SEVEN: Details.

Silence Of The Night A Meditation

The almost four-year-old insists on sleeping beside my bed. So we make up a little nest for him and when it’s time he tells everyone that his sleeping place is downstairs, and he is now going there to be with his Giddy.

I read him bedtime stories. He says: Giddy, I’m choking, I am going to choke, but if you rub my tummy I will be all right. Then he shows me how to read his book to him and rub his tummy at the same time. After a bit he says, Giddy, I think my arm is breaking too. Can you kiss it? So I kiss his arm and rub his tummy and read his story. Then he says, there’s something wrong with my foot, Giddy.

And immediately falls asleep.

I lift him gently from my bed into his own. I have to climb over him to get to the bathroom, where I brush my teeth. The electric toothbrush has taken to nipping the inside of my lower lip. I can’t work out how this is happening. I should ask someone, but I can’t be bothered.

It’s early, but I’m tired. I don’t go back upstairs to the others. I look at my book and pretend I’m reading.

I think about how people who do harm depend on the silence of those they’ve harmed. I think how there is a battle going on between those who need the cover of silence in order to perpetrate their harms, and those who know that if they are to survive, they must speak.

I think that too often the greater disgrace is attributed to those who break the silence, rather than to those who need it as cover for their crimes.

The counsellor tells me I’m still not ready to make my statement to police about the sexual assault. It’s all right, she says, there is no statute of limitations. Part of me wants to get it over with. Another part tells me to listen to her, she knows what she’s talking about.

They will want every detail, she tells me. Ok, I say. They will have what they want.

He depended on my silence. What is it in a man that makes him believe he can do whatever he wants, and still depend on a woman’s silence?

The details don’t matter, he told me impatiently. With arrogance. As if it were beneath him to consider, let alone discuss, the details of what took place. Silencing me with his male authority, his intellectual prowess, his assumed entitlement to decide what matters, and what does not.

And I was silent.

As long as I’m silent he’s right, the details don’t matter. But when I speak, the details become everything. I will bring the details down upon his head. I will parade the details in all their complex shades before his eyes, and he will be unable to look away. I will pour the details into his mouth until he cannot swallow and they spill out, down his chin, onto his shirt front, choking him with their significance.

Then he will see how they matter.

I’ll give life to the details. The silence will be destroyed by the details. Forever and ever.

I have fallen asleep, the bedside lamp left on, my book across my chest. The child is whispering in my ear. Giddy. I am still choking and my arm is still breaking. Can I come into your bed? He climbs over me and snuggles under our covers. He strokes my face. He sighs, and rolls into my arms.

It’s two in the morning. The world is silent.

Details are everything. I will show you that much and this time, you will not be allowed to turn your face away.

 

SIX: What will happen next?

Leonora Carrington Figure in Water

 

What will happen next, I ask.

They’ll arrest him. Or they’ll ask him to come in for an interview and if he doesn’t they’ll arrest him.

They’ll question him. In the most thorough detail.

He won’t be able to have his wife there to hide behind.

OK, I say.

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It was a great relief to me to arrive at the point where I could say yes, I love and desire you but there are limits to the circumstances in which I will agree to the expression of those feelings.

It likely never occurs to most women with safe lives that they might have to take a stand on these things. In my experience of adult love the question of limits had never before arisen. That was a great good fortune for which I never showed any gratitude, taking it for granted.

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Bodily Integrity. Is the inviolability. Of the physical body. 

It emphasises. The importance. Of personal autonomy.

And the self-determination of human beings. Over their own bodies. 

It considers. The violation of bodily integrity. As an unethical infringement. Intrusive. 

And possibly criminal. 

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There is the moment of confusion when you first dimly perceive things are not going as planned. You doubt your perceptions and you think, oh, it will get back on track in a minute and we’ll do what we’d said we’d do.

It’s one thing if this happens in the abstract. It’s an entirely other when there are bodies involved. It’s like the difference between speaking and writing. We honour the written down, but we have it back to front. It’s the speech act that counts. Body to body, eye to eye, presence to presence. The integrity of the body.

People make this mistake all the time when they expect a correlation between the writer and what the writer writes. I did. It may be there. Equally, it may not. But what a body enacts upon a body is unmistakable.

