Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Katy and the Brain

Tuesday Morning

Brain:  Psst. Wake up. It's four thirty AM and you need to pee.

Kate:  Urgggh.  [shambles to the smallest room]  [blunders back to bed]  Snorgle.

Brain:  Muahahaha! And now for a seemingly endless dream sequence in which you are on a bus to college and you've just remembered there's a history test this morning and you didn't study over the long weekend and neither did you pay any attention in class last week and you're going to fail horribly at everything ever because you never bother to put in enough effort and you suck.


[alarm clock 7am jingle]

Kate:  Oh god.  Everything is awful.

[entire day of unshakable impending history test doom feeling for no god damned reason]

Kate:  You and me are getting an early night tonight, Brain.

Brain:  Okay cool.  No worries.


Wednesday Morning

Brain:  WAKE UP QUICK it's six AM and you're dreaming about choking on a mouthful of tuna mayonnaise that's infested with unused staples!  Panic stations panic stations!

Kate:  OH GOD  *hack*  *hurk*  BRAIN WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME


Kate:  [stumbles to the smallest room]  Do I feel sick because of the dream or did I have the dream because I feel sick?  Do I have food poisoning?  What is even happening right now?


[ten minutes of sipping water and breathing pass with no actual puking]

Kate:  Brain.  I'm not ill.  This is a panic attack.  What the fuck.

Brain:  Good morning!  Enjoy not getting back to sleep!

Kate:  ¬_¬

This Morning

Brain:  Psst.  Hey Kate.  No it's cool, don't wake up.  I just want to apologise really.  I've been a dick to you over the past forty eight hours, and I'm sorry.  Let me make it up to you.  Would you like a nice dream, full of nice things?  I can do that.  Here's that lovely human being that you were so dotty about a few months ago; the one that was completely unsuitable and unavailable.  Look, I can make them like you!  Isn't that nice?  You kids run along and have fun now.  It's on me.

[alarm clock 7am jingle]

Kate:  Mmm, that was...  OH JESUS WHY

[general emotional flailing]

[tries to fling away the big happy FEELINGSBUNDLE]

[FEELINGSBUNDLE sticks to palms of hands most obstinately]

[deep breaths]

Kate:  Um.  Brain?  I appreciate what you tried to do there.  I really do.  It was... a very nice treat.  But can I just... um... I think you left something behind here...  I don't particularly want these feelings, I mean, it was hard enough getting rid of them the first time, so could you just... take them, and put them somewhere?  Maybe?  Yes?


Kate:  Brain?  Helllloooo?


Kate:  [looks down at the big happy FEELINGSBUNDLE]

FEELINGSBUNDLE:  Hi! It's so nice to be back! This is fun!

Kate:  Oh FUCKING HELL  >.<

Friday, 3 May 2013


Or, the story of an Awkward Army cadet who didn’t Use Her Words, and how it came back to bite her.

The Bristol branch of the Awkward Army is meeting this weekend, about which I am excited!  So when I got a Facebook message a couple of days ago from a fellow Bristolian Awkwardeer, albeit one I didn’t know, I was pleased before I’d even read it.  Awkward people reaching out to each other and networking, yay!  What could possibly go wrong with that?

Toby (not his real name) introduced himself as a friend of two women I knew from the last meetup.  He said he’d been reading Captain Awkward’s blog for a while, and that he and his girlfriend decided to come to the May meet.  So far, so cool.  He then disclosed that he has an account on a dating website I use, and gave his username.  And for a second I was confused, like, ‘Yeah, so? Are you trying to ask me out or something?’  But then he went on to talk about coincidence, and how he’d had no idea I was part of the Awkward Army when he’d joined, and didn’t want to come if it would make me uncomfortable…

And the penny finally dropped.  Holy fuck – you’re THAT Toby.

He wasn’t asking for a date.  He was someone I’d already dated, once, and who had sent me a couple of follow-up messages afterwards.  And I had never responded to those messages.

Well, I thought, this is terribly awkward.  Which is… sort of almost comically appropriate, I guess?

Toby and I went on a non-romantic, looking-for-new-friends date last autumn, and passed a pleasant evening wandering the city streets and talking about our favourite games, books, movies, etc.  I tend to feel somewhat out of my element when getting to know new people.  I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling the constant anxiety of What if we run out of things to talk about?  What if the conversation falls flat on its face?  What if I say something stupid or seem boring or everything just gets awkward or AHHHHHH.  For me, meeting new people feels more like work than play, and the part where I feel relaxed enough to properly enjoy someone’s company comes later, when I begin to develop a sense of knowing what to expect from them.  I knew this about myself going in, and I was prepared for it to take a few dates before I felt out-and-out positive about continued contact with anyone.

What I didn’t take into account was the sheer amount of shit going on in my life at the time.  I desperately wanted to be generally okay enough to get out there, meet new people, be awesome and have fun; and I set the cart before the horse somewhat.  Walking home after my friendship date with Toby – my first (and so far only) online dating experience – my sense of wanting to hide under my duvet and make the world go away was ratcheted way up.  At a time when my anxiety levels were running higher than normal on the best of days, elevated anxiety was not something I wanted to keep volunteering for on a regular basis.  Although I only understand that in a rational way in retrospect; at the time my experience was simply Gahhhhh, so many scaryfeels, why did I think this was a good idea?

When Toby messaged me through the dating website a couple of days later, my feelings about meeting him again were very mixed, so I let my reply slide while I was ‘deciding’.  It slid for a couple of weeks , at which point Toby texted me to say it was cool if I didn’t want to see him again, and asking for feedback on if he’d done something wrong or if I’d just not clicked with him.  I felt guilty for not having replied to his earlier message, and every time I looked at his text my failing-at-life anxiety spiked a little, so again I kept putting off writing a reply.  And then another week had gone by, and I ended up thinking, Well, fuck it, it’s been a rough few months so I’m going to just let myself off the hook and be okay with not replying.  It’s a big city; it’s not like I’ll ever bump into him and have to justify myself.



That is all.

I literally smacked my palm on my forehead when I finally realised who the message was from.  I would super, super hate to be the reason why anyone didn’t feel comfortable being an active member of the Awkward Army.  So I immediately replied to Toby’s Facebook message and apologised for cutting contact, assuring him it had been nothing to do with him, and that he hadn’t given me any ‘creepy internet stalker vibes’ when we’d met, which was his chief concern.  We messaged back and forth a little, and the happy ending is that we will be sharing snacks and being friendly with each other at the meetup.

This, my friends, is a lesson in privilege.

I  have never had to worry about giving anybody a ‘creepy’ vibe.  I have never had to worry about coming across as physically or sexually threatening* when meeting a new person for the first time.  My privilege in presenting as a short, white, female person makes me incredibly unlikely to ever be identified as potentially dangerous, unless I am being aggressive on purpose.  It had not occurred to me that, as a strange man meeting a strange woman from the internet, not wanting to appear even slightly threatening would be a very real concern for Toby.  Neither had it occurred to me that he might be wondering if I had never replied to his messages because I’d felt creeped out by him.  My guilt rested on the idea that he might feel rejected and sad; the ‘Was I creepy?’ angle simply did not enter my head.

