CW: sexual assault
I freeze. I don’t breathe. Teeth clenched and with a prickle behind my eyes I begin to rock in my chair. It’s not a big deal. I am breathing again, but too fast. He was going to find someone eventually, but her—. I bite back my tears and wait for the fullness behind my eyes to ebb. Instead they overflow from the sea, and my feelings come pouring out wave after wave crashing inside my skull to the beat of my heart. Tears, hot and sticky roll down my cheeks and into my waiting hands. I push my knuckles into my eyes; bright red explodes behind my closed lids. As the crescendo inside subsides and the tide finally begins to lessen there’s nothing left. There are no thoughts. Out. Keys. Car. Reverse. Help me. Away. Freeway. Exit.
Lights rush past me on the sides of the road. The sky is a deep brick red. A haze seems to hang between the trees blanketing the street; wisps pooling under the lights of the streetlamps like cigarette smoke. Oh, to drive off the road and into the darkness. Park.
I’m standing at her door.
Dianne’s at the door. Unlocking it. And I’m in her arms. She tries to pull me back to talk. She barely sees my red eyes before my hot face is against hers and my tears are drying against her cheek.
“God, Anna, what’s the matter? Are you all right? Talk to me!”
I shake my head. So far that’s the best I can do. She leads me upstairs.
“My ex. He. Aaron. He’s dating this girl.”
“Oh honey, is that all? Fuck, you had me worried something had happened.” I’m chewing the inside of my cheeks, expanding a sore I must have started while driving. “You knew he was going to find someone eventually.”
“So it’s not a big deal, you just need to calm down.”
“It’s not that, it’s just…”
“I mean, we’ve been together for a while now, I don’t see why this is upsetting you so much.”
“It’s not, it’s not that he’s dating.”
“Why do you care what he’s doing? Or who he’s with?”
“I don’t!” I push my fingers against my eyes and flowers bloom, tears of frustration squeeze through. She refuses to hear what I can’t say.
“Look, you’re not together anymore, it really shouldn’t matter.” The corners of her mouth turn down and her eyes are no longer soft with concern. “It’s been almost two years; you need to move on already.” Her voice is flat; she’s tired of the scene I’m making. I know this tone, I know how to appease her, but it’s too much effort.
“I don’t care about him.” I need you to understand me. Just hear what I can’t say. “It’s,” but her look withers the words I’m drawing upon. She doesn’t want to hear my excuses, she’s expecting a lie and is preparing for a fight. There’s no gentleness in her eyes anymore, just reproach. “It’s nothing.” I apologize.
“Good.” She wraps her arms around me and turns the TV on to find a movie we’ll enjoy.
The credits roll and we settle down into the bed. Dianne turns the TV off and I duck under her arm into my customary position curled against her chest. Her arm holds me close, a barrier to the dark and the cold of the night.
“Goodnight, my love.”
I incline my face towards hers, like a flower to the night’s sun, and she kisses me tenderly, as she does each night. I open my eyes and it’s not Dianne’s familiar face inches from mine; she looks so unlike herself I don’t recognize her in the strange moon shadows. Instead I see another face in the dark and I’m lying on an old carpet and the room is much too hot and I’m drowning. Not in water, but in hands; for surely there are more than just two hands grabbing at me, they’re all over. A hand is holding down my hips. Another is pushing up my shirt while its partner crushes one of my breasts. Rough fingers dig into my thigh. One hand has my jaw in a vice while the second clamps over my mouth. My hands are pinned above my head. I know I am gasping and Felicia is speaking to me but there is no sound. She mouths to me: Please, bae. I need you. I don’t want to hurt myself. Don’t make me hurt myself, bae. Water has filled my ears and the sound of my heartbeat becomes amplified; all I can hear is the pounding in my ears. My breaths come in short little spurts, hands opening and closing, a panic response; clutching for what even I don’t know, perhaps a lifeboat. I stop struggling for air and instead just float through the time. Noticing, Felicia releases my hands and I push the bases against my closed lids. Hands are flowing over my body like a crashing sea while one reaches down the front of my pants, caught in the fabric of—
Something between a sob and a shout bursts forth and Dianne is jolted from the brink of sleep as I claw myself out of the bed.
“Honey?” She’s worried again.
I’m overwhelmed. It’s too much. I had forgotten; wrapped this memory in brown paper and tied with it red string, yet now it roars again between my ears. I try to hold the sound back behind my grinding teeth but it’s not enough and silent shrieks tear through my face and double me over. Hands, helpless to hold it back, shake against my temples, I’m trying to keep my head above water. Dianne crawls to the end of the bed.
On my knees I weep, and Dianne gets down to hold me.
Dianne is sleeping. She held me while I cried, and she held me while I told her Felicia had raped me, and she held me when we got back into bed. Even in her sleep she holds me now. But sleep won’t come. I breathe deep while she keeps my head above water, and I let myself sink back under the waves, holding onto Dianne, my anchor. Once things had gotten bad I wasn’t even there, really, anyhow.
When Felicia had me pinned on that dirty carpet and I stopped struggling, I could float away. Hands over my eyes she’d be gone. Pushing down on my lids I’d watch poppies bloom and grow across the backdrop of the darkness. Infinite buds, bursting into sight, each in front of the last, until before me stretched nothing but poppies.
***Editor’s Note: This prose piece has been republished on Wetlands Magainze‘s blog upon the editor’s will due to mistakes and omissions that happened to the artist’s original piece in the review and editing process. How the piece appears above is how the artist intended its publication. Thank you.