by Christine S.
I’ll admit that for a while right after it happened I went a little crazy. I haunted the local grocery store in the early morning hours, caressing fruit and squeezing bags of bagels at 2 am. It was the only place nearby that was open 24 hours. I shuffled the aisles in my stained sweatshirts and baggy sweatpants, stopping every once in a while to examine a random food item, read its nutritional value and put it back down. They had just opened a new Starbucks in the corner of the store. Usually I would end up squeezed into a booth with a Diet Coke and a magazine that I’d bought so they wouldn’t kick me out. Then I’d wait for the sun to rise. I knew I was slowly but surely losing my mind, and there was nothing and no one to stop it from happening.
I wanted to reach out to the man buffing the floors, the woman behind the cash register, the night manager who eyed me suspiciously and thought I was a homeless person, grab their sleeve and demand they listen. “Do you see what he did to me? Do you see it?!!” I wanted to shout, take satisfaction in their embarrassment if they turned away, grab them, shake them, make them look, make them see it. But when I opened my mouth all that came out was a raspy thank you when I got the change for my soda. I knew the struggle was my own. I was alone in the world. I could tell no one. They wouldn’t understand. They would turn away. They would grow tired and pass me off to another person when their sympathy was exhausted. They would betray me.
During the day, I wandered around work like a zombie. I became a ghost, a nonentity. PT. Chow. Work. Rinse. Repeat. I just had to hang in there until it was time to PCS. And then I would be okay.
Finally I got my orders. Thank God. I crammed everything into the back of my hatchback, leaving dust bunnies, memories, and thumbtacks. No one saw me off. I didn’t care. It was the first of several “new beginnings”, places where it was going to be different, better. California, Korea, Germany, Alaska.
For the most part I’d been able to keep a handle on it other than the nightmares with rituals I adopted to make my life “safer” – it started with avoiding parties with alcohol, then parties with people. I then avoided going out at night alone, then going out with people, then drinking in front of people. I steered clear of dark alleys, avoiding men, then all people. My nocturnal wanderings were reduced to watching TV all night with a kitchen knife on one side and a baseball bat on the other. During the day, when I was tired, nonresponsive and curt, people just assumed I was a bitch and left me alone.
It got easier and easier to avoid the parties and the people, mainly because people stopped asking or they grew tired of my lame excuses. My world got smaller, more manageable. It became simpler to not have to explain to anyone why I jump at certain noises or why I can’t stand to look in a mirror or have my face touched or make eye contact, and why the smell of Old Spice makes me nauseous. But by then I was alone and sad and small, and I had no one to call when I got scared.
Eventually the universe began telling me it was time to move on. The hurt was like a cancer, eating me alive from the inside out. I would go for a run and I feel my heart and lungs fill with cold, hard rage. I raged at him, for what he took from me. The sweat poured down my face and mixed with my tears of fury and anger. I cried for myself. I believed in the goodness of the world, and he took that from me. Now I saw evil in dark places. In every alley I passed whether it was in Seoul or San Diego, I felt the rapists there, waiting for me to turn my back to them. From time to time I would dream of starting over and making new friends, only to let fear and mistrust paralyze my thoughts and words.
But then I met a guy and he chased me, told me I was pretty, smart, funny. I didn’t believe him but I fell in love anyway and got married in a small town where nobody knew us. I got pregnant and miscarried, and he held my hand grieved with me. I got a cat, and a couple of dogs, and learned about things like IRAs and 401ks and caught myself wandering around in Linens n’ Things, Williams and Sonoma, Restoration Hardware. I bought towel racks and soap dishes and spice racks and Tupperware. I started accidentally watching Martha Stewart. I learned about mortgages and mutual funds. I got into a Master’s program and fell in love with hearing smart people talk about justice, politics, public policy. My classmates and professors amazed me, and the affection I felt for them was genuine and from the heart.
Sometimes I feel stuck, trapped between two worlds. I can see the potential of what I can be, what lies so close within my grasp I can almost touch it, but I can’t get there. It makes me even crazier, frustrated, to be trapped by my own mind and my emotions. A modern day Tantalus, I can see the fruit but I never taste it, feel the water but never can quench my thirst. So many years I wandered in the night, watching and waiting for his return.
And yet. I now do reckless things now like taking my dog for a walk in the dark, unarmed and alone. Instead of nightmares, I have strange dreams about having exams in classes I forgot I signed up for. I’ve allowed myself to tear down some of the walls and reach out to people. For the most part, the gray fog of depression that has hung over me for the past several years has lifted, and now the good days outnumber the bad. I can read a news story about rape and be outraged by the injustice of it all without being stopped in my tracks by fear and memories. Every day it gets better. Every morning I gather myself up and try again not to let him beat me. I am no longer alone. And I am thankful.