Men should be aware of this when they go on dates.  They should be aware that a woman will probably have concerns for her safety playing at the back of her mind when out with a stranger, and they should be aware that comments or jokes that are often well-received as harmless fun by other men may well send a red banner running up a woman’s flagstaff.  For instance, a date who ‘harmlessly’ makes a jokey comment about an act of sexual assault or domestic violence, or who uses a slur like ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ as a term of endearment, is unlikely to ever hear from me again.  Even setting aside the valid fear that such men may be out-and-out rapists and abusers who are testing my boundaries to see if I would make a pliable victim, in my experience these comments are the signature moves of people who don’t have the self-awareness to realise what they are seeking: to feel good and safe and strong within themselves by behaving in ways that encourage others to feel ‘less’.  Less intelligent.  Less funny.  Less able to judge right from wrong.  Less able to stand up for themselves.  Less valid as human beings.  I am not interested in feeling ‘less’, or in being around anyone who needs me to feel ‘less’ in order for them to feel ‘more’, so these people tend to get weeded out of my life as quickly as I can manage it.

Toby is clearly aware of all this potential-red-flag stuff.  I take my hat off to Toby; he has pole-vaulted over my minimum standards for Decent Human Being with quite a bit of clearance room, which makes me very glad to now have a second opportunity to get to know him.  What I need to be more aware of, going forward, is that guys are aware of this.  They are concerned about being regarded as creepy.  And that means, if I drop a decent guy after a date or two for UNRELATED LIFE REASONS and don’t ever explain why, he is going to be asking himself if he came over as threatening.  And that’s not cool of me.  So in future, I must Use My Words!

* I’ve never been regarded as physically threatening, to my knowledge, but I have met guys who seemed emotionally threatened by my confidence, assertiveness, and pride in taking care of my own shit – or at least, they just weren’t into women with such traits.  Mostly they were guys who dated very feminine-presenting women, which put them in the position of being the Manly Man who protects ‘his girl’ and insists to her that no, really, she is beautiful, even if she’ll never believe it.  Or better yet, that’s she’s beautiful because she’ll never believe it, a la that puke-making Bruno Mars song about the timeless attractiveness of young women with low self-esteem.  All of which is fine, I guess, if you’re into that; but holy moly am I ever not the lady for those men, because that relationship would run like –

Dude:  Give me that large object you’re carrying; it’s too heavy for you.
Kate:  It’s cool, I got it.
Dude:  No, I mean it, you’re going to hurt yourself.  Give it over.
Kate:  Get out of the god damn way, before I drop it on your foot.
Dude:  Aw, baby, you’re so beautiful!…
Kate:  Inorite?
Dude:  …when you’re trying to be angry!
Kate:  *chokes*  *drops heavy object*  Well, now I’m really beautiful.
Kate:  Would you please excuse me while I call you an ambulance?

(Okay, not really; only in my wildest fantasies would I actually maim this guy.  But I wouldn’t call him, and I’m guessing that wouldn’t be a problem, because he probably wouldn’t call me either.  I love how guys like this just opt right out of my social pool; it sure does save me the job of telling them to fuck off.)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

On Being A Nice Girl

I found this in a dark recess of my laptop this morning.  It was written sometime in early 2012, when I was in Canada.  I imagine I didn't post it to to MapleJack!, my livejournal of the time, out of concern that my mother would transatlantically flip her biscuit at the commentary on her parenting.  Since my family don't read this blog, I'm now posting it here.  Enjoy.

During the month I turned twelve, I was given a lesson in social priorities and being a nice person.  It was a lesson I was very receptive to at the time because, like the rest of my classmates in our newly-begun senior school for girls, I was desperate to secure myself a best friend before all the potentials ‘got taken’.  Thirty eleven- and twelve-year-old girls, all scrabbling madly to partner up, each and every one terrified of being the last lonely freak left standing.  I really don’t envy the teachers who were trying to educate us throughout this colossal social earthquake of a first term.

It was around this time that I got talking to Polly, discovered that we shared a mutual appreciation for Garfield comic strips, and embarked on a friendship that has well and truly stood the test of time – I was asked to be a bridesmaid at her wedding last year.  But for a month or so before Polly and I became a solid duo, I was going about with another girl; I’ll call her Hayla.  Hayla was friendly enough but a lot of her ways quickly grew to irritate me.  I stuck with her anyway, naively hoping we would get used to each other and somehow mutate into perfect best friends, because to walk around by yourself in senior school is to issue an open invitation for harrassment from anyone and everyone you pass.  Any friend is better than no friend.  Adults often tell kids this isn’t true, but that’s because they’ve grown accustomed to living in a civilised world, and they’ve forgotten what senior school is really like.  You run in a pack if you want to live.

As time went by, I found myself less and less able to summon any enthusiasm for performing the job of being Hayla’s friend.  Everything we did had to be done the way Hayla wanted, on pain of sulks and tantrums, and it grew incredibly wearing.  Within a couple of weeks, things reached the point where I dreaded walking into the classroom and seeing her every day.  Hayla seemed to genuinely like me, and appeared to be hoping we might progress to being best friends before much longer.  But the more I got to know Polly, the less patience I had for Hayla; and the more I tried to edge tactfully away from Hayla, the more tightly she clung to me.  I remember a day when she wouldn’t let me go anywhere by myself – not even the bathroom.  This shadowing behaviour was the last straw for me.  I knew I wanted to end our friendship, but I had no idea how to go about doing such a thing.

The similarities between the common childhood drive to find an exclusive best friend, and the common adult drive to find a monogamous romantic partner, are really quite striking.  In each case we are looking for someone who will be the most important person in our lives outside of our immediate family, someone with whom we ‘just click’ and feel we can share everything.  The skills we learn in navigating these childhood couplings surely cannot fail to contribute to our lasting templates for managing our romantic relationships as teens and adults.  We schoolgirls were like fierce little kittens, tumbling each other around in a laundry basket, unknowingly preparing ourselves to be tipped out into a world where we would rely on such skills for survival.

Curious, then, that there are no accepted scripts for ending a friendship that isn’t working out, as there are for breaking off a romantic arrangement.  Standard dating endgames include such gems as ‘I’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s me’ and ‘I do love you, but only as a friend’.  We know that, much of the time, these lines are patently untrue and are simply platitudes.  However, we continue to use them because they’re polite and easy compared to the truth, and we don’t want to make our romantic rejections any more ugly and painful than they have to be.  If only we could have trial-period ‘dating’ arrangements for friendships, too, with similar socially accepted platitudes for saying ‘Thanks, but actually, no thanks’.  Alas, though, we do not; and especially not when we are eleven.  You can either lay the awkward truth all the way out there – ‘I’m sorry, I’ve realized I just don’t like you very much’ – which, at age eleven, will be the bitchiest thing anyone could possibly say ever in the eyes of all your classmates, and probably in your own eyes too.  Or, you can ‘just’ be a bit bitchy to her in a low-grade way, and hope your soon-to-be-ex friend takes the hint, unpeels herself from your unpleasantness, and attaches herself to someone else.

