What word to use? I have never known. Rape? Technically untrue (no penetration). Abuse? Sounds too premeditated. Assault? Too brutal. Domestic abuse, date rape – nothing fits. None of the language, none of those words that appear in all the books, all the films, all the articles I clung onto after the event – none of them lock into place against that night.
If there is any irony in this, it is in the fact that I love words. I even work with them, my stock in trade – I chop them, change them, pick and place them. This one escapes me.
I call it a ‘thing’, then. That ‘thing’ that happened between me and him at university. He, my close friend, as high as a kite, as drunk as a lord, as sad as a black dog. He and I, getting into a crazy, misjudged situation that somehow became a crazy, violent situation.
We had been kissing, messing around for a few weeks prior to it. The ‘thing’, the event, unravelled over hours, over drinks, over the coffee table of another boy’s front room. After it was over, and he had told me to leave, I found my way back to my friend’s house, pleading with some force of nature that she would be awake.
The next day, the day after that, the day after that, I behaved erratically; desperately, even. I tried to place myself where he was the following day, probably in the hope that I had imagined it. I talked to him a few times. I cried, for hours, perched on the kitchen unit of a friend’s house, going over and over it, crying, waiting for my parents to pick me up and take me away.
I remember clearly the night that I saw his name appear on my phone, and realised that I wasn’t going to answer his call, not ever again. I was lying on my bed, my childhood bed, with the threads of the ‘thing’ curling themselves around me. The pain. The ‘no’. The bruises. The head banging against the coffee table. The sudden realisation of what the ‘thing’ was.
Done to me by friend. My close friend, who I trusted. Who was soft, sweet, silly. My friend who I should never have kissed, but who I adored. How to marry that with my memories of that evening? I can’t ever, really. It doesn’t mean I don’t hold him responsible – I do. It doesn’t mean I forget the look on his face when it was happening – I won’t.
Shared friends, people who knew both of us, found it difficult, I think. A lot don’t even know. A sense of something floated around most of our friendship group in the months after, but I don’t know how many people grabbed it or comprehended it. And still, over 10 years later, I am itchy with paranoia about what they thought back then, what they discussed, if anything. Am I a fantasist to some? A liar? A spurned lover? A silly girl? What words do they use?
He is still there too, in places I love; on Facebook; in friends; friends of friends; in outer circles. It is hard to move on when a shadow always remains.
It’s a real killer, see, to have trust smashed in that way; trust gutted like a fish. It’s inexplicable to have lived one story with someone and then be forced to write them into a hideous, sore, shattering one.
To know that one less drink, one different decision, would have kept my story on its course, not pushed it out of alignment. To imagine, every once in a while, a life where he is just a university friend who I think of affectionately, but have inevitably lost touch with. Not this actual life, where his vicious, hateful, revolting behaviour changed me forever.
Calling it ‘the thing’ is soft, I know. Soft language. And I am soft towards those people who do know, but remain friends with him. I am even soft to him sometimes, veering back and forth in my mind between abject horror at what happened, and excusing it as an unfortunate one-off. It is an inevitable consequence of having trusted and loved my perpetrator. The ‘thing’, my soft, ineffectual word for the violence of the situation, is a consequence of still not being able to understand the annihilating wrench of him attacking me.
Attacking me. There. I said it.
Still not sure how confident I sound, though.