For a brief instant when he turned the vehicle in an entirely unanticipated direction, I wondered if I was being hijacked. But I did not know the city and for all I knew he could have been heading for another car park. And the notion of a man you love and who loves you hijacking you, is ridiculous in the extreme.

A warning from another dimension that flashes through the mind, immediately dismissed, recalled in retrospect where did that foreknowledge come from, which part of me knew and sounded a warning, what sixth sense, underdeveloped but alarmed enough to break through the concrete walls of rationality told me you are being hijacked, like someone who at the last-minute refuses to board a plane that goes on to crash. What is that, and why did I give it no credibility?

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The idea that because a woman has consented to a sexual relationship with a man it infers that he may have her whenever wherever and however he wants, is not quite as prevalent as it once was, though it has not entirely disappeared.

A woman does not give up her right to  personal autonomy when she loves a man. A woman does not relinquish her right to self-determination when she loves a man. A woman retains her right to bodily integrity when she loves a man. All this is self-evident.

No, it is not.

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What will happen next?

He will be arrested. Or he will be asked to come in for a very thorough interview. If he refuses he will be arrested.

His wife will not be able to answer for him, or tell him what to say.

He will be held accountable. 

For unethical infringement.

Intrusive.

And possibly criminal.

OK, I say.

FIVE: Collating cobwebs

cobwebs

Yesterday morning the detective rang to see how I’m doing, am I seeing the counsellor, when’s my next session. It was humid and raining but I did the washing anyway. J was at work all day. I forgot the washing and it sat in the machine till evening. I ate fruit.

Lately it’s been necessary to spend much time collating emails. After the detective rang I visited G, who assists in unorthodox ways and to whom my GP turns in times of stress. The calm that came from being in her presence meant I could carry on collating for the rest of the day.

I took my lap top to the cafe and collated. After a while a friend came by and ruffled my hair. The smallest thing, the phone call from the detective, being with G, affection from a friend, can poke holes in the thin tissue of my composure, and then the real breaks through.

Sometimes I see the real as light, like sunlight funnelled through clouds over the river on gloomy days. It’s a strange way to imagine what distress might look like, I know. But there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Rays of sunlight

What I had imagined doing for many months was confronting him. I thought if I looked him in the eye and told him what had happened to me that day and ever since, and if he acknowledged it and apologised, I could, as they say, move on. I wouldn’t have done it alone: I would have taken a witness and protector. And then it would not have kept me tied to him, unfinished business of the worst possible kind.

But he would not permit this. It’s probably better this way, others doing it for me with far more authority than I could ever bring to the situation. So he learns men can’t take hold of women when we’ve said, I do not want this.

I look out of the cafe window at my friends who are sitting in the garden drinking their coffee. I wrangle with the problem of what it means that a man can so disregard a woman’s expressed wishes he does take hold of her against her will, because he finds her irresistible. 

What it means is that we can never be safe. Who knows when and where some man is going to find you irresistible and bingo, without any warning you’re in a world you never in a million years imagined you’d inhabit, grappling with new language, new customs, new meaning.

Make sure you are never irresistible. Anticipate what it is about you that will contribute to your irresistibility, and nip it in the bud. It is impossible to predict where the assault will come from. A man who publicly boasts of his truthfulness. A man who writes, I treat everyone equally. A man whom others believe to be honourable. All of these qualities in him will be undone by your irresistibility. Yes. Imagine that.

What I would have said to him, among other things, is this: It is not that I am irresistible. It is that you decided you had no obligation to honour my wishes. It is that you decided my desire not to be intimately touched was of far less importance than your desire to intimately touch me.

A man may, when he is an infant, demand to suckle at his mother’s breasts. The man who never learns a woman’s body is not his to feed from by right remains an infant, and dangerous.

I wore that day black jeans, a cream-coloured sweater with a high neck and short sleeves,  a short woollen coat and dark brown boots. The inside of his vehicle was dirty and my coat became covered in cobwebs. He thought that amusing but what it meant to me was that he had performed the most intimate acts in an environment that was uncomfortable and dirty, and that I had done my utmost to avoid. That he found the cobwebs on my clothing amusing was a humiliation that signified the greater humiliation of being unable to control where he took me in his vehicle, and what he did when we arrived at our destination.