I might have plumped for this latter option with great gusto, if not for my concern that Hayla would run straight to a teacher with any hurt feelings, in high hopes that the teacher would see fit to be cross with me for being mean to a friend and pressure me into maintaining the status quo.  Try, if you can, to cast your mind back to what it was like to be eleven-going-on-twelve; to live in a world where ending a friendship was a thing that the teacher reacted to with stern disapproval or exasperated impatience, simply because the wailing of the wounded party made their day more difficult.  At eleven, I must confess I did not have the emotional maturity to process the concept of a teacher being self-serving; my response to any adult disapproval was to feel that I had done something dreadful and was a disgrace to myself, my family and my school.  I was an accomplished adult-pleaser (read as: keener) and had no ‘whatever face’ for being told off, although I desperately wanted to know how to acquire one.  I would usually feel tears pricking my eyelids at a mere sharp word from a teacher, and being taken aside and ‘given a quiet talking to’ reduced me to a blubbering puddle with a speed that the sermonising teacher probably found alarming (or amusing, or satisfying, depending on the teacher).  The circularised, self-reinforcing reason for and result of this fragile point in my character was that I required discipline very rarely.  My great fear was that a teacher would admonish me loudly in the middle of a wide-eyed and silent classroom, and I would not be able to hold back my tears, and I would shame myself by crying uncontrollably in front of the whole class.  That’s the kind of thing that schoolkids don’t ever stop trotting back out for laughs.

So, when I finally saw a chance to verbalise to Hayla my disinterest in continuing our friendship, in a way that was indirect and, better yet, outside of school property, I seized it.  I was still scared of the potential repercussions from both adults and peers, but things had reached the point where anything had to be better than continuing to be stuck with Hayla's controlling presence at my side day after day.  Mum and I were walking her home after a tedious evening she’d spent at our house, and I’d been trying to ignore her as much as possible the whole time, so I was talking to my mother instead.  That was when my brainwave came upon me, and I said to Mum, loudly, ‘I think I’ve finally found a best friend, by the way.  I think Polly and I are going to be best friends.  I really like her.’

My mother immediately glanced sideways at Hayla, who was studiously looking at her feet and scowling.  ‘Mmm-hmm,’ was all Mum said in that moment.  An awkward silence descended.  We dropped Hayla off at her door, she muttered her thanks for dinner without quite looking at me, and Mum and I started back home.  As soon as we were out of earshot, Mum said, ‘That wasn’t a very nice thing to say.’

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ I said, not meeting her eye.

I was given a warning look.  ‘You know exactly what I mean.  Talking about wanting Polly for your best friend, right in front of Hayla.  She looked really upset,’ Mum reproached me.  ‘You do realize, Hayla probably thought that she was your best friend?’

‘I know,’ I admitted, kicking a pile of frostbitten crunchy brown leaves.  ‘But, she’s not.  And I don’t want her to be.  She’s annoying.’

‘That doesn’t give you the right to be hurtful,’ Mum said.  ‘I raised you better than that, young lady.’

I withdrew into a sulky confusion, feeling that I had disgraced myself in some way but not understanding what I could have done differently – leastways not without committing myself to a friendship I didn’t want.  I reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that it was the very fact of my not wanting the friendship which had been cruel.  A nice girl would want to be friends with everyone who wanted to be friends with her.  If I were a nice girl, I would have liked Hayla, and there would have been no problem.  But instead, I had felt irritated and resentful, which were the feelings of a mean-spirited person.  I had selfishly prioritised my own desire to avoid spending time with someone whose company I found unpleasant and, in so doing, I had committed the cardinal sins of creating conflict and hurting someone else’s feelings.  And that was Not Nice of me.  If I were Nice, I would have been, done, said and felt as Hayla wanted.  I didn’t, so I wasn’t nice.  Her hurt feelings were my responsibility to prevent, and I didn’t prevent them, so I was bad.

At this point, I would again draw the link between learning to navigate childhood friendships and forming templates for romantic relationships.  I would like to pull your attention over to that clichéd scene where people tsk-tsk over their neighbourhood’s pregnant fourteen-year-old and say, ‘I don’t understand how it happened.  She wasn’t that kind of girl.  Her mother raised her very morally and she was always so nice.’

I did not get pregnant at fourteen.  I didn’t get the chance; I was far too hopelessly in love with the girl next door to look twice at anyone with a Y chromosome.  But I would venture a guess that a great many of those pregnant fourteen-year-old girls are precisely the ones who were told, over and over, that they must be nice, and who were shown every day in little ways that being nice means always giving other people the things they want from you.  Female children in particular are taught that nice girls always consider others first, and yet we are expected to suddenly have the skills of setting personal boundaries and being firm about them to hand, whole, as if by magic, when a boyfriend wants to have sex without a condom.  And of course, we are told to ‘just say no’ to drugs.

Having been raised in a family and a culture that rains down disapproval on girls’ heads any time they show a disinclination to serve the wants of others, I find the offhand ‘just’ in ‘just say no’ deeply enraging.  I am twenty-seven years old, and after being taught my whole childhood and youth that I must Be Nice at all costs, I am finally just beginning the necessary hard work to overcome my difficulties with the concept of saying No to people.  How on earth can we expect very young women to be able to do so, when we consistently train our girls to believe that having needs and wants, and setting personal boundaries with which they feel comfortable, makes them selfish, cruel, and unworthy of friendship and love?  When we train our girls to believe they must sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others in order to be considered Nice, what on earth do we expect to happen when they become teenagers and adults, in a world where there are people who would seek to take advantage of their enormous doubts about their own right to say ‘No’?  How can we possibly expect the next generation to develop healthy personal boundaries, an integral part of which is to make unpleasant consequences for those who seek to cross them, in a world where you can only be considered 'nice' if you consistently smooth the way for others and tiptoe around their feelings at your own expense?

If we want our girls to be able to say No to the kinds of things and people that we want them to be safe from, we need to be a lot more willing to provide a childhood space in which they can practice saying No comfortably from a young age.  If we can’t do that, if we can only tell them that they must always be nice and never consider their own feelings above those of their peers, lest their Certificate Of Niceness be torn down the middle, then we fail them terribly.  We teach them that we don’t consider their needs to be important, and – worse – that they shouldn’t count their own needs as worth anything, either.  We teach them to frame their needs as merely wants, and selfish ones at that.  We teach them to frame the wants of the people around them as needs that should be deferred to.  We teach them that their only route to gaining social confirmation of their true human value is through unending service to maintaining the comfort and happiness of others, and we teach them to downplay and disregard to themselves the personal costs of being a secondary priority in their own lives.

