I remember the first time I described my first sexual assault to the man who would eventually become my rapist. He asked me if it turned me on. I told him no, I feared for my life. He reminded me that many people have rape fantasies. He said he knew plenty of women who would have enjoyed what had happened to me; he was surprised that I was not secretly thrilled by a strange man shoving me against a fence at 2am, hand wrapped around my 18 year old bird-like neck, threatening to cut my throat open, other hand wrapped around mine, forcing me to jerk him off. I told him no, no I did not like being assaulted. I wonder if this was the first no I said that he refused to hear. I wonder if he was ever even capable of understanding, “no”.
I remember the first time I told the man who would eventually become my rapist that something very bad had happened the night before. I said, “it scared me & I did not like it. I tried to fight but he was so much bigger. He threw me against the wall so hard it left a dent. I just pretended it wasn’t happening”. He told me, “that was rape. What happened to you was rape. Just call it what it is - rape”. The word did not fit in my mouth. I could not chew through it for 3 more months. I wonder if this was how he reacted to “no”, if it was uncomfortable & hard to swallow, if he spit it out like fat every time.
I remember the night he became my rapist; my third. How many times did I say no before this? How many times did my no dissolve under his tongue, leaving no trace? Was my no a drug that dilated his pupils, awakening every nerve in his body? If you gave him a drug test, would my no show up on paper? Did he think I had somehow turned into one of his fabled women who enjoy being assaulted?
I wonder; which version of him did that to me? Was it the one who reminded me about rape fantasies? Did he ignore me when I said “no, I don’t have those”? Was it the man who told me that I had been raped, the man who defined it for me, who CLEARLY understood that what happened to me was wrong, & bad, & not a fantasy? Which one, which person? How is it possible that he was both? How was it possible that I loved him & he still did this to me? How is it possible that he understood every word I ever said except for no?
I remember the first time I told my rapist that I had been in abusive relationships. He laughed. He told me, “I have no pity for women in abusive relationships. Just leave, bitch. Why stay? It’s not that hard”. I remember the first time I realized that our entire relationship was abuse & I remembered that laugh. Did he know that he was abusing me? Did he know that he raped me? He pretends that he did not, but we were both there. I did not misremember. I did not invent the blood that trickled out of me for the entire 24 hours afterward. I did not invoke some holy pussy stigmata or fake those bruises.
I still shake at “no” in the most benign situations. When someone breaks my boundaries, it feels like falling down a well & at the bottom, he is waiting for me. When I recoil from someone’s touch, I can see his ghost physically pushing me away from them. When I can’t allow myself to be close to someone, I see his ghost physically standing between us, arms out, a 6’4 barrier with hands so big they can cover my whole face. When I tell someone no, even if it’s no sugar please, or no thank you, or no, I am not a hugging kind of person anymore, I feel completely invisible. When I say no, I turn into paper, fly down the street, get thumb-tacked to a wall. When I say no, I picture myself disappearing into his chest, where I can only see out & watch silently as people interact with him like he’s not a rapist, like he’s a man who is capable of hearing & understanding “no”. I see him hugging & being close to people, little intimacies that he robbed from me. I see his girlfriend smiling at him, unaware that she might disappear, too. I see myself in her face, & I try to make her mouth form the word “no” to see if he can actually hear her say it.