This fictional story is copyrighted, please respect that. WARNING: This story is inappropriate for those younger than 18. It is disturbing. Please keep this in mind when you decide whether or not to read the story.
When told that life is full of surprises, you obviously can’t imagine what these surprises will entail—then they would no longer be surprises. When waking up, planning the day, thinking about future dreams, no one ever internalizes, “yes, the unexpected will most likely occur at such and such a time, for such and such an interval, and affect me in xyz ways.” You see, when the unexpected happens? It doesn’t take you by surprise as if ah, there’s a mouse! No. These surprises come at you like an angry boxer, sweat spraying and gut heaving, taking as many swings as it’ll take to hit you— hard. And, eventually a red glove will connect with your cheek: CRUSH—BOOM! You’ll be lying on the floor, never fully realizing what hit you, or why. This angry boxer and his mean punch came to me three years ago, hidden in an AC Transit bus.
It was the notoriously unpredictable 51B. I emphasize “unpredictable” because this is the reason I would have normally walked. But, the dark clouds were leering at me, smoothing their hands together in plot: how to get Clara the most wet in the least amount of time. And, as much as I loved the rain, my exposed artwork did not.
The teetering 51B was hurtling towards us grungy passengers far too quickly, pulling too close to the curb—I had to step back quickly to avoid getting clipped (what the fuck, learn to drive!). The driver looked as angry as his driving, wearing a dirty dust mask about his mouth to avoid our germs, only revealing his flared nostrils. “If you can’t find your bus pass, wait at the back of the line! Come on now, move back there,” the bus driver said this to the man in front of me, fumbling about his wallet aimlessly—he had no pass. He had no money.
I sat beside an older woman, wearing a sheer, red scarf about her graying hair and a teal dress taken straight out of the 50’s. She watched me intently out of the corner of her cat-eye glasses, pursing her matted lips. Finally she looked directly at me and said with a grin that spelled I don’t mean to intrude, but—“Dear, you know that texting that much will ruin your dexterity! You young people these days use so many different forms of technology, it’s a wonder you people haven’t warn your hands away. Boy, eventually our babies will be born with ten fingers a hand to make up for the damage.” I remember looking at her, wondering why she was so concerned with my fingers.
Older people always shepherd young people into better places; she must have a granddaughter in her twenty’s like me. I looked at her as though I will take your advice, and said, “You’re right. I shouldn’t text so much. There is a disease called Blackberry thumb, can you believe it?” I showed her in an overly dramatic gesture that I was turning my phone off. She smiled and winked, “Good girl.”
As I tucked my phone away I saw a starched face peering at me in the screen reflection. His eyes were investigating my black braid, as though searching for my spine through the thick hair. Though duller in the screen of my phone, they appeared to be as blue as robin eggs. Even when I turned my head to see those robin egg eyes in a better light, he did not look away. His features were chiseled and cold, as though carved from ice. He was handsome in this coolness, frozen there like the youthful version of Dorian Grey. I wanted to be flattered by his attention. I wanted to smile back, but his stare was unnerving—the painted eyes of a portrait, following its audience about the room no matter the trail of their movement. It was the kind of stare that sent small chills up the spine and to the shoulders, where they lay there, trembling a while. My shoulders did not relax, and neither did I. The elderly woman winked at me through her cat-eye glasses. The elderly may have deteriorating vision, but they seem to pick up on everything.
It was raining, I remember, streams from prank buckets finally falling atop the head from perches atop smug clouds (Fine, you got me! I wanted to shout). It was dark too; I could barely see my apartment a block away. I tucked my artwork close to my stomach and bent over to protect it from the rain. And, the last thing I can remember thinking is: Shit! Why is it so hard to get this phone to start again? Fu—; a hand clutches my jaw, covering my mouth; lips peel back unwillingly; grabbing at me from the dark; another hand forcing my arms behind my back—painful contortion; “Don’t move, don’t speak”; two seconds equal two hours; lips free and I want to cry out—“I said don’t speak”; more grabbing and metal darts to the edge of my ribs—barely breaking skin; “Shhh, not a word,”; nodding; can the knife feel my heart beating? I could. It was as though my heart held the Jaws of Life to my ribs and breast. I remember that all I could hear was the pounding of irregular intervals—boom-boom, boo-boom-boo, boom-boom-boom-boom, boom.