Really, as a culture, we should have moved beyond raising Little Cinderellas by now, don’t you think?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Secrets Of Time Travel

Holy hell, but I had the weirdest dream last night.

It started with a knock on the front door.  Not at the flat where I live now, but in the house in Warmley where I grew up from age nine to eighteen.  I opened the door, and found before me a stern middle-aged man, a dour middle-aged woman, and an outsized Doberman dog.  The dog was held tight on a leash of steel linked chain, and it was growling.  I didn’t invite them in exactly but somehow, the next thing I knew, we were all in the kitchen.

They stood in the middle of the small room, taking up all the space.  The couple were talking at me in a way that conveyed no small amount of menace.  The dog was showing its teeth, a string of drool hanging from its chops, and it was pulling against its chain.  Jay and I were backed up against the kitchen sink and I was protesting my innocence – whatever it was, I hadn’t done it.  There was something wrong with the dog; something bad and wrong on a deep level I could feel in my gut.  It was a few sizes too big to really be a Doberman.  The shape of its face was all wrong.  It felt a little like Cujo, the rabid killer dog from the Stephen King novel.  And at the same time, it felt a little like one of the shiny hard aliens from the Alien movies.  It wanted to eat me in a way that had nothing to do with my physical body.  It wanted to snuff me out of existence and send my soul to the dark place.

It had been broad daylight when I answered the door, but now it was a pitch night outside the kitchen window.

When I wouldn’t confess to whatever it was that I was supposed to have done, the mice appeared.  There were two of them, grey, with little red noses and little red paws.  They opened their mouths to hiss, revealing curved yellow-white teeth of impossible length.  They had the mouths of female angler fish and, once opened, their jaws wouldn’t close again over teeth so long and so many.  Jay and I sprung upwards and backwards to perch on the edge of the work surface, pulling up our feet out of reach of the mice, whose impossible mouths had started to foam at the corners.  My suspicion of rabies was confirmed as they began running wildly about the kitchen floor, occasionally pausing as their limbs were overtaken by a clockworkish series of twitches and spasms that froze them in place.  One bite from either mouse would consign the recipient to a slow descent into the same grisly fate.  Our bodies would still be here, but our minds would be utterly destroyed, and I sensed that the death of my mind was the Doberman’s goal.

But the man and the woman couldn’t prove anything, and I wouldn’t confess, so they had to scoop the mice up into little white boxes and leave, dragging the reluctant and angry dog behind them.  They would wait until I incriminated myself.  And then they would be back to clean out my brain and leave me empty.

They let themselves out the front door, and I became aware of sounds of merriment beyond the kitchen window, in the back garden.  There were people out there.  They were setting off fireworks by the garden shed and tending a barbecue.  They were bundled up warm against the cold and the dark.  I opened the window, stuck my head out, and before I could identify anyone else my vision zoomed in on one reveller in particular.  She was standing by the barbecue, waiting her turn for a hotdog, her long brown hair pulled back into a lopsided plait.  I recognised her in a way that went bone-deep.  And before I’d even thought about what I was doing, I called out to her – ‘Hey, Kate!’

The other me turned and looked at me.  My eyes locked with hers; the same brown-green eyes I see in the mirror every day.  I registered her surprise.  And then the world swooped in an overwhelming sense of vertigo and déjà vu, and a memory exploded across my mind.  It knocked the breath out of me, and suddenly I knew, this is a dream.  I know it is, because I’ve had this dream before.  It was a long, long time ago.  And back then, I was the other Kate.

With the deductive powers of my waking mind, I can estimate it was probably about four or five years ago, because that other long-ago dream was full of all the people with whom I used to spend my weekends back then.  It was a firework and barbecue party, in the back garden of the house I grew up in.  The house was dark and locked, but in the garden we were setting off rockets and catherine wheels, and having a great time.   Me and Caleb, Jam and Pip.  Ben, Rachel and Bubbles.  Becci and Meg, and Dawn and Jack.  I was standing at the barbecue when I heard someone call my name, and I looked up, and someone was hanging out of the darkness of the house through the kitchen window.  The light was all wrong – the dark of the kitchen, the glare of the fireworks – and I couldn’t be completely sure of what I was seeing.  But the girl who had called out to me…  She looked like me.

And then she was gone.

In the long-ago dream, I ran to the window, but it was closed and locked.  I rattled the back door, but it wouldn’t budge.  I couldn’t even see into the house, it was too dark inside.  So I turned and pelted down the garden, gravel crunching under my feet.  People stared as I shot past but nobody had time to move more than a step.  I jumped the gate, flew down the back lane and around the end of our terrace row, fumbling in my pocket for my front door key.  I let myself into the house and ran to the kitchen.  It was dark and empty.  I ran back through the living room and took the stairs two at a time.  I searched all through the upstairs.  I searched all through the downstairs.  I climbed up into the loft, which was bigger on the inside – a veritable warehouse, full of giant shipping containers and pulleys and cranes.  But I found no sign of the girl who had looked like me.  She must have made it out the front door before I rounded the terrace, and gotten away.  I packed a rucksack and went out in search of her, and fetched up trekking through a pine forest.  I’m not sure what happened after that, or even if the dream continued from there at all.  I think it may have progressed into something Harry Potter related, but maybe that was the same forest in a different dream.

In the dream of last night, all this memory flashed through my mind in an instant as I hung out of the kitchen window, looking into the eyes of the me from my past dream.  And then, in the same instant, I understood why the Doberman was after me.  I had travelled back in time in my sleep to a past dream to pay a visit to my past self.  I had upset the space-time continuum.  My past self would have questions about her future, and I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to tutor her.  To give her solid gold advice on who to seek out, and who to avoid; perfect guidance on what to do, and what not to do.  I would rewrite my own history, and by extension the histories of everyone affected by my choices.  It would have a butterfly effect that would rock the linear nature of time to its core, perhaps even shatter it.  I was about to break a hole in time itself and plunge the universe into madness.  That was my crime.  And the Doberman was here to seal the temporal rupture shut with my death.  He wasn’t evil.  He was the janitor of Time and he had an important job to do.  He had to save the world, from me.  And he wouldn’t just eat me; the present-day Kate.  My past dream and my present dream had merged into the same place and time, and he would have to eat my past self too.  I would cease to exist, and the other Kate would ‘wake up’ in a coma, somewhere in the reality of the past, and the last several years of my life and everything I had learned in that time would be erased from the very fabric of existence.

