The fiction piece below contains triggers.
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Me and a Gun
The cold metal barrel pressed to the back of my neck. Pinned to the hood of a stranger’s car at the back of the mall parking lot, I struggled to breathe. Snot smeared from my nose and tears made the skin at my temple stick to the aluminum surface beneath me. My hair lay sprawled and tangled over my face, masking the real world on the other side—the world in bitter, cold, November darkness. My most intimate parts bare to the night, I squeezed my eyes shut tight. See no evil. See. no. evil.
Pressure from the barrel let up, but I stayed put as the rip of his zipper warned me of what would come next. The back of his hand brushed my bare thigh as he freed himself. I winced. It was coming, and it was going to be horrifying.
Dissociate, my mind told me. So I tried.
Somewhere in the distance beyond the van blocking us from view, two women chatted, the thud of car doors, an engine starting. I focused on those details. I focused on anything but him, my heart pounding so fiercely it drummed a rapid rhythm in my ears.
The bright parking lot lights, the alarm button on my car remote, the key I had lodged against the palm of my hand were all futile against his skillful attack. I should have run when he stepped up with a smile, when I politely smiled back while my instincts called Danger!, when I told myself not to overreact, when I didn’t want to be labeled a bitch.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I caved to compassion and lent him my phone, carelessly surrendering my wrist. With one slick twist, he flipped my fate.
The barrel returned to my neck now, heavier, colder from the night air.
My shoulders ached, arms numb as the zip-tie on my wrists chafed the skin beneath. He used his hips to jam me against the car. At the icy collision of bare thigh to metal, I recoiled. The gun barrel dug deeper into the soft flesh at the base of my skull, scolding me. I held still, obeying its command.
A brush, a breeze, a hard button pressed to my soft flesh. My insides burned as he ripped through me. I opened my mouth to scream but bit the hair that fell in instead. I willed him away, praying for a savior, a miraculous rising of the sun, a heart attack…for him or me, didn’t matter.
My thoughts stuttered, running off far, far away then ripping back to the present with every thrust of his hips. I must survive this. But why? Was it worth surviving?
My mind grew tired of running so it stayed right there with his heavy panting, the clink of my hoodie zipper, and the eery silence beyond our horrid bubble until he released himself inside of me, leaving a stain only I would see. Forever.
Why would I write something so dark and horrid? Three reasons.
- I am a sexual abuse victim. I have endured multiple sexual abuse situations. I choose not to be loud about it, but it is an important topic to me.
- I’ve lived with depression for as long as I can remember, and it wasn’t until I started channeling the darkness into writing that I could function well in everyday life.
- Society sends us mixed messages when it comes to personal safety. This is the point I want to discuss today.
There are two sides to every incident and every incident could play out in one of two ways. Let’s use the example from the story above. First, I need to clarify a few things.
Although it’s not explicitly stated in the story above, we’re going to assume that the victim is female. Yes, all of it could happen in reverse or with same sex or with any kind of person that lives. But this is the scenario I relate to. So this is what I’m writing.
For the sake of simplification (because this is going to get kind of complicated), I’m going to name the man from the story Lucas and the woman Olivia. (2016’s top two names, although different sources quote different names.)
Okay. Still with me?
the real question
So, Lucas approaches Olivia, asking for help. “My car died and my wife has my phone.” *points over shoulder toward mall* “May I borrow yours to call someone?”
Olivia can do one of two things:
- Help Lucas by lending him her phone.
- Deny help and get away as fast as possible.
What does society expect Olivia to do?
That’s a good question.
“Baby, you don’t go around accusing innocent people.” ~Jake Houseman, Dirty Dancing
It all depends on how the incident turns out. If Lucas is not a criminal, society will praise Olivia for helping (“What a kind and giving person you are!”) and shun her for denying help (“Don’t be such a bitch.”) If Lucas is a criminal, society will shun Olivia for helping (“Are you stupid? What were you thinking? You were asking for it.”) and praise her for running (“That was some quick thinking on your part. Saved your life!”)
The problem is, Olivia has no way of knowing if Lucas is a criminal or not when he approaches. The best attackers make themselves appear safe and non-threatening. And often the people who look tough and “criminal” are soft-hearted romantics. (Notice I said often, not always.)
So if Olivia doesn’t know what Lucas is, how should she respond?
The answer is, any fucking way she wants to in order to feel safe.
hold that thought
In the moment, there is no time to worry about what others will think of you or say about you. You must act on instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. And this applies to the long-term manipulations too. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it.
It’s that exact hesitation your attacker needs to make their move. With random acts of violence, it’s the pause before handing over the phone. Your attacker knows what society expects of you. He knows you don’t want to be labeled a bitch. He relies on that fact to trap you.
