Content warning for domestic assault
Breakups are not simple for the one left behind. After the tears and emotional shock, time can pass to heal wounds. But not always. Not for a particular young woman I know well. She had dated the boy for two years in high school and then he followed her to college. After just two months into their freshman year, the break-up surprised her, spiraling into much more. He had had his way with some of the women in his residence hall, got one pregnant, so was getting ready to drop out and get married. But first, he had to get his stuff -- from a long-time girlfriend who did not consent to sex.
He showed up high, pounding on the door, unplugged stereo equipment, tore record albums off the shelf, and cracked several. She had seen that look before more than a few times; had acquiesced to some of his demands to calm him down. Sometimes came home with bruises. That day, his anger grew when the speakers wouldn’t budge, when he couldn’t find Grateful Dead, when he pulled his class ring off her finger and it caught on her knuckle. He barred the door as she tried to make a run for it; slammed the door. She became a punching bag, blacked out.
The sky held faint daylight the morning she awoke on the ground, below a trio of barren maple trees. How did she get there? Dead leaves tangled in her hair, blood stuck to her arms. She wondered when her t-shirt ripped. Wondered why her head pounded. Back in her room, she was surprised at the red marks around her neck and an eye swollen almost shut. She called her sister, also high, who answered, “Who is this?” It never occurred to her to call campus police.
Skipping class until the bruises faded and her eye was back to normal, she hid in her dorm room, once a safe place. She could not drop out, go home. Walking across campus to classes, his roommates would spot her and yell Bitch! Behind her locked door, she lay awake most nights, listening, thinking she must be to blame, braced herself for another attack. He had often told her she was too sensitive and too weak. She had thought after the diagnosis of dysthymia that the meds had made her better. Too ashamed to tell her mom, she held the secret of the assault -- for decades. Until the Brett Kavanagh hearings and Dr. Ford’s testimony, when it all came roaring back -- especially the dilated, red, angry eyes.
Fifty years after the assault, November found her rising before daybreak, shaking off dreams that scuffled and bruised and bled. She slipped outside into predawn darkness, stood alone on the back porch, listened for birdsong, for wind scattering dried leaves, or the low hum of trucks on the highway. She heard pounding. Shivers tightened the robe around her neck like fingers that choked and fists that brought darkness. Day broke to fractured bits: a dorm room in shambles, an eye swollen shut, bruises, torn clothes, bits of brown leaves caked in mud, scattered.
Back inside the house, she scooted past a yawning husband, cut past the unmade coffee pot, shut herself in the bathroom. The cold water could not purge the taste of blood or the memory of eyes
that blazed madness. She longed to reach out to her mom who had passed -- and to her estranged sister. Understood the statute of limitations was long gone. Doors had closed.
Fury bubbled up, demanded an outlet. She shook off silence that day, gave voice to details of the assault to her husband and grown daughters. At last unburdened, she felt herself rise up. Raw anger in turn gave rise to revelation through her writing – sexual assault, the shame of misplaced blame, women’s right to refuse or consent, depression.
She is no longer scattered; she has begun to use her voice through spoken word poetry and literary magazines – to reach women of all ages, to remind them to trust their gut, to stand strong, and to let their voices be heard. To rise.
Mary Anna Kruch is a career educator and writer and leads a monthly writing group. Inspiration flows from experiences, relationships, and nature. Recent poetry appears in Remembered Arts Journal, Wayne Literary Review, Trinity Review, and an anthology, After: Stories about Loss. Her poetry collection, We Draw Breath from the Same Sky, is now available. She is working on a collection of short stories related to depression, domestic abuse, and PTSD.