A Sudden Blow

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                                   Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
—W. B. Yeats, from “Leda and the Swan”

Thus, the most common trauma of women remains confined to the sphere of private life, without formal recognition or restitution from the community. There is no public monument for rape survivors.
—Judith Herman, from
Trauma and Recovery

The night he came in, I nearly died. Everything after that has been an image of him—the merciless aftermath of coming to understand what he meant when he said, “One day you’ll wish I’d just killed you.” Then he left. I’ll never know if he was there fifteen minutes or five hours. They say the mind does funny things in times like those, in times when some stranger has entered your house to enter you. I never pressed charges, too afraid he might come back and undo his words, finish me off anyway. But lately, I’m beginning to wonder if that might have been an easier way to go. Quicker. A single gunshot. Like the feel of his loins firing inside me.

Sometimes I think it’s all his tiny sperm that later became the cancer—like maybe they sat in me until they started to eat me away, organ by organ, breath by breath. At night I lie in my bed, the same bed where he held the gun to my head and told me to take off my clothes, and wonder how many minutes I have left. Then I see him on top of me again, and I think the countdown must be something like staring above you trying to count those damn sheetrock drops that look like zits on the ceiling or trying to count the number of times the fan buzzes round and round—anything but the number of seconds he has been shoving himself between your legs.

I still replay that moment when I suddenly woke up, and there he was, standing over me like the feeling of guilt before confession. They always say the woman wants it—like somewhere in me I had enough power to will the stars of the universe to align so that he could rattle my doorknob on the exact night I forgot to turn the deadbolt latch and fell into bed after working a sixteen-hour shift at the restaurant. And after a while, you begin to believe them. Not that I’d know who “them” is. No. Because I’ve never told anybody. But I still hear their voices. The ones who speak on the 6:00 news, barely audible. But they’re still there, whispering to some other victim that she wanted it, blaming her and blaming me all in the same breath. They speak in that split-second flinch before they voice that awful word—that shameful word that tries so hard in four letters to get at what some man did to her, did to me. Then they shove her story away in the time it takes the fan to buzz round twice. They let the dead victims of murder live longer in the dull light of the flickering screen. But I remember them, the others who are like me. I keep their stories in a shoebox beneath my bed, right between the folder that contains my positive cancer screening and a box of my mother’s old knickknacks.

The doctors keep telling me I only have six months left. It’s so funny—not haha funny, but ironic funny—to think that cancer cells are killing you where new life is supposed to grow. I mean, they could have been pulling a baby out of me, rather than tearing out my insides—letting an infant cry with his first taste of air, rather than letting that putrid, malignant sack of uterus sit on a sterile tray in the corner of the operating room. They took my chance at the baby boy I always wanted and the cancer all at the same time. Or so they thought. Three months later, they said the cancer had continued to spread. And now my life has become has become the loss of one dispensable organ after another, has become measured in chemo treatments and the number of victims I can save from the newspaper before the cancer takes me. But no one, not even God, can save me.

I lost him that night, too—God, that is. Not all at once, though. First it was in the moments when I couldn’t love my neighbor as myself. Because maybe the faceless man from that night was my neighbor. Because maybe I drove by his house everyday, and he was watching me suffer, laughing over his victory. Then it was in the moments when I couldn’t forgive. Because how do you forgive someone who takes that much from you? And then it was in the moments when God had—or rather, didn’t have, as I know now—a master plan and that somewhere in the middle of it, that man smothering me with all his heavy weight would work out for the greater good. Then it was in the moments when the watery blood started pouring from me and the jabbing pains of an invisible knife came closer and closer to where he shoved himself inside. And now God lives somewhere between the second I felt the cold gun barrel against my temple and the second I finally heard the front door latch with him on the other side, deadbolt still unturned. After God, the things I lost became as uncountable as the zits on the ceiling.

I often pull out the shoebox, trying to see if the others lost those things, too—what it feels like to think you’re safe, that your body is your own, that your voice will be heard, that anything can be explained with words. But you never really have any of those things. No, the difference between who you were and who you become is the difference between believing those things exist and knowing they don’t—because this is what he takes from you: The moment before disillusionment. The moment before you realize you left the door unlocked, before the doctor breaks the news, before you wish he’d just killed you. Quicker. A single gunshot. Like the feel of his loins firing inside.

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