It’s been a month, and this is how I eat:
I wait until I am starving, my stomach rumbling with gurgling “feed me” noises, as the world gets fuzzy and I lose focus on words, language and thoughts. Be it the conventional hours of lunchtime or dinnertime, I drag myself away from my bedroom and my laptop, where I’ve been scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook feed, or gazing vacantly at Netflix set to auto-play all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, and I trudge the fifteen feet to my kitchenette. Bolstering myself up with aid of the refrigerator door, I grab an apple, two carrots, and a jar of raw almond butter. I cut the apple into chunks, the carrots into sticks, and drop a heaping tablespoon of almond butter on top. I lean against the kitchen sink, force feeding myself, fighting against my will to swallow each mouthful. Tears well in my eyes as I chew. My body’s biochemical systems crave food, so I oblige the mitochondria their energy source. But I do not want food. I have lost interest in food. I am unworthy of each bountiful bite. When my bowl is empty, I wash up with citrus scented dish soap, then I hover over the toilet or sink in case the meal doesn’t stay down. It usually stays down. Sometimes it doesn’t. But what always remains is a sharp stabbing pain in my gut that lingers despite digestive enzymes and ginger tea. I regret eating. It would be easier to just stop.
It’s been a month, and this is how I sleep:
I watch my clock morph from midnight to 1a.m. to 2a.m., while my Netflix advances forward the next episode of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore’s enviable rose-colored Connecticut life. I’m in the dark, and my screen emits an orange glow intended to reduce the harmful blue-light effect on our circadian rhythms. I’m lying on my side, in the fetal position, my head propped up twenty degrees by a pillow to get the best screen-viewing angle, my arms wrapped tightly around my tattered stuffed animals I still own at the age of 39, two small brown and cream-colored puppies named Thieves and Lavender in honor of healing essential oils. As my laptop’s pop-up window reminds me “You are getting up in 6.5 hours,” I imagine hauling myself up from the sunken-in memory foam imprint of my body. “Up! Up up up!” my inner cheerleader shouts. I reason that with one big push, I can emerge onto my wobbly feet, and in mere ten minutes time, accomplish the most minimal of pre-bedtime rituals, and then return to my safe spot. I throw myself into the bathroom, wash my face with my hand soap, brush my teeth with Dr. Bronner’s all-natural peppermint paste, and then drug myself with magnesium, melatonin, and a handful of other supplements. I flop back into bed, resuming my coveted haven, and I lie still. But I’m not still. My body is trembling. Every cell vibrates in tremors. An energetic pulse electrifies my body into fitful starts and stops. A nervous system gone haywire, it’s viscerally disturbing, disrupting, unrestful. I sleep. I wake. I sleep. I wake. I sleep. I jolt awake. It’s still dark. I can’t sleep anymore. It’s been about four hours. I get up.
It’s been a month, and this is how I work:
I’m a freelance writer and creative director. Freelance means I work from home, but I wouldn’t call what I’m doing now “working.” With my hair still wet from the morning shower, I sit motionless in a hard-backed red wooden chair, my right leg crossed over my left, and I turn on my laptop. My breathing is shallow as I open my personal Gmail account, then my professional Gmail account, then my personal Yahoo account, then Facebook, then Facebook Messenger, and occasionally LinkedIn when I’m at the pinnacle of self-imposed distraction. I scroll through the messages that were left for me in the four hours between night and day. I respond to no one. I open InDesign, Photoshop and Microsoft Word as a good faith gesture toward my mounting project list. Then I click back to Facebook. I text my therapist. I email a social worker. I spy a tiny red circle on my phone’s message icon… I have new voice mails. I don’t listen to any of them. I despise the imposition of the phone. I pick up a book. A silent and solitary activity that cannot talk back to me, I hide in typeset paragraphs, advancing 300-400 pages a day. I speak out loud to no one. I go to a local café for strong espresso. I’m forced to vocalize, “Medium almond milk latte, thank you.” I hand over my debit card. Sometimes the barista wants to chat. Words hurt, don’t speak to me, that means I am expected to speak back. I return home to my work station, which remains there mocking my lack of focus. I read articles that Facebook tells me to read. I ignore incoming calls from clients. I delete messages from new connections who ask to collaborate. I subliminally tell 95% of the people in my orbit to fuck off and leave me the hell alone. At least they abide my wishes.
It’s been a month, and this is how I drive:
I hop behind the wheel of my year 2000 Infinity. I initiate the engine, turn on my music, and roll out of the driveway. I have nowhere to go – no meetings, no friends within a 60-mile radius. Maybe I need to buy more apples and carrots. Or maybe I need contact solution at CVS. I space out my weekly errands in a last-ditch attempt to give myself a reason to get dressed and leave the house every day. I drive down the suburban road and circle onto the highway. No one in this historic Mid-Atlantic state knows how to merge. It’s a death trap even for the most defensive driver. My mind isn’t on the road, and it’s especially not on the idiot who doesn’t know how to speed up or slow down on a yield approach. As I swerve and brake to miss the unevolved driver, I realize my fight-or-flight response to our near-collision is not a reflection on the sanctity of my own fragile life. Rather, it’s a desperate anxiety that we’ll crash, I’ll remain objectively unharmed, but my car will be totaled, and that will be one more thing I have to deal with; one more thing I have to fix; one more thing that some reckless jackass inflicted upon me the moment I stopped being hyper-vigilant to oncoming danger, leaving me stunned, broken, a total wreck; one more thing that’s not my fault, but where I remain frozen in debilitating self-blame.