This memory is like a series of Polaroid photographs in my mind, one after the next: dirty and underexposed. There is no way to feel what I felt in those moments unless you allow yourself to crawl below the emulsion with me…
He is asking me to lie down face-first behind thickly leaved shrubs— dirt, wet with the rain. But he doesn’t wait, tucking me into the wet dirt as though he’s treating me with care. He loses patience and my head snaps back with his renewed force, hitting an edge of hard tree root. Dizziness consumes my body, pressed belly downward and flat into the ground. I twist my head toward him, and I can barely manage to watch his inkblot body blur in violent, abrupt movements. His robin egg eyes are almost lost in this blur.
He grips my elbow and twists at my arm, a direction in which an arm is not supposed to bend: backward and down. I can feel my body, convulsing abdomen and short gasps. And, I can feel my mauled artwork seeping into the ground beneath my hip. Just seeping. Into the wet dirt I seep too, melting.
Tight spaces pushing at me. Tight spaces.
He is catching his breath, but no momentum has stopped and my body is still riddled with pain. I can hear his panting, shallow mist sickly warm on my face. He takes my chin roughly, squeezing it, shoving it to the side. He puts his hand inside my mouth, pressing hard so that I have no air to scream. He rips at my blouse, my beautiful, wet, chiffon blouse. And, I am trying to lie still, but I am shivering—he doesn’t like this, so my ribs are kicked until I don’t move at all.
He is digging his knees into my calves, bruising me there, holding me so still—I never knew I could be so still. He asks me to tuck my head away from view, but again he is losing patience, so he kicks my head in place himself: “thank you,” he says. And, he presses the knife into my skin further, so that I can really feel it grinding against my rib. I can’t breath, so I do not cry out.
Two minutes equal eternity.
They say the world fades away, and that everything goes blank, don’t they? My world is not blank and nothing is fading away.
I feel myself moving at the pace of a heavy stone—not at all. My body feels as though it is about to go under anesthesia—me and my dysphoria, trapped in limbo. But, I feel everything. Everything. I feel every inch of moment.
Kicking my head—“under the bush you go”; kneeling on my calves—heavy and sinking into me; thoughts no longer run through my head—is this what it’s like to die?; knees pressing into the backs of my thighs now—I can feel the mud on my chest; “take off your belt,” (no) but the knife is asking too, so—; pressing my face in the wet mud—lips sucking on dirt, no air—; my belt wrapping about my arms; I am trembling, he is tugging—no more cotton pants, no more lace-trim panties; pushing down on the back of my neck as he adjusts his position; waiting for the rip of a condom packa—; no condom; knife slips in his excitement, jagged cut running like a stocking tear down my back; where are his robin egg eyes?
He rapes me.
He does not even hesitate. And, he rapes me.
Vacant intimacy is stripping me more than any nakedness ever could. I can’t help but moan and curl my toes. “Yeah, you like that?” His voice carries a smile as though I’m enjoying myself. No, get off of me, I scream, but no noise emerges, just an empty moan.
He is too big and going too fast—ripping and tearing into my involuntary squeezes. More ripping—he is moving even faster now. So much pain and hints of pleasure, throbbing all through my body; there is no one place to concentrate the hurt. Dull and slow, it all melds together. Still, there is a ripping sensation where tight skin is being peeled apart; warm, trickling blood pools between my inner thighs—spilled milk.
Tight spaces. Cramped, tight spaces.
His hand still presses inside my mouth.
He rapes me.
His hand moves from my inner thigh, wrapping beneath my stomach that is pressed against the dirt. His hand pins me fast, leaving handprint bruises on my hip.
Ripping. Tight spaces.
Slower! I scream inwardly, slow down please! Please! Please! Even this inner voice is shaking and rasping, echoing to no one.
A warm sensation is flooding my insides, and he is done. He kicks my legs in place, and the wet dirt burns against my raw skin.
Ripping. Tight spaces.
And he is done.
And he throws me aside.
Now that you are sealed inside the emulsion of each photograph, can you feel it too?
He was an angry boxer, and he had hit me over and over and over again until he was sure he’d knocked me cold. And, I wake from this unconsciousness once in a while, still wondering: who had hit me? Why?
All I know now is the sensation of every moment beneath him: cool edge of metal pressed to my rib bone, the moving—up and down. All I know is the wondering if it would end, the submission to time, the stripping of pride, the muddied nakedness, the robin egg eyes.
