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September 29, 2013

How To Tell a True War Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 2:24 am

I wrote this in 2007. I’ve never shared it publicly before today. The person in this story does not exist. But the story is true.

. . .

This is a story.  It is not a veridical accounting of factual events; it is an explication of my phenomenological experience.  As such, it is the truest story I can tell.  I’ll need you to suspend your disbelief.

Once, I had this friend.  I met him when we were kids.  We grew up together.  We were friends for a long time.  Ten years.  Longer than I’ve known you.  He wasn’t always nice to me; in fact, sometimes, he was downright mean.  Especially in later years when, by tearing into me, he could make his cooler, more attractive, better-dressed friends laugh.  But we became friends, first, because in the beginning he wasn’t cool.  Because he had Coke-bottle glasses and copious acne.  And liked his cats more than he liked people.  And had a wicked sense of clever humor; a kind of manic, playful creativity; and a deep, deep, quietly wounded vulnerability, a loneliness, which he guarded with iron-edged vigilance, except – occasionally, very very occasionally – when he was with me.  

I loved him.  That is to say, my feelings for him were strong and complicated.  Outside of family members, he was the first person I was ever close to in my life.  For a while, in the early blush of adolescent turmoil, I thought I was in love with him; and this shaped, perhaps to a large degree, my nascent understanding of desire.  But my feelings weren’t mutual.  And, insofar as he was aware of them, they made him uncomfortable.  So, out of both desperation and courtesy, I let them go.  In time, they faded – the way a powerful dream fades: vivid and intrusive at first, but eventually so insubstantial that you wonder if you made it up entirely… 

But there was always something which lingered.  Something like a crush.  So that, when he didn’t want me, I genuinely believed it was because I wasn’t good enough to deserve him – and I would struggle, to change, to be cool enough, interesting enough, non-chalant enough to impress him.  Because, when he did want me – when he was worn out playing dress-up for his cool friends and there was some kind of relief I could give him – it was great.  There were those intermittent moments, when he would bring me back inside his inner world; make me laugh with inside-jokes that spanned eras; embrace me with quiet confidences; and whisper that nobody could understand him the way I understood.  

No matter how many times I had my heart wrenched by the ensuing and inevitable rejection, whenever he came back, it felt like I was being shined on by my own private sun.  Like something about me was special.  Like, at the end of the day, behind that brash and candy-coated colorful exterior, my old friend was there, quietly, looking for someone he could trust.  And our trust was still there; an unshakeable undercurrent; a thread, it felt continuous no matter what tumult and miscommunication and circumstances overlay it.  His trust for me.  My trust for him.  Intimacy.  Closeness.  And, like, this time – this time – I was sure it was for real…

Time passed. My friend and I both grew older.  I branched out into previously intimidating expanses of the larger universe, and found other sources of self-assurance: in myself; in the perspective that cumulative life-experience brings; and in other – less cool but more genuine – friends, mentors, lovers.  In the long stretches between phone-calls from my friend, when I would overhear him in the halls ripping on me for the amusement of the people he wanted to impress, when I noticed the subtle ways he would sabotage my relationships for the sake of his popularity, I started to question myself.  What was the basis of my loyalty?  What support did I have – had I ever had – for my unwavering allegiance to this person?  Was there anything to this friendship?  Had there ever been?  Anything beyond infatuation…? 

And then there would be that phone call.  The e-mail.  The invitation.  And the uninhibited rush of relief.  Could I do him a favor?  Only a small one?  This thing or that thing?  Of course I could!  Because it felt so good to forgive him.  Such a relief.  To realize it had all been my misunderstanding.  My lack of faith. What kind of a friend was I? Every time.

And he knew.  He couldn’t articulate it.  He could never articulate much.  But he knew I’d always be there for him.  No matter what.  He knew how I felt about him.  He knew. 

My friend liked to drink.  And, several times, he got very drunk with me.  Which is not to say that we got drunk together.  There was, for example, the wedding reception, where he gulped down two entire bottles of champagne, threw up on my shoes, and sat shuddering in the car until the ambulence was called.  I was supposed to be on an airplane that night, but I went to the hospital with him and held his hand while he thrashed in terror on the gurney, fighting tooth and nail to prevent the medical staff from helping him.  Needle-phobia.  