It’s been a month since he started emailing me about my body… to tell me I was hot, and that he found me attractive. It was initially flattering, for the first twelve hours. Who doesn’t want to be desired? So, I flirted back, in wit and whimsy. I will never forgive myself for flirting back. But there it was… trapped in my brain. A repetitive mantra from my closest friends: “____. Stop cycling back into the security of romanticized heartbreak. Be open. Give some new guy a chance.”
So I tried. Even though I wasn’t attracted to this new guy. Even though my instinct was toward disaster. “One foot in front of the other,” advised my friends. But I was the one walking there.
It’s been a month since his language moved from mild flirtation to pornographic seduction. He described how he’d feel inside of me; how he’d touch me, follow my breathing, my sounds, my panting; how he’d make me feel good. He proudly recounted that he’s wider than most, he’s good at sex, and his litany of former bedfellows seemed to enjoy themselves.
We barely knew each other. We met in person, three months prior at a professional event, talked for thirty minutes, exchanged business cards, then I left. A few days later, there was a follow-up business-related encounter that lasted two hours. Then I returned to my residence, 100 miles away in another state and city. This was no Weinstein episode. He held no managerial nor financial authority over me. Although, he did attempt to buy me, under the guise of feigned compassion. He offered to pay for my apartment (he knew I was bouncing around on long-term Airbnb rentals with no permanent address). He offered to hire me (he knew I had no steady income). He offered to send me home to my mom for the holidays (he knew I missed my family). I declined every offer, intuitively sensing a massive IOU behind his supposed philanthropic gestures.
Over two months, we became, what I presumed to be, acquaintances. I never even thought to ascribe the word “friend” to this man’s position in my life. He lived 2.5 hours away, a space that now offers me a tenuous buffer of geographic security. From a distance, our sporadic phone and digital conversations, all at his genesis, were initially benign, friendly, professional, sometimes funny, albeit disjointed. He seemed scattered, erratic, unfocused, sometimes ringing my mobile at 2a.m. while I was sleeping (when I used to sleep). He’d stick on a singular topic and obsess, requiring constant reassurance of his position, or his belief system, no matter what suggestions or solutions I offered to his proposed dilemma.
He called me “honey” and “darling.” I presumed that to be an endearing charismatic quirk. Maybe if I had said, “Stop. My name is ____” from the very beginning, it would not have escalated. Maybe it’s my fault I did nothing to halt his progression from “hey hun” to graphic descriptions of his “bulbous cock” and where he wanted my mouth.
It’s been a month since he started signing his emails with his first initial attached to suggestive words like “humongous” and “bang.” Since he requested I send him naked photos of how God bore me. I firmly declined, admonishing him, “I never do that. You should never do that. Trust no one online.” That didn’t stop him from asking twice more. He told me he couldn’t concentrate on his work, “thinking of my hot smokin’ body.” He wished me good night and told me to “dream of his soft wet lips.” He swapped the word “cum” for “come” in his text messages. He asked me to never tell our mutual colleagues about our communication, to keep this confidential between us. I agreed, despite overtones of a pedophile uncle violating his naïve niece, “Don’t tell mommy and daddy, ok? It’s our little secret.” I’ll be punished if I tell mommy and daddy. He confessed to me about a revenge fantasy he had from the minute he met me – an ultimate screw-you to his former female business partner, that he’d seduce me to work for him every day and fuck him every night.
Only 24 hours into his aggressive pursuit, I sensed I was in trouble, drowning, I wanted out. I attempted to extricate myself with verbose niceties and emotive descriptors about my essence, my identity. “I may be hot,” I said, “But I’m just a really REALLY nice person!” I explained my history of confusing relationships – that I fall in love with men who care about me, but never sexualize me. That I was still healing from heartbreak, and I had a lot to sort through. That I did the casual thing only once before, ten years prior, with a guy friend I’d known for a while. It ended in catastrophe. I’ve learned not to repeat such mistakes. I explained about my neurological disorder, and how it makes me sensitive, “and I mean that literally, sexually,” and why no casual “let’s fuck” dynamic will ever properly tend to my body. I told him that I’d be more than happy to meet him for coffee the next time I was in his city, but “I cannot do any of the things you’re describing inside the bedroom without love, respect, and care outside the bedroom. And all of that evolves slowly over time.” He said my offer for coffee was a blow-off. I explained, “As far as I’m concerned, if a man doesn’t want to know me over conversation in a coffee shop, he’s never gonna know me naked in his bed.”
I thought my messages were transparent and sincere. But his chase continued. I didn’t realize my words became a challenge, taunting him, teasing him. I did not recognize that his fantasy had transformed into reality.