Afterward, it was as though time no longer existed. As though I were left in this constant state of limbo he had put me in. As though my body were a flimsy shell, blowing about in the wind. As though I could never be completely comfortable. As though my thoughts were never quite complete. As though the world were tinged a little bit darker.
Crumpled in the dirt where the robin egg eyes had left me, I remember no longer knowing how to move. I remember, too, the voice: “What the fuck! Hey! Miss? Miss! Are you ok? Shit, Daniel, call an ambulance. Now, man! Fucking call it!” And, that the words seemed miles away. A face was peering at me intently; worry lines receding into his skin. He made me feel less empty, more durable, filling me up with his brown almond eyes and his crayon freckles.
His calloused hands and jean-covered knees were smeared in dirt as he fished me and my remains from the soil (What did remain of me?).
“Hey, miss,” he turned me over and rested my body in his lap. He covered my body with his sweatshirt—it covered my nakedness, but left my legs exposed, each painted with drying mud and pearls of precipitation. “What’s your name?” he wanted to know. I looked at him, and my lips did not know how to move. “It’s ok, just lie here ‘til the ambulance comes. I’m here. My friend, Daniel, he’s here too. Don’t worry…” As he spoke, my eyes closed. I knew how to sleep. And sleep is exactly what I did.
I don’t ever dream of that night. My nightmares are stained with other, daily worries. But, I find myself thinking about those moments sometimes in the safety of day’s light. And when I do, I begin to let the limbo intertwine into my nerves, puppet strings slowing me and my thoughts.
Recovery? They ask me sometimes, “How is your … recovery.” They ask me, “How are you doing, since the… incident?” They ask me with the face of It’s so disgusting that I just have to look. How is my recovery, they want to know? They want me to say that oh, I’m fine, but to keep me human they want to see a tremor, a twinge reflecting pain at the mention of it, too. I refuse to say I’m anything but me. I refuse to twinge, too.
What I will say is that the flickers of emotion I have always felt are still a part of me: fishing for a sense of belonging. I still feel love, anger, desire, hatred, sadness, passion, shame, admiration, and loathing…. The robin egg eyes damaged me, but I am not so flimsy, not so easily dissolved. I am still me. I can still love and be loved. And, though I questioned what was left of me—what was mine—in the moments of the rape and some moments afterward too, I know I am mine.
The rape doesn’t make me any less of a woman. It doesn’t make me any less me. Rather than taking over, it has grown to be a piece of me—a little sliver. It does not weight me down as his body did. It is a small thorn in my palm, which new, tougher skin has grown over—and, let me tell you, my skin is tough. Sometimes, when the thorn does move about below the skin, I remember and look at the elderly, cat-eye woman. I look at her sheer red scarf, “Boy, eventually our babies will be born with ten fingers a hand to make up for the damage.” And, she winks at me.
And, I’m on the dirt.
Slower! I’m screaming inwardly, slow down, please! Please! Please!
And he’s done.
And he throws me aside.
I live in a new apartment now. Its walls are white, and its tall windows are elegantly simple, inviting pools of light to spill onto the cream carpet. The white in the apartment is warm, absorbing shards of yellow from the sun and letting them dance a while in its surface.
I cleaned out the laundry room; it’s no longer crowded. There are no tight spaces here. And, I made it into a studio because it has the tallest windows—the room is bathed in light and dust particles floating through the air. The washer and drier are flecked with paint shrapnel, and white tarp shines on the ground. The room smells like turpentine, so all of our clothing smells like turpentine too. Un-stretched canvas is draped on the open wall, nailed there in happy repose. Oil paints meld to the canvas, still drying. Their deep layers and soft shine form the image of a man.
The bulk of his muscle is concentrated in the upper half of his body, but his thinner legs carry the weight well, balanced and ready to spring forward. His skin is a deeper hue, and his hair is tossed in sweat and salt. He is wearing red, silk-like shorts that are only mid-thigh long. He is wearing two gloves on his raised hands; they are as red as his shorts. And, he is punching at nothing. The muscles in his back, in his arms, even in the dipping of his eyebrows are all flowing forward in this powerful punch.
And, behind his left shoulder, I spray-painted the delicate image of a baby bird about to take flight. The acrylic spray paints always have poetic names, this blue paint is: #82, Robin Egg Blue. It is easier to let go, than to forgive or forget. Painting has helped with me this. I control the brush. I choose the fate of those I paint—even the small bird.