I had to get away from the other me.  If I found me, it would be the end of everything for both of us.  I abruptly shut the window, turned, and bolted through the dark house and out the front door.  I could hear running footsteps coming around the side of the neighbour’s house, and Leanne was telling me there wasn’t time, using her key to open the front door again, dragging me back inside.  We slammed the door shut behind us and, panicking, I bolted up the stairs.  Leanne ran the other way, to the kitchen.  Too late, I realised that hers had been the smarter choice – from the inside, I could have unbolted the back door and made a run for it into the wide open dreamiverse.  But the silhouette of my past self was already looming in the window of the front door behind and below me, and I could only go on.  I swung around the post at the top of the banister, fled into my parents’ bedroom and made a beeline for their walk-in wardrobe.  I pulled the wardrobe door shut behind me just as I heard the front door open downstairs.

I crawled up onto the highest shelf I could manage, as quietly as I could, and pulled a fluffy pink throw over myself in the hopes I might be mistaken for a crumpled pile of blankets and overlooked.  I allowed myself to pant, trying to regain my breath while the other Kate was still downstairs, so I would be able to mouth-breathe slowly and silently when she came into the bedroom.  Inwardly, I cursed myself for a fool.  There was no way she wouldn’t find me here.  This had always been our favourite hiding place, and the throw-rug cover our most practiced tactic, whenever we had played hide-and-seek as a kid.  I couldn’t remember all the details of the dream from long ago, but I was certain I must have looked in here.  It would have been one of the first places I thought of.  How had I not found me?  What had the future me done?  What should I do?  My mind was spinning.  I couldn’t think.  My past self was coming up the stairs; she was going to find me in here and then the Doberman would catch us and we would both get sucked into oblivion.

I was trying to breathe more quietly now, but to no avail.  She was coming into the bedroom.  Her hand was on the wardrobe door.  She was opening it.  The dark space I was wedged into dissolved into panic and pure blackness.  There was so much I wanted to tell her, but I couldn’t, she had to learn it the long way round, and I had to get away from her.  Death is here, and she is wearing my face.  And then my panic finally overboiled.  I felt that rising sensation in the back of my brain, like swimming up through dark water, and the dream parted and I surfaced in Mimm’s spare bedroom, clutching at the edge of the borrowed duvet and staring wildly at the ceiling.

Of course, was my first thought on snapping back into reality.  That’s how the other Kate gave me the slip, in that long-ago dream.  She disappeared out of the dreamiverse.  She woke up.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Room In My Head

A strange thing happened last night.  It was almost a dream, but I was awake, so I guess it was more of a wandering mind affair.

I was listening to some fairly emo music and thinking about some of the bullshit that has gone down in my adult life.  Not in a boo-hoo, poor me, eat worms kind of way.  More in a way where I want to be in touch with my feelings about things that have hurt me, in order to make a better kind of peace with them, so they don’t collaborate with each other and sneak-attack me when my mental hands are full with something else.  A positive exercise of getting in touch with who I’ve been, and forgiving her for her sometimes incredibly poor judgement, and growing into someone who won’t make the same poor judgements again.  At the precise moment this happened, actually, I was remembering some of the darker parts of what it had felt like to live with the object of my cancerous crush.

And then, without noticing, I slipped from being in Moira’s spare bedroom to being inside my head.  I have a space in my head where my thoughts play out.  In my mind’s eye, it is quite literally that – a physical space in my head.  I am standing in a dark oval room with a flat floor and a craggy domed ceiling.  The dome is the roof of my skull.  There are vast legions of pale wooden crates littered about, mostly stacked against the curving walls, but some have been pulled out a little way and many are open, overflowing with messy paperwork or half-full with neatly stacked paper piles.

I am here because someone has appeared.  She didn’t knock.  There isn’t a door.  A pastel twist ran through my feelings like a ribbon and she just materialised, standing opposite me in this oval room in my mind, wearing a half-smile and a child’s party dress.  At first glance, she could almost be a child, though she isn’t.  She is flat-chested and has no curves to speak of.  Her knobbly knees poke out of the lace around the hem of her faded skirt, and stick-like shins run down to frilly white ankle socks and black patent-leather shoes.  One ankle is lifted, and she is twisting the toe of her shoe against the floor.  Her hands are clasped behind her, breathtakingly slender white arms running down out of short puffed sleeves to form an elegant V against her back.  Her pointed chin is tilting downward, and even her strawberry-blonde pigtails are thin.  But from beneath her smooth brow, she is looking up at me with startlingly large and pale eyes, and there is something adult and knowing in that half-smile.  It is a smile that speaks of all my faults.  It is temptation, and contempt, and a promise.  Worship me.  Worship me, and I will become glamorous.  Obey me, and so will you.

And I am angry.  I am angry because this space is mine and these crates are so very open and I don’t want her sticking her wispy fingers inside and stirring things around.  I am angry because, for the briefest of instants, her presence felt comforting and familiar, and I am ashamed of myself for it; but above all else I am angry at the invasion of my privacy.  I conjure up the illusion of a wooden door and I slam it in her face.  No.  These thoughts are mine.  You don’t get to make them your playthings; not now, not ever again.  Now get out.

The door bangs shut, and her knowing smirk dissolves into a startled look of dismay.  I feel taller, stronger, in command of myself and my space.  I know she can’t hurt me if I don’t want her to, and I know that I can make her leave.  I experience a moment of pure satisfaction.  And in that instant, she glitches.  The visage pixelates and shifts, and beneath the sweet inviting façade of the impossibly skinny girl-woman, so thoroughly thwarted, I see something else.  It is my mother’s face, twisted into a sulking, malevolent rage.

The surprise jolts me out of my reverie, and I’m back in reality, in the blacked out bedroom with the brooding music.  I think how bizarre the mental image was; how it came completely unbidden, as if not from my mind at all.  And I think how true it was.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Cancerous Crush

Trigger warning for a description of a sexual assault, and for discussion of rape and murder.

Captain Awkward recently posted an open thread on crushes and the concept of limerence, and it got me thinking about my past crushes; one in particular, in fact.

It's mind-boggling how different it is seeing intense crush behaviour from the inside, and from the outside.  From the inside, you are all full of the happy and the giddy and even if it's not reciprocal, you just want to do things that make your beloved happy and win yourself sweet precious time with them.  From the outside, you are being an emotionally intense jerk who is running everything through a wishful thinking translator, secretly clinging to the massively entitled belief that if you can just accumulate enough favour-sharking points then eventually the object of your devotions will Owe You Their Love.  Then, the universe will reward you for your epic loyalty by shooting your beloved through the heart with Cupid's arrow, at which point That Thing They Do that you don't really like (but without which Just One Thing they're completely perfect, or maybe two things, or perhaps three but definitely not more than that); those pesky irrelevant things will suddenly cease to be any kind of problem at all due to Mysterious True Love Reasons, and everything will be hugs and puppies at last.

The tanglement this delusionary thinking creates is unpleasant for both Crushee and Crushor in a plethora of complicated ways, some of which will momentarily be highlighted in a story of my own lived experience.

