What I Don’t Ask You to Hear
I don’t believe I know who I am if I’m not special, targeted, marked, hated
My greatest fantasy is that someday, wherever I am, a man with a blank face will walk up to me and hit me so hard that I collapse to the ground and black out.
When I was 16, my best friend dropped me off at my house a few hours after school let out. I remember the canned reek of onion rings from the local Sonic, the way the rolled-down window framed my shirtless father walking to the passenger door, the look in her eyes as he swung the door open and pulled me out by my arm, the moment of hesitation before she slammed the gas pedal and fled. The next weeks, alone at lunch, trying to catch her glance. The girl, also named Amanda, who replaced me very soon after, less funny than I was but with a car of her own.
I have a big mouth. I am too forthcoming and honest. I am an expert at giving witness statements, at speaking to doctors, police officers, emergency personnel, hiring managers. I am built for confession.
I still have dreams where my father and I are together in a distant seaside town, where we are the only inhabitants, and I have no phone. I still have fever dreams where I am having sex with older, angry men. Sometimes I watch their faces, and they have my father’s face. I don’t tell this to my partner or my mother. When I told my therapist two years ago, he approached the confession like an oil-soaked gull; he told me we needed to proceed delicately. My father never raped me, but he frequently called me my mother’s name. There are times where I wish my father sexually abused me, so I can justify the dreams. So I can harvest the shame, ripe and evident and bursting from the below, and be rid of it for good.
My chest tightens at the thought that the people I speak to every day are reading this now and are securing their exit route. That this is too off-brand, even for brazen, bold me. What I do know is I haven’t been eating regularly, I wake up with a creature clawing in my stomach, and I am also hopeful for my future and generally happy. I don’t know how to reconcile these truths for my loved ones. I don’t know how to package myself uniformly, consistently, reliably. I see you all in my mind, pressing your palms to your ears. Not like this. I don’t want you like this.
There was a girl I was informally linked with all through high school. My counterpart. The scientist and the poet. The precocious two. She’s gone on to be a doctor, as we all expected. I’ve gone on to write. I can’t help but feel that I am the disappointment. That I am not the one to ask to come back and speak in assemblies, to bestow my brilliant light upon young minds. I think about the things I have done, the men I let fuck me, the drugs I took, the lies I told. I think about how I fail to vindicate the long-suffering ones, the ones who pushed and pulled and carried me out. I think I am a fuck-up. I think my former classmates are reading this and feeling shame for agreeing. I think my hometown hates me.
This is what I fear the most: My brother will die from a complicated seizure, my father will find my mother, kill her, and kill himself.
The first two men I had sex with later teamed up and mocked me for months. Before that, they each told me I was the most intelligent, brilliant, beautiful woman they’d ever known. Their fraternity called me “MVP.” I see the girls in my sorority, my sisters, sitting on the Fiji balcony, smiling down and calling me MVP.
When my father slammed the doors and screamed, I would wrap my child arms around my torso and pretend I was being held by a boy in my class who I wanted to love me, love love love me.
One night, I asked a partner to blindfold me and restrain my arms. I asked him to slap me like he’d done before. I remember the look of fear in his eyes when he pulled the blindfold down. I didn’t realize I was crying. The issue wasn’t the pain. It was that, in the black, I became no one, being hit by anyone.
I don’t believe I know who I am if I’m not special, targeted, marked, hated.
In 2016, I attended a three-day workshop for work. On the last day, one of the fellow participants said, after the lunch break, that she had wanted to ask me to get dinner before but that it seemed I “didn’t need anyone.” She was wrong. I need everyone; I do not expect anyone.
My mother used to always know when a voicemail was from me, even if I didn’t speak. Even when I was a child calling from the administrative office, stomach-sick and unhappy in the way that makes adults squirm. She said, “It’s in your sigh. I know your sigh.”
Here is another dream. There is a lush green field, surrounded on all sides by forest. The light is golden, and I see her sitting alone. I feel the weight of her. I smell the apple shampoo lingering in her long, wild hair. I kneel in front of her, eye-level. I hold her gaze as I watch her fumble a smile, laugh, joke. I kiss her forehead. I kiss her eyelids. I say, I am still here, we are still here.
I say, I love you. I love, love, love you.
Editor’s note: If you or a loved one are struggling with domestic abuse, please reach out to the Domestic Violence Support Helpline: Text CONNECT to 741741.