(Tread gently. This article contains material on sexual assault)
I don’t know why I’m writing this. Maybe it will help declutter my mind.
We met in 2013, by chance, at your university campus. Looking back, my first impression of you is in stark contrast to how I think of you today. I thought you were cool, popular, funny, well-liked by everyone. Nobody had a bad thing to say about you.
This, I know now to be a farce. You are a classic people-pleaser and would do anything to make people like you. With low self-esteem, your only source of validation came from your machas (pals) who would jovially give you a pat on the back every time you cracked jokes about “crazy” girls in your life. I think this helped build your personality into an amalgamation of what people said and thought about you, rather than who you actually were.
Which is why I think you befriended me: because I was the one person in your life who forced you to reflect and introspect on who you were. And I, being the classic rehabilitation centre that I’ve always been, fell for it hook, line and sinker.
I’m not going to lie: I had the best time living in the same city as you. I can’t count the number of days you, M, J, and I danced the night away in a haze. The feeling of being young, careless, and free swept through us like a landslide. Conversations were never about the past or future – only the present.
A, I was your best friend and sole confidante, as you declared on multiple occasions, both drunk and sober. I never suspected it then, that you had the ability to hurt me; you never gave me a reason to. You looked out for me and protected me in every situation. Remember how you would get me a Magnum ice cream every time I cried with period pain? Or all those late night and lazy afternoon conversations where you came to me for advice about women, your family, work conflicts, self-doubt and, well, pretty much everything under the sun.
I felt loved and happy that I had a friend like you.
You should know now that it has been two years and six months since I’ve had a Magnum ice cream. I still crave the feeling of sinking my teeth into the soft chocolate; but it’s tainted now, attached to the memory of you.
I’m often plagued by an ongoing question that seems to have no solution. I wonder if people who do one bad thing can or should be defined by it for their entire life. The world seems to give several concessions to people who have done far worse than you, but I don’t think I have the capacity to be as forgiving – or indifferent as most are. I am unable to wrap my head around how, after living a life driven strictly by a personal moral compass, you, shall we say, ‘slipped up’.
I’ve read multiple essays by psychologists, philosophers, and religious figures on forgiveness; I still don’t have an answer. I don’t think I can forgive or should, after what you did.
I’m sure you remember what happened that night. Probably not with the same clarity as me, though. I doubt the thought of it incapacitates you during seemingly mundane tasks as you go about your day, or that it interferes with every relationship in your life where you wonder if you would ever be able to let anyone get close to you.
I over-analyse your excuse; the predictable one used by men about losing the ability to judge a situation while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. I remember, clear as day, that you were completely aware of what you did. Despite all the alcohol in your system, you knew what you were doing – and you knew what you did was wrong.
Do you know how I came to this conclusion? Maybe you should hear about what happened from a woman’s perspective. I’m sure it’s going to be quite different from the version you’ve built in your head.
You told me a lie that you knew would evoke an emotional response from me. I was stupid to fall for it in the first place. A series of events snowballed then: you lied, I cried, I curled myself into a ball, sobbing. I was at my most vulnerable, having lost my grandmother and a toxic partner the previous week; I was the emotional equivalent of a bowl full of last week’s leftovers.
Despite this taking place in November 2017, I remember what happened next, as clearly as if it happened yesterday. A, you laid down beside me, to comfort me, I assume. When did the intention of comfort turn to lust?
I was half-asleep, incapacitated, when I felt your hands on me. It started out slow at first, like you were testing the waters, remember? Your hands passed from over my waist onto my stomach, where they stayed for a few seconds, after which they found their way to my breasts. For a second you fiddled with the obstacle that was my bra and then ran your hands softly against my nipples. Then, you pulled your hands away. You apologised, saying “Sorry”, that you shouldn’t have done so. But, instead of moving away – after what felt like the longest one minute of my life – you ran your hands over my breasts again and then around my ass. You took your time, didn’t you? Going places your hands had no fucking permission to be. I’ve tried so hard to forget the feeling of your erection against my ass, but I can’t.
