He snuck up on me.
I mean, not quite literally. It was as if we were playing a game, a very peculiar game in which he was the inevitable winner and I was not to question the end result.
A very important factor in this game was trust. And isn't that always the way? Trust determines the winner… Or maybe it's betrayal of trust that determines the loser.
I was young. In fact, I was more than young. My mother still tied my hair in ribbons for me in the mornings. I was hardly tall enough to reach the freezer handle on the refrigerator.
I was young, and I trusted easily. I gave my trust without a second thought. When I got my very first two-wheel bicycle - I was 7 years old - I got on it without hesitation. I knew he would help me, teach me. I would not fall. But I did fall, again and again. Maybe I should have learned then.
But I had no reason to distrust him, and he had given me plenty of reasons to trust him - love him, even.
Once I was told I bore a significant resemblance to his granddaughter. I had beamed and thanked him. I had heard that she was very pretty, and was maybe two or three years older than me.
Later on, I would realize that maybe that so-called resemblance had, too, played a part in the game. And with that realization I was afraid I would be sick to my stomach. Because that would mean that he had played this game with her, too.
Years later, the first time I lay with a boy - or rather, under him - I came to terms very suddenly that the game we had played had a real meaning. I began to weep uncontrollably, alarming the boy I was with. He had no idea how to react. I suppose he was otherwise preoccupied. I was, too, and I let him think that I was weeping because I was overwhelmed with the experience. The truth of my tears was the images sprinting through my mind, flashes of real terror from which I could not escape. Memories.
"Are you okay?" he had whispered.
I was unable to speak. So I stared at him and tried to see him.
But all I saw was the unmistakable consequence of the game. The brokenness with which I would have to live, eat, sleep, walk, breathe. I had never felt more isolated, or more visible.
I lay still and let him finish. Just like I had years before.
Getting dressed afterwards was anti-climactic. I had expected my sense of nakedness to slither away like a wounded predator faced with a shield, but the opposite happened. I felt dirtier and more exposed than ever.
"Seriously, you're scaring me. Can I help somehow?"
I don't remember if he was the one who had whispered that, or if it was me.
But the horrible suspicion had started earlier than that.
I was 9 years old as I sat in front of a mirror. I touched my face, my fingers like ice. You're so beautiful, he'd said. His hand had touched me here - I traced my chest and lower. A sudden bout of nausea overtook me so violently that I had to run to make it to the bathroom.
Staring into the toilet bowl, I felt a flowering pain between my shoulder blades. I whimpered like a kicked puppy, and truth be told, I felt like one.
That was the first time I'd felt them. The phantom fingers. Gliding along my skin, raising gooseflesh. Sliding into places they were not welcome. Probing private corners, nooks, and turns. It was not the last time I felt them.
I looked in the mirror every day and hated what looked back at me. The jagged red lines across my wrists began to be covered by long cotton sleeves. I woke in the middle of the night, terrified, not knowing what I was scared of. Fear slipped over me the way rain does, bullets of emotion penetrating me.
I began to feel certain that I would never sleep again. The only exception being death, perhaps.
Every night, the blossoming canvas in my mind grew larger and encompassed more and more of the rules. The full idea did not plant itself until much later, years perhaps. My subconscious was painting a picture of the game; an activity from which my conscious had struggled to flee for a very long time.
Every dream was different in some small way, but one thing never changed - the main characters.
Me. And him.
One day I was sitting in a class. I was in my second year of high school maybe. The teacher was talking; I don't remember when I stopped listening. I was daydreaming, maybe about a boy I liked, or a concert I planned to go to. But at some point, I felt the fingers. I pretended to be a statue, hoping they would go away. But of course that didn't happen. I placed my own hands where I felt them, hoping to brush them off. But of course they were persistent. I began to panic. I began to hear the whispers all around me. I was suddenly sure that every person in the room was glaring at me, piercing me with their judgment. I was positive that I was being called a whore. My breath came quickly and irregularly, my eyes darted wildly around, taking in every detail of the room, from the white of the teacher's shirt, to the black of my own finger nails.
I stood up and fled the room. Whore whore whore, the whispers chanted.
But of course no one had been whispering. No one had even noticed my distress.
I sat in the bathroom and cried. I cried harder than I had when I moved in the 3rd grade away from all my friends. I had felt alone then. I feel it's safe to say in this instance the feeling was familiar.
I felt the darkness before I saw it. The heaviness of the lack of light settled on the bare skin of my arms. For a split second I thought He's here, oh god but then I heard it. The fire alarm. In a sort of blind frenzy, I scuttled out of the stall and into the hallway, following the rest of the kids out onto the field.
I kept my eyes ahead of me, scanning the face of each individual. I needed reassurance. But all I saw were unfamiliar faces. And that was good.
So that night when I lay underneath that boy, I remembered the game. And suddenly the rules stopped making sense to me. Rule number 1: don't talk about it. Rule number 2: don't move or try to resist. And the last rule… Rule number 3: don't make a sound. Pretend you have no voice.
And in that awful moment as I wept after that boy had shuddered atop me as he had once done, it dawned on me, in a slow and torturous sort of way, that I had paid heed to the rules, even after the game was over.
I flirted with denial. I did not resist the tsunami of grief I felt every morning and every night. I had no voice. I made no sound.
Last year I was writing an essay, and I began to pen the word "change" in my winding cursive. I stopped as I got to the last letter. I placed both my hands on the table top and took deep breaths. I willed myself to stop feeling dizzy. I stared down at the word.
I looked at my best friend. I opened my mouth, and had to actually tell myself to make a sound. I wanted to end the game. I wanted it to be over.
She glanced up at the sound of her name. I pleaded with my eyes for her to listen.