In the eyes.
And spoke to me with courtesy, as if I were still a human being. As if they had not heard otherwise.
I wondered, in that dazed comatose semi slumber of the months ensuing my rape, how no one could see him when they looked at me. My violation should have been transparent, perceptible in quick, perfunctory glances in my direction. In those days, I wore the residue of my rapist like a morbid prayer shawl, a perverse funeral shroud, unable to peel off the petrified, petri dish crime scene of my skin and climb into the sanctuary of unbroken flesh.
How could they not smell his cigarette smoke clinging to me or the alpine of his aftershave or the rising jury of spectral impressions littering my ribcage and thighs like silver dollar gemstones where his hands and knees had furiously pressed? The baristas pouring my coffee, the tellers at the bank. The Girl Scouts selling cookies.
After I was raped, I became the most solid sort of ghost.
No one noticed. I traveled in the vehicle of my violated body, an outlier, a parasitic pariah wounded by atrocity and prayed for some antidote, some panacea, begging for some higher power to undo the violation, to unwind this sordid VHS tape back to purist reels of innocence.
There was no reprieve. My rape was permanent, an indelible tattoo.
Drifting, floating. Wandering from room to room, shellshocked and vacuous. Losing time like pocket change.
People still called me by my first name as if it still belonged to the girl who owned it previously like she was a tenant of the hollow apartment of my skeleton, evicted early like an unruly guest, expelled and admonished. The syllables lost their ring, their lustre. I responded to it lethargically like an ailing golden retriever lifting its effete head from the tracks of its muddied paws.
My vapid, hazel eyes became glassy mirrors reflecting everything yet absorbing nothing. It was as if I had lived through my own funeral and everyday ensuing was some morose afterparty before my soul could be soundly laid to rest.
And no one noticed.
After my rape nine years ago, my baptized extraversion of young adulthood crumpled like a dog eared diploma over summer vacations, that newfound audacity shriveled and withered like pink carnations at a Communion. Suddenly, by virtue of my assault, I was prematurely forced into adulthood.
Instead, I regressed to infancy.
I slouched so badly in those hellish months that my shoulders ached, my demure half smile extinguished to bitten rinds of tulip petals only flickering at the tantalizing thoughts of unpeeling the contaminated rind of my own freckles flesh like a rotten banana. My raped body was nothing more than a hijacked car, rhinestones where there once were diamonds, a scarified highway leading nowhere, an opulent Vatican cathedral turned into a tawdry Vegas chapel.
I ached everywhere.
My frame burned with the residue of his ghost. He has yet to leave, still settled within me as January frost on birch branches. I cannot shake him from my scalp or my head or this cemetery of my corporeal frame, haunted like an aching attic.
How could that night have gone so horribly wrong?
Rape changes us.
It flicks some sullen switch like a projectionist within the hollows of our brains. I was not the same girl as before. I am not. I never will be again. When I view my life before the rape, I am an outsider to myself. The past is a museum exhibit I can only imbibe visually without embracing, limited by the strict purgatory of those red velvet lines cordoning and separating my pre traumatic existence from whatever patchwork circus this life is, nine years later.
Our rapes alter our trajectories, shift us like broken baby teeth in a malleable jaw.
Post rape trauma is a universal crucifixion, a collective groan.
How many hours did we spend, in those months after rape, biting our nails to shreds while curled in a flannel pajama bottomed ball on the hardwood floors of bedrooms listening to the insidious beating of our pulses against our ribcages? How many times did we drown ourselves in Nine Inch Nails and Fiona, clinging to the choruses of their mournful consonants like lyrics life preservers, searching for solidarity in the empty wombs of downtown coffee shops? How many times did we scream into pillows when no one was home in arias of fomenting fury, in deep seated anger?
Guttural, atavistic groans of commingled anguish and melancholy, slipping out like midnight hounds howling. How many showers did we refuse to take, unwilling to remove the linen armor of our clothes for fear of exposure and vulnerability and flashbacks to the memories of our own forced nudity and violated skin? How many times did we bathe fully clothed at 4 PM, limbs purple and tremoring, curled against maternalistic incubators of radiators for warmth? How many times did we flinch when others tried to wrap us in well meaning hugs?
How many times did we wake up screaming, drenched in Pacific oceans of perspiration, seeing his phantom silhouette in the corners of our rooms? How many times did we stare at walls for hours dissociating until the imprint of paisley birds was emblazoned on our eyelids when we finally turned to blink? How many unsent explanatory letters did we write to our mothers and sisters on the good stationary containing the incendiary bombs of three words?
I. WAS. RAPED.
We tore them up, we threw them away along with our ambitions out of fire escapes like doves released at suicides. We bit our knuckles to pulps, dark undereye circles betraying oceans of brutality, overturned beneath our hollow pupils like capsized umbrellas.
After rape, we are aliens in our own bodies, bystanders to our own violations and train wrecks, divorced and dissociated from our selves, hovering above ceilings in the aching astral projection of jolted violence and forced intimacy.
In the months after my rape, I survived off of coffee and the comforting cotton radio static of daytime comatose slumbers, willing myself into manufactured unconsciousness, eschewing the outside for fear of running into my attacker on the arteries of streets, making makeshift bomb shelters out of my bones. I slipped into the gray turtleneck of depression. I ached to cut my hair to masculine bobs, smudging makeup to raccoon swimming pools in reflection of the feral rabidness unraveling in the catacombs of my skeleton. Self neglect became my favorite indulgence.
I was pale. I was limp. I was voiceless.
There was no trace of a pulse, no stirring. Cold all the time, transparent like a handmade hologram.
I shivered beneath blankets in solitude. I dissociated for months, believing I was dead, that perhaps I hadn’t survived it after all. The cotton candy fog of trauma is surreal, dreamlike, held together by the fascia of a bitter, concrete reality. A sick, sadistic carnival of nebulous nightmares and divorced detachment, my head a helium balloon separated and suspended above the slumping silo of my shoulders.
For nine years, I have burned internally. The pain that does not diminish like the five seconds after the stubbing of a toe or the placing of one’s hand on the coil of a stove. The biting of one’s tongue to a festering canker.
I am not the same. I am not the same. I am changed.
I. WAS. RAPED.
And to this day,
I am amazed
still look me
in the eyes.