“I must have turned around, or jumped back or something, and then you dropped the knife and the meat was on the floor and you just started saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ over and over again, and you huddled in the corner and sort of held your head and rocked and kept saying ‘I’m sorry’ and you wouldn’t look me in the face for a while. You didn’t seem like you were really there, present. I thought at first you were scared I would hit you — but only briefly, because I really thought it was because you thought you had hurt me.”
This is what happened when I fed my current boyfriend pork from the end of a knife. As he carefully tried to bite from the knife, a piece of meat began to fall, and I tried to catch it. Secure it? I’m not sure, but I almost pricked my boyfriend in the lip with a blade.
I can’t remember the rest.
Or maybe I do.
It’s like a film of milk in my eyes.
What I know: I wasn’t worried that he might hit me; it wasn’t the fact I might have hurt him; I had forgotten what my body is capable of.
A week ago I read an essay by Ashley C. Ford on Elle’s website. In it, while a man is sexually assaulting her on the subway, her body collapses in itself — she goes limp. She forgot her body could do that. A month ago, I read an article about fight or flight in relation to rape, and how some women respond to predator situations by going limp, playing possum, being immobile — a leftover evolutionary response. Eight months ago, I wrote a short story named “Tonic Immobility,” in which a girl responds to triggers of past traumas by going deep inside herself — just like chickens, rabbits, and sharks flip on their backs. Over a year ago, my friend gave me the phrase “tonic immobility” in relation to hypnotizing chickens.
I forgot my body was an animal.
My ex-boyfriend didn’t hit me. He also didn’t overpower my body to rape me. But he did hit me. But he did rape me.
They say it’s important to teach children the proper words for their genitalia or else they don’t have a language to discuss inappropriate behavior like molestation. They don’t have a language.
I don’t have the perfect language for what happened to me. I don’t have definitives — I never had bruises; I didn’t have blood. I was taught that blood and bruises is the only language that exists. Yet, when holding that knife, my body went into survival mode. It, not me, tossed the knife aside, curled elbows against ribs, tucked head into breasts — the perfect image of a bird. Its voice shouted “I’m sorry.”
The transformation into animal for what?
Let me tell you what I experienced: when I made my ex-boyfriend angry, he made me touch his genitals to make it better; when we would fight, he would pin me down and “hug” me to keep me from leaving; when I would run out of the house and jump into my car to leave, he would chase me and throw himself on the hood to make me choose between staying or leaving and therefore hurting him; a male peer called the character of my ex “unbelievable” based on the fact that he had a knife collection.
I don’t have a perfect language for this.
A woman on Facebook commented on a child molestation article that the kids were only touched through their clothes and she had been molested much more brutally, so they were probably fine. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve earned terms like rape, abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Earn” doesn’t seem like the correct word, though. Earn implies work, want, compensation, or fulfillment. Earn means blood and bruises. Maybe it’s “right” — maybe I wonder if I have the right to say those words despite clean surfaces; despite the absence of perfect brutality.
My body curls in on itself because I’m waiting for the anger. I’m waiting to make it up to him — the him of my past. I feel coiled. I’m probably not fine. I forget this sometimes, but the perfect voice of my body reminds me.
Kayla Haas is an MFA candidate at Wichita State University. She currently works as the fiction editor at Gingerbread House Literary Magazine and editor of mojo and Mikrokosmos. Her work can currently be found in Gigantic Sequins, NANO Fiction, and The Butter. Feel free to shout at her at @writerofoctopi. Selected by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo.
Image © Mattias via Flickr Creative Commons.