The Dark I Know Well

Picture Credits: goodsophism

There is a part I can’t tell / about the dark I know well.

It’s always one of two nightmares: I’m either trapped in a room with a many-faced man, or he’s chasing me into the street outside my childhood home. They always end the same way: I jackknife upright in bed and scream or cry – usually both. It’s impossible to remind myself that they are just dreams.

I am sixteen and volunteering at a gala for
the museum where I spend my summers working with the education program. I am
part of the group who greets the honored World War II veteran. It is my job to
smile.

“Thanks, sweetheart.” A customer – a tall
and slender man in a business suit – at the coffee shop where I work as a
sophomore in college shoots me with a toothy grin. He winks and walks away,
laughing with the man next to him.

FORD: I am here today not because I want to
be.

I am sixteen when the eighty-something
veteran sets his sights on me. I do not have time to register his brusque
“c’mere” before he tugs at my waist and invades. His lips are all saliva
against mine. I don’t remember his face. I don’t remember the shocked and
wounded noise I must have made. I remember the applause from the audience. It
was my first kiss.

FORD: Indelible in the hippocampus is the
laughter…

In the first nightmare, he sits behind a
desk and speaks filthy things to me. I never remember what they are, but they
fall into the room in a blitz. It’s not long before he encroaches upon my
borders, pushes me against a table or wall. I wish he’d incinerate me in the
fireplace instead.

He grabs my ass. It is one of my first solo
concerts. I am with my best friend, and I have just gotten past the
claustrophobia of knowing there is no easy way out of this mosh pit, not with
the multitude of sweaty, pulsing bodies between me and the door. I do not see
his face. I do nothing, the first and second times. I think it could be an
accident. I want to think it could be an accident. He stops after the
third time, when my elbow connects solidly with his rib cage.

You felt some guilt you had ever let him
touch you.

I am still sixteen when I sit in my hotel
room on my last night in Moscow with classmates. The door does not lock from
the inside. I am eating pizza on my own when one of the boys walks in, more drunk
than not. I don’t remember what we say. I don’t remember what I feel in those
first moments. A condom falls from his pocket and we are both silenced by the
impact.

“How much for a BJ?” I am nineteen in Amsterdam
when a drunk American man and a posse of his friends approach me. He ignores my
answer – “I’m not a prostitute” – and grabs my waist, pulls me to him, and asks
again. I don’t scream. I punch him in the gut and run for three blocks until I
find a burger joint. I don’t cry. I order a burger, my eyes fixed on the door,
and the man behind the counter gives it to me for free. He doesn’t ask who I’m
looking for. He doesn’t ask if I’m okay. He doesn’t ask me to leave when I’m
still there an hour later, still watching, still not hungry.

FORD: I believed he was going to rape me.

I lose my voice the day Christine Blasey
Ford testifies at Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary
Committee. It starts slowly. A scratching as I watch her opening statements. A
deep ache as the questioning goes on. When Kavanaugh takes the floor, it is too
painful for me to speak. By dinner, I am only a low, strained whisper.

The man in the dream has a face. He has
hundreds of faces. He is my ex-boyfriend, my close friend, my professor, my
boss, my uncle, my priest – he is every man, and I am shackled by the violence
in his eyes as he surveys the battlegrounds of my body.

I am nineteen and I am already used to the
constant catcalls that accompany a walk through the San Lorenzo leather market.
I try not to show any hesitation when my professor announces that we will each
conduct individual interviews with the shopkeepers, the men who have spent
months shouting at me, who have taught me that my dress is permission, that my
eye contact is an invitation, that my smile is a promise.

When your eyes can adjust and you see
what’s in view / discolored and distempered smiles that seen you.

I am stumbling over my feet to get out of
my house as the second nightmare begins. I never see his face, but I know that
he is always behind me. I remember the goosebumps his hot breath leaves on my
neck. I can feel the ghost of hands just millimeters away from my waist.

After three uneventful interviews, I am
ready to leave the market when one last shopkeeper captures my attention. I
decide that one more interview can’t hurt. I think my professor will be so
proud until the man answers my questions with unsubtle flirtations. I try to
leave when he asks me to have dinner with him, but he seizes my waist and
brands the imprint of his lips on mine.

You don’t open your eyes for a while /
You just beat that moment down.

It is not fair to her, but Christine Blasey
Ford becomes every woman in her testimony. The only hope we have is if every
man listens to her.

FORD: My responsibility is to tell the
truth.

I am sixteen after the bomb drops in my
room in Moscow, and I want to run, but I can’t. I know the boy will say
something – or do something – but I don’t want that. I am rescued by my
friend, a male classmate, who wanders in either unaware or all too aware, and
sits beside me. We talk until the boy leaves and then it’s just him and I and I
want to thank him and give language to my fear, my relief, but I don’t. I don’t
want to cause any trouble.

FORD: I am terrified.

I tell my professor and two other
classmates – a boy and a girl – what happened in the market. They are outraged
and guilty and worried and want to know if I’m fine. I can’t seem to stop
laughing. I don’t know how not to make it a joke. It has to be a joke. The
boy walks me to my next class, watches as I make it to the entrance of the
building, and there are no words to thank him.

I stop running when I hit the middle of the
road. I try to scream but I can only force a long, scratchy breath from my
heaving lungs. I try and try and try, terror growing with every muted attempt,
because if I can just get someone to hear me, I’ll be saved. It never happens
in the nightmare – I wake myself up every time after spending an eternity on
that street unheard. But if I could just get something out – I don’t know what
would happen.

KAVANAUGH: You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.

*

Lyrics from “The Dark I Know Well” from Spring Awakening, “The Alien” and “The
Gold” by Manchester Orchestra, and “The Pit” by Sileversun Pickups.