To Catch a Glimmer
published by Echo Lit Journal, Issue 2
*CW - abuse, sexual abuse, physical & verbal abuse, suicide ideation, drug abuse
Sometimes life weighs heavy on my shoulders and the temptation to shrug it off overwhelms me.
Self-destruction will begin in: five, four, three, two… The one thing I may be better at than anything else. The ticking time bomb that explodes over and over again. Destroying all the good I’ve built up, brick by brick — undoing the mortar with the same hands that built it, until my fingers are rubbed raw. My bones stick through skin, and splinter.
Self-resurrection is the harder thing to do. To pull yourself up from the waves crashing down, knocking you back and sinking you lower. To fight against the current sucking you deeper, dragging your mind away from your control.
I know loss of control. I’ve felt it at the hands of others. Violent men, who took my body and claimed it like something to be conquered. Something to be owned.
I whisper this to myself when I’m alone. I say it loudly in my room with the door shut tight.
My voice doesn’t waver. My voice doesn’t break.
“No, no, no.”
I hear myself crystal-clear, the words when they are repeated throbbing like a heart, beating and thumping in my chest. Liquid like the sweat that pooled and dripped down my back. They sink into the air and disappear but they leave their stain on my ears.
Why didn’t they stain his?
Maybe they did. At least I can hope that somehow he recognizes what he did. But this isn’t about him, or what he did. It’s about me - how I overcame it.
I still watch for his shadow behind me, I still linger on the image of someone standing behind me, in a reflection in the window. Maybe I am still a little bit broken. But I’m here just the same, and I’m surviving.
Him in this sense is plural. It’s not just one male. It’s every single man I’ve come across over the course of my life who has disappointed me, who has abused me — emotionally, verbally, mentally, physically — and who has taken advantage of my good nature and willingness to see the good in every being.
Hitting rock bottom is never graceful. It’s plummeting, falling splat on the concrete. It’s feeling like you lost all purpose, lost all understanding or recognition of who you are.
For me, it came with a startling realization and actions I thought I would never commit.
The dollar bill was rolled tight into a thin straw-like resemblance, the hole in the middle small enough to make a mini telescope and look through.
The white powder was spread in a line across the black tabletop. A pile of snow dust, fallen from the sky.
I placed the end of the dollar-bill straw to the top of the table, resting at the start of the line. Dead end, I thought. No turning back.
I looked across at him, the one who thought I was worth nothing, would amount to nothing, could do nothing right, deserved nothing better… and I took a long snort, moving the bill along the pile of powder in a smooth line, a sharp inhale.
My nose burned as the powder soured up through the makeshift funnel. I felt lightheaded from the deep breath and coughed slightly.
I didn’t feel anything at first, and then it was like a rush, tingling through my brain all the way to my toes. Close to numbness, close to not-being. Non-existence.
The next morning, I woke up and I felt like my soul was partly stripped from my body. I felt detached, disjointed. I dragged myself to the toilet where I heaved my guts out and continued to heave for the rest of that day.
I still went to work, afraid of calling out. The manager on duty was the one who sold me the heroin. I told him that it might have been laced, that I was sick as a dog. He didn’t believe me, and wouldn’t let me go home. I continued to puke in the lady’s restroom until he finally let me leave.
I looked in the mirror when I got home and didn’t recognize her. She stared straight into my eyes, but that wasn’t the girl I knew. The straight-A student, dedicated to her studies, dedicated to her friends, dedicated to her boyfriend.
What friends? I had lost almost all of them. And my boyfriend thought I was a worthless cunt, a whore, a slut. He had taken my virginity, and still he called me these things.
For him, I had thrown it all away. I had snorted H. I wasn’t the same person anymore, and I had to decide who I wanted to be. Who I would choose. The straight-edge girl, or the one who wanted to destroy herself.
I have weathered many storms in my life. Clinging to a piece of jetsam from the shipwreck in a stormy sea. Feeling like I may just let go and drown at any moment. Wanting to drown. Wishing it would end. But still, holding my head above water.
I have endured emotional and mental abuse, which then became physical. I always considered myself resilient and stubborn (hard-headed, if you will). I don’t take shit from anyone anymore because I spent years of doing just that. Sitting back and enduring. Holding my head just barely above the waves and choking on the salty water flowing into my lungs.
Sometimes welcoming the water, sometimes sucking it in myself, but always coughing it up, sputtering and breathing. Willing myself to breathe.