Oh yes. The cobwebs were so funny. I discovered this phrase in one of the emails I collated. Oh yes, I saw I had written. The cobwebs were so very very funny. I am dying. From mirth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOUR: What women do

Woman sitting alone

He writes:

Remember how you once asked me how I felt about the blog you wrote about your ill husband and I wasn’t sure?

Something like this. The idea of fucking you all the way down the Mekong made me green with envy. It just sounds like heaven. I was really envious. Very straightforward.

But what affected me more was you visiting him in hospital and opening your shirt for him to fondle your breasts. Wasn’t sure why at that time, but now I know. You were offering him comfort, succour, pleasure, when he was ill and in need. And you have done the same for me, offering your whole wonderful body to make me feel better, make me feel fed, I guess. Mentally, emotionally, sensually in my case, not physically yet, but you opening yourself to me, so generously giving of yourself, has been the most wonderful gift. I want to feed from your beauty, make myself well again. Love.

What women do. Why?

The counsellor says when I tell her of this correspondence: Don’t be ashamed of your compassion.

At this point I need to hold myself. I don’t want anyone else to touch me. I want to wrap my arms around me, so I do.

What has been lost, I realise, is the woman who gave her body to comfort and succour. She is gone and I grieve her passing.

I think, I’m glad I had her while my husband was alive.

But the other one. The one who read the story of my love and wanted it for himself. Who didn’t ask it from his own wife but from me. Who took when I did not want to give. Him I spit on.

 

 

 

THREE: Writing it down

Lake at Night

 

The days are filled with doctors, counselling, lawyers, and writing it down.

Yesterday I walked into the room downstairs where  Big Dog used to sleep after he became too large to sleep on my bed. I can smell him, I told J. That warm Big Dog smell that filled the whole room when I walked into it first thing in the morning to let him out into the garden. He would very gently take my forearm between his jaws in greeting, while his tail joyously whacked the floor. I loved his smell, like I loved the smell of my new babies. I would give anything for either of those smells, right now.

The white rabbit that suddenly appeared in our garden a couple of months ago is still here. It likes to sleep on Big Dog’s grave under the mango tree. It follows us when we’re in the garden, wants to be stroked but when J picked it up the other day, it mauled her. Even rabbits have their boundaries and are entitled to defend them.

Two nights ago, I slept for thirty minutes. I couldn’t shut up my head. A phrase kept running through it. I want my body back. I want my body back. I want my body back. I made use of the time writing it down, not that phrase but the statement of events I have to prepare to speak for the police.

As an undergraduate, or was it in my Honours year, I studied a unit on narratology. It was the most boring thing I’ve ever studied, outside of statistics in psychology. I wrote at the beginning of my essay: Narratology is the most boring thing I’ve ever studied. I got a high distinction, my argument was so convincing. But anyways, where I am going with this is, when one writes it down one becomes a narrator and that is a completely different experience from being a speaker. Or, as Roland Barthes would have it in Death of the Author, “As soon as a fact is narrated…disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his [sic] own death, writing begins.”

I have never before been in such a unique position to observe the difference between writing it down, and speaking it. When I speak it to my counsellor and my doctors, emotions overwhelm me. When I write it down the narrator comes to my rescue, disconnecting me from emotions.  A character is born: she is the I who writes, the creator who is the organising principle.

The I who speaks it has no such organising principle. The detective, who is one of the most kind yet firm individuals I’ve ever met, explains to me the necessity of allowing the counsellor to take me through the emotions until I can speak it without collapse, because I will have to speak it when I make the statement of events. The counsellor can be with me when I do this. It will take a long time, he says. Maybe several days but I do not have to do it alone and the counsellor will stop it if I falter.

Just now, I am stuck at one point in writing it down.The narrator is wavering under the pressure of the emotions of the I who speaks. The phrase causing all this trouble is not mine, but his. “I’m not really doing this,” he said, in the car in the bush by the lake. “I’m not really doing this,” he said as he did.

Did he say this to me? To himself? Who was the subject of his enunciation?

