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.