People.  They are not prizes to be awarded to the deserving.  They get to make choices; this right is pretty fucking fundamental to their humanity, in fact.  And that means they get to not choose you.  More relevant to this post, they get to not choose me; and then I get to not waste months and years of my life on pining after someone who doesn't want me, which, after all, is a definite upside, even if it doesn't feel like one at the time.  But hey, as a bonus, I also get to not become a wistful creepy asshat in the name of But Zie Is The One.  

This is a story of when I hadn't figured that out yet.  This is the story of a younger (but not so very much younger!) me who allowed a crush to blind her to reality for far too long, and of the truly awful places to which her ongoing delusions took her.

I got with this slightly older guy right at the end of sixth form, and then all my friends went away for university, so I transitioned entirely into my new boyfriend’s social circle.  Shortly after that he and I moved away to another city, and then two years later we moved back again and broke up almost immediately.  So at the point of our breakup I really didn’t have any friends of my own in my home city, and the only one of my ex’s friends I’d been close to had just gone away to travel for a year.  I went through a period of eight months or so where I was horribly depressed, and thought my inability to feel happiness meant I was still heartbroken over my ex.  I’d always had a romanticised idea of myself as a lone wolf, and such a delusion didn’t allow for the truth that I was simply incredibly lonely.

One day, I happened to bump into one of my ex’s old housemates.  This guy was very much my type physically, and he was witty and delightful with just a hint of it being partly a cover for something unhappy underneath, and I found the allure of wanting to be the person to understand him and Save Him From His Inner Darkness pretty irresistible.  By the end of our conversation I really wanted to see more of him.  I found a pretext to get his number before we parted ways and proceeded to call him most weeks to suggest we hang out at the weekend, but he hardly ever picked up, so after a few attempts to get through I would send him a text, and then try to resign myself to the probability of not getting a reply.  On the scant occasions when a reply did come, it always came last thing on a Friday afternoon, when I was his last resort for someone with whom to get the weekend started I should imagine.  I knew logically that he probably was Just Not That Into Me, and that a wise person would walk away, but I couldn’t get that idea to actually stick in my brain.  Brain kept sliding sideways into thoughts like, Maybe he’s just playing it super cool because he really likes me a lot and doesn’t want to come over all intense and scare me off.  Or, Maybe he isn’t interested yet, but if I can just get him to hang out with me some more, then surely he’ll start to sense this tangible romantic connection that’s hanging in the air like electric between us.

Pretty soon he became all I wanted to think about, all day, every day.  It felt amazing to suddenly be so soul-singing crazy happy after so long, like being on drugs.  I projected all this stuff about my own issues onto him, and then deduced that having this magical ‘insight’ into his feelings meant we were soulmates.  It didn’t occur to me that I might be fabricating a fake meaningful connection after being lonely for so long, because I still couldn’t admit to myself that I was a person who could feel lonely.

We caught a movie one weekend, and I, a dirt-poor part-time student, blew my entire allowance for the month on cinema, food, arcade machines, and a surprise marshmallow-barbecue-by-moonlight in the field out back of the movie theatre, because I wanted so badly to seem fun and cool to be around.  On the way home, he offered his hand to help me down a steep slope onto the path, and I panicked about looking like I wanted to hold his hand while simultaneously getting my feminist pride on, and I chirped ‘It’s okay, I can do it!’ and jumped down by myself.  Then I spent the rest of the walk home wondering if it was a romantic advance and I had spurned it and now he would never make another one again.  Also if I had ruined everything by being too bolshy and self-sufficient, and maybe if I had just let him be the gallant knight who was helping a delicate little princess, then that might have been the moment in which true love blossomed in his chivalrous bosom.

Not long after that, he found himself in need of a housemate, and asked me if I’d like to move in with him.  Even I knew this was only a practical and/or friendly offer, but I was still hopeful that our friendship might develop into a romance if we just spent enough time together, so I accepted. He was a daily drinker, I had always been teetotal.  I decided to let him ‘teach me to drink’ so alcohol could be A Thing We Liked To Do Together instead of An Issue On Which We Had Incompatible Values.  One night, not long after I moved in, I got drunk for the first time, and told him I worried about how much he drank because I was concerned he wouldn’t be able to be a good father to our children, and oh, by the way, that I was super in love with him and wanted us to spend our lives together.  He took my hand and said he really liked me as a friend, but, and then I didn’t hear the rest because I was lying on my front on the floor, crying my heart out into the living room carpet and trying to explain all the reasons why we should be together between sobs.

I woke up with a cracking hangover; my first ever.  Crush said to me, firmly, ‘Nothing changes,’ in a way that was supposed to be a reassurance we were still friends and could still be housemates, and I was grateful for it.  Then we acted like nothing had happened.  A couple of months later, we started getting drunk together every weekend, which quickly progressed to getting drunk and making out.  We both knew we felt differently about each other, but we pretended it was cool and I was over him and we could just make out when we were drinking (and only when we were drinking) without it meaning anything; that we were too smart and adult to get emotionally hung up about it or let it cause problems in our friendship.  On a few occasions, making out got intense enough that I felt the need to tentatively say something about running to fetch a condom because we had 'slipped' into doing things that were putting us both at risk of STIs, and at that point, he would sigh like everything was ruined and say ‘No, don’t worry about it,’ and roll over and go to sleep.

That pattern went on until he brought another friend home one night, with the clearly-voiced intention of having sex with her.  That didn’t actually happen in the end, but the violence of my jealousy was a wake-up call to what an idiot I was being, and I stopped making out with him after that.  He seemed bemused and slightly hurt by this, and continued trying to get physical with me whenever he’d had a few drinks.  I would walk away, and he would come and take my hand and try to lead me to his bedroom, and I would quietly say ‘No’ and pull out of his grip, and then go to my room, and close the door, and cry silently because he only wanted me when he was too drunk to care who he was making out with.  And still I told myself that I was happy here, that he was my best friend, and that I’d never find another place to live as good as this.

By this point, my social circle consisted of Crush, Crush’s Older Sister, and Crush’s Sister’s Boyfriend Of Eight Years.  Sister and Boyfriend started coming to visit nearly every weekend around the time when Crush gave up on me continuing to make out with him, and we would all play board games, watch TV, and get drunk together.  One winter night when we were all drinking and Crush was showing Sister something funny on the internet, Boyfriend put his hand down the back of my pants, and I was plastered enough to think this was exciting and encourage him with my body language.  I woke up the next morning feeling sick with guilt, and sick with anxiety from imagining what Crush would think of me if he found out.  I cleaned the whole house from top to bottom in secret penance, and decided to stop drinking so much, since I clearly couldn’t manage to be a decent human being while drunk.

