The Slit-Mouthed Woman: A Lights Out, Please Postmortem
The following contains descriptions of graphic sexual violence. Trigger warning on sexual assault, rape, violence against women, and other similar topics.
I knew there was something wrong the moment he wouldn’t let me get up.
South Park was playing on the TV. We had just gotten done with another weekend party in our 7-bedroom apartment. The few of us that were still awake were lounging on the couch looking through stuff on Hulu to watch. We ended up watching two episodes of South Park. I remember because that’s how long it took for me to actually get out of his grip.
He was much larger than me, about a foot taller and around 150 pounds heavier. He always liked to comment on how much smaller I was, how he could pick me up so easily. He liked to rub my stomach and say how small and soft it was. When he was feeling drunk and playful he would try to snap my bra off, along with the bras of my female friends. There was a span of a couple of weeks when I actually let him take my bra off, but that was years ago and I can’t remember much of it besides how chilly that makes me feel in retrospect.
What I did remember about it I took and put into a short Twine I wrote for Lights Out, Please, a collaboration of horror games that attempt to put into perspective what horror means in reality. There are movies, books, comics, games that all give you that scare, share with you a ghost story to make you look over your shoulder. Some actually keep you from sleeping at night, give you nightmares, make you shut the closet door so that you can have an inkling of a chance to sleep for an hour before the sun rises. There are a select few that stick with you through the years, like a boogeyman under your bed when you’re five since that was the scariest thing you could think of at the time.
Since February 2013 I’ve been having reoccurring nightmares. I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat, stuck to my drenched sheets and panicking, wondering if I locked the door before I went to bed. There were times when I created elaborate traps in front of my door and window, to make sure nobody got in as I slept. When I heard the front door open I would listen intently to see if it was him. Every time I heard that door open, my hair would stand on end and I would get nauseous. If I heard heavy footsteps while walking around my city, I would take a quick glance over my shoulder. Even now, despite the fact we’re living in different states and I moved to a separate part of the city, I still feel like I spot him in a crowd on occasion.
For years, I had wondered what it was like to truly feel terror. I read Stephen King, watched horror films played all of the Silent Hill games I could get my hands on. R/nosleep on Reddit was a chance for people to prove something, to prove that I could be scared. Recently I walked through a “haunted” corn maze and shuffled out disappointed and $25 poorer. I never knew horror until some drunk guy happened to hold me down for about 45 minutes back in February 2013 and touch me. I truly didn’t know about monsters until some drunk guy whispered in my ear how small I was, stuck his hand down the front of my jeans and wouldn’t let me go no matter how hard I struggled.
I think the most terrifying aspect of all of this was the predictability of it, how for years we had let him snap our bra straps, put his hands on our laps, call us cunts and make us tell him that he was a desirable male. I tried to get his hands off of me, but I could have tried harder. I just figured that’s who he was. My friend, who was sitting on the other side of the living room, probably would have thought differently if this wasn’t so obvious (and also if he hadn’t taken advantage of her just a few weeks before). After I told some people what had happened, moved out of the apartment, and got on with my life, I still wasn’t entirely shocked when my roommate would bring him over without my permission, despite telling her otherwise, that the nightmares continued. I felt like I was being haunted.
I still feel this way. The past few months have essentially held women down in the gaming industry. Some of us got it worse than others, forced out of their homes and out of their careers by people who don’t think they should be allowed to speak their minds. These marginalized people are driven by a forceful silence and when they try to break free, a man much larger decides to hold them down and have their way with them. Having no power to do anything is another kind of terror and it’s all-encompassing. It’s managed to bring out the fears I had been trying to suppress and, most importantly, reignite the anger I felt at my abuser.
When originally writing my story “The slit-mouthed woman” in Lights Out, Please, I was going off of the urban legend, about a woman who was mutilated by her husband and returned as a vengeful spirit. As the name suggests, she is deformed, ripped of her beauty and her humanity. She walks around with a surgical mask, asking children if she’s pretty. Regardless of how they answer, she will cut them. I was mostly just drawn to the legend at first, not knowing exactly why. I liked the idea of mutilation I suppose, wanted to interpret an urban legend that people in America didn’t really know about. But Kuchisake-onna is a victim, a demon created by a society that wouldn’t let her fight back. There’s something oddly appealing about a woman coming back as a spirit to exact vengeance on those that had wronged her especially since in life, there are many instances when we cannot.
My “protagonist” became the man previously in her life, who mutilated her and went on his way without feeling consequences.
After I confronted my assaulter about what he did, he said “I’m sorry you felt that way” moved on his with life, continued to date my roommate and never apologized.
The protagonist in my story is feeling something in the emptiness without his wife. He feels burdened, not necessarily by what he did but by the loneliness without her. She worshipped him and he loved how good she made him feel. She had a smile that lit up the room and everyone loved her. She was a status symbol for him because she was perfect.
But she had her problems. She couldn’t have children and she could never accept herself as beautiful. When she tried to confide in him about it he would hurt her, get angry. Why couldn’t she just do what he told her to do? So what if they couldn’t have kids? He was a man and would make her happy, would provide everything she ever wanted.
But she was never happy. He truly never gave her what she wanted. He was sick of the struggle. He wanted a perfect life. So one day he lost it.
“She was just upset all the time. I couldn’t get her to smile. She would just scream at me, clutch her stomach, wonder why I never wanted to be with her, but then shy away and scream some more when I got close. I wanted her so bad. I wanted her small body against mine and I wanted her to tell me how strong I was. I wanted everything about her, from her slim waist to her thick, tuggable hair and especially that wonderful mouth of hers.”
He cut her, slit her mouth so that she would always be happy. He hid the body, hoping that he could move on with his life and never get caught. No thoughts about her anymore. She was dead, nothing. He was done with her.
There’s a sense at the end that he had a chance to redeem himself, but ultimately she was going to get her revenge. She was going to win this one. For once, she was going to get her way.
In a way, “The slit-mouthed woman” is a power fantasy, me dealing with my need to reach out and be heard, for the people hurting me to feel something of my pain. The idea of the vengeful female spirit is appealing and while it’s very common in Japanese folklore beyond just Kuchisake-onna, there is one thing missing: the vengeance upon the perpetrator. I wanted to fix that because it seems like that aspect is purposefully missing, to excuse the man who betrayed her and turn her into a monster. Kuchisake-onna is hideous, but more importantly, she was a woman.
I’m not coming back as a vengeful spirit any time soon, but it’s sometimes very difficult to wake up refreshed when your brain is clouded with nightmares. Because when you are surrounded by terror, can you even really wake up from them?