These are the Pieces that Hurt

C. Levison McGuire

The hardest part is that people don’t think it happened. How could you have stayed with him if it that was really true? How come you didn’t fight harder? The simplest answer: I didn’t know I could fight. I had not been a particularly pretty girl, a little chubby in Orange County, and boys didn’t notice me much in ways that mattered. I’d lost my virginity to him, and the boys I’d been with before had not been gentle. This was just the way men were. How was I supposed to know I could fight back?

*

After I left him, my mom told me sex was supposed to feel good. What was sex without a hard edge to it? Without a feeling of being stretched past your skin, a wincing when it’s lasted too long? Sex was craving and regret. Sex was the ache that came afterward, when you stood if you could stand. Sex was the feeling that lasted for days, of not being able to close your legs even when your thighs were tight and your ankles crossed, the feeling that you were still open, could not be closed again.

*

The hardest part is that we’re not fighting the same fight – how could we? Luke tells me we’re a team. We’re fighting this together, me and him. And though I know it’s his way of saying I care about you, it sounds false to me. Luke has never seen the man who raped me; he doesn’t know the feel of the slim body that came before, how hipbones cut into me blue, how my hands can still shape the ridge of his eyebrows. I need to cut the all of him to pieces, and Luke can’t help. I want to sort through him: here are the pieces I loved, and here are the pieces that hurt.

*

Maybe a better metaphor than team is coach. Luke stands outside the ring and he passes me water bottles and adjusts my mouthguard and tells me to hit harder and straighter and says I’m doing well, but he’s still outside the ring, and he can only watch while I swing at shadows that don’t punch back.

*

The hardest part is that I flinch when he touches me sometimes.

*

The hardest part is that I love him and still, I flinch.

*

The hardest part is that he says I’m not broken. But I am broken. Maybe we need to accept this so I can become something else.

*

I’m sitting on the couch, making journals, keeping myself focused in the moment. I stitch pages together, tight into the cover. Pick the spine’s color. Embroidery floss for the bookmark. A charm to hold each page’s place. I have keys and flowers and leaves and steering wheels and bees and mermaids, and a few others I picked up along the way. I haven’t really moved from this spot for a few days, just to go to the bathroom, to sleep in a bed, then back to the journals. Squares of tape are stuck to my skin in the places I can’t see.

Luke peels clear cellophane off the bottom of my foot and hands it to me.

“If you’re trying to put yourself back together, this probably won’t work.”

*

The hardest part is the guilt that comes with the trigger: you thought about sex with your ex-boyfriend in the middle of sex with the person you love now.

*

Think of it as an act of violence instead. We think about rape as sex gone wrong, but that’s not what it is. Think of it as a battering ram. Think of it as being beaten from the inside. The pink blood that comes from your insides – think of it as a brighter red.

*

Luke says my part is the easiest part of sex. But his part is brutality and mine is finesse. Flex the right muscles, tilt the hips, make the sounds, kiss the ear, touch the spot on the back, stay in the moment, don’t forget where you are, don’t forget who you’re with.

*

The hardest part is I loved him and he hurt me. I want it to be simple: he’s either the bad guy or the hero. But life is so much more complicated than that. He’s not good or evil. He’s something in between.

*

The memories of him laughing. The memories of him pulling soda tabs off Arizona ice tea cans from the Italian restaurant near by—the one down the road from our dorm. The way his face looked when he loved me. The sound of his voice. His hands on the piano. How he paced. How he was my best friend. And then.

Split him down the middle.

There is nothing else I want to remember.

*

The hardest part is that even I doubt it sometimes. I can’t tell you why I stayed. Maybe it was all in my head.

*

I remember having sex I’d consented to. I remember the climax that wouldn’t let up. Then the times when I told him to stop but he was too close to listen. I remember kicking him off. He was smiling; the pressure of my anxiety.

I remember that it hurt.