A few weeks after that, an occasion arose where I had been drinking, because that was what we did and I didn’t want set myself apart, but I had been very careful to not get out-of-control drunk in Boyfriend’s presence because I didn’t want anything further to happen between us.  The four of us were at the house of a friend, looking after a dog while the friend was away.  Sister and Boyfriend were allocated the master bedroom, Crush was allocated the secondary bedroom to spare him from his mild dog allergy, and I was to sleep on the sofa.  When Sister went to bed and Boyfriend didn’t go with her, I got this creeping feeling that Boyfriend was waiting for Crush to go to bed too, so Boyfriend and I would be alone together.  It was past midnight and I had nowhere to go to get away from him.  I went to the kitchen, poured my drink away, chugged a pint of water to get my head as clear as possible, went back to the sofa, and tried to fall asleep.  This failed because I was alert and twitchy wondering if Boyfriend was going to try anything, and trying to decide what I should say if he did, so I ended up just lying there with my eyes closed, pretending to be asleep so he would leave me alone.

When Crush went to bed, I went right on lying still and breathing evenly.  After ten minutes or so of continuing to drink and watch TV, Boyfriend crept along to my end of the sofa and started touching me.  At first, it was over my clothes, and I hesitated to react, hoping he would get a kick out of it and then go to bed without there having to be an ugly dramatic scene.  I did not want to appear responsible for bringing conflict and problems into our social group if I could help it; I was still very much a believer in Conflict Is Evil and Drama Llamas Should Be Exiled.  I was also trying to assess what Boyfriend might do next if I ‘woke up’ and ‘caught’ him touching me sexually.  He was twice my weight in pure muscle, leaning right over my body now, pushing my top up over my breasts and breathing hard, and at last it began to dawn on me that I had no idea what this man was capable of.  I had thought him my trusted friend, someone I could rely on to have my back in a crisis, and I would have scoffed mightily at the suggestion he could do something like this, so clearly I knew nothing about what he might do; nothing.  If he were capable of a drunken sexual assault on a sleeping person, did it not follow he might also be capable of a drunken rape?  Should he choose to hold me down and jam a hand over my mouth and tell himself I obviously wanted it while he forced his way inside me, I would not be able to stop him.  And then, when he was finished and I was crying and the gears in his head started turning and he figured out what he’d just done, what might he do after that?  If alcohol were all it took for him to justify raping me, might he not then be capable of holding a cushion over my face in an intoxicated panic about the consequences?  He could drive, it was the middle of the night; he could take my body anywhere.  Probably nobody would ever know what had happened.

Thus ran my frantic thoughts.  On the one hand I was frightened that trying to fight Boyfriend off might escalate the situation into something considerably worse, and on the other I was terrified that not punching him in the face meant I was giving my consent; that not fighting back would make this a betrayal of Sister that Boyfriend and I were engaging in together.  I was scared of getting thrown out of my home and cut out of my friend group by Crush, on the charge of being a slut whore who destroyed Sister’s life by leading Boyfriend astray.  It’s hard to believe in retrospect, but this seemed like the scariest possibility of all, and in the midst of being sexually assaulted, I chose that the most important thing was to ensure that Crush’s good opinion of my character would remain intact.

I know now that being sexually assaulted was in no way my fault.  But prioritising Crush’s opinion of me over my own truth about what was happening was my mistake, mine alone; and I have paid the price for it dearly.

Boyfriend’s hand went up under my bra, and a short while later, he pushed it aside to use his mouth on me.  I continued to silently panic and pray for him to get bored.  When he unfastened the button and fly of my trousers, some line in my head got crossed – I think I would have stopped being able to tell myself it really wasn’t that big a deal, if he took events down there – so I finally murmured and shifted and pretended to slowly wake up.  Boyfriend shot back to his end of the Couch of Plausible Deniability and under his Blanket of Nothing Is Happening Here faster than I would have thought possible, and I earned the relief of realising I was at least neither going to be raped nor killed.  My panic finally connected itself with my legs then, and I scrambled off the sofa and bolted for the door.  I was afraid Boyfriend might change his mind now I was actually running away, and chase after me.  My trousers fell down to my ankles mid-flight and I had to stop and bend over to drag them back up before I could run on.  Bizarrely, I experienced a flash of worry and guilt that by bending double like that, I was making Boyfriend a deliberate sexual invitation, and that it might count against me at a potential later point if Crush and Sister were trying to work out whose fault the 'cheating' had been; but there was no sound of movement behind me and then I was up and running again and out of the room.  I pelted up the stairs and bumbled through doorways calling for Crush, who would, I was sure, be Fair and Just and Strong and would Protect Me, and maybe as a bonus his heroic rescuing of me would even Finally Bring Us Together, just so long as I got to him first and made sure he didn’t conclude it was all my fault.

When I found Crush I started crying hysterically, which was mostly genuine shock and trauma, but also part alcohol and part manipulation attempt because I desperately wanted him to believe I’d done nothing wrong, but wasn’t sure myself whether I had or not.  He jumped out of bed and took charge like a hero, cupping my shoulders in his hands and demanding to know what had happened.  I told him I’d fallen asleep on the sofa, and woke to find Boyfriend molesting me.  I said nothing about the incident I’d encouraged weeks before, or about the implicit lie of my fake sleeping state.  I knew, I think, without even being aware that I knew, how vital it would be now to appear as the pure and innocent victim in all ways; knew that the slightest blemish on my character would be pulled out from my story, highlighted, and used to dismiss me as ‘one of those dumb sluts who goes around getting herself into situations’.

Crush calmed me down.  He appeared to contemplate things for a minute.  Then he asked me if I was sure.  ‘When I woke up, my top was up here, and my trousers are still undone; of course I’m sure!’ I sobbed.

He encouraged me again to calm down, and said he believed me.  ‘Really?’ I wailed.

‘Of course I do.  You’re my friend.  I trust you completely,’ he said, with all the power of direct eye contact.  It was immensely reassuring.  He put me in his bed and said he would sort everything out.  He told me to get some sleep.  Then he and Sister, who had been woken by the commotion but didn’t yet know what was happening, went downstairs to talk to Boyfriend.  I tried to hear what they were saying, but they were speaking too quietly; I could hear voices but no words.

The next morning, it took me two hours to get out of bed.  I kept hoping Crush would come by and play the hero some more, or at least ask if I was okay and tell me what had happened so I would know what I was facing before I went downstairs, but nobody came, and eventually I had to go down and face them all together.  All three of them breezed me a ‘Good morning!’ and acted as though it was just another day, which was completely surreal, and I had neither the courage nor the fortitude to do anything but weakly go along with it, in a vacant and spaced-out sort of way.  We went out in Boyfriend’s van and spent the whole day doing things together outdoors, and when we got back to my home at Crush’s house in the evening, Sister and Boyfriend decided to stay at our place for the night.  While they made the short drive home to get blankets, I sat quietly in an armchair, a blob of tension and confusion in human form, waiting for Crush to start telling me what had happened now his family were gone.

