. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to die. "You should eat, Beautiful. Did you have dinner earlier?" What? Why was he asking me about dinner? You don't care about me. I remember I felt myself get angry. But I swallowed it. Still aware of his size and strength. Acutely aware of how insistent his hands could be. Had been. "I'll get fries" I told him. "I got you, Beautiful." He was doing me a favor. A kindness. Buying my fries. When he finally reached home and got out of the car he turned to me. "Let me know when you get home safe?" I don't remember what I said in response. I was turning around already. Trying, both to get as far away as fast as I could and being cool and calm in case he was watching. I was in a car, I could've run him over! But he knew I wouldn't. He had known that I was a giver. That I was not a Madeline. I was a Celeste. I was a Jane. It happened to me.
I choked down the tears that weren't escaping from my eyes. Stacie watched out of her peripheral vision as she drove us home. Emma assuring me it was okay to let it out, via text. It sickened me to think that I was a giver in that way. I told Emma she was right. I started thinking of the book I'd just listened to on my cross country trip. How obsessively I poured over the story, the characters. Celeste and Jane and Jessica...the damaged girls.
I spoke to Stacie, thinking the same thought I had that night: it is NEVER going to be enough. I had this thought, oddly, after an orgasm. My mom says sometimes our bodies betray us. My body betrayed me. Or maybe she did not? Maybe she, too, had just been a giver. Giving her most precious gift to someone incredibly undeserving. Hoping that he would recognize it's rarity, how special it was. How special I was. I asked Emma, "I did it that night to save myself. I gave because I thought it would make him stop. Why do I do it now?" She said the answers were the same. I was trying to be seen. Can't you see how special I am? Why would you do this to me? When, really, I should have been asking the questions to myself. Can't you see how special you are? Why would you allow this to be done to you? It was the thought, not the word "No" that saved me. It was the only word that reverberated from my body as I kicked and crawled my way from under his heavy body and put naked body in a corner in my room. I faced him and said with no negotiation in my voice: I'm done. And it stopped. Later, the police would ask me if it was really rape if he stopped when I said "No". I didn't have the capacity to tell them then, that I'd said the word before to no avail. I said it so much it became annoying to him. "YOU don't tell me 'No'". He was firm and he bent my arm back to prove his point, proceeding to take what he felt entitled to. It wasn't saying 'no' that saved me, it was feeling it, embodying it, enforcing it. Bonnie.
This can happen...to anyone
This author, I thought, she has lived this story. She couldn't possibly write about it so well, so intimately and intricately, unless she knew it. If she could, I envied her imagination. I prayed for her. That her art helped her find healing, closure, peace. I prayed the same for myself. I had calmed down. Heart no longer racing, eyes no longer crying. I wanted to be held. I winced. There wasn't anyone and that particular feeling of sadness, solitude and seeking was how I usually ended up in negotiations. Accepting far less than I deserve just to feel comfort. I closed my eyes tight and allowed myself to feel the route. We had reached I-20 and were taking the right curve from 285 with a quick dart to the left making way for the exit only at Six Flags. I chewed hard on the inside of my cheek. I deserve someone who can care for me, consistently, intentionally and completely. I furrowed my brow, mulling over the words. Did I believe them?
I turned to my cousin. "I'm still healing from my assault. And I have a thing with food. I smoke so that I can get hungry and actually keep it down. I didn't realize it, but I give to people who can't reciprocate but continue taking just like I did with my rape. I'm tired and I'm ready to stop." Stacie paused a beat then said, "You are not God, you can't save people. You're not Jesus, you can't suffer for other people. You have to take care of yourself." I nodded. I considered how my life had changed since my rape. My life, but not me. I was still on my knees crying praying that my gifts or my beauty would affirm me, make me human to someone determined to see me otherwise. I needed to remember I was also the girl, the woman, who fought back and said No, became No. I was the woman, the girl who, yes, put her back in a corner but also used that corner to stand up straight and proclaim clearly and certainly: I'm done. This can happen to anyone. It happened to me. But no more. This is my fight and my unshakable eye contact. It is no longer happenING to me. I'm done.