It first happens to you at age 8, beneath the lapped backpacks on a school bus.
After, you don’t know your body anymore, and something feels wrong. But there isn’t a word for when fingers take like that, and girls don’t have the power to take like that, they tell you, so you don’t call it anything until you are fourteen. You hear about it happening to another little girl in a public pool restroom, done by those same girl’s fingers, but you didn’t say anything, and so, isn’t part of it your fault? You don’t stop asking yourself; it takes the place of sleeping. You think and think a question you don’t want to have an answer. You want to meet the other little girl, want to say “I have the same unseen scars you do, put there by the same knife,” but you don’t think you could look at her. After all, you think, for so long, it is your fault it happened to her. Your silence let her be taken away from herself the same way you were taken away from yourself. You will always be to blame. It will be years before you stop calling yourself a monster, for not having the courage to say out loud the thing you adopted shame for. Being touched like that is still something you dissect, in your most difficult days, in search of something. You try to unravel what you must have done to invite it, though you know, and you know, and you know, it was nothing you did. When you’ve grown a little older, you will write 117 poems about the nothing you did until you figure out how to say it was not your fault. For then, it’s enough to make you stop swimming.
It takes 6 years before you say it out loud, in the car with a woman who is not a family member, but is most certainly your sister, or some other, more organic piece of your soul. When you tell her what you did not realize you had suppressed so badly, and so violently, she has to pull the car over. She tells you how it happened to her— how she had not remembered at first, either. You hadn’t ever forgotten it, the way we think of forgetting things. It was as if your body had not allowed you to think about it, that was it. And then, one day, there it was, back on your door, asking you to look it in the eye. You imagine, now, that she was hurting in that car just as much as you were, hands held tightly together, tethering two massively different kinds of hurt right there in the middle of the palms.
It is the first time you have not felt alone since you were nearly new to the world. It is the first time you feel like you could one day be more than an empty room, again.
The next person you tell is close to you, so close their skin is almost precisely of yours, and still, they ask if you are sure you are remembering it correctly. It was so long ago, after all, and are you sure you have not— this is not the word she used, but I cannot seem to think anything else but this one— ‘fabricated’ it, somehow? You will be asked this question for the rest of your life. It will sometimes be enough to make you wonder, yourself. Are you sure you remember, that thing you will never forget? For some portion of time there in the middle, before you begin to write your poems about it, you choose to tell no one. You think it ironic, all these years being virtually gone from it, though it was always there, smothered (maybe)— after all these years, you choose to be silent, again, even when you now know exactly what it is you have to say.
You begin to write about the first time once it happens again, differently.
This time, it is a boy, and it is in your room. You are fifteen, and do not always have the energy to brush your hair in the morning. You worry about getting good grades in AP English, though you rarely speak, though you sit in the corner and keep your back hunched forward. You read all the books, but never can get your words together when the teachers ask you what you thought of the main character, or the side character, or the theme. The thought of having someone in that same room disagree with you, and having them say so, keeps you quiet. You do not yet feel you own your own language.
So when he does not ask, but pulls down on your hair, you do not know your language well enough to answer the question he did not ask. He forces himself down your throat, but you didn’t know how to say no, and after all, you were naked together. He thinks that is ‘yes’ enough. Though you’d asked if the two of you could go slow, though you’d never done any of this before, there was no question, and calling it something, afterward, just like the first time, is dangerous. You know you will be told, that is not what that word means. Unthoughtful, wicked girl, don’t use words like that, they can ruin people. It takes a strong kind of person, you will think, to tell the truth about what’s been done to them, to even know how to wrangle down that word. It takes you too long to understand that you are strong, too. They will say, it takes a ‘particular’ kind of girl, to let that happen to her. They do not mean strong. You become exhausted with making the words before you even have any to show for it.
You come to know dissociation like a raw and quiet limb. Each time someone kisses you, after that, you are quick to lead their fingers between your legs (taught, that is all they want, anyway, and they will not ask when they decide they want it right that second, so lead them there before they take that right from you), quick to make sounds like you’ve come. Each time, they ask why you stopped texting them back, after. Why your eyes went cold when they passed you in the hallway. (Remember, we are still children, here.) Now, you remember their names, want to tell them: “I am sorry I did not let you be kind to me. I am sorry I put their faces atop yours.”
Eleven years after that initial bus ride, now newly 19, part of you is still afraid of loud noises, and of being touched while people holler and whoop around you. You will be dancing in a club with the first person you have ever trusted to love you, and something will begin to ring in your fingers when a man passing by lingers on you, brushing his fingers against the bottom hem of your dress, flicking at your skin. This is the first time you will know what it is like to feel as if you have swallowed a blaring and silent alarm. You will excuse yourself to the bathroom and take off your shoes, pull your knees to your chest, and bite your skin to keep from screaming until the loudness subsides, the sound around you like children screaming on a school bus. Children, who do not have the slightest idea what is happening in the back row on those black seats you stick to if you stand too fast. You decide, there, that you have to tell him.
And so, you do, in a dorm room bathtub on a weekday. He is so good, it almost hurts see him. He holds you in the water, he asks when new cases scatter themselves in the news, if you are holding up alright. He asks every single time.
You write, and write, and write. It gets a little better. And some days, it doesn’t. You speak, and speak, and speak. Eventually there is less of a taste in your mouth when you say it, though you still start “the conversation” by with, “I don’t want you to be sad, but I have something I need to tell you.” You stop telling people it is all okay just to make them feel better. You tell them, instead, “It is not okay. But it is part of me.” You are not always okay, but that is part of it. You claim it for yourself, wrap yourself around it until it feels like it is your story to tell. You read every story you can find. You remember their names, you speak them out loud. You let yourself remember it, all of it.
I let myself remember it. I go through remembering it every single day.
Emma Bleker is a 21 year old writer working for her English Degree in Virginia while attempting to live a true and convincing life. She has previously been published, or is forthcoming, in Electric Cereal, Persephone’s Daughters, Skylark Review, Yellow Chair Review, Penstrike Journal, Rising Phoenix Review, and Cahoodaloodaling, among others. She hopes, through her writing, to help others come closer to themselves, as writing has helped her to do, so many times.