Or the time when he showed up at my apartment with a couple of friends, slammed a whole bottle of Jagermeister, destroyed one of my boyfriend’s most prized possessions because he thought it was funny, sprayed my bathroom with 360 degrees of puke, and went home.  The next morning, as I cheerfully scrubbed flecks of vomit out of the paint around the lightswitch, I thought to myself how lucky I was that he trusted me enough to get that drunk around me.  That he trusted me enough to know that I’d understand, and clean up his chunky vomit, and not even need an apology.  He never called.  I never minded.

I was naive.  But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t an asshole.

And then, one night, he got me drunk. 

And raped me.

He was sober.  At least sober enough to drive.  I was plastered.  The drunkest I’d ever been in my life, or have ever been since.  I know because it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever blacked out. Been drunk enough not to remember.  But we were celebrating, after all.  I’d just graduated from school.  It was a triumph.  I felt good about myself.  I bought the beers and let him pick the game. “Circle of Death.” Some of his cool friends were there, and he wanted to impress them.  I was happy to oblige.  Why not?  I was in my own home.  I was the girl of the hour.  I was with people I knew and liked.  To all of whom I had said, very clearly, while sober, “I don’t want anything sexual to happen.”  And I knew I didn’t have to worry.  Because I was in my own home with my best friend.  Who I trusted.  I was safe…  

And then I was outside in the moonlight, telling him a secret.  Then he was kissing me.  Then I was in a dark room, not my own, everything blurry.  And I knew something was wrong.  And there was no sense of time.   And I was naked, puking in the toilet, helpless.  And my boyfriend was there, scared and angry.  And I was crying.  And my “friend” was gone.  And it was morning. 

I didn’t tell anybody.  What could I have told them? I didn’t know what had happened. Had only pieces of memories. When I saw my friend, he refused to tell me details.  Only that he was angry at me and that I should know why.  Scornful, insulting and malicious.  So I knew I had done something wrong.  That I had screwed up.  That it had been my fault.  That I deserved it.  Like I had, every time. 

Time passed.  Eventually, I pieced the night together.  And, with it, I slowly pieced the last ten years together.  And I felt very, very, very, very sick.  

I didn’t turn him in.  I had thought it was my fault for so long; on some level, I still did.  Who would believe me?  I was afraid they’d just laugh.  He was so cool and beloved.  I was…not;  not unless his light was shining on me.  I didn’t want to make a scene.  So I just distanced myself.  I stopped talking to him.  I gritted my teeth and turned my back.  From him, and everyone he knew.  I just wanted to forget about it.  About him.  I just wanted to forget. 

When that e-mail inevitably came – no apology, no acknowledgement, just an oh-so-generous invitation to “talk” – my heart jumped into my throat.  Like it did, every time.  But this time, I swallowed it.  I replied that I was very busy and would call him if I had time.  I never called. 

One night, months later, a mutual friend – who I’d been avoiding – invited me over.  I had introduced the two of them, as I had originally introduced many of the people who now constituted my rapist’s inner circle and who considered me persona non grata.  I didn’t know what he’d been saying to them about me since it happened.  I didn’t want to care.  I just knew that they looked at me differently now.  And, worse, that they reminded me of him.  So I stayed away.  But this unexpected invitation came from a friend I’d known almost as long as I’d known my rapist, and so I went.  Because our history pre-dated theirs, and because he was the one friend I had been truly sad to sacrifice.  

But he looked at me differently now, too.  Similar to myself and many others who had never been popular in school, he was highly susceptible to the confidence-boosting narcotic in my former friend’s attentive glow.  So, in between episodes of Arrested Development, he asked me about it.  He didn’t really ask me what had happened, per se, and so I didn’t have to tell him.  What he asked was why I didn’t apologize.  He had heard the story, and he was sure that, if I would only make amends, my friend would take me back.  

