It’s just a body. In public, William grabs the back of my neck, pulls down the front of my shirt, goes through my purse, pulls me by my waist where he wants to go. He grabs my neck, pulls my hair too tight to force me down. Calls my friends something like “closed-minded f****.” He feeds me drink after drink. I don’t remember inviting him home or falling asleep like I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast. I remember being too tired to care to say no. He had already had me once. I feel relief he will leave soon and fear he knows where I live. The next morning, with no bra and no shoes, I walk him downstairs to the courtyard entrance with the garbage bins behind the butcher shop. Part of me wants to make sure he leaves; part of me continues to bend past breaking. When I get back upstairs, I’m locked out.
My roommate swore I had to lock the door before leaving, that it didn’t lock itself. It locks itself. I meet the neighbours. I ask for a number. For a pencil and paper. For a phone. To Sonita and her “I heart NY” sweatshirt, in German I don’t speak, I explain what I need, who I am, and why I’m half-dressed. Google translate half works. Hausmeister. Ausgeschlossen. Getting locked out sobers me up and makes me feel ashamed and naive. I am grateful to be home inside hours later. But through the adrenaline and the relief, I feel gross. Inside and out, my energy has been taken from me. I take two showers, vacuum, mop, do laundry and fill the open-windowed apartment with incense like I am getting rid of evil. I throw out the ripped sheets. I had let him steal a t-shirt from my roommate and a pair of my socks.
That afternoon I see Noah. I am empty and hungover and the short train ride feels too long, we meet in a park. I feel stupid for putting myself in that situation, for thinking I was strong. I was so happy to be with Noah on earlier days, but now I feel like he will judge me for sleeping around or for finding someone else after he didn’t want to see me yesterday. I judge myself for not being secure enough to be alone. I can't tell him and I don't know what that is. I only feel shame and sunlight sitting near him. Our bodies press our shapes into the waves of grass. There will always be an ocean between us even when we are a foot away.
Later I share the part—with half-friends at a picnic—about begging confused strangers in my building for a scrap of help. Vignettes. A man with a towel around his waist, a boy who calls his older brother from the kitchen to translate. If the story is only a story and a joke I am not hurt or weak. There is no pain in my body.
For two years, I continue to tell myself “I am not hurting,” “I am not my body.” I easily swallow down my next partner’s excuses for ignoring my humanity. You’re too sensitive. It’s not that hard. You can breathe if you’re talking to me. It doesn’t really hurt. My guise of protection—of not seeing—doesn’t serve me anymore. I know how to not leave bruises. He calls his words jokes. Language used to dismiss and omit. He makes me feel small and unseen, or makes me realise I had been feeling that way for a long time before he came into my life. I break when I lose my voice to bronchitis for two weeks. Like my body has accepted this silencing reality my mind has not. It’s only going to get worse.
There is relief in the molasses-like process of detachment that can happen subconsciously over years. A life without the contours that define a female body. Leaving a half existence behind. The sense of distance within my body grows. My voice recovers, but my words can barely cross over the arms-length of weighted air that now lies in between my core and my edges. I leave my partner. Again. On the other side of this untangling of light and choice from a deep-rooted sense of their absence, I come back to being.
The series of photographs below deconstructs my experience with sexual assault. Sexual violence should not be normalised or hidden in shame, for any human. After detachment and distrust, this work is an attempt to return to my body.