This is an account of one of the times I was sexually assaulted, about fifteen years ago. I wrote this about seven years ago, when it was still a lot fresher, but even though time has made the pain dimmer, it hasn’t disappeared. I plan to write more concretely about the relationship between fat stigma and abuse, but for now I want to put the story out in its entirety so I can refer to it in future posts.
(If it’s not obvious from the intro, serious trigger warnings for sexual violence.)
He tied me to my bed with the purple chenille belt from my bathrobe. Funny – seven years later I no longer have the bathrobe, but the belt is still stuffed away in some spare dresser drawer and it surprises me every time I find it. I always mean to throw it away, but I haven’t yet. I am a packrat, from a long line of hoarders, and I hold on to everything.
He told me to raise my arms flat on the bed above my head, as I lay on my back on the college dorm issue extra long twin bed. He secured my hands together, twisting the belt between my wrists, and tied the remaining length of belt to the metal legs of the bed frame. We had only met in person 24 hours ago.
In my junior year of college, when we met, no one scanned pictures of themselves to send through email and there was no instant messenger, so we exchanged email and spoke on the phone and I sent a picture of myself through the mail, not really thinking about how I wouldn’t get it back. It was a picture of me during senior year of high school and I was posing with my godfather; when Steve called me to tell me he received it he said, “you’re beautiful, but who’s the ugly guy?” I agreed to have him come visit me at my dorm room anyway. No one was calling me beautiful anymore.
How long did we talk before he came to visit? A week? Maybe two? I don’t remember (this is such a litany for me: I don’t remember, I don’t remember, and I don’t, so little of it is accessible for me) but it was certainly no longer than two weeks. Jeff, whom I’d loved for years with that fierce stabbing first-boyfriend-love, Jeff who told me he wanted to marry me, had left me for a woman he met online just months earlier; did I unconsciously decide to do the same? All I remember is the grasping, sucking depth of my loneliness, and my desperate attempts to do anything I could to quell the pain for even an instant. Anything not to think about Jeff and how utterly alone he left me.
Today I can’t remember a thing about Steve, although one day the next year, a man in my math class wore the same cologne and I instantly felt sick to my stomach to smell it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the scent of that cologne. But I don’t remember why I wanted to meet him. I don’t recall witty conversations, that flush of excitement and warmth that grows in my belly and flushes my cheeks from flirtation, like drinking wine. I don’t remember a meeting of the minds, or even much laughter. I don’t know if I could pick him out of a lineup, or recognize his voice. He is anonymous to me; I am only left with the memory of what he did.
He wanted me. He told me in emails and phone calls that he loved me, he told me he wanted me, and I thought that was enough, so I agreed to have him come for a visit. I remember how nervous I was, plucking at my clothes, fixing my makeup with shaky hands, all as I awaited for him to come. Someone wants me again, I thought, someone else has seen the good in me and wants to be with me.
Not even 20 minutes after he arrived I found myself on my knees on the floor in front of him, my head between his spread legs, his pants unbuckled, between his knees. I remember paying attention to his pants and belt and underwear all bundled between his knees as he held my head in place and repeated not one drop, drink it all, don’t you dare spill one drop and the penalty if I spilled was left unsaid but he wanted me, don’t you understand? He wanted me, I didn’t know him, and we were alone.
Later, in my room, on my narrow bed, he laid next to me, fully dressed, while I was almost nude. I wore only a pair of panties – black cotton, patterned with red roses, my favorite pair – and he stared at me with rich brown eyes. Jeff had had blue eyes, and I enjoyed the difference of Steve’s, the warmth of his brown – it gave me hope that this was what my brown eyes looked like from a lover’s gaze. He stroked my hair and spoke to me hypnotically as he told me he loved me. He told me I was beautiful, but only from the chest up. He couldn’t bring himself to touch me below the breasts – he told me this – but he loved me nonetheless and my touching him would be enough, right? I reeled in pain at his aversion yet I looked at myself with the same revulsion I saw in his eyes, so why should I expect any better than this? I was starving and he was offering me the illusion of nourishment.
My hands were tied to the bed frame as he fixed the blindfold around my eyes, but not before he made sure I saw the tip of a sewing needle, as he burned it in a candle flame, and the anticipation cold in his eyes. The room was romantic, candles lit and lights low; how I had always imagined I would set it up for Jeff. I waited, rigid and terrified and paralyzed; I had given my trust away so freely. I waited and I listened to the Sarah McLachlan CD that he put on the stereo – I had never heard her before and her voice was lovely. I was enchanted as I listened to her sing and I will be the one, to hold you down… I’ll take your breath away and then I felt him push the needle into my nipple.
At that instant I finally knew what I wanted. I wanted him to stop. I didn’t care that I said I would try it, I wanted him to stop and I thrashed against my restraints and sobbed and pleaded and begged for him to stop, no more, just stop, yet he continued to push sharp silver into my resisting flesh with a lingering, taunting pace. Now I see that it was just what he wanted – my protests and pain – and of course he didn’t stop. Once the needle was firmly in place – I couldn’t see it, but I could imagine just what it looked like, this bar of thin metal perfectly centered, enveloped by my flesh – he flicked my swelling nipple so he could watch my tears flood from behind the blindfold, and he finally pulled it out with the same indifferent and casual leisure with which he pushed it in.
I don’t remember the rest of the weekend: what we talked about after, how I felt, when he left, what I did after. Did I feel empty and alone? Was I relieved? Was I numb? It is all an empty space for me except for my solitary burning shame.
I wish I could say that I never saw him again, or that I told him off, or that I stood up for myself. I wish I could say that I never again allowed myself to be hurt by cruel men in the guise of love and that it didn’t take me years to see what flimsy currency the words I love you can be and how cheaply I could be bought.
Maybe that’s why I haven’t thrown away that purple chenille belt yet. Maybe this is something I need to hold onto for a little longer.