Trigger warning: rape/non-consent imagery
And just in case it isn’t clear: this is a short story, aka, a work of fiction. My apologies to any men named Vince.
Six months of group therapy with Dr. Vert means I’ve sworn off of sex for over a year now, but I still judge my reflection in the dirty bar bathroom mirror like I’m going to end up naked at the end of the night. Old habits and all that jazz. I don’t finish the cliché because I’m trying to avoid thinking about death. Or maybe’s it’s less a habit and more that, thanks to an extended childhood stint in Girl Scouts, I am prepared for anything at any time. I pull a section of my long red hair in front of my face and inspect the ends.
Earlier tonight I decided that my skin was a victim of the first freeze of the season and that I could only kiss by candlelight or after a half bottle of wine. Two shots of whiskey will do in a pinch but no more than that or my brain thinks it’s in love. And nothing ruins a Saturday night faster than falling in love.
(Nothing ruins love faster than doing the falling drunk).
A fellow drunk patron with a swollen bladder knocks on the door and interrupts my soliloquy. I sigh and turn the faucet, splashing some water onto my face. “Almost finished,” I call. With any luck, my admirer for the evening will have moved onto another victim.
My roommate Abi would panic if she were a mindreader and heard that thought. “You can always tell a man no, Natalie!” she likes to cry. It’s a good motto. But I can tell a man no all day long and if he doesn’t listen, where do I end up? At the free health clinic in line for STI tests and an antibiotic.
I push the door open and walk back into the bar. I don’t have a bill to settle, and, as I suspected he would be, Mr. News Producer is nose-deep in the cleavage of the kind of woman who looks like she wears cherry-flavored lip gloss while riding Citi bikes through Riverside. She probably only pauses to instagram inspirational images equating fitness with drugs.
Abi would disapprove of that judgment, too. “You shouldn’t perpetuate stereotypes,” she would say. Perpetuate was the word this month.
I slip out the door and walk away. People are ending their evenings all around me. Kisses goodnight, promises to call, falling into cabs with friends.
I want to go home.
I want to change out of my stilettos and into the flats I keep folded in my purse, and walk to my apartment with my keys clutched between my knuckles like weapons.
But I don’t.
I sit on the same abandoned bench in Washington Square like I do every damn Saturday night until I’m sober, and I think about Him.
I capitalize the pronoun in my head like Jesus because I don’t like thinking his name. My friends who are more self-aware call that a trigger.
I can’t stand that word.
It makes me feel like his name is a landmine and if I happen to dance too close to it I’ll implode. I can’t control that. I hate not being in control.
The therapist, named my problem PTSD “presenting with sexual compulsivity”. Apparently I’m on a quest to recreate abusive scenarios from my past, but with myself inserted in a position of power/control. Or something like that. I couldn’t really understand what he was saying that first day. I was too busy imagining what the few inches of skin just underneath his starched collar would look like with his shirt folded on the edge of my bed.
Still, I sat through the sex addict group therapy meetings (which were far less orgiastic than one might imagine).
I did my homework.
I even dragged myself to mass for a few months, for the first time since 8th grade confirmation. That ended when I worked up enough courage to sit in the confessional and the priest told me if I had just tried harder to say no the first time, like St. Maria Goretti, I wouldn’t be in this position now. Unluckily for me, I never had the good sense to be raped by men carrying butcher knives, I suppose.
There were times when cocktails turned to coitus, and that was every bit as alluring as it sounds. As in not at all. I did it to prove to myself that he no longer had claim over body or heart. A cosmic “Fuck you,” if you will, by fucking them. It never worked out how I imagine. Most were good enough lovers, some better than him. But when I was half asleep in that post-orgasmic split-second of paralysis, his face was the one my subconscious imprinted behind my eyelids.
I breathe in through my teeth. It’s an attempt to control how quickly the cold air hits my warm lungs. It never works. I know it doesn’t work. But I keep trying anyway. “Do you know the definition of an idiot?” my dad would ask me driving down the highway, “Someone who does the same thing over and over and expects different results”.
I’ll take my dunce-cap in purple, please.
It isn’t that I’m sad he’s gone.
I’m just mad at him for leaving before I had a chance to be angry when it mattered.
I cross my arms over my breasts and will my body to stop shivering.
Nothing is listening to me tonight.
I call his name up in my mind.
It makes the shaking cease and my breath catch, but my world doesn’t implode.
“Vince.” My voice is a whisper.
Vince, you ruined my favorite songs.
Vince, you broke the strap off my favorite cocktail dress.
I can’t look at the color blue.
Trains remind me of you.
Nothing in my life hurt as much as the moment I stood on my tip-toes for a kiss in the crosswalk and you pulled away to stare at the woman walking in front of us.
A little louder, “Vince.”
I was pregnant, Vince, did you know that? I was pregnant when you told me you didn’t realize I was taking “this” so seriously. What exactly was I taking too seriously? The I love yous after Maker’s Mark? If you’re going to consider intoxicated consent valid, I’m doing the same for intoxicated declarations of affection.
I take as deep a breath as I can manage. “VINCE.”
The college students walking past the bench turn and stare at me, and then shuffle past.
I shiver again, and flex my fingers like a pianist preparing to play. They still move. I hold them in front of my face and stare through the gaps between my fingers.
These hands held his.
No capitalized pronoun, this time.
“Vince.” I’m whispering again, shoving my hands into the pockets of my coat.
I have a long way to go before I’m not broken anymore.
But his name has no more power.