I Had Already Become Less
[TW/CW: sexual assault]
I don’t remember a mouth. I remember disembodied words about: pain, impossibility, depression. I remember a box of tissues slapped across the table because it felt good to reject something. I remember the feeling of being a specimen to observe and pity, like the hard, dead frogs I was forced to rip apart and comment on in science class.
I remember the feeling of being a specimen to observe and pity, like the hard, dead frogs I was forced to rip apart and comment on in science class.
“You are doing well; you are handling this so well,” adults who could have but did not protect me said and, I wondered if they knew how haunting their smiles were to me, how they looked illuminated and their heads were rocking like some clownish bobbleheads in a nightmare. I knew that in reality everyone outside my head was still.
Sometimes when someone violates your body, there is nothing physical taken from you, nothing tangible to say “Here, see, I had this, and now it’s gone,” but you feel it missing anyway. And everyone is all gentle touches and soft words but everything is so loud, building up in your ears, running on a continuous loop until there is some small version of you in your brain screaming just to drown it all.
When I sat down with the cop I giggled and that made me giggle, so I did it more, and then I was trying to make the laugh sound like someone else’s, maybe that pretty girl in my class with the brown hair and the lofty voice I liked—Haleigh, her name was, I thought. But this game, Becoming Haleigh, who wasn’t sitting in front of a cop and who didn’t need to giggle like anyone else, didn’t work because suddenly the cop cleared his throat and I looked up and realized he was angry and my mother was staring at me like she was afraid of me, and I knew I’d embarrassed her.
“This really isn’t funny,” the cop said. His voice was unkind and all I could think about was his hairline and whether that scar on his face was as old as I was.
“She knows that,” I heard my mother interject. “She knows that; she laughs when she’s nervous. Don’t you? You’re nervous.”
And then I guessed I was a little nervous, but I mostly knew it was my mother who was nervous. My mother always got nervous around cops. Not because she ever felt threatened—as a white woman, she’d never even thought about that—but because she wanted them to like her. She was always smiling at them, bordering on flirting; she was always quick to say her father and brothers were cops, like there was any meaning in that.
I did not nod or smile.
Once my giggling had been swallowed down, the cop began reciting his agglomeration of questions. Most of them I was ready for—who, what, when, where, why, how. Five Ws and an H, my teacher called this. I’d prepared for these with my mother, although preparing for them made me feel like we were lying, and I was already prone to feeling like I was lying.
But I wasn’t ready, at fourteen, to be asked about pressing charges. I wasn’t ready, at fourteen, to discuss the restraining order options available to me, like shopping for the pair of glasses that suits someone best. But no one really cared if I was ready. That was the theme of this time in my life. None of this was mine.
This wasn’t the first time as a child I’d been asked about pressing charges. I didn’t remember it, but I knew that at six years old, a boy had grabbed me at school. I knew because my mother always told the story. Shared it, without even a sideways glance at me, to near-strangers. She’d laugh about how ridiculous it was to press charges against a child, to put that on their record so young, and I’d think about my body as someone else’s, or several someones, and I’d think my thoughts as these extra-bodily things that only I could control, that no one had access to, that no one could touch, and she’d laugh.
The cop coughed and I realized a lot of time had passed since he had last spoken. People in this situation get some time but mine was up, and another impatient man was in front of me, pushing.
“Do you want to talk about pressing charges? Because I will go arrest this kid right now.” He said it like it was simple, clean, easy, and I knew this was the last time he would ask.
I did not hesitate to shake my head this time. “No,” my voice was not Haleigh’s, but it wasn’t my mother’s either, “I don’t want to ruin anyone’s life.”
“No,” my voice was not Haleigh’s, but it wasn’t my mother’s either, “I don’t want to ruin anyone’s life.”
And for the first time all day I was surprised when my mother breathed in, sharp, and turned to look at me in horror.
Wasn’t this what she’d taught me to do?
Liz Declan is a queer single mom living in Philadelphia with her troublesome four-year-old & very loud beagle. She is a fiction reader at Little Fiction and has work in: Split Lip Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, FIVE:2:ONE, Hypertrophic Literary, Yes Poetry, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @Mother_Faulkner.
Illustration by Carson McNamara.