Here is a boy, laid out for you, naked and willing: you think his smile is infectious and his long, skinny body is endearing. He wears flip-flops in the rain and you can listen to him talk for hours. He’s straight edged and insistent on the righteousness of God, so you feel powerful when you introduce him to pot or get him drunk for the first time on Peach Burnett’s. You take delight in how he stops worshipping something ethereal and falls at your carnal feet. You get high together, inside of bathrooms and under thin lines of trees. You want to fuck him, many times, everyday. You’re overwhelmed with desire, new to the sexuality of this word, “fuck.” You’re new to the sensations that sex grants you; you used to think that sex was an act to be tolerated rather than enjoyed. You work through this hunger by nesting inside of his freshman dorm-room twin bed.
Initially, your bodies come together and apart without a hitch. But after a few weeks, your labia dries and all your muscles tighten into a solid cavity refusing to be filled, even though you crave it. You’re maddened by how much you want it, and how now that you want it, you won’t get it—not without pain.
This is your punishment: you can’t enjoy these moments of pleasure without the searing first. He can’t begin to enter you without a fist full of spit and a long drawn out lick, up the shaft to his tip. Your body doesn’t want any part of any man ever again; you know this in the way that he tells you he loves you and you pretend to answer with something more than a thirst for shelter and flirtatious companionship. Your heart is still tangled up in a another boy who doesn’t want you and held your pelvis down for five minutes, twenty minutes before he finally walked out.
For months the terror strikes you; you know it’s coming each time your legs spread—two soft thrusts to inch you open, then one hard and powerful to enter inside. You gasp each time. For the first thirty seconds everything is fire and sandpaper, and you wonder if it will feel this way forever, if this will happen each time you want to hand your body over. You wonder if you’re physically scarred, if you will ever heal. You’re angry with your body for turning against you, for refusing to cooperate. You loathe the lack of meat that hangs between your thighs and curse the wound you’ve been dealt through chance. You don’t ask for help; you damn biology. The Internet tells you that it’s psychological, that there’s no concrete treatment or cure, until, finally, you find something that gives your experience a name.
You learn about a condition called Vaginismus, and you learn that many medical professionals do not acknowledge that it exists. On the list of causes, you read “sexual trauma” and you flinch. You don’t tell anyone, not even this freshman boyfriend, who thinks you’re a little bit tight but who has resigned to the fact that, though your body shudders initially, your rigidness alleviates after a few deep breaths. He hears you groan and you can sense his hesitation, his delicacy—is it pain or pleasure? You tell him you’re fine, keep going; it only hurts for a second. It’s true: the pain leaves you after a few thrusts. Incarcerated in your own body, you face eighteen months of this.
Your gynecologist never remarks on something unusual, never sees something inside of you that’s ugly or wrong. She doesn’t notice when she touches you and you wince because it’s common enough to have a sharp intake of breath when a cold metallic cylinder is stuck inside a body. She doesn’t notice that when she speaks the word “relax,” you turn to stone; after all, no one really enjoys an examination like this. You don’t want your questions to probe more questions. You’re already afraid she won’t believe you—you don’t even believe you—so you keep your pain to yourself.
You try and recall that night, the one that you believe may be hurting you through its echo. You try to focus on what came before your high school boyfriend walked out your front door. Each time you play the scene back again, something shifts a little bit. You feel like a detective analyzing a security tape. Rewind, zoom in, now play it back. Reality crashes upon you casually, day by day, in a slow-motion wave.
First, you must realize that you no longer love Him. Then, you may dissect Him freely. You take a scalpel and tear Him apart. You remove each limb and organ, searching for a clue. You make a mental list of all the times He was angry or disappointed with you. The list takes up multiple pages of your notebook and you analyze the last six bullet points, again and again:
For not having sex during the last two weeks of your relationship because the yeast infection that He gave you went untreated for too long. For telling Him to stop, because the infection brought burning, when He was just trying to “be with you” one last time. For crying and saying that you loved him on the night before He left for school, because its was agreed that you wouldn’t do this kind of thing. For making Him ever “feel bad” or guilty at all.
For not enjoying yourself. For expressing pain.
Was that unhealthy? Was that cruel? Was that five-minute-rape? Your mind can’t seem to make the connection, yet your body is telling that you that damage occurred. Rapists aren’t long-term boyfriends who bought you stuffed animals and movie tickets. They have stringy hair and broad, deranged faces. They are predators and you have never really felt like prey. The painful recollection of that night always stemmed from Him leaving you behind. From the “I love you” and the turning of a doorknob and a back. Everything that your head refuses to acknowledge has flowed down your spine and pooled around your messiest, most feminine body part.
But you won’t admit it for a year. You don’t let yourself feel it, because it would mean that you are a victim of something bigger than heartbreak—you’re not just a clingy, dependent girlfriend—you’re worse than that. You’re the stupid, teenage girl that should have known better. You’re the example that every mother holds up in the midst of an adolescent debate. You’re a pity party and an afterschool special. You’re the one that everyone shakes their heads at because you loved a man who didn’t deserve it and centered your life around an abusive snake. You know you’re not supposed to feel shame or embarrassment. Your brain can cite numerous lectures from high school health class—it’s not the victim’s fault. But your anatomy doesn’t accept that. Shame is the overwhelming response. It seeps from your glands, triggering bitterness.
Months after your revelation, you start to tell people, to confide in them, to listen to how it sounds, in your voice, aloud. You hope that speaking might relieve the tightening inside of you. There’s a prevalent hardness growing inside, distinct from the kind that your vaginal muscles exude. Alcohol is your push. You tell your best friend, she listens to you and nods her head. She’s surprised, but understands. You tell another high school friend, the one with whom He repeatedly fooled around. She thinks you’re exaggerating.
