I wrote this piece on Day 4 of Ann Randolph's "UnMute" writing course. Trigger warning - sexual assault is discussed.
The body keeps the score. It’s the title of a very famous book on trauma, and it’s the way that I’ve been living for some time now. I’ve shared this already but this year, I had something very intense and traumatic happen to me. It’s the kind of thing that’s so dark and sad that you really don’t want to tell people, because you know you’ll have to tend to them after the words come out of your mouth. You have to brace yourself for their emotional reaction. It’s the kind of thing that really makes you question: Jesus, is this the kind of world we live in? Is the world really this fucked up? Yes it is, I guess, is the honest answer. Those bad people really are out there. I wish, again, I could write about something different.
Long and the short of it was, I was going for a run in Mexico on a Wednesday morning, around 10:30 in a park that I had been to many times. When I got to the top of the mountain, contemplating my life like the good existential millennial that I am, I turn around to see a man walking towards me out of the bushes.
First things first, I realize that we’re alone and he’s masturbating. So, I try to assess whether or not he’s on drugs or drunk, and I have to head towards him to go back down the path away from the top of the mountain. Wow, as I’m writing this, I can feel the shakiness in my breath and my shoulder blades are kind of tingling. Still to this day, it always surprises me which part of my body wakes up when I relive the trauma, even in part.
The whole interaction took place in Spanish, which I’m lucky enough to speak. Because the second I realize that he is walking towards me, masturbating, I suddenly see a gun in his other hand. I remember the gun so clearly. It was black, and the metal was worn. It could have been 30 years old. It looked like it had been used. That was the first, and the last time ever, I really truly hope, that I am on the wrong side of a gun. I know we’re not supposed to get political about the right to bear arms. But, Jesus fucking Christ, when you’re the one on the wrong side of the gun, with no way to defend yourself, alone on the top of a mountain in a foreign country, you think about these things. People never think about what it’s like to be the defenseless person in these kinds of interactions. Humans are irrational, fallible, stupid. Why should any human be given that kind of monstrous, monumental, sickening level of power over another? It’s not fucking fun, let me tell you.
In any case, I’ve shared a lot of this story before, so I won’t bore you with all the details. But next things next, the guy is like: get on the ground, pull your pants down, we’re going to fuck. And immediately, I know what my non-negotiables are. I don’t want to be raped. And I don’t want to die. But I don’t know how I’m going to get the fuck out of this situation. Obviously, I wasn’t consciously thinking about this at the time, but cute little gringa me knew a thing or two about negotiating. I’ve read books on it, great books, like Never Split the Difference by Chris Vos. You think I’m going to compromise and split the difference with this dude with a gun, and end up raped? Fuck no. Not that it’s really relevant, but I also went to The Wharton School. That at least explains in part why I’ve got such strong wanderlust, and still as a functioning adult, I feel more comfortable being miserable doing something as dull as data analytics. But there is a huge difference between sitting in a plush classroom at an Ivy League School in Philadelphia, reading about these things amongst my peers, and standing at the top of a fucking mountain in Mexico. I can’t really describe to you just how different these things are. Which one is real though? Which one is imagined? How can these two places co-exist in the same universe? I’ll never know.
So, I go right into analytical negotiating mode. Very gross part here. He’s getting excited, and is like, show me what you got. So obviously I have to flash him. He starts getting all excited, and masturbating more, and that’s when I realize that I have 2 things on me. Right below my waistband, on the tiny inside pocket of my running shorts, I have $500MXN pesos, and my hotel key. Okay, the hotel is like a half hour walk away. But 500 pesos? That might get me somewhere. In fact, as far as I could tell, 500 pesos was a decent amount of money. Mind you, it was about $25USD. $25USD. I’ll repeat. $25USD. I thought about it after the fact, and I realized I would have probably given this dude $10,000 USD at least if he promised not to rape me. At least.
But in any case, I spoke to him in Spanish. I’ll give you 500 pesos, if you promise not to touch me. We’ll leave the park, I can give you my phone number (trying to talk to him in a cool way that would relax him and not aggravate him at all). And he was like, come on, give me your phone, let’s just do it quickly. And I’m like: I don’t have my phone. But I can give you my phone number and we can be friends (! What was I thinking…).
I tried to delay, thinking someone else might come to rescue me on that mountain. That someone else might come up the path. But no one ever came. He got flustered. He put his dick back in his pants at some point, and then he turned away around walked away. I walked away slowly and calmly, because I thought he might well just decide to shoot me in the back of the head. Anyway, as you can imagine, I’ve had pretty debilitating PTSD since this all happened, and I basically haven’t had sex this whole year or felt vaguely even safe enough to go to that place with someone else, because I’ve been scared so shitless out of my own body.
But over New Years, about 10 months later, the epiphany finally came. And now I can finally reap the benefits of getting away from that guy on the mountain without him laying a hand on me. I was not raped. I was not physically hurt. So, what I learnt last weekend in Newcastle, flirting with a lad at the party, is that it is just the proposition, someone asking me if I want to have sex, that scares the shit out of me. Obviously because I associate getting asked about sex with extreme amounts of danger, the most danger I have ever faced in my life. So this whole week, since I had the epiphany, I feel like I’ve have a breakthrough. I can honestly say that I’ve begun to heal, in a pretty significant way. I’ve been able to realize, post-coital after the New Years Eve with the very cute lad from the party in Newcastle, that I can enjoy sex again. And I love sex. It’s the truth. I love being a lover, and I want to be a good lover. I realized it’s only getting asked whether or not I want to have sex that’s the trigger. Once I consent, I move past it. Now I feel like I’ve been able to move through all of this and say: sex can be beautiful, sex can be messy, sex can be fun for me again. And working through this, I feel such a stronger sense of connection to my body than I have felt for quite a while. I feel an incredible amount of love and power and control over my body. I feel a sense of love for my body, because it is mine, because I was able to defend it. Even if I had not been able to, it would not have been my fault. None of that stuff that happened to me was my fault.
So, really, for months and months I thought I was fucked up and damaged and bruised and mentally scarred, and I couldn’t see how I was going to work through this. But now I understand that it’s when someone asks me if I want to have sex with them that I’m really triggered. Beyond that, I feel a sense of compassion and love and wholeness in my own body and I can connect with other people. I have finally seen through to the other side of this, and now I feel open to letting the benefits shower me, to be flooded by them. To let myself be a lover again.
The first thing I thought when I saw that gun on that mountain was that I did not want to be raped. I knew that if that man raped me, it would fuck me up for a very, very long time. And in that moment, I did literally everything in my power to escape without him laying a hand on me. And to my past self, to myself in that moment, I now have endless gratitude. That is all I feel now. Sincere, unabashed, unwavering gratitude. Like the water raging down a creek, as an entire valley of winter snow suddenly melts. I feel like a river, rushing and gushing again. Gratitude.