This letter by Addison Post, a response to our June prompt, opens in a version of reality that’s difficult to interpret — a dream. Post, in their letter to their assaulter, acknowledges the difficulty of coming to terms with violence when its source is someone familiar, such as a friend or coworker. In dreams and memories, trauma can take on a life of its own. But in the same way that memories of violence can be complicated, Post also shows the complex nature of strength and recovery, and how the clarity that comes after making it through a difficult time ultimately is a powerful source of self-compassion.
by Addison Post
I had a dream about you. A few actually. About that time you got me drunk at the holiday party. And Lee, who always said he hired me to “promote women in our field”, thought it was good to see you finally “taking initiative” with me. And maybe I should have known better than to be drinking coke anyway.
The dream starts off just how I remember that evening. We were standing around the bar at Quigley’s, which was Allison from HR’s favorite place to go after work, and the waitstaff was good about bringing food but bad about accepting a “no” when you didn’t want to eat any more cold quesadillas. Most of our small team was standing over a round high table because all of the chairs had been taken except for one, which was being used by Stefan and his fiancée as they nursed a bottle of wine each.
I was drinking coke and you were drinking warm beer and everything seemed like the very boring affair I’d emotionally prepared myself for. I heard stories from spouses significant others, mostly the girlfriends who were meeting me for the first time. They were friendly, although some of them took a minute to wrap their head around the weird, quiet, short girl wearing jeans to a party that she ought to have dressed up for.
They told funny stories about their jobs and their yoga studios and their cats for what could have been hours and there were smiles and laughs for most of it. But I could feel my feet losing their grasp on the floor as the night went on. When you put your arm around me I was so grateful to have something anchoring me to the rest of the world that I said nothing. Lee, who often avoided me, seemed happy to try to make conversation as soon as I was less sharp.
I don’t know how different it really was, but in the dream I felt so much less manic, less dizzy. When it happened I thought it was me, I’d done something wrong or felt something wrong. Or deserved it. My grasp on reality was slipping, my vision got snowy but there were so many people I figured I just had to go with the flow.
The dream continues with how you leaned down and whispered in my ear that it was getting late, things would wind down soon and we could leave whenever I wanted to leave. And that I wanted to leave now. Didn’t I?
We shook hands and said goodnights for a few minutes, and you helped me tug my coat on after retrieving it from the active battle scene of the coat check. You took my hand and lead me out the back door and down the stairs into an empty alley.
You joked about work, to help me get comfortable. You said we were going “home”.
You lead me out past Michael and Erin, who I remember at that time were married to other people. They slurred their words, they stumbled into each other and had to use the back gate to hold themselves up. Their kiss was slow and sputtering, like train at rush hour that kept stopping too early on the platforms. I was invited to their wedding, it’s next month.
And we seemed to keep walking on and on and under streetlights, through gates, into puddles. Our walk seemed to never end and my legs kept getting heavier and you nearly had to carry me up the stairs to your second floor walkup. I lost my balance and you dragged me along and propped me down on a perfectly-made bed with my back to a wall. I fell back against it, finally. You kissed me and it wasn’t so bad. And then invariably I wake up, covered in sweat with tears streaming down my cheeks.
That’s not how I remember that night. I remember getting incredibly dizzy and channeling all of my energy into looking as though I was having fun with our colleagues and their significant others. I remember switching from coke to water but only feeling worse, and I remember asking you for help.
And then I remember waking up on a hardwood floor in your apartment. Naked under a blanket, covered in sweat, with tears streaming down my cheeks.
My clothes had been strewn on a sofa, I changed quickly and ran home. I showered for hours. I went to the gym and showered again. I stared out a window and showered a third time. My roommate thought I was having a breakdown from stress. When I finally told her, she asked if you really gave me something or if I was just drunk. She’d always liked you. That question always ate away at me. I would whisper to myself in the mirror for hours, just forming arguments for and against until I was empty. Or full, just of hatred for you.
But that’s not how I remember that either. We were close. I depended on you for sanity, and I think you depended on me too. We dumped feelings at each other when Lee spontaneously changed his mind about what the project was and Paul took credit for our work. We went to happy hours together, had mutual friends. You came to my house on New Years Eve and I went to yours for a Fourth of July potluck.
I tried to read about reliving bad memories in your dreams but it’s not really my thing. I’d much rather think about development than trauma. It’s evolutionary right? Like self-defense? You have to remember when people treat you like that. Even if it’s just to be weary of them when they’re nice to afterwards.
After you apologized in January for “whatever” even as you casually waved your arms like it wasn’t anything, I was so relieved. It felt like a fist unclenching in my neck. Just to think that I wasn’t hallucinating, that I knew myself enough to recognize it wasn’t me. But I wasn’t steady for long. Soon every day at work I’d think about whether or not to look for other things. I considered what leaving suddenly would do to my career and how I could avoid burning bridges. Why did I do that? Most days I was miserable, I wasn’t learning anything or getting anything done. My bosses were insensitive and didn’t care if I stayed or went. I didn’t get paid that much, in fact I made far less than you and many of the other men on our team.
I had trouble focusing and when you were talking to me or leaning over my shoulder I lost the ability to make out the words on the screen. By the time I’d started to look for other work, I felt as though I hadn’t contributed in weeks.
Maybe that’s why this doesn’t resonate with most people. At the beginning of my professional life, I thought being taken seriously was the most important thing. But being taken seriously at 25 was an option for me. An option that I let tumble out of my hands by being careless and social, and that I’ll probably never have again.
At my going away party, Lee told me he’d happily serve as my reference and I felt like he was mocking me. Here I’d been feeling so useless, I thought I was robbing him and that I should have been more grateful. But for what? Hiring me? And then treating me like the worst employee for being the youngest or the girl. Or the least comfortable.
It wasn’t until after I left that I found out you weren’t the only one to blame. There were other people, members of our team that I worked with and trusted every day, that wanted to see why I never drank. Erin, after making sure that I’d never tell on her and her boss, wondered why I was acting so strange and heard some of the guys joking about giving me something. She said it was a good thing you were there to take me home. That I could consider this a victory. That I was a survivor.
Addison is a writer and digital artist based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When they’re not writing, you can find them hiking, biking, and marching.