“Why’s a girl like you alone?” he slurred, weaving his hands through mine, pushing a curl of my hair behind my ear. Every neurotransmitter in my body filled with preparatory breath for one, big, harmonious, panicked song.
“You’re beautiful and smart and funny.” The skin on my neck tightened–tiny cracks spreading like wild rivers across my trapped knuckles. I forced my lips to curl and my eyes to sparkle, while I thought about slamming his weathered face into the coffee table.
“There are hundreds of men who wish they had someone like you,” he ambled. “I wish I had someone with a heart like you.” He touched my knee and my hip and my face, feeling proud and accomplished with his prey pinned beneath his canines.
“I wish I could have you.”
My stomach churned, wrapping my stomach around my might, tangling my strength with my muted voice. I felt the gears inside me rattle and shake, thudding against my bones, vibrating the muscles in my head, humming unpleasantly behind my ears. I closed my eyes, gritting my teeth behind my expected smile and finally, they slipped, spinning wildly, nothing to grab onto. Like me–no purpose, no partner, just constant motion.
Every predatory memory I’d suppressed rushed over the barriers I’d built to protect myself years ago. The scary stories I told myself weren’t real, like slumber party folklore, filled a library in my mind with the blink of an eye.
Please show me the Reaper.
I’m too tired for another.
Ms. Worth, I believe you.
Take the pain away.
He sauntered into the room in a cloud of alcohol sweat and Marlboro breath. His mouth was always cold and slimy when he told me how sexy I am. His demonic laugh filled a room with concerned eyes and judgment. After he hurt me, he’d cry and punch the wall, then collapse on the floor into fits of unnerving giggles and sobs. I hear his gravelly cackle every night when I lay alone, listening to the nearby trains rattle my dresser mirror, just before I feel his grip around my neck and count to force the breath through my lungs.
1, 2, 3, 4.
“You’re so beautiful and smart and good to me,” he’d say.
1, 2, 3, 4.
“Don’t leave me. I need you. I love you,” he’d beg.
A decade later, stuck on the couch with a stranger convinced I was a secret gem, it all came back. I combed through an old box of photos, finally seeing my truths as if my pupils had finally dilated to see the light.
A handwritten note from an old friend, sent unexpectedly with flowers to my ratty, San Diego apartment in ’09. His brother was the first man to assault me. “I don’t want to do this.” He pulled off my clothes and kissed me. “No,” I said, pushing his arms off of me. “No.”
I told my friends the next day that I’d wanted to sleep with him, and laugh about how bad it all was. I took a pregnancy test weeks later, sighed relief and tucked the memory away until I opened that box of memories on my kitchen floor.
A crushed envelope of disposable camera photos from a smoky bowling alley, tucked underneath the albums of my engagement, first home and greeting cards with doodles of two stick people, starting their lives together, big red hearts, in love. I shamelessly wore a t-shirt, my arms covered in bruises from his thumbs dug between my tendons as he pushed me into the plaster wall. I covered the broken capillaries on my cheeks with drugstore concealer and charcoal black liner around my dead, hazel eyes. They’d dot my face like tiny mementos of my love story when I’d yell until my voice was hoarse and heave as I cry.
For the record, my ex-husband was not my abuser, my assaulter or any of the predatory men who touched me, uninvited, on my hand-me-down couch. The tokens of him and our story that filled that memory box were, in comparison, sweet, gentle and kind. I threw them in the dumpster reluctantly, knowing now that my happy ending would not look like that.
A friend once pulled me aside at a bar I was far too old to be sitting in, leaning over our vodka sodas with her sweet, juvenile, deeply concerned eyes. “You’re too pretty to smoke,” she said. “Please don’t.”
Appreciating her concern, I said, “Thank you,” feeling the rage boil up my throat.
Too pretty? I thought. Too pretty for what?
There’s nothing more I desire than to reach into my chest and pour the tar that clings to my pretty, pink lungs onto this sticky, tile floor. I’d turn my tattooed arms inside out and expose the skin you praise for being strong and wise and resilient is rice paper thin. I’ll scoop my “big” heart from behind my ribs, stitched together carelessly from years of kitchen table surgeries, sour and percolating, reluctantly beating over and over again.
I’m not the self-deprecating girl declaring myself a monster–ugly, dumb, destined to roam this earth as a pathetic, sad party of one.
I’m not ugly. Just ask the woman whose eyes cut through me with her hands on my back, rallying the guys pouring my drinks to watch my ass as I walk away.
I’m not dumb, whatsoever. I’m appreciated for my wisdom, my work and my ability to hold a conversation in mixed company.
I’m not the girl to contour my face like a Kardashian or chug stadium beers and cheer wildly in a crowd. I won’t toss my hair, wink coyly or blow you in the bathroom, but if you’re middle-aged, academic and appreciatory of an entrepreneurial woman, you’ll surely flirt with me while I try to eat dinner at the bar.
So, “Why’s a girl like me alone?“ you ask.
Because only the broken ones, like you, tell me I’m beautiful, babe. Just the ones who wish to crush me further question why it is that I am alone.