I explained, despite my queasy stomach, that for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to be taken back.  That returning to his fold was no longer the issue.  I said nothing about vomit, and fear, and confusion, and darkness, and feeling used and brokenhearted and the tears.  I said I felt that we’d…outgrown each other.  That I was certain he believed that he’d rejected me, sure as always that he could safely do so without losing me as a fall-back.  And that, as far as I was concerned, he could continue to believe that.  I had no desire to make a scene.  I didn’t have the energy.  I hated drama.  I had better people to hang out with.  I had more important things to do with my time… All kinds of defensive, sad, confused and flustered noises escaped my throat.  

But in the end, it was enough to get the point across: That it no longer mattered whether this person wanted me or not; because I didn’t want him.  This wasn’t entirely true at the time.  But it was true enough.  I knew this because, when I had finished my explanation, I saw a look cross my friend’s face that was both a little shocked and strangely impressed.  He said no more on the matter – which is rare for him.  And we finished watching the DVDs.  And I never trusted him again as much as I once had, but I felt that he respected my decision and that was enough. 

Acquaintances and other idle bystanders sometimes asked what had happened, too.  “Look,” I told them, “It was…like a really bad break up.  I just don’t want to talk about it.”

I really, really didn’t want to talk about it.

I just wanted to move on.  I tried to put it behind me.  I tried not to think about what had happened that night.  I tried not to wonder about the specifics.  I tried not to think about our history at all.  I made new friends.  I found new hobbies.  I moved away.  Socially. Psychologically. Emotionally. Literally to another town. And overall, I was stronger for it. 

But I couldn’t erase it completely.  Because I was still afraid of him.  I was afraid when I heard he’d talked to people I cared about.  Especially when I heard he’d been drunk with my friends.  Partly because I was afraid for them.  More because I was afraid of what he’d said.  Afraid that, while I had kept my story silent out of fear and sickness, he had aired his version far and loud – a story in which I was a dirty, wanton little slut; an embarrassment; desperate; a whore; a crazy drunk with no self-esteem; a terrible cheating excuse for a girlfriend; in which I had “started it” – whatever “it” was.  That he had painted a picture so convincing and worked his charismatic spell so that, even among people with whom I’d once considered myself close, I had no idea who to trust. 

This story has no conclusion.  He’s still friends with my friends.  They don’t know what he did.  I won’t tell them.  I still don’t think they’d believe me.  I don’t have the energy to care.  But I still get uncomfortable when they talk to him.  I still get edgy when he’s in the room.  

I don’t expect a resolution.  Eventually, I will have to forgive him on my own terms, and let go.  I am working towards moving on.  Moving away.  Moving on.  Moving away.  Moving on.  Inch by inch by inch by inch.  It’s a long road.  Especially traveling it by inches. 

But for a long time, even the sound of his name would make cry.  When I heard it, I would want to put my fist through a wall.  A couple of times, I tried.  That doesn’t happen anymore.

True. He probably didn’t really know what he was doing. True. He probably doesn’t really know that it was wrong. 

But on some level, he knew.  On some level, he knows.  On some level, he chose to take advantage of my vulnerability and violate my trust that night.  And every single other time when he used me for something and made me feel guilty about it afterwards, knowing that I’d take the blame.  And on that level, I HATE him.  And sometimes, that hatred overwhelms everything else.  You can tell that those are the days on which I feel most vulnerable to him – because hatred is the only emotion strong enough to shield me. 

And I have some compassion for him.  How could I not?  I loved him for longer than you and I have even known each other.  

But I would have more if I didn’t have to worry about unexpectedly seeing him somewhere, among my friends, and having to suddenly gulp down hard on all the hurt and heartache that rushes up into my throat, try to act like nothing happened.  Be expected to smile at him – maybe even hug – because, gosh, whatever happened between us was just a silly old thing.  No big deal.  Trivia.  Drama.  Nothing. 

It would be easier to let go if I didn’t, on some level, live in constant anticipatory fear of that composure-smashing shock.  But I do.  Because he’s still there.  Haunting the periphery.  All the time.  

He’s still there.

And he’s not going anywhere.  Any time soon.

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