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By Lydia Havens
You are showering with the lights off. You are showering with water so hot the pipes are screeching at you to stop, stop, stop. Water so hot your skin screams mercy. Water so hot you might just evaporate and maybe then all will be well. When you are finished, you reach through the dark for a damp towel. You turn away from the mirror.
A man miles and miles away has left your body feeling like a sidewalk. Like public property. Like the spitting distance. Like the lowest of the low. He made shiva of your own home without even setting foot in it, every mirror sulking behind bedsheets, the breast that surrounds your heart feeling torn apart, grief-stricken. You dress yourself for survival: a thick sweater to cover all the things he ever said he loved. Pants to keep your legs from unraveling below you. No jewelry. Hair still clumped together in a wet frenzy. This is how you let the world know you should not be acknowledged. But right now, the world ends at your front door.
You cannot remember how you escaped him and his friends. What you do remember is the self-made isolation. The color scheme of the sketchy chat website. How charming he was when he said you seemed older than 13. You don’t remember how he convinced you to show him what you looked like stripped, cold, naked. You do remember how greedy he became for your two-dimensional body.
You remember when the singular man turned plural. You remember all of their eyes, wide awake. Their fingers like serpents, tongues like earthworms. You remember their commands. You remember every time after that you said no. You remember every time he coerced a no into a yes.
You remember when yes became a ghost, haunting your lips because you knew it had no other choice.
Don’t you know what I can do with your IP address? Don’t you know what I can do with just your current city? We will find you.
You remember breaking the camera on your cellphone with the tip of a butter knife. You remember making up fake plans—movies that were never released, family vacations that didn’t exist. You remember laughing bitterly at the image people paint of pedophiles, as swollen old men with no filters. This man was young but old enough, handsome, with a purring, bone-breaking voice and too much power in his pixelated hands.
You do not remember when you finally cracked. You do not remember how you escaped him.
You don’t know how to tell your mother. You’re afraid of how she’ll react. If she’ll blame herself. If she’ll blame you. If she’ll question why you kept your mouth shut. If she’ll question why you didn’t just close the laptop, turn off the phone. You don’t want her to believe you are anything but a clueless, pure, closed mouth of a girl.
What if you are an isolated incident? A hopeless case? What if this has never happened to anybody else, and it only happened to you because of your own irresponsibility?
When you consider yourself brave for a day and tell her, this secret has been weighing down inside of you for three years. You tell her not to interrupt. You need to tell her everything.
That’s why you wanted to change your phone number, you tell her. That’s why you spent so much time in your room. That’s why you couldn’t strip in front of the Victoria’s Secret clerk when you were shopping for underwear.
You cannot remember all that she said. But you can remember how soft her voice was. You remember her support, so full in a mother’s way. She says, it’s not your fault. She says, it happens to more people than you would think.
There is still the uneasiness, the feeling of unfolding the ugliest part of yourself when you tell someone new. It always feels like such a confession, as if it was you who did something unthinkable. Your therapist asks you in every session if you can picture undressing without fermented worry in front of a significant other. Your father asks you on the phone if you are still afraid.
There finally comes a time when you can answer yes. There finally comes a time when you answer no. Both words go through your mouth so easily now.
You are no longer afraid of survival. The world reopens. You walk away from the conversation telling yourself,
“It was my story all along.”
This piece was originally featured in Persephone’s Daughters, a lit magazine dedicated to empowering women who have experienced various forms of abuse and degradation.
Lydia Havens is the co-founder of Transcendence Magazine, and the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam Youth Champion. Her work has previously been published in Words Dance and Textploit, among other places. Find her on Tumblr, southwestwitch.tumblr.com.
Image: Franca Giminez