Note: This story is fictional. Any likeness to real life is entirely coincidental. The question of what to do when one sees someone who has committed an act of violence against them for the first time since the incident is something I have seen many people try to figure out, a question that doesn’t have a good or right answer. Thank you.
t/w: Sexual Assault
You. You walk into the room with the same swagger you always had. Domineering. You take your seat at the other end of the crowded room. From the corner of your eye, you see a young woman looking at you and making a beeline for the door, darting through crowds. You try to remember what that woman looked like, if she looked familiar. Jewish geography, where could she possibly be? Where is she goi-
You turn around and smile, your fiancee looking up at you. You are far too tall to be making eye contact with people by keeping your chin up. You’re always facing down or staying an extra distance so you do not stand like a pillar. But you do. You look down at this woman who has made a home in your mind and makes your soul feel like home. You love her. She holds your calloused bear paw of a hand and you navigate the room together. It is noisy, in this synagogue social hall.
Me. I see you from across the room and we make eye contact. I feel my stomach tightening and acidity of the knock-off soda I just drank creeping its way back up the back of my throat. I run out, ignoring my friends, ignoring my boyfriend. I bump into the startled rabbi, apologize profusely and run out. It’s pouring rain outside. I cannot leave the building, because I am wearing a white shirt with a white shell, and I have no raincoat. I see the glass doors inviting me to the women section of the main sanctuary. I open the door and find the room mostly empty, besides for two men learning in the far off, badly lit corner of the mens’ side with their sons. I sit on the bench in the front, somewhere people never really sit. Front rows seem to only exist to have second and third rows. I find myself incapable of breathing. I close my eyes and focus on pushing and pulling air in and out of my body. I’m hoping by the time I can feel my legs again you will be gone.
You. You find your friends, your hosts. They have been married for a while but looking at the way they act around one another makes you long to be in that position already. Your fiancee is the first person who makes you want that in many years. You haven’t felt this way since you were just a high-schooler. Stupid. Young. Why not? You remember sitting on tables in secluded wooded areas while holding hands and ignoring curfew while it started to rain. You remember sneaking out of programs to take long walks, hiding behind buildings to avoid the staff.
You remember promising to stay together, to be in touch long after this summer was over.
You remember visiting her and wanting her and loving her. You remember a phone call in the frigidity of a Michigan winter matching the tone of her voice while you shivered in your car and called her a b**ch for ending it without a reason.
Me. I remember you scolding me for not wanting to do it with you.
I remember you forcing yourself onto me, pushing and probing and trying to take my clothing off even though I kept squirming away. I remember doing the math in my head and realizing you really were the star of your wrestling team, that I didn’t stand a chance of getting out of this. I remember saying no over and over again until the word no became meaningless and I wondered if I could ever use the word no again. I remember forgetting it all, repressing it and pressing it into a tiny byte of information that would eventually eat at my brain until it was falling apart. I remember remembering it and the euphoric sense I relief I felt finally understanding why I was waking up in tears every day.
You. You whisper a few quiet words to your fiancee who smiles and nods, you walk out of the room, looking for her. You hear some people ask each other where she is and you decide to follow them at a distance.
You want an answer, why did it all go so wrong? You stare down the long hallway to the entrance, surrounded by glass panels.
It’s pouring rain outside. You cannot leave the building, because your fiancee is wearing a white dress (a habit she’s had since you’ve gotten engaged), and neither of you have a raincoat. You see her friends walk into the glass doors of the woman’s sanctuary, and rushing towards a crying figure that you know is her.
Me. I turn around and see my friends, my boyfriend, rush towards me in concern. I don’t cry. I’m not a crier. I see their mouths moving but I do not hear them. All I see is you standing outside, staring. I’m not sure if I am hallucinating or if this is a nightmare. I’ve had this nightmare so many nights before. “Do you see that guy?” I say, pointing towards you. Your face crinkles in confusion. “Please tell him to leave.” My friends walk away from me and towards you. I turn away. My boyfriend stares at me with a questioning look on his face. I guess it’s time to tell him what I’ve never told anyone.
You. Her friends tell you to leave.
“You can’t tell me to leave. I want to talk to her. Why won’t she talk to me?”
Her friends tell you they have never seen her like this. They don’t know why, but she says you have to leave. “I’m not leaving until she talks to me.” Her friends look up at you, sigh, and walk back inside.
Me. My friends tell me he won’t leave without talking to me. My boyfriend looks at me with pity on his face, the likes of which I’ve never seen from anyone before. It’s why I never wanted to tell him, or anyone, for that matter. He volunteers to go outside and talk to him.
My boyfriend says he’s scared you’re going to hurt me. “I think, from his perspective, I was the b**ch who ended it without a reason.”
I stand up, walking down the aisle between the rows, my legs still numb. I close my eyes and open them. This isn’t a nightmare. This is real life.
You & Me.
“Mazal tov on the engagement.” “Why won’t you talk to me?” “I’m sorry, I’m not ready to have this conversation with you.” You begin to shudder. I begin to cry. You hate seeing women cry. You try to put your hand on her shoulder and I back away. You laugh. “C’mon, you won’t even let me put my hand on your shoulder? With all we have been through…” “No.”
“What do you mean, no?”
“No.” “Wow, you’re still such a b**ch.” I realize I’m pressed against the glass door, the handle digging into my back. I forgot what it felt like to be near someone this much larger than me, especially you. I’m scared. I know nothing can happen to me here, but I’m scared. “Please just leave me alone. Never come back here. Never. Stay far away from me, that’s all I’m asking for.”
“What is wrong with you?! Just explain to me whatever has you this wound up! How can you still be mad at me for something I don’t even remember?” “No.” “Stop staying that.”
“No.” “Can we just have an adult conversation?” “No.” “I hear you saying no, what do you even mean?!” “No. You didn’t get it then, you clearly do not get it now. No. You get no closure. You get no explanation. Please just never come back.”
“You’re such a drama queen. What is wrong with you?” “No.”
You see your fiancee walking down the hallway and your heart melts. You take a few steps back from me and smile at your fiancee. “Bye, I guess.” I watched your angry expression melt when your fiancee walked towards you. I saw your smile. I hoped that would be all she’d ever see. Your fiancee looked at me, the crying mess, as she walked into the post-rain sunshine. She looked beautiful in that white dress.
“Are you okay?” she asks with big brown eyes full of concern. My heart melts a little bit- I get it now.
“No.” “It will be okay,” she says with a smile, “I promise.”And walks out the door, holding your bear paw of a hand.