And the next time – I remember crying against his chest and saying no, the sound was muffled by his skin pushing against my mouth. Those no’s sounded in my head like sirens, coming closer and then shrinking in the distance, echoing around the walls of my skull. It’s been a few years, and I’m not sure anymore that the word ever came out of my mouth. Maybe I just thought no. And if I was just thinking no, if the words never came out of my mouth, was it rape?

What about after that? What about every time I didn’t want to but didn’t say a word? Was it rape if I let it happen but I never wanted it?

*

The hardest part is that Luke blames himself. Luke says it’s his fault even though he did nothing wrong. His chest pressed against my face when he changed positions. We were having sex on the couch, and he needed better leverage. His chest pressed into my face. A strobe light’s flash; I held him closer to avoid looking in the room in my head he’d lit up for a second, and he lifted his chest again for better traction against the leather. I got quiet and still and he stopped and he held me while I cried.

Touching the trigger is like bumping into a light switch and blinding everyone in the room. You don’t blame the person who bumped the light, you blame the bulb.

*

The hardest part is that Luke thinks he needs to ask for permission before touching me. The hardest part is that every time he asks for permission, I remember why he asks. The hardest part is that I want so much not to think when he touches me.

*

This is the first I’ve written about my rape. I thought I was ready, but I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered.

*

The hardest part is no one knows how to talk about it, how to give rape a language. While I was home for the holidays, I watched Downton Abbey with my parents, and Anna’s dragged into a room and he presses into her from behind and she screams and cries. My parents behind me are silent, but we feel it like footsteps on a grave, like a ghost sitting near us on the loveseat.

*

The hardest part is that TV told us rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman, and it happens all the time. I put “Battlestar Galactica” on while my hands were busy with the journals, and I forgot about those episodes. The ones where Six is chained to the ground. She is bruised and cut and empty. Catatonic. I want to cut that scene out of the episode and keep it in my wallet. I want to pull it out when someone makes a rape joke, point at it and say That’s what I am on the inside.

*

Luke and I started dating because of a rape joke he’d stumbled into. I told him it wasn’t funny; I made a reference to that part of me, something I had never explained and didn’t need to. I was surprised when he apologized. No one had ever said they were sorry.

*

Luke tells me to think of him as a tool, a person I can use for speech. But when I try to tell him how I feel, he hushes me because the hush is the only comforting sound he knows.

*

The hardest part is the truth – he left me. I was the one to end it, but only because he’d cheated on me. Did I stand up for myself when I would’ve stayed with him, if he hadn’t still wanted someone more?

*

Luke tells me to say I love myself. He whispers say you love yourself while I cry in our dark bedroom, chewing my nails, gnawing them off my fingertips. I claw at my cheeks and sob hot heavy sobs on the shoulder of his sweater. It feels like hours, and all I can say is I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to. I don’t know what I don’t want. Maybe I don’t want any of it.

*

The hardest part is that I want to be better for him. To be able to push away the trigger. But my body tenses. I don’t know why.

*

Tense my toes and let go. Tense my feet and let go. Tense my calves and let go. Tense my thighs and let go. Tense my hips and let go. Tense my stomach and let go.

When the tension disappears, every muscle is sore and strained. I feel like a limp doll, and I want the stiffness back. I want to be rigid again. It is so much easier to be hard than it is to be this.

*

The hardest part is the metaphor. My therapist told me to use a metaphor when I can’t say how I feel. I come close to the feeling, step away with a metaphor so I don’t have to feel it again. Use the metaphor like a surrogate mother: load it with the thing you want, and then take it from inside, leave the vehicle empty.

It’s good advice in theory, but there’s nothing that’s the same as this.

*

The hardest part is forgiveness. Forgiveness – doesn’t that mean you’ve done something wrong? In order to forgive yourself, don’t you have to accept the blame?

*

The hardest part is that the only thing you have to forgive yourself for is that you hold onto these pieces that hurt.

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C. Levison McGuire is a founding editor at Cartagena Journal, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Redivider, Passages North, Hobart, and Ninth Letter. She is currently at work on a novel.