I don’t like “trigger warnings” because they imply that our readers can’t handle something. That said, I would like to stress that this is an incredibly intense piece about the difficult subject of sexual assault. I will also tell you that Erin Bardwell is a powerful writer. Please make sure you are prepared before reading ahead.
Content note: explicit descriptions of sexual assault
- It is 4 and I am 20 and I am crying in a phone booth because I have a bad case of the feels. You come up to me and ask if I need a hug. You are a bad hugger, dude. Real bad. Most hugs go around shoulders with arms, not necks with hands. Most hugs don’t go under clothes with sweaty palms and most hugs don’t go hard into bodies with fingers and most hugs don’t drag people by the hair. Most hugs end naturally by nature, not by screaming and kicking. Most hugs don’t involve yelling about cock rings and how much she’d like that because she’s a good little bad girl. Bad girl. And most hugs don’t involve taking a piece of someone’s hair. Where did you put it, I wonder? I still wonder. Maybe that was the worst part, you taking a piece of me after taking a piece of me.
- It is 11 and you are 60 and I am 21, dancing. The DJ stops, walks up to me, says “you don’t have to let people touch you.” I look down. You’re licking at me through my jeans, through my underwear. Everyone has seen. I stop dancing. Almost forever I stop dancing.
- It is 5 and I am 22 and I am in the liquor store, handing over my crumpled dollar bills. I feel your breath in my ear before your tongue reaches in, sloppily. Loudly. You leave. The cashier shrugs. I shrug. What can you do.
- It is 3 and I am 23 and all four of you pull up to the stoplight. The windows roll down. “Hey bitch, I want to fuck you in half.” It’s been a long day, a long year, a long list of gropes and grabs I’ve stopped counting. I just bought a big bag of canned cat food and I am on the hood of your car and I am beating this with that, screaming. The rage was indescribable. The light took forever. I step back before it changes, after you change me, and I feel your beer splash at my feet. “Fucking cunt!” Maybe you’re right. I feed the cat, shaking until my teeth chatter.
- It is 9 and I am 24, reading a book on the subway. I look up and your dick is out, you fucking dick. You’re staring at my legs while you do it. I scream, you run. No one says anything. I wish I hadn’t worn shorts. My fault. Mine.
- It is 6 and I am 25 and you follow me home in your van, for an almost mile. I turn, you turn. Where are my neighbors? It’s already dark. “Get in, baby, get in, baby.” Get out, baby.
- It is 10 and I am 26 and I decide dancing is pretty okay again. You put your hand up my skirt and into me because you’re apparently very much into me. Perhaps I won’t have this dance.
- It is 8 and I am 27 and I feel my bare back bloody the bricks. I don’t remember anything after that and you probably remember everything after that, don’t you. Enjoying yourself?
- It is 5 and I am 28 and I feel you take off my bra through my shirt. Thank you for waiting until my bus stop, though. Nice gesture.
- It is 11 and I am 29 and I am just so tired, too tired to keep counting. I just want to be home, I just want to go home, I just wish you weren’t in there, in me. How did you get in there? Never mind which “there.”
- It is 1 and I am 30 and drunk, so drunk. Bad girl. I start to pass out in your bed and why does everyone keep licking me down there? “I don’t want this! Stop. Please stop please stop please stop please.” I stop crying. I can’t move. Bad girl. I look up, become the cracks in the ceiling. Become invisible. Blank people can’t be broken. Am I still even people?
It is the dark basement with the girl named Bicardi. She leaves me there. All of you surround me. Maybe you want to know who gets to go first. I step back, wait where’s the bathroom, I just want to be clean before I’m dirty. And you’re there, and I plead with you, with just the one of you, to let me go. You show me the window. I climb through it. I go back to a housewarming party, cold inside. It’s so cold outside.
It’s all everyday, everything, and therefore nothing. It’s why I don’t bother telling you when it happens because it’s mundane now, it’s boring, it’s like telling you about my bus ride or my boss. It’s “smile, baby” this and “mami you lookin’ fiiiiine” that. It’s “that ass, girl!” or “bitch, you need a Wonderbra.” It’s the sales clerk, the mailman, the grandfather of little girls. I’m a little girl. I am small and don’t matter.
You don’t leave me alone until I say I have a boyfriend. I don’t. But my imaginary boyfriend is what saves me, because my imaginary boyfriend’s possession of me is worth more than my own.
I try to cut you out through my skin, pouring bleach into my blood, no no even that’s not enough. I try to burn you out with a lighter, already familiar with the smell of scorching flesh. I watch the blisters form because they mean more to me than you. I watch as the fire washes me clean, punishes me for being so worthless, so fucking helpless, such a bad girl. Such a bad girl. Even with my hair up, with a hoodie up, with my face down, with my guard up. You still see somehow my body. You still see somehow it’s yours. I belong to you, and you, and you. I get it now. It’s been so many years but I get it now.
It’s you crossing the street to avoid walking behind me at night, and it’s my understanding that your indifference makes you good. It’s you explaining that you’re not following me, that’s it’s just opposite street side parking day. It’s you, another stranger, giving me cab money to get home because I’m bleeding, breathing in little gasps, escaping but barely.
It is you not fucking me because I’m too fucked up to fuck. It is you not touching me on the train. It is you keeping to your side of the elevator and away from my life. It is you keeping silent when you pass me on the street. It is you letting me loosen the grip of my keys in my fist, because you’ve shown me I don’t have to fight you. It is you walking me home at night, a humiliating ritual lightened by your laughter. Most of all, it is you believing me. Most of all, it is you not saying “yes, but men.” It is you not #NotAllMen. Most of all, it is you not saying how I should learn how to take a compliment.
It is what it is.
And I’m so sorry. For us all.
If you link to this piece, please link to the original post: Lost in the Light, Left in the Dark
To learn more about sexual assault and violence, please visit https://rainn.org/.