It is darkness that brings the memories back. I try to shy away from them, drinking coffee to avoid sleep or listening to meditation music when I lie down so that I might alter the content of my dreams, but somehow the memories always thread their way back into my sleeping mind and I have to relive them again and again.
This dream always starts out the same, flickering in and out of focus, like the old reel movies I used to watch in elementary school. Tick. Tick. Tick. Then it smoothes out and everything becomes clear.
I can see her standing in the living room next to the brick fireplace with her arms crisscrossing her chest, hands tightly gripping her sides. She is dressed in her favorite outfit: mini-skirt, half shirt, lace-up boots, and large hoop earrings; all stonewashed, all the same shade. Her hair is deep chocolate snaking towards the center line of her back and her eyes are green and brown, speckled like leaves turning in the fall. She is so thin – having stopped eating in hopes of forcing her body to conform to what she sees in the magazines. This, she believes, will make a boy finally love her.
She doesn’t know anyone here and the boy she came with has left her in this room, alone.
“You have a beautiful smile,” someone says and she turns her head slightly towards the man on the couch and then quickly lowers it trying to hide the stinging blood creeping up her neck, her cheeks.
“What’s your name?” he asks and she slowly raises her head to look at him hoping the prickly feeling won’t come back revealing her shyness.
“Sarah.” She starts to lower her head again in automatic response but catches herself. “What’s yours?”
The air is thick with cigarette smoke and alcohol is free flowing. There is a familiar pungent smell making its way around the room coinciding with the relaxation of those it passes.
Her mind wanders to thoughts of Alex, the boy she came with. This new guy could be a definite asset to her plan of luring Alex from his long-time girlfriend.
“How old are you?” Mike asks jolting her back from the imaginary kiss she and Alex are sharing. Mike is lounging back on the nubby couch, arms winged across the back, lids weighing heavily over dark brown eyes.
“Fourteen,” she tells him and his grin widens showing perfectly placed ivory squares.
She lights a cigarette hands shaking. “How old are you?”
This gets her attention. She notices he is a gorgeous man, with a muscular build that boys her age don’t have. She flashes another smile his way.
“Mmmm, what a beautiful smile.” His words linger in the thick air. His hair is cut so short that if it were not for its dark color he would appear bald. His face is tan and smooth, nearly flawless.
She thinks he is beautiful, but is caught between feeling alarmed by his penetrating eyes and excited about his interest in her.
She sits down on the well-worn chair across the room and takes a sip of the smooth amber liquor Alex hands to her. She thanks him and smiles as he walks away. He is eighteen, but she likes to think she can make him love her despite the age difference. He is a drummer in a popular local band and she is his groupie. They work together, sort of. Her sister, with special permission from her parents, got her a job at Boardwalk Fries in the Florida Mall. She is only allowed to stand in front of the bright blue counter and hand out French fry samples to passersby. She is okay with this, though, because it gives her a chance to talk to him every time she works because he is a janitor in the mall.
She thinks how lucky she is that they came here together. She had already told her parents that she was staying with friends overnight before her friends changed their minds about the party choosing to go out with their boyfriends instead. It was too late to go home and she didn’t know where else to go. There is no excuse she can use to explain showing up at home so late at night without her parents knowing she was lying. They are overly religious and abusive, always looking for ways she has sinned and reasons to punish her. She would do anything to avoid sleeping within the confines of their tiny roach-infested house and the inevitable beating her father would give her. She had sat down on the curb near the back entrance to the Florida Mall as she tried to figure out what to do and that’s when she’d seen Alex come out from work.
“What are you still doing here?” he’d asked her, knowing she had gotten out of work nearly an hour before.
“Brenda and Jennifer decided not to go to the party,” she had answered. “I’m not sure how I’m going to get there now.”
“I can take you,” he’d said, “If you’re okay catching a ride with me.” He was the reason that she’d wanted to go to the party in the first place and without thinking, she’d said yes.
Nervous about Mike’s eyes still on her, she looks around for Alex. He is standing in the hallway talking to someone she cannot see. Her eyes longingly gaze over his silky brown hair that covers the length of his back. He looks like the guys she worships on MTV. He is just one in a long line of unsuspecting boys she has targeted to be her savior. She is trying to play catch up. All her friends have boyfriends and sex. She has had neither. Boys her age are oblivious to her existence, but she has started to notice, especially at work, that older men have an interest in her.
