“He didn’t actually hurt me,” I think as I take stock of my drenched armpits, my uneven breath, the high dizzy feeling I associate with spending too much time thinking about one specific person I try not to think about.
The posts on Facebook make it impossible not to think about him, though. The several near misses. The shut dorm room door that someone thankfully entered a minute after he shut it. Realizing just before I’m freed that his position between me and the door might not be an accident. Realizing that someone came in because maybe they knew what could happen. The gross text. The one I read while drunk and then sobbed about for hours. At my birthday party.
The times he was nice. He could be kind and go out of his way for me. He drove me places and bought me meals and gave me advice. We were friends. We were friends for years.
And then the moment.
And then, worse, the moment not meaning anything to anyone and leading to all the subsequent moments. Social events, weddings, the email that wasn’t quite an apology or an admission.
I’m dancing around using direct language here for fear of throwing up on my keyboard. I’m also incapable of being direct because it makes me feel dumb. “He didn’t actually hurt me,” I think. But he did and I’m not dumb, so I’ll try to say it straight.
He did unzip my dress and try to reveal my body to a room full of people I knew well and didn’t know at all. He did try to do that twice. I didn’t fight him. My boyfriend didn’t punch him. Our friends didn’t intervene. I just rolled into myself. I couldn’t understand. (Even though the signs were there, why didn’t I read the signs? Why did I agree to dance with him?) I didn’t cry until we got home. I told people. I told mutual friends. It took me a while to realize this “counted” as assault, but I kept telling people because I couldn’t get over it. He’s still invited to parties (though less often).
“He didn’t actually hurt me,” I reason. I rationalize. I try to breathe out eight years later when it still can make me dizzy as I scroll through other peoples’ posts about things that may or may not have hurt them too.