That’s another amazing thing about humans — our endurance and our will to survive. Not wanting to give up, not wanting to let go, fearing that we will no longer be able to continue but always, always finding a way. Seeing what a human can endure, what they can overcome, what they can defeat. Continuing on in the face of doom and hopelessness and despair, but still — carrying on, forging ahead.
I battle my own mind on a daily basis, a battle against myself to continue going, to keep trekking on in the face of despair and loss of hope. To find a little glimmer to hold onto, to power towards, to focus on. Don’t look in the rearview mirror, just keep driving ahead.
Not being in control has always been one of my greatest fears.
Telling someone you trust “no,” telling him not to hurt you, believing he never would, denying the fact that he has even to yourself, even if you go in the bathroom and sob afterwards, even if you feel dirty, even if you feel like a worthless piece of shit for “letting him” do it, again.
“Told you that you’d like it in the end.”
This he said to me after I cried once he had finished. After he had forced me down on the bed and taken me from behind, often holding my hands behind my back and forcing himself between my legs. No matter how I clenched and tried to fight him off, it’s like he enjoyed the challenge more. I wouldn’t get wet but he would still find a way to force himself inside, and I wondered if I might get scars from this forced entry. It felt like he was ripping me to pieces from the inside out, like he was cutting me and bruising me. As he moved on top of me and inside me I kept saying “no, no, no,” kept saying “stop it,” kept saying “get off me,” but he didn’t listen.
“You just raped me,” sometimes I would say afterward, tears in my eyes. I would limp into the bathroom and sit on the floor and cry. Sometimes I would bring scissors in with me. I would want to cut my wrists and let them bleed out onto the floor. He would follow me into the bathroom and lift me up by the armpits and tell me, “Stop it.” And I would listen to him.
He denied that it was rape. Denied and denied, until I barely believed it myself. This went on for a year. He lived with me. I opened my home to him, my heart, my family. I opened my already beaten and broken trust. I gave him everything, and nearly lost all of myself. He continued to disappoint and hurt me. Even if he never saw it himself.
On the start of the new year, 2016, when it should have been a celebration, we went to a party with two of his best friends. I had known them for years and considered them my friends as well. More than he was a friend to me. He started drinking before we arrived and was drunk by the time we got to the party. I hid in a corner and sipped a bottle of Crown Royal, apple flavor. It burned as it went down. I cried by myself. A couple people walked over to put their coats down. I think I was sitting behind a piano. They saw me but they walked away. I was making a fool of myself, I guess.
He kept drinking, more and more, until he got that glassy look in his eyes, the one where it was like he didn’t exist inside his head anymore. If I walked up to him, it took him a while to realize it was me. He started dancing, I tried to dance with him, and then he went outside for a cigarette. I stayed inside, back by the piano again sipping my bottle.
There was a bit of commotion by the door and I looked up to see one of his friends, Tyler, dragging him inside by the ear. Tyler told him to sit down and not move. I rushed over to try to talk to him and ask what had happened but he couldn’t even articulate anything. Some girl came up to him and I gathered that something had happened outside.
“Hi, I’m his girlfriend,” I said to her and held out my hand. “Did something happen?”
She looked down her nose at me like I was a speck of dirt and she and the girlfriend she was with told me to fuck off and turned away. I felt pretty crushed and lonely. I went to find Tyler and try to see what had happened but he was nowhere I could find. It was his work party.
The girl kept going up to my boyfriend, and I tried to talk to her two more times with the same response. Finally, it got to the point where I found out someone was coming to pick my boyfriend up. Or something. Because the girl screamed in my face, “He’s coming home with me!”
I didn’t think, I just blacked out and shoved her. She was drunk and stumbled, falling on her ass and then her boyfriend was in my face shouting at me, telling me that he was going to hurt me. Telling me I had made a big mistake.
A stranger, some guy I didn’t know, grabbed me by the arm and carted me outside. It was cold. December 30th, or was it already January 1st? I couldn’t even remember if we had welcomed the new year. My teeth chattered.
“What’s going on?” the guy asked me, my unknown savior.
“I don’t know,” I told him.
“Why did you shove her?”
