What do you like, he said in the dark after the first time and they said everything you do, I like everything you do. And I’m here, I’m right here, believe that. And what do you like, they said in the dark time after time, and he said, everything, really, and they said no, tell me something, what do you like, a fantasy or something, and he said I have a rape fantasy, and they said a rape fantasy, and he said yes, a rape fantasy. They got up in the dark and, knowing he knew about what had happened to them and not believing that he had forgotten, they said here is what it is like to be raped, and they picked him up in the dark and beat him until he fainted. In the dark they got up and said did you like it, and he said he couldn’t believe what had just happened and how could they and they said did you like it, and he said no, and they said that is what it is like. Everything he had and they had could not be picked up and beaten and let go so he stayed and they left and didn’t return.
They could not forget. They did not forgive. Anything, anyone. They walked through a laminated night, a misty sheen to everything. They walked in a cloud and breathed it in and wished they could float horizontally in it as they would in the ocean. The ocean that was not safe anymore. No place was safe. Safety was not a feeling they believed in anymore. Their breasts hurt, constricted to their proper place, yearning to be chopped off, with anesthetic or without, it barely mattered. But appendages, they knew, were not so easy to dislodge and they didn’t want to die. Until they raised the money, they kept the unruly things bound and gagged.
They had thought he was okay. Not safe, but okay. Their skin crawled with skittering curse-words, washed out of their mouth with soap long ago, a lesson learned. Lessons. Over and over. He had brought the lessons back. Even if he didn’t know it. Intentions didn’t matter. They taught him instead. This happened, and they knew it would happen again, and that someone would tell someone else and that they would eventually find their skin strapped in orange or steel or tooth-white ties. Where would they put them, they wondered, and knew the answer because of their breasts and because of their uterus and because of their vulva and they knew it would never be a case of how or if but when and they knew that no one would call them them anymore but she and she was a terrible word they never wanted to hear again unless it was a she at a club, at a party, a she whose lips were soft and urgent against their own. Their fists cramped and their nails punished their palms for the decision to trust a he, a him, a someone with ideas and thoughts and beauty and talent and brains but essentially, irrevocably, a he whose he-ness was stamped into him from early him-hood, from blue crib to water gun to plastic sword to games of violence onscreen and off with other hes, and no matter what was drawn over his mind by friends and lessons and marches, it was a palimpsest and the original shone through to the end, legible even after being scratched out halfheartedly by recent scribes.
There was a bridge they knew of and liked and it was there they went. It was not love-locked and falling, it was not new and sleek, it was like them, sturdy and tall and old-souled. They had no intention of jumping because despite every night like this they wanted to live. They lived to prove their parents wrong. To prove their lovers wrong. To prove their violators that they would not be broken, they would not be picked up, they would not live a life where things happened to them. They would pick up after themselves, and they would make things happen. And so they did, making their walk to the bridge in the dark of morning an exercise in life.
They jumped to catch a leaf dangling from a tree and it came off in their hand. A palm-shaped leaf, bigger than their own palm. They held it as they walked and it fanned back and forth in the breeze their striding arms made. They used a finger to draw in the condensation on a car. A heart, a peace sign, a smiley face, and another symbol, their favorite, a circle with a cross and an arrow both. They saw a deer standing in the middle of the road leading to the bridge, and they stopped and crouched and watched. The deer ate the flowers planted in a traffic island. It was a doe, they thought, but preferred to think of it as just a deer, a deer among all others or a deer unique to itself, but a deer. Not a doe, not a stag. The deer continued to eat, serenity surrounding its dipping head, its strong long body.
A car roared behind it and the deer stopped eating, frozen, and tried to dash across the street and back into the forest. They stayed where they were, safely in the opposite lane, and the car drove and drove and screeched to a halt when the deer was only halfway through the street, long legs no match for late night speeding horsepower. The car kept going. They got up and watched its zoom and went to the traffic island to pick up a fallen petal from the deer’s feast. They turned onto the bridge and stood at its apex, and watched the river below, sluggish but alive.
They may be picked up tomorrow, they knew. And what happened, happened.
[Image via Flickr]
Ilana Masad is a queer Israeli-American writer living in New York. Unsurprisingly, she has two cats and tons of books. Less predictably, she is a columnist for McSweeney's. Follow her @ilanaslightly or at slightlyignorant.com.