In situations of fight and flight, until that day, I always thought that when my safety was at risk, I would be brave enough to face someone and kick them in their balls, having done so earlier in life. But that night, I completely froze. The nerves in my brain refused to send commands to the rest of my body; I wanted to push, shove, scream, bite and fight. I desperately wanted to comfort my heart that felt like it would break out of my rib cage and puncture my lungs.
My therapist says it’s just the body’s way of protecting itself, to pre-empt a situation that might get worse if challenged. Every fibre, tissue and cell in my body told me to turn around, push your hands away, A, and get in a solid punch to your nose. But, given your 6’ tall physique, I felt pathetic and weak, like a little plaything.
You know what I did the next day? I got up, walked out of your house, and tried to bury what happened. Not a single day has gone by since then that I haven’t thought about you. Correction: not about you, but about what you did to me.
I began going for therapy in 2018 when the #MeToo movement hit India. I was bombarded by stories of sexual assault and rape, triggering similar trauma from my childhood that I had stifled and shoved deep within. In the following months, I was forced to confront all those incidents head-on and it felt like I had struck rock bottom. I came to realise that, unknowingly, I have sabotaged every relationship in my life since that night in 2017, in fear of what would happen if I got too close. Till today, I’m unable to let anyone in, a friend or otherwise, because I’m plagued with anxiety, self-doubt, troubling flashbacks and the burden of sexual trauma. I crave attachment, intimacy and vulnerability, but some gaping wounds do not heal and fade into scars.
I spent two years avoiding you. I not just deleted all our photos and your contact information, but I also lived in constant fear of running into you. My mind always jumped to the worst conclusion, thinking that every tall, curly-haired guy was you, or someone on a Royal Enfield was you. I not only avoided the bars we used to go to, but also had to cut out music, movies and food that reminded me of you. The Magnum ice cream is just one form of collateral.
On an impulse last November, I texted you on Facebook Messenger asking if you would like to meet. I felt burnt out; I wanted a life where I wasn’t afraid of travelling to a popular part of the city. I don’t know with what intention I set up the meeting. I just knew I wanted to tell you about the after-effects of your actions, A.
Of course, it went south. I told you about everything you did that night and how it affected me for two years. I’m sure you remember how you responded? You played the classic excuse of being drunk, once. You didn’t apologise or even admit to what had happened, or to spreading rumours to your ‘bros (before hoes)’ about how I had made it up in my head. Instead, I find it funny how you made the entire situation about yourself. You talked about how my ‘interpretation’ of that night has affected all of your relationships since then, leading you to seek therapy.
I don’t know what I expected. Perhaps I was naive and assumed you would take responsibility, or at least express remorse, guilt, regret for betraying who you once called your best friend.
A, I’ve felt an existential crisis about humanity and forgiveness for a long time. I don’t know if I can forgive you, or if I want to. Or even what forgiveness means.
After almost a year and a half of therapy, I’ve let my feelings surface. And it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I know and own that I feel betrayed, hurt and abandoned, and most of all, I just feel pain coursing through every part of my body. I don’t feel anger, though, for some reason.
I’m tired of always glancing over my shoulder and I’m tired of feeling threatened by harmless men. I’m tired of always worrying about my physical boundaries being breached and I’m tired of keeping everyone at a distance. A, I’m tired of reliving that night every day and I’m exhausted by the fact that I can’t wash off the feeling of your rough fingers on my skin, no matter how many showers I take. I just feel drained.
A, I don’t think closure exists. I think it’s just a pop culture phenomenon that romanticizes the concept of moving on. I don’t think I can move on. I think at one point, we just learn to live with the burden of such betrayal and violation as part of our daily routine.
I hope your mum is well,
P.S.: The ‘love’ in my signature just felt like a default sign off. Since it was my instinct to sign it with ‘love’, I won’t change it.
Cover Image: Pixabay