Trigger Warning and Content Note
This is an essay about a range of distressing experiences, including sexual assault. Please take care.
We were close, my large extended family. My grandparents lived up the road and one of my dad’s brothers was a few houses away. My dad had two brothers and six sisters and almost all still lived nearby, married and with families. So many cousins I’m not even sure how many I have. Every Sunday was family time, roast Sunday lunch at Grannies, strawberries and cream. Because she wouldn’t discard her life for his, mum wasn’t welcome.
One of dad’s sisters was married to a farmer, with three daughters, all quite a bit older than me. They had all left home so I didn’t know them well. We spent quite a bit of time at their house, with its big garden, upright couches, useless ornaments and bowls of fake fruit. One day we went there for afternoon tea; lolly cake, fudge slice, tea with milk. I was maybe seven. My uncle said something about “how much I’d grown”, picked me up and put me on his lap. He was a well-liked conspirator, would tell me stories quietly like I was the only one meant to hear them. My dad was sitting right opposite me at the dining table. The lolly cake was delicious.
I take another piece. My uncle put his hand up the back of my top, whispering “isn’t my hand rough, and your skin so smooth, so so smooth”, rubbing it and whispering. Holding me there. I tried to get down, it felt weird and I was unexpectedly scared. He held tight with one arm and rubbed my back, lower with the other. Lower. “Isn’t my hand rough, it’s all the work I do on the farm”. To the elastic of my underwear, ran his fingers along it. I was frozen. Why was he doing this? My dad was right there but I felt unable to do anything. Then he stopped. I scrambled down, ran to the living room out of sight and sat on a too stiff couch staring at the fake fruit.
My brother chases me, yelling that Dad’s hair is falling out in great chunks in the shower and all over his pillow. “Cancer”, Dad says. I ask him if its catchy. A pause, “No sweetheart, its not”.
When I’m eight it hurts to pee, all the time. Pink pee, what looks like tea leaves in the toilet bowl. I try not to move because that makes it worse, for weeks I am a statue sitting at the edge of my bed. I’m asked to drink something that tastes like baking soda and I vomit mince on toast all over the kitchen floor, but nothing fixes it. I’m sent to the local hospital. In a large room, white, clean, metal, vinyl, cotton sheets, hospital gown, alone. A doctor in a lab coat comes in and tells me to lay down, on my front he says. The sheets are rough and clean. Without another word he puts his fingers up my anus. Later someone asks if I wipe front to back or back to front. I lie and say the former. No one had ever taught me.
Windows and curtains
Dad died when I was 12. My aunt took me shopping for some black clothes and taught me how to bake potatoes while my mum drank two bottles of wine a night and meditated the sad away in one of our cane conservatory chairs. Early one morning six weeks after he died I walked into my parents’ bedroom and found my mum having sex with a man I’d never met before. I ran and hid in the blue velvet curtains in the living room. Mum could see my feet but didn’t say anything.
I’m in the bathroom getting undressed to have a shower. I’m 14 years old. The window is partly opened to let the steam out, and through it I catch a movement. Someone looking in, eyes wide at being caught. Then he is gone. It was a mistake I think.
Getting dressed in my bedroom after a shower, curtains closed as tight as I can get them, just in case. My mum made the curtains and the fabric wasn’t quite wide enough. I see him peering through the glass. “Peeping tom!” I yell. But the words stumble from my mouth, catch on my teeth and come out like a new born calf. Is that the best I can do?
It was a last-minute party invite and my mum was hesitant to let me go. There was a rugby team from another part of the country touring and some of my mates had just played them. It was the mid 90’s and I was 15 years old, skinny, no boobs really, totally innocent. But these were the good parties, ones I didn’t usually get invited to.
When I got there, out the back where the garage was, everyone was hanging out on brown corduroy couches, drinking and listening to music. The visiting team watched as me and a friend walked in, the boy I liked was being hit on by someone else and loving it. So, when one of the guys from the visiting team started to talk to me I figured I had nothing to lose. This guy was cute, dark hair, fit, strong, laughing. His nickname was Tiny, maybe it was Twiney, or Tinny, I don’t know his real name.