Crush went into the kitchen and started preparing dinner.   After ten minutes or so, I made myself go out there.  I leaned on the side and said, faux-casually, my heart hammering even worse than it had been all day, ‘So... what happened last night then, when you went downstairs?’

Crush was chopping carrots, and didn’t look at me.  ‘Well,’ he said, ‘we found Boyfriend asleep.  He said nothing like that happened.  He didn’t know what you were talking about.’

‘I see,’ I said.  Neither of us said anything for several seconds, and then I crossed the kitchen and went to look out of the window.  Everything felt like a dream, like it couldn’t be real.  Then I said, ‘You believe me, though, right?’

Crush hesitated before saying, ‘I believe that you believe something happened.  Like, maybe you were having a dream, and then a tree branch banged on the window and scared you, or something, and you got confused.’

I sputtered.  ‘My trousers were – ’

He flung his knife down with a clatter, turned to face me, and demanded, ‘Well, what do you want ME to do about it?’

The hero was gone.  I went back to looking out the window, and after a moment, Crush went back to angrily chopping vegetables.  I was furious, but I was also desperate.  I couldn’t process the truth: Crush knew perfectly well that Boyfriend had violated my body in some way, but had decided to pretend to himself that Boyfriend couldn't possibly do such a thing.  This allowed him to preserve own his self-image as Crush, The Good Guy Who Is Always There For His Friends, without having to pay the admission price of actually doing the things that would make him that person.  In short, he was not my friend and he cared precious little for my well-being; but this fact, I would not accept.  I rationalised that, without actual proof of what Boyfriend had done, Crush could hardly be expected to go against eight years of family and friendship with the guy.  It was only natural that he should be suffering from torn loyalties; it wasn’t his fault he didn’t know who to believe.  I would fix that problem, I resolved with rage-fuelled determination.  I would get proof.  I would stick it to Boyfriend, for daring to make Crush not trust me.  Then, when I had proved Boyfriend’s guilt beyond refute and smashed his lying defence to pieces, Crush would believe me again and not be angry at me anymore, and he would go back to being the hero.  He would roar at Boyfriend and valiantly defend me against harm, and comfort me, and be gratifyingly sorry and furious with himself for ever doubting my word, and I would forgive him at once because of course his dilemma had been totally understandable, and it must have been so hard on him.  And the experience would strengthen our friendship, and bring us closer together.

So, after taking a few moments to beat my feelings of anger and betrayal back into their box, I replied ‘Nothing.  Don’t worry.  I’ll deal with it,’ and then turned and marched away to my bedroom to think.

There followed a Nancy Drew style entrapment, in which I cornered Boyfriend alone on his way out to work the next morning and got him to snivel and apologise while I recorded the whole thing using a small device concealed on my person.  That evening, I brought the recording to Crush, and got him to listen to it.  He stared out the window, stony-faced, while the sound of Boyfriend saying he was sorry for touching me while I’d been sleeping, that he’d been drunk, that he’d never do it again, and to please not tell Sister, filled the otherwise silent room.  Then Crush contemplated silently for a couple of seconds, before finally asking, ‘Are you going to tell Sister, then?’

‘I don’t know yet,’ I said.  Meaning, of course, that I hadn’t yet figured out which course of action would best fix my friendship with Crush.  ‘You know her better than me, do you think she would want to know?’

Crush fiddled with my recording device for a long while, turning it over and over while he thought.  At last he said, ‘I’ll have to think about it.  Leave it with me.’  Whereupon he handed me back my recording device, graced me with a curt nod as he rose, and didn’t speak another word to me for the rest of the evening.

He never showed any remorse for refuting and trivialising my sexual assault, or even asked me if I was okay.  I don’t know if he ever said anything further to Sister, or to Boyfriend.  Around me, he went directly back to acting like it never happened, which left me feeling confused and lost and as if I had no other recourse but to trust that he was handling it in the way he thought best, and to let it go and stop making problems for everyone.  I had several other recourses, of course, just none of which Crush would have approved; which ruled them out of the realms of possibility as far as I was concerned.

I get it now.  I didn't understand for a long time, but now I do.  I insisted on subscribing to my delusion of Crush as a hero, a delusion he encouraged because he rather liked to believe it himself (who wouldn't?), and it skewed my view on everything.  When I played Crush that recording, I thought I was showing Boyfriend as he truly was.  But of course, Crush already knew who Boyfriend was.  He knew, and he had pretended to himself that he didn't, and so what my recording actually did was to force Crush to confront himself as he truly was.  He was not the Dark Knight who would break down any barrier to stand fierce and strong in front of a friend in need, after all.  He was just another cowardly, wretched drudge worker on his way home from the office, choosing to avert his eyes from the stranger being mugged in Gotham City's darkest alleyway, for an easier life.  I had no idea what I was doing, sure as I was that Crush would morph directly into Batman; but oh, how he must have hated me, for backing him into the corner where his own true self waited to greet him with open arms.

Sister and Boyfriend continued to come to our house most weekends.  And I, faced with the choice between cutting loose from my only social group to find a new home with strangers and risking the awful loneliness all over again, or joining with Crush in pretending my sexual assault was a thing that didn’t matter so everything could continue as normal and I could hang on to a shred of magical thinking that one day it might still work out between Crush and me...  I opted for the latter.  I continued to live there, continued to spend my weekends playing board games and watching TV and drinking with them all like we were all still the best of friends, for another eighteen months.  I continued to wish and hope that one day, Crush might look up and suddenly see me through new eyes.

About six months after Boyfriend assaulted me, Crush met someone else and fell madly in love with her, and I was silently devastated.  On the night they had sex for the first time, he texted me from the bus they were heading home on and asked me to leave a condom on his bedside table, and I actually did, patting myself on the back for doing such a good job of Being Cool About It.  That was what was great about me; I was Cool About Stuff.  I didn’t go making waves about petty little things like my feelings towards him, or my feelings about being sexually assaulted, like some of those vapid girly-girls might.  I was mature enough to divine the difference between what was important, and what wasn’t.  And one day, Crush would stop being so shallow as to date girls he was attracted to, and he would mature enough to realise what a great and rewarding quality maturity was in a person; and then I would be there, waiting, and Being Cool with knowing that he hadn’t been ready for me until then.

Crush moved Girlfriend in, and in a few months things went pretty sour between them, and then our house became an undeniably horrible place to be because it was full of miserable people who were all silently angry with each other all the time and I finally, finally looked for and found another home.  I met someone else, someone lovely, and slowly began to recognise Crush for the douchecanoe he had been.  It was a process, and it took a long time.  I stayed friends with him for years before I finally figured out the important stuff.

Firstly, that his response to my sexual assault did not deserve either my forgiveness or my continued friendship.

And secondly, that nothing, not even proof I’ve been the victim of something heinous, can ever oblige anyone to feel more for me than they do.