There was no penetration, so I can’t call it rape. And the initial physical elements were consensual, so it took me until around noon the next morning, two hours after I’d started vomiting uncontrollably at work, to realize that being slapped, choked around my neck and with fingers down my throat, and told “You realize I’m stronger than you, right?” all while saying no to the slapping and the choking and the fingers meant that something bad had happened. Immediately after, I was so numb I gave him my number. I texted a friend “boring make-out.” Boring. I was so used to male arousal at violence and at male apathy towards my pleasure (let alone towards my consent) that the entire experience initially registered as trite and sad.
The cost: approximately $15.00 of Gatorade from a vending machine at work, as I ran upstairs and downstairs and found bathrooms nobody else was in so I could spend the entire day quietly removing any trace of that night from my system, any remnants of his cells from my mouth. What wouldn’t come easy I scraped out; my knees bruised to join the hand-print bruise on my thigh.
“I’m surprised he would be rough,” the friend who had introduced us said the next morning, as I texted her about it, fairly certain that I still knew the difference between violence and consensual kink, though friends and articles and rapists keep trying to convince us otherwise. She would bring him up in conversation at semi-regular intervals thereafter. “I saw him on the street the other day.” I don’t care, I don’t care. “I guess he has a girlfriend.” Stop.
The cost: that friendship. A lot of parties and social gatherings. The ability to go to happy hour without bringing up rape, to be a woman beyond The One Who Is Always Talking About Sexual Assault.
To add to my ineptness at being a proper victim, at identifying things as problematic at the correct time, at doing something more than trying to verbally and physically articulate my desires (like… leave? I should have left should have left should have left), I asked the mutual friend for his number weeks after deleting it from my phone when he tried once and then twice to contact me. I texted him asking him out. I was drinking, and so strung out with panic that I couldn’t eat or sleep, approximately a month out from a particularly devastating break-up — and so I texted my friend, asked for the phone number, and bludgeoned any credibility I had (as a victim, as a blameless woman, as someone who acts normally) into a bloody, dirty, violent grave.
The cost: several hundred dollars worth of candles shaped like skulls, hoisted onto iron pikes next to my bed, a marriage of anger and consumerism, an appeal to any activity that promised even an ounce of help. I’m still buying taxidermy. Dead things in bottles. Furs. Sheepskin.
A year later, guilt at my inability to Be Assaulted Properly has metamorphosed into guilt at my inability to get over it. I’m not over it. Why am I not over it? I’ve stopped spending time with male friends to the point where I’m hard-pressed to say I have any. I get dizzy spells and panic attacks (and one instance of flat-out fainting) in enclosed spaces with crowds that are mostly male. I don’t leave my neighborhood much, which costs friendships too. I can orgasm during partnered sex only with the assistance of a ridiculously giant and powerful vibrator, and even then — rarely. I stopped shaving and cut my hair off and spent a long time wearing nothing but weird shapeless shrouds.
The cost: my relationship with my mother, almost.
I’d begun taking anti-depressants around the time of the assault so had held out some minor hope that my broken vagina was just a side-effect that could be treated with an extra dose of something, or at least medically explained.
“How are orgasms when you are alone?” asked my doctor when I went for a check-up.
“Fine,” I said. I hadn’t even noticed anything until my partner and I had started dating.
My doctor looked sad for me:
“It really can’t be the medication, then.”
The cost: $120 in Hitachi magic wands, $126 in doctor appointments, a quart of tears from post-coital breakdowns.
It took several months of going out every night and drinking so much that I had no memory of getting home to realize that I’d mistakenly missed something bad again, had shaken hands when I should have fled, had stepped sure-footedly in the wrong direction and had sort-of-known that I was drinking too much but had clung to the hope of this one indulgence, this one thing I could fuck up, this one thing I could do wrong and be forgiven for. I couldn’t communicate with people and I couldn’t be alone and I’d drink until the anxiety stopped and then I wouldn’t stop and then I’d have to.
The cost: around $1000 (or more?) in the Bars & Alcohol category of my Mint.com account. Half a year.
I wrote a lot of bad poetry. I’m still writing it. This is my third essay in a row that touches on assault — at some point, my Submittable account will refresh into a page that just says “woman, shut up” over and over and I know it will and I keep writing — why, though? I don’t want the man who did this to me to go to jail. I don’t want him to know how badly an hour of his life affected this much of mine; it was his birthday and I don’t even want him to think about this on every birthday for the rest of his life. I don’t want to present him with this itemized list of what I’ve lost because I have no idea what I have lost and if I even could get it back I would not know where to start. I do not want to look into his eyes and ask him if he knows how long it is going to be until I feel my personality coming back, until I feel like something other than the charred-black remnants of a too-far-reduced sauce that’s been left on the stove until it burned over and turned into something sticky and troublesome and difficult to remove.
I just want to write, and I will.
Sonya Vatomsky is a Moscow-born, Seattle-raised poet and essayist. An introvert, she balances her time between being active in several (online and local) feminist communities and cooking elaborate five-course dinners for herself, alone, in the dark. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Delirious Hem, Empath Lit, Potluck Magazine, Weird Sister & Electric Cereal; follow her at @coolniceghost.