I didn’t have a nickname, or know how to talk to cute boys. I had always been told I was forgettable. Nothing special. Away from the garage in the dark suburban street, he kissed me, nothing shy or tender about it, insistent. Telling me I was prettier than I looked at first, expressed his surprise that I had a nice body, “not bad” he said. Pushing me against the low retaining wall holding back someone’s respectable front lawn, I let him kiss me. He was drunk and forceful, kept putting his hands places I didn’t want them, and I’d fend him off. He would keep trying. I felt smothered and intimidated. Scared. I feigned needing to pee, squirmed sideways out from under him and ran back down the driveway to use the bathroom. There were knitted doilies under fresh toilet rolls and a little wooden plaque giving advice on the windowsill.
When I got back to the garage everyone was drunker, louder, cheering as I walked in. They slapped Tiny on the back, then he was by my side, arms around me, taking my newly won white Dirty Dog sunglasses off my head and wearing them. I wanted to leave. The parents shut the party down. Relief flooded my body. But my ride, my friend, was house sitting a house that was awesome, and had no one in it that weekend. “No, fuuuck no, noooo!” I screamed in my head. But I just watched it unfold like upturned hands.
We drove to the new party house, as soon as we walked into this sprawling, flash as fuck shag piled house, Tiny grabbed my hand and dragged me to the laundry room, the first door on the left. I looked at my friend’s face behind me, hoping she could see my worry. My reluctance. Inside he held the door closed with his foot as he quickly pulled my clothes off, I didn’t want this. No! I really liked someone else, and now he hated me because I was a gigantic slut. No! He had me on the floor, hands everywhere, I was squirming away, trying in the small space to get away, to limit his touch. I whispered “no”, it felt like I hadn’t spoken until then, I didn’t know I had a voice.
“No” I said again louder, he put his hand on my chest near my throat and said “I want you to cum”. A pause like he didn’t quite believe himself, then he rammed his fingers and fist in to me. “I want you to cum” he said over and over again. “Rub my dick” he told me, hand on my throat, I did, I just wanted him to stop. I cried and tried to look away. He kept going. Someone knocked on the door he paused, jamming his foot against the door as they tried to open it, “are you ok?” she said, “yes” he said and laughed. I was so ashamed. They left. He kept going, “you’re gonna cum you’re gunna cum you’re gonna cum” he breaths while I choke. He tries to get his dick in but he can’t, he cums anyway then gets up and swaggers back to the party. I sit on the laundry floor and cry.
What now? All my friends think I’ve just had a raging good time with a guy I didn’t know two hours ago. I can smell the dampness of the washing, the cloying detergent, and something salty I don’t recognise. I get up, use a dirty towel to clean myself, tidy my hair and clothes, and walk out to the living room. Someone laughs “had a good time eh,” and something breaks. It might be me. I try and fail to wrestle my new sunglasses off his smug-drunk head and leave. I run down the street. “What the fuck is wrong with you, you’re kinda acting like a slut” yells my friend as she chases after me.
At my friend’s place where I am staying I go to the toilet. I’m swollen, bruised, my legs are scratched. There’s blood everywhere I don’t know if it’s from what he did or if I just got my period for the first time. It really fucking hurts to pee. I sit on the toilet and cry.
In my first year at university and my boyfriend Dan is really into sex. His best friend has “a gigantic dick” and goals of becoming a porn star in Canada. Dan has an eyebrow piecing that is always infected. I have my period I tell him, I don’t want to have sex right now, “That’s ok,” he says “I don’t care”. I have a tampon in I say, it doesn’t stop him, he doesn’t take it out. I have to squat on the floor of his shitty bathroom to try to get it out because now it’s compacted against my cervix. I use tweezers.
When I’m nervous I pull single strands of my hair out my scalp to feel the sharp spark of pain radiate to my spine, run down my legs to my feet to remind me where I stand.
Lolly cake, fake fruit, rough hands, white sheets, doctors, UTIs, hair in the drain, blue velvet, gaps in the curtains, nicknames, dirty dog sunglasses, rugby, laundry powder, shag pile, “I want you to cum”, suburbia, tampons, tweezers. Ordinary things.