In long-term manipulations, it’s the pause while you recollect all the good things you know about the attacker that seem to disagree with that icky feeling you have that something just isn’t right. Again, he knows. He’s relying on the surety that you will not quickly dismiss all the good things you know about him. In fact, he has most-likely groomed you right into this position. (Read more about grooming here.)
don’t judge me
What it all comes down to is that so many attacks and incidents could be avoided if we didn’t stop to consider “What will people think of me if I falsely accuse him/make it clear I don’t like what he’s doing?”
Stop doing that. Personal safety first. No matter what.
And society, for your part, stop judging others period. Just stop.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you experienced The Pause before? How did it turn out for you? What did others have to say about it? How do you feel about societal standards and how they play into sexual assault?
Talk to me.
All images in article are from free royalty free website pixabay.com.
9 thoughts on “Me and a Gun: Fiction & Sexual Abuse Discussion*”
Greta — thank you for sharing this piece. It’s thought provoking and brings to light a disconnect in society regarding expectations. This is what I would term a lose-lose situation in some instances because we find the attacker taking initiative in the situation and relying on being one step ahead of the victim. Gender does play a role, but as you pointed out, it could be any gender. I think the crux of the matter lays with the victim because at The Pause, that determines what happens next. That decision is made by the victim. Maybe that hesitation taking into account situational awareness (and less of society’s expectations) and a more critical understanding of the perceived (but not) safety. This isn’t to say this is the victim’s fault.. but the situation is rigged in favor of the attacker. Who’s to say the situation would have turned out different if there were more variables at play?
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, D. You say it well with “the situation is rigged in favor of the attacker.” I agree just based on the fact that he (or she) knows he is preparing to attack and the victim does not. Knowledge is everything. It means we need to take the extra step to protect ourselves. The best way to do that is to train our brains to think outside of society’s judgments before we’re ever put in a dangerous situation. “I need to do what’s right for me in this moment even if my instinct is wrong.”
I’d like to clarify that I understand there are plenty of attacks where there is no proposition, if you will. No opportunity for The Pause. A brutal, sudden attack. That’s not what I’m talking about in this article.
Yes.. The Pause is an opportunity for the victim. But if there isn’t one in the case of brutal, more sudden attacks.. there is a whole other argument to play here. Then we discuss situational awareness more.. i.e. Unlit parking garage.. personal defense, public spaces and additional people. Unfortunately, some attackers are so desperate, and those are really the ones that have nothing to lose.
We could write another whole article on preventative measures. And another article on the broken people who are so lost, the only thing they know is to attack. The world is a mess and it sucks. But having said that, I am the strong person I am today because of this broken world and because of my experiences. I wouldn’t change who I am even if I could go back and do it differently.
It becomes a part of you. And you grow from it. Thank you again for sharing Greta. Looking forward to more pieces like that and additional thoughtful conversations.
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When I was 21 – and a very young 21 at that – I always felt safe. Even when I put myself into vulnerable situations, I was strong, I understand now that I was lucky.
I began dating a man much older than myself.
Let me say that my sexuality is complicated, I’m a switch and that was a big part of my identity. I say was, for years I have struggled with it because of what happened to me.
My boyfriend was a manipulative abuser. The attack I endured was unexpected and brutal. I remember every second clearly. The questions I am left with more than 15 years later are had I not been emotionally abused and as vulnerable as I was, could I have fought back. Could I have avoided what happened to me. Would I have allowed my sexuality to be exploited by a man who hated me.
My attack was spontaneous and afterwards dressed up as a scene.
For a time, I was so traumatised that I believed it.
There was no pause. My shock did not allow me to say stop or no. I could not fight.
He was so charming and collected, so confident and handsome that I never realised once that I was being abused until afterwards. I took weeks for me to even realised that I had been raped and repeatedly sexual assaulted.
Thank you for sharing this Greta, sorry for rambling. I struggle to speak about this coherently.
Stef, thank you so much for sharing your story here. I was very much like you at 21 even after already going through several years of abuse. I stupidly thought it made me stronger to fight against it. Oy.
That your boyfriend used your sexual preferences against you is just shitty. In my experience, it’s the long-term abuse (especially from those we trusted) that takes the longest to recover from. As my therapist told me, victims of random one-time attacks typically heal much faster because the depth of their self-blame is so much less. It makes sense. In my two biggest incidents, the abusers were very close friends and they were hella good at manipulating. And just as I stated in my main post here, those attackers rely on the fact that you will believe in their good qualities even after multiple signs of their bad.
I sincerely hope you have received professional help for your mental health, Stef. There’s no shame in it. And you will feel amazing afterwords. Not only is that good for you, but it’s good for others who you will someday help because of what you’ve learned from the situation. ❤
Thanks Greta. I did get help and found good people to support me. I sought to normalise everything for a while, but got there in the end.
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Good! I’m so glad to hear that. ❤