Don’t Think About Him

By Carol Hood

Illustration: Sophia Foster-Dimino
It’s exhausting to remember him and even more exhausting to actively not remember.

Content warning: Descriptions of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse

Don’t think about him, don’t think about him. They tell me not to think about him. They tell me that thinking about him gives him power. Thinking about him makes him important. Thinking about him must mean I’m not over him, that I somehow still want him, that I somehow still miss him. Don’t think about him, don’t think about him, don’t think about him. Why do you still think about him?

It’s Christmas now and I try frantically to make Christmas fun. My mother is a Christmas monster. Since Dad died, she takes on Christmas like it’s a Leviathan. She claims she does it for me, but last year, when I was too busy thinking about him to get out from my bed, last year when her back hurt too much to put up the lights outside or finish the ornaments on the Christmas tree — she holed herself up in her own room and cried. My brother found her under her covers sniffling.

I never got over that gloomy Christmas Day, and when it turned 2017, I was determined not to think about him. I didn’t want to think about how he’d raped me. I’d been able to think of myself as something other than a rape victim, back when he’d just grow extremely angry and shout at me for hours and hours when I didn’t want him. Then after a day of shouting, he’d cry, say he was sorry, and then try again. If I resisted, the cycle would continue. Eventually, I learned to stop resisting. Eventually he would just do what he wanted to do and then be mad at me for crying through it.

If I resisted, the cycle would continue.

The last day we lived together, we were in bed and when he stirred, I froze tighter than a body in rigor mortis. If I moved then I would be awake and if I was awake, I had to acknowledge him. Not just acknowledge him but acknowledge him first. Don’t look at the dog or my phone or anywhere but him or it would be a fight. He’d say I cared more about the dog and Facebook than him and if he hounded me this morning, today just might be the day I’d wake up in an insane asylum, watching my mother sob at me from behind a one-way mirrored room — oh God, it was better to just pretend to be asleep. I remember feeling something tug down my sweat pants. I batted his hand away, stop. He didn’t care. And I remember my eyes popping wide open as the hand came back angry and ripped my sweats down. “Stop,” I muttered, but I was too afraid to resist or he might yell. I do remember thinking, please don’t do this. This will be rape. Not mental coercing, not blurry-line peer pressure bullshit that I’d been convincing myself was something other than it was, but legitimate rape.

Now it’s 2017 and I’m a rape victim.

And who the fuck wants to think about that?

I needed to forget, and maybe shedding the body he tortured would help me forget. I had gained weight from the stress, the depression, the eating. Two years with him had left my body crooked and weak. I couldn’t get up the stairs without being winded. I could not fit in any clothes but the stretchy ones. And I looked so sad, I looked so goddamned sad. It was a wonder I never got grey hairs. He had plenty.

I waddled into a small gym that did interval training. The boy teaching it, his name was Adam and he kind of looked like an exotic Disney prince? An exotic Disney prince surveying his people, an ocean of beautiful white people, fit and flying. The bell dinged and they dropped into mountain climbers — and it was all too much. I started to back out, but it was too late. Adam bounced up to me grinning, and his radiance stirred a small competitive edge in me that I forgot existed.

I could not do burpees or pull-ups; there was a time when I passed through both without hesitation. I missed my old self. The woman I was before I knew he existed. Tall, athletic, and fearless. Confident. Could do burpees and pull-ups. But she’s dead, he killed her. And whatever is left wakes up every morning and stares in the mirror confused like, who is this bitch?

But it’s 2017 now and I said I’d stop thinking about him.

By spring I could do one or two burpees. Pull-ups are still out the question. People say they can see the weight leaving, the stress melting and taking with it years off my once solemn face. They cheer for me, say yay! You’re no longer thinking about him! About how he’d look when he’d yell at you, sharp eyed, all gnashing teeth like a gargoyle. Don’t let his voice echo in your ears. Don’t remember his tonality, the way his voice would break when he wailed words like, you bitch, you spoiled little bitch!

Try and date, they tell me. Try and date. Have fun! I try frantically to date, to have fun. I try to do anything but remember his friend, a woman, who he confided in. He told her how I made him feel small. She told him through text: There’s a reason she’s as old as she is and still single.

I was 30.

Don’t think about him, don’t think about him, don’t think about him. Don’t think about how he smashed that door, left knuckle prints in your chest of drawers. Forget about how he’d rather be right and you be sick than he be wrong and allow you antibiotics. Don’t wonder if any of the awful words he called you are true.

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to remember him and even more exhausting to actively not remember. It’s exhausting to not talk about him, but when I open my mouth and his name comes out, I see the groans and the side-eyes. I see their glances that silently demand I just get over it, and I feel the burn of shame.

Don’t wonder if any of the awful words he called you are true.

And if I speak through the shame, he comes for me. He always comes for me. “Keep your name out my mouth,” he warns in a barrage of texts and emails. Blocking him doesn’t matter; he just finds another phone to harass from.

Even as I watch women take down much more powerful men than him, I fear our voice. I fear seeing a 504 area code pop up on my phone or his initials in my inbox. Mostly, I fear that one day I say too many words that may compel him to wait for me at my front door with his fists clenched.

So, it’s easier not to think about him.

Maybe 2018 will be my year.

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