I started crying, hot tears streaking down my cheeks. It wouldn’t matter if I tried to explain. Even when I did, all he said was, “That’s no reason to do what you did.” But even so, he had still saved me. I didn’t recognize any of the faces around me anymore, until a car pulled up. I was still standing outside with the man I didn’t know, who seemed to care more what happened to me than my own boyfriend. Two familiar people got out of the car, my neighbors from down the road who I had met at a summer party with my boyfriend when I had accompanied him.
“Tianna?” they asked. I felt good to at least recognize them. “Are you okay?”
“No,” I said. “Not really.”
“Come on, we can give you a ride home,” they said. “Our cousin called us, we’re here to pick her up.”
I had a sinking feeling but I waited while they went inside and sure enough, the girl I had shoved came out, all a rage. She glared at me. My boyfriend was being led out by one of the other guys. They helped him into the back of the car and even though I didn’t want to go, Tyler had appeared by this point and encouraged me to just get in the car.
The ride home was silent and tense. I tried to apologize to the girl, and explain myself, but she didn’t want to hear any of it. She called me names. She looked ahead. Her cousin who was driving told her to stop it. I remember apologizing over and over again as I got out of the car when they had finally arrived at my house. My boyfriend got out with me.
It was supposed to be celebrating a new year, new beginnings. I cried when we got up to my room. He yelled at me. I reached up as if to slap him, I was so angry at how he had treated me, how I had acted.
I don’t think I would have even touched him, but he grabbed me by the throat and choked me with one hand, shoved me onto the ground and continued choking me. I couldn’t stop sobbing after that. My dad came up to ask what was wrong. I told him and he was angry, very angry. My boyfriend didn’t seem to care or think anything he had done was wrong. I wasn’t surprised — that was normal for him.
The emotional damage the rape and abuse had done to me was something I didn’t see clearly until I found my fiancé months later and discovered what real intimacy is like. I couldn’t stand being touched sometimes, and often in the middle of intercourse I would make him stop because I felt close to a panic attack. Scott was always gentle and understanding. He never forced me or expected anything from me, as the others had done. The others seemed to believe since I was dating them, I became their property. An object to be used as they pleased.
Scott coaxed me to open myself back up to me. It was a long process, still ongoing. There are often days I don’t even feel like myself — who am I, anyway? Days when my mind consumes me with tormenting memories. Flashbacks of being held down, feeling like all the air was pushed out of my lungs. The throbbing in my limbs afterwards. Feeling my heart beating throughout my body, keeping time, keeping life. Why did I want to destroy such a thing?
Would it be pills, an entire bottle of antidepressants that I had saved. Never took. Just saved. For an emergency when I would want to take them all. I nearly flushed the bottle down the toilet countless times but the pearly pills glistened up at me from their orange cave and told me, not yet. What would happen the one day I needed them? All of them.
I fight against myself.
There is still so much to live for. So much to anticipate and look forward to. To desire. Dreams to pursue and achieve. Experiences to cherish. First snowfalls to enjoy from the comfort of a living room, the fire burning bright and toasty from the wood stove, the freshly decorated tree glowing by the window. First sights — of daffodils popping up their golden heads in the moment of welcoming spring; of newborn kittens with eyes shut tight, mewling and covered in afterbirth; of the glistening white sheet of snow spread across a silent lawn; of magnificent colors winding through the sky like paint from an artist’s brush stroked across the clouds; of the first flames licking at the wood, crackling and popping or igniting on the end of a candle’s wick offering a romantic glow across rosy cheeks; of fresh baked cookies coming warm and gooey out of the oven…
I have placed my trust and love in the wrong men, over and over. And now it’s time to rectify that, to become reborn. I have discovered a man who treats me with love and respect, and while it is often difficult to trust in his good nature, it has been a lesson. Not every man can be judged for the actions of others. I’ve seen that in my mother’s third husband (who really should have been her first and only), and I’ve seen it now in my fiancé, who overtook my life with light and love.
A single word can often make all the difference. When we speak, we want to be listened to. A single word can save a life, can alter a person’s mindset. A single word has the power to overcome, to instill hope or take it away, to empower someone or drain them of strength. A single word is underestimated. Sometimes it is ignored. Other times it is heard, understood, accepted, and appreciated.
As a writer, I appreciate the power of words. I mourn the loss of many of their meanings - how awesome and awe-inspiring have lost the allure behind what they really mean. The emotions they are meant to evoke and instill in those who speak or read them.
I only hope I can do well enough with my words to make an impact, to leave my meaning loud and clear upon the lips and ears of those who read and speak and listen to what I have to say.