Alex moves and she can see he is talking to David and his girlfriend. David is the lead singer of the band and is the one who invited her and her friends to the party. He works with Alex. They are the only two people she knows at this party. As she continues to look at the faces of the people around her a quick twinge of panic overcomes her as she realizes that she shouldn’t have agreed to come to an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar people. Everyone is visibly older than she is and fear starts to permeate the veil of alcohol. She downs the rest of the liquor in the glass she’s holding and pops open a can of beer that’s sitting on the table next to her.
“Sarah, are you ready to go?” Alex says.
“Wha wha what?”
“It’s time to go.”
It takes her a minute to comprehend that he is leaving.
She wants to go with him more than anything.
Mike is still on the couch, sitting close to his girlfriend now, but still staring at her.
She can’t leave with Alex, though, because she can’t go home and she has nowhere else to go.
“I don’t want to go home yet.” Her words stretch out unnaturally. “We just got here like an hour ago.”
“You can’t stay here. How are you going to get home?” he asks.
She knows there is more for her to be afraid of at home than there is here. She is drunk and it’s even later. Her parents’ punishment will be too severe. Even more, she is ashamed of where she lives, ashamed to let Alex in on this hidden part of her life. What if her parents were to go after him because he dropped her off? Boys are explicitly forbidden. What would he think of her then?
They argue back and forth, he giving reasons why she should leave, her giving reasons for why she should stay, neither of them making progress. Then David steps in.
“Hey, man, she can stay here with me and my girlfriend. I’ll give her a ride to work in the morning.”
This seems to relieve Alex of all concern and he walks toward the front door to leave.
“Leave, please just leave with him,” I scream banging on the imaginary wall that separates us. I need to alter the dream here. I need to get her to leave with him. Everything slows down and I will her to stand up and walk out that door with him. Things will turn out so differently if she will just walk out that door. But she doesn’t hear me and just sits there unaware of my pleadings. My words are tangled, imprisoned in this barrier that separates me from her. She will never be able to hear them.
She watches her savior walk out the door, his image remaining even after he’s gone. The sound of the screen door slamming jars her. She starts to regret her decision. “What other option do I have?” she thinks standing up to get another drink. Mike’s eyes follow her as she walks into the dining room.
Another hour passes and the party thins considerably. Those who are left migrate towards the large, oblong table that fills the small dining room. The table is loaded with liquor bottles and extra cases of beer. They move them into the kitchen making room to play a game. She sits down at the table and Mike sits next to her. Mike’s girlfriend sits across the table. She thinks this is odd. Dave, Dave’s girlfriend, and two other guys she doesn’t know sit down in the remaining seats and the game begins.
Because she doesn’t know how to play, she is drinking shot after shot of liquor and chasing them down with beer while the other players cheer her on. A joint is making its way around the table, but she doesn’t take a hit. She hates the way it makes her feel.
“We’ve missed you man,” one of the guys says to Mike.
“What was it like?” the other asks.
“Shit, it was nothing,” he says, “They can’t keep me down.” Everyone starts to laugh except her.
“He just got released from a mental institution,” his girlfriend, Mandi, says, emphasizing the last two words while looking directly at her. Mandi is trying to scare her and it works.
She realizes this party is in celebration of Mike’s release. He begins to howl loudly and starts banging his head on the table, hard. She jumps up. Everyone laughs at her and she is instantly sober. It happens to her a lot – this instant sobriety – and it infuriates her. She sits back down and starts drinking as much as she can.
It’s not long before someone decides the party is over and everyone gets up. The two men she doesn’t know leave. David and his girlfriend walk into the bedroom nearest the dining room and close the door. Mike and Mandi head towards the bedroom nearest the front door and close the door. There is a bathroom in the center that separates the two bedrooms. She goes in and sits on the toilet and looks at her reflection in the mirror to her left. Her face is pale, bloated, with black smudged eyes. She turns away quickly disgusted by what she sees.
She comes out of the bathroom and curls up on the couch in the living room with the soft yellow glow of the lamp on the table next to the front door. She is relieved that Mike’s girlfriend is staying and she relaxes. She lights a cigarette and looks around the room. The fireplace is a silent, dark pit hibernating till cooler temperatures arrive and for the first time she notices that there is no television in the room. She stares at the orange glow of her cigarette as she takes a drag and is startled by the sound of a door opening.