It’s been three weeks since I sent him a clearly articulated, succinct email that read, “This dialogue is making me uncomfortable, stressed, and anxious. I would like this to stop. We can only communicate as platonic friends and professional colleagues. Ok?” He called me immediately, and without reproach nor interrogation, he kindly agreed to cease and turn back time before this line of demarcation was crossed. I felt relieved. Empowered. I had handled a difficult situation with grace and clarity. My therapist was proud of me.
It’s been two weeks since he called me on a Monday night at 10p.m., sending me a link to a recent video interview he filmed, begging me, “Do you think I’m hot and sexy? Tell me you think I’m hot and sexy.” Anxious and caught off guard, I deflected conversation. No, I did not think he was hot or sexy. I thought he was too old for me. He had a Neanderthal aura, which seemed repulsively animalistic to me. I asked him about his work instead. He responded, “Will you please come visit me, so we can have sex?” He considered my nervous laughter fodder for his sexual excitation.
I awakened to this singular fact: it didn’t matter what I said or did. He was aroused just by the sound of my voice, the letters of my name, the tension of my resistance, and the energy of our cellular connections pinging back and forth.
“We talked about this. Remember?” I beseeched.
“I know. I gave you a week. Week’s up,” he intoned.
There. Right there. That’s the exact moment when I started to feel unsafe; threatened by his diabolically careful choice of objectively non-threatening words, which left me questioning if I had any personal right to be affronted; if I had any legal authority to cite harassment.
“It doesn’t work that way,” I said. But he reveled in the game of my protestations. Ten minutes later, I hung up on him, vowing to never answer his calls nor messages again. And I remained wide-eye awake all night, mad at myself for not recording that conversation.
It’s been a week since he emailed me to explicitly describe his sexual fantasies about me. “I dreamed we had such good sex that you’re no longer sick,” he wrote. Getting off on his delusions, he accused, “Look at what you do to me.” And he asked again for naked photos.
My hands trembled. My bladder went into a traumatic spasm. My lungs haven’t taken a full breath since. My self-imposed code of strict radio-silence subsequently brought an onslaught of messages in the 24 hours that followed – phone calls, voice mails, emails – baiting me, playing me. “I’m sad. I miss talking to you. Call me. Are you really not talking to me?” With my nerves and synapses on fire, after my umpteenth conversation with a social worker, I wrote him what I’d hoped to be my final email. “Stop. This communication is inappropriate and making me uncomfortable. Please stop. Permanently.”
It’s been a month since I stopped speaking, stopped writing, stopped working, stopped smiling, stopped laughing, stopped living, stopped caring, stopped sleeping, stopped breathing, stopping hoping, stopped dreaming. My friends remind me that I’m a writer. They say inane things that belong on a women’s march placard, like “Don’t let him silence your voice. Take back your power.” They want to know why I won’t “take him down” publicly. To write something. To publish something. To join my #MeToo sisters. They send me articles about Aziz Ansari and the USA Gymnastics Team. They tell me to read The New Yorker fiction piece “Cat Person.” They tell me I’m brave, I’ve already overcome so much in my life, that I’m “the strongest person they know,” that this won’t end me, that I cannot let this pathetic abusive predatory man destroy me. They tell me I drew a line, I used my voice to say “Stop.” That’s the most important part. Not that I naively engaged back for a split-second in time. But that I said stop, several times, and he didn’t listen.
It’s been five days since he texted me at 2a.m., “R u awake?”
From the second we met, he knew how to seduce me with kindness. To instill trust. And openness. The malignant narcissist and his empathic mirror. He knew how to make me comfortable with him, to trap me, and then to break me down in guilt and shame for allowing myself to be trapped.
It’s been four days since I called a domestic abuse hotline.
It’s almost cliché, but I blame myself. For sharing with him, for allowing him to call me pet names, for laughing, for taking his calls, for responding to his emails, for being witty, for being open, for being nice. It’s my fault for wanting attention, and for being blind to what type of attention he was giving me. It’s my fault for noticing red flags and not running away until they exploded into scarlet blazing flames.
It’s been 24 hours since his last three voice mails, begging, pleading, “______. Don’t do this. Talk to me. Why are you doing this? We have a history. Come back to me. Ya know, you flirted too. Just sayin’… I was just having a little adult fun. Aren’t you overreacting?”
My friends send me links to domestic abuse hotlines, sexual abuse crisis centers, and suicide hotlines. They text me, “Hey, checking in. How are you today?” I don’t answer. They advise me to protect myself, know my rights, to file a police report, to hire a lawyer. They insist that I find a way to calm my body, escape to an ashram, go for a hike, drink some tea, watch a YouTube video on happiness, practice mindfulness, take care of myself. They tell me I can stop this… that I have the power to stop this.
It’s been 12 hours since I emailed him: “Please respect the firm boundary I am drawing. Never contact me again.”
It’s been 6 hours since his next email…
It’s been 5 hours since his next email…
It’s been 30 minutes since his next email…
Editor’s Note: In accordance with the writer’s wishes, no bio or name is attached to this piece.