You, quaking, tell Him at a party and He snaps, visibly distraught, rattling a cigarette in the air. He tells you that you’re wrong. He yells at you. You’re afraid but the adrenaline elates you. You’ve never done this before, never allowed the animosity, unrestrained, to tumble out of you. You sling insults, and the evidence of each grievance, with a year of resentment securely fastened to every syllable. He puffs out his chest and flings his arms back, signaling that he’s ready for a fight. He tells you that you’re crazy; that you’re a bitch and to stop spreading lies. His exasperation both fuels and frustrates you. The conversation leaves you with grey, callous insides.
Your anxiety rises and falls. You gain eighteen pounds during your first year of college, then lose twenty-five by the second. You spend the summer between these years at home, vomiting each morning as panic rises in your chest. Your doctor gives you pills to help you sleep and eat for a few months. She offers advice, warns you not to bottle feelings up. She says that fear is often a healthy response but you have too much of it flooding your system, that you have a right to speak and to be heard.
Back at school in the winter, in bed, you tell your no-longer-new, college boyfriend that it hurts whenever you have sex. He barely blinks. His face is one of sympathetic neutrality. He knows; he’s already noticed your inexplicable pain. He doesn’t understand why you never said anything about it sooner. He doesn’t understand silence or secrets in general. After a few beats, you tell him your theory about why. You tell him about the yeast infection, the sex, and the unwillingness. You’re relieved when aloud, from another’s mouth, it is confirmed. You were raped. Your story is not fiction; it is memoir. That night, as he enters you, you brace yourself for the sting. But unexpectedly, anticlimactically, in some vanilla moment of prepackaged idealism—you unfold, disintegrating like pages of a book meeting rain, and he slips himself inside. He asks if you are okay. You simply nod, yes. The pain dissolves and, indefinitely, doesn’t come back.
During your sophomore year of college, you take a creative writing class and you discover that you like to write poetry. You start to raise your hand in class. Junior year, you finally write a poem about Him. It’s cathartic and you feel relieved when it’s done. Here are your thoughts and feelings set out before you, stranded on a piece of paper, rather than trapped inside your mind. The central images conflict with one another but you think the point comes across. You present the poem to your creative writing class for critique. The students cry rape. The professor disagrees with that reading. He thinks that this is one of those situations where one party is hesitant about sex but embraces the pleasure, and her lover, as it resolves. The class agrees that the ending is cryptic. Doubt creeps inside you as a deep blush soaks your skin. When you’re asked to explain exactly what the poem is expressing, you refuse to refer to the narrator as anything other than the speaker.
Your senior year, you read things like the Sexual Politics of Meat and you damn yourself for considering your pain to be equal to that of real women, who have experienced real abuse, real rape. You have never been sodomized and stuck in a cage; the only sexual prison that exists for you is the imaginary one you have built. Then you backtrack, scorning yourself for creating divisions, classifications akin to the kind that stuffy conservatives make, pertaining to “legitimate rape”.
That same year, during your Thanksgiving break, you go out to a bar with your friends. He is there too. You already know what will happen. You will drink, you will be left alone with Him and you will brand Him with curses like you always do. It happens, just as you expected it to. You can no longer control your tongue. Tonight, instead of asserting Himself, or casting blame, He apologizes. He asks you if He really did what you say He did. You tell Him yes, and that you forgive Him. The words fall out naturally, like an apologetic, feminine reflex. You’re not sure if this is true. You don’t know what you’re feeling. You can’t decide if your statement is born from weakness or strength. You don’t know if this an appropriate moment for any form of compassion, but your vision is too blurry to search for more accurate words and these taste better than the usual poison bleeding from your mouth.
He gets quiet, comparatively silent to the drunken crowd around you. When He speaks again, His voice cracks and He pauses to clear His throat. He admits that from the first moment of your accusation, he has felt disturbed and confused. You tell him, “good”. His eyes are glossy and You think that he might actually cry. The uglier part of You wishes that he would break down, right here, in front of this crowd, your mutual friends. You’ve been waiting for this moment, for him to collapse into something small and breakable, into the insect You believe him to be, just so You can relentlessly step on him, officially crush his shiny exoskeleton. Now that it’s happening, You feel disgust and loathing, but also pity. You look him over, studying his wavering stance. You want to cave in His classic smug smile with Your fist, but You have nothing to beat away if that smirk is gone.
This boy, the he in front of you, is no longer a subconscious entity, no longer a towering Him; he does not intimidate, he is a human, with no gain over You. You know he can’t commit to any relationship, because he’s too debauched to stay loyal, or sober, for more than a night. His jawline is rounding, sloping into his neck. He’s veered into alcoholism, into the shadow of a father who he frequently told You he didn’t want to be. He is fallen. He fell months before Your relationship together ended. There’s something about his recognition and acceptance of that fall that distresses You. He is a villain, unmasked. And so you tell him that you’re done talking about this. You walk him over to the bar and demand he buy You a beer.
You don’t know rape. You have never been raped. Except for that time, in bleary August swelter, when Your boyfriend pulled you to the edge of your bed, slid off Your shorts and asked You if you were still healing. Then he pushed the hard of himself inside the soft of You, returning Your “Stop, that hurts,” with “Just relax,”words of betrayal, more painful than the act.
Maeve Dwyer has a BA in Creative Writing. She graduated from SUNY New Paltz, where she further developed her love for poetry, hiking, cold beer, and Netflix. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Library Information Science at St. John’s University.