Mandi walks out of the bedroom. “Be a good boy,” she says to Mike, but looks directly at her as she says it, her eyes issuing a warning. She walks out the front door flipping the light switch and the blackness of inside and outside merge. Nothing is visible but the tiny orange ring at the end of the cigarette.
As the door snaps shut she is instantly sober again fear gripping her, blood pulsing loudly in her ears. She puts the cigarette out in the ashtray extinguishing the last bit of light in the room. As her eyes adjust, the room takes on a slightly blue hue from the moonlight coming through the sheers hanging from the large picture window. She lies down trying to stay calm convincing herself that everything is okay; that it’s stupid to be so afraid.
It is a matter of minutes before his dark ghoulish silhouette is on top of her suffocating her. She hadn’t heard him walking across the living room and all the cells in her body freeze for a moment. He is trying to kiss her, pressing down on her and she pushes her hands hard against his chest trying to get him off.
She is wearing a short, loose skirt.
She struggles against him, trying to pull her legs together, trying to free her hands to pull her skirt down as he tries to pull it up. His legs are heavy on hers. She cannot get loose.
“No, no, no,” the air, now thin as a razor blade, slices at her words making them barely audible.
She tries to speak again, “Please,” her voice airless and cracking from his weight, “Stop.”
His mouth closes on top of hers. Screams release into its hollowness. She feels a searing pain between her legs and she twists and turns, trying desperately to squeeze her legs together and make it more difficult for him. He is getting frustrated. He is so big and she is so small. This should have been easier.
I want to reach in and pull him off of her, scream for her, do something to save her. I want to run into David’s room and wake him up, tell him to save her, but there is nothing I can do. I want to turn away so I cannot see what is happening to her. I don’t want to have to watch this play out. Again.
He doesn’t give up. He is used to getting what he wants. She is broken wide open. She stops trying to scream or get away. She disappears into a safe place inside her mind, separating from her body, creating a permanent divide.
The smell of Vaseline lotion.
The slimy feel of it between her legs.
She wakes to darkness and the faint sound of snoring. He is back in his room and she is on the couch in the living room, safe for now. She tiptoes to the bathroom and tries to scrub him off of her avoiding looking in the mirror. She thinks about knocking on the door to David’s room, but she doesn’t know what to say or how he will react. She doesn’t know him well enough and her fear of his reaction stops her.
She sits back on the couch, smoking cigarette after cigarette watching a clock tick minute by minute waiting for sunlight, waiting for the sound of David’s door opening to signal her escape out of this place. She is nauseated, her body bruised and in pain, her head pulsing – the only sound to penetrate the silence.
They are speeding up the hill on Sand Lake Road on their way to the Florida Mall, Sweet Child O’ Mine blaring from the cassette player in David’s Camaro. He is drowning her out. She told him what happened when they stopped by his house so he could shower before work. There were a lot of shits and fucks and then silence. Later, he would talk to Mike, who would deny anything happened, and David would believe him, making her a liar.
She walks into work like nothing happened. Everyone thinks she is hung over, teases her about her wild night of drinking. She starts to give a faint smile and then remembers his words “You have the most beautiful smile,” and she runs to the back of Boardwalk Fries and vomits in the mop sink again and again trying to purge him out of her. She doesn’t think she will ever smile again.
It is twenty-two years later and I come to this coffee shop each morning to write, for the first time, about being raped at 14. I know it is time to extract this nightmare from my body or it will kill me. Writing here, in this coffee shop, surrounded by the comforting smells of coffee and freshly baked cookies and the unfamiliarity of the strangers consuming them, I know I am less likely to let these memories overwhelm me and break down into uncontrollable sobs of rage. I am ashamed of what has happened to me, what has happened to my body, and my silence which allowed it all to happen with no consequences to the man involved. This shame has grown like a cancerous tumor in my body and putting my truth on the page serves as a daily dose of chemotherapy. Slowly, as I write, the mass surrounding my core is shrinking as it is eaten away by the poison that has been stored so long within its unyielding edges. I am letting it pump freely through my blood, allowing it to spread through my body so that I can gain peace from its healing power. It is flowing through my hands, through the ink on this page, making a permanent record of all I have let him forget by being silent.
*This essay was originally published in the fall 2010 issue of Sanctuary Literary Arts Journal.