Right now, I’m standing in the living room, still with the smooth white walls. Sunrays are dancing through the window. Sunrays are unforgivably hot when held by their maker, but here, faded out in my living room? I let whatever warmth they still carry seep into my skin.
And my body is swaying to Billie Holiday’s “He’s Funny That Way”, and I have hands wrapped about my waste—gentle and slow (Never had nothing, no one to care. That’s why I seem to have more than my share. I’ve got a man crazy for me. He’s funny that way. Sings Billie). These hands belong to a man I met a year ago in the park. Since we met, we've barely been apart. And, here, in my living room, he dances with me.
There is a feeling that completely covers the body when in the arms of someone you love. This is the reason why the phrase “in his arms” is hackneyed; no other phrase brings to mind feelings so tangible, so people recycle it with the hopes that others will just know. It is the feeling of inward warmth, security and the fading of the world about you.
It’s funny actually; I think the world has confused the response to pain with the response to pleasure. Pleasure doesn’t cover it, I should say: bliss. It isn’t pain that yields a fading, blank world. Pain is not so merciful. Its angry boxer punches you hard every step of the way, making sure you feel it. And, if it isn’t sure you’re feeling it? It will wait until it knows you will. But, bliss? Oh, bliss. Bliss lets the world fade around you. Bliss is when the world goes blank. Bliss is when it’s just me and just him, in this room of white, dancing slow to the languid, atmospheric voice of Billie Holiday.
Bliss is what I’m feeling now, as he brushes the hair on the back of my neck away so that he might kiss me there—centered warmth is rising to the surface of my skin towards the kiss: X marks the spot (It’s the mood that I’m in. Can it be the music that they’re playing, or the magic of the violin that intrigues my heart? Sings Billie).
As he is spinning me around, I think he can see the light that reflects from my eyes back at him. I think he can see the smile on my lips that roots deep into my body, my breathing, the beating of—spinning, spinning, spinning. I think he can feel the tips of my hair brush his body, soft—spinning. I think he can see my cheeks flushing with the warmth my body is feeling, but I’m not sure how internalized the warmth is. I must look radiant, maybe glowing.
I feel that way anyway. Spinning, spinning, spinning; (A sailboat in the moonlight and you. Wouldn’t that be heaven, a heaven just for two. A soft breeze on a June night and you, what a perfect setting for letting dreams come true. Our chance to sail away. Sings Billie); white walls and tall windows merging into each other; spinning; his hands softly guiding; my body moving to his; gently spinning; (The memory of all that. No, no they can’t take that away from me. The way your smile just beams. The way you sing off key. The way you haunt my dreams. No, no they can’t take that away from me. Sings Billie); dress smoothing to my form, dancing about my ankles as we are; warmth completely consuming my body; spinning. This is love. Gentle, soft, and full.
Can you feel it below your skin? Have you let yourself fall below the emulsion of this Polaroid series? My Polaroid series. Roll yourself in the pigment of each photograph. Imprint these feelings into your skin—beneath your skin. Feel the angry boxer punching you over and over and over. The old Polaroids the angry boxer took are too dark, grungy, and ripped at the edges. But you can still see the photograph—still feel the moment. Feel the mud on your chest and the suffocation of the robin egg eye’s body pressed, heavy, on your shrinking body. Feel the ripping—the tearing. Can you feel it?
And, spinning, spinning, spinning into the smoothness of fresh Polaroids, soft and pastel-bright. Can you feel the soft glow of day flushing your skin? Can you feel the small indents held in each white wall? Can you feel the I’ve got a man, crazy for me. He’s funny that way. When I hurt his feelings, once in a while, his only answer is one little smile. I’ve got that man crazy for me, he’s funny that way… but, I’m only human, of Billie singing, vibrating like a butterfuly-wing-touch atop your skin. Can you feel the gentle turns he guides your body into? Can you feel the warmth of his kiss?
Now that you have slipped into my memories, beneath the emulsion—you can see me. You can feel the punch, CRUSH—BOOM! You can feel the release of time.
Are you surprised?
The Woman Behind Unleashed and the Words
The Woman Behind Unleashed and the Words
I am a Practice of Art Major and Creative Writing Minor at UC Berkeley. My passions are writing and the arts in general. I created Unleashed for the empowerment and enlightenment of women everywhere. I am the editor, designer and contributing writer. I truly hope this magazine speaks to each and every woman. Sasha Martin