If ever I was upset about anything, Big Dog would not let me out of his sight. If he were here now he would let me lie down with him for as long as I wanted. Somewhere under the house are the remnants of his bed. Yesterday, I spoke of shame. There is, I told the doctor, a shame that is entirely to do with being a woman, and being fuckable. You are so sexy, said the man as he kneaded my breast. Were I not, in his perception, so sexy, I wouldn’t have been there in the car in the bush by the lake. I would not now be writing it down. It does a woman no good to be so sexy.

I must think more about this woman shame, this shame we can carry just for being female without, much of the time, even knowing that we carry it.

The white rabbit is gazing at me through my study window. It’s raining. J is upstairs making chicken soup, and I would give anything to once again smell my new-born babies’ heads.

 

TWO: Absolute trust

georgia-o_keeffe-american-1887-1986-the-lawrence-tree

 

(may be upsetting)

The agreement is made, unquestioningly, in absolute trust. 

That phrase, absolute trust, was the man’s. We have absolute trust in one another he wrote and repeated it, as if marvelling at an unusual experience.

I’ve never had absolute trust in anyone. I thought that must be a weakness in me that I ought to overcome, since the opportunity had unexpectedly presented itself. Go on, I told me. Trust. Absolute. And immediately thought of Swedish vodka.

I don’t want to do it again, I said. I don’t want to do that fumbling in a car thing stuff. I really, really don’t like it. It makes me feel terrible. So I’ll just meet you for lunch in a public place and you won’t touch me, ok?

I don’t want to do anything that upsets you, he said. Anything you don’t want too. Absolute trust, remember?

J drops me off at the National Library. He’s there at the bottom of the steps, leaning on his vehicle. I am so happy to see him. We hug each other. He says, I’m on a double yellow line, I’ll have to move. So I hop in. I need to pee, I tell him. I anticipate him saying, I’ll hover here while you go in the Library. Or, I’ll look for a parking spot while you go inside. Instead he pulls away from the kerb and says, there’s a place near the lake where there are toilets. Ok, I say, practising absolute trust like I told myself I should.

I don’t know what I’m feeling for the hours he stays parked in the trees beside the lake. Now I know. It was:  I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be here doing this. I told you no. I fucking told you no and you said you wouldn’t. Stop. Don’t treat me like this, how dare you treat me like this?

Now I know I wanted to hit him, tear his clothes, punch him off me, scream at him to get off my fucking body, claw his face with my fingernails, bite great pieces out of him. Now I know, but then it was all inchoate, as things can be during the course of entirely unexpected and intense events, and I took flight, to a corner of the car, from which I watched me.

I do say: You agreed you wouldn’t do this.  He does say: You are irresistible. I can’t keep my hands off you. I have to fuck you. I love you.

There is nothing in my adult life I have wanted less than to be in that place in that way at that time.

Absolut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE: The experience of being prey

Magritte_Artwork_ml0004s_300x300

The detective said, he groomed you. The sexual assault counsellor said, he groomed you. My friend J said, he groomed you. My friend M said, he groomed you. My lawyer said, he groomed you. My psychiatrist said, you were extremely vulnerable. I said, I am a mature woman. I have a doctorate. I am surrounded by decent people amongst whom I live a safe and productive life. They said again, he groomed you.

I look at her face in the mirror. Sucked in, I tell her. I watch her cry. You are groomable, I tell her. That thing you thought could only happen to children?

This acute phase, the counsellor tells me, usually lasts about three months. We are speaking about my erratic sleep patterns, my inability to make decisions, my new habit of sitting frozen in place while I try to think of what to do next.

I don’t like this vulnerability. I don’t like having missed all the red flags. I don’t like being someone who didn’t see what was coming her way and take steps to avoid it. But here I am.

 

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Leave me a place underground, a labyrinth,
where I can go, when I wish to turn,
without eyes, without touch,
in the void, to dumb stone,
or the finger of shadow.

I know that you cannot, no one, no thing
can deliver up that place, or that path,
but what can I do with my pitiful passions,
if they are no use, on the surface
of everyday life,
if I cannot look to survive,
except by dying, going beyond, entering
into the state, metallic and slumbering,
of primeval flame?
Pablo Neruda