*CW & TW for sexual assault
I didn’t want to be just another girl—
accusing some man—
of hurting her.
So, I stayed silent.
My story is a cautionary tale, like so many others I’ve heard lately. I’m sad that we hear things and nod internally in solidarity. I hate that I can empathize with survivors of sexual assault. I made all the wrong decisions. I did everything I wasn’t supposed to do and I got hurt. Those are the consequences, right? I have victimized myself over and over again with a line of questioning that I avoided from hospital professionals and police. I told myself I didn’t report it because I didn’t want to go through that. Then, I went and put myself through it. Sometimes, I still do.
I should have known when he wouldn’t meet me at the subway station in the Bronx. I was tough enough. I was almost 40. I’d been through a marriage filled with abuse and I’d survived. I went where I wanted, whenever I wanted. I moved out of the Midwest and right in the thick of city life. I knew the subway maps by heart. I crossed against the traffic signal like a ballsy New Yorker. When he told me that he needed a model and I could just hop on the train and subway, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. My mind is wallpapered with all of the things I shouldn’t have done, with all these things I should have known.
He was ex-military. Men in my family had served, I had a deep respect for those who did. He was a photographer, his portfolio was beautiful. We spoke as artists and I felt a connection.
“I don’t look like any of those girls you photograph. They’re gorgeous.” I said.
“I want to shoot you,” he said. “Up to you. I’ll pay you, of course.”
I don’t remember much, but I remember the smell of flowers. His apartment was near the New York Botanical Gardens, a place I wanted to go so I could draw and paint. I stocked my messenger bag with pencils and a couple of sketchbooks. If it got too late, he said I could crash on his couch. Maybe the next day I would head to the gardens.
I looked straight ahead, pretending I wasn’t nervous, as I put the sidewalk behind me on my march to his address. Never been to the Bronx, but I was fine. I was a grown ass woman, I could handle myself. Part of me couldn’t believe he wanted to hire me. I’m not exactly confident about my body. I also needed the money. A single mom of 2 high school girls, the bills kept coming in, without the requisite child support. I was going to art school part time, working full time. I was worn to the bone, but happy. Creating the life that I’d always wanted was empowering and expensive. This job would pay for more canvas and paint. At least I’d be able to justify the expense.
He was tall. Bigger than I imagined, but I’m not good with spatial relationships. He was also gorgeous and in a different situation I probably would have flirted with him. But, this was strictly professional. I slipped my bag off my shoulder and he showed me his lights, his back drop— a makeshift studio at the edge of his living room. Blue striped curtains in the kitchen window flared up inside with a sudden gust of warm summer breeze. I closed my eyes and inhaled as a grassy perfume invaded my senses. When I opened my eyes he was standing with a hip against the counter, his muscled arms crossed, eying me. He hadn’t said much.
“So how do we start? I told you I’ve never done this.”
The lunge came faster than I could respond. I’m not a small woman. I’ve never had someone haul me over their shoulder, I never really imagined that could happen. My stomach smacked against him hard enough to steal my breath. He picked me up like I was nothing.
Like I was nothing.
Not. A. Thing.
I spent what felt like hours in his bed. He pawed me, he ripped my clothes, he bit me everywhere he could. He raped me multiple times. He raped me until I couldn’t fight anymore. Not that my fight mattered. I was outmatched. I judged myself before he even stopped. I judged myself as he took what wasn’t his to take.
How many times could this happen to me? What was I thinking? How could I believe I was pretty enough for pictures? How stupid was I? Why hadn’t I told anyone where I was going?
“Why?” I cried over and over.
“I don’t take pictures of fat girls.”
He growled this at me as he bit my stomach again and again. He bit me so hard I still had his teeth marks with me for days. I’ve always hated my stomach and the extra weight there. He gave me reasons to hate it more. My breasts bruised so deeply from his fingers I couldn’t wear a bra for a week. When my throat was raw from crying and pleading, all of my wailing turned inside. I didn’t have the strength to let it out of my mouth or eyes anymore. He laughed and smacked me hard on the stomach, reached over for a bottle of whiskey and tilted it up in a big swallow.
Rape is hard work.
I waited and made myself small, until he passed out.
I ran all the way up the hill in that shitty Bronx neighborhood. I couldn’t take you back there if I tried. There’s so much I don’t remember. A senate judiciary committee would never believe me. A president has set the standard for my pain to be mocked and disbelieved.
But I remember the smell of the flowers, the ones I would never paint.
And now I’m just another girl—
accusing some man—
of hurting her.
Juliette van der Molen is a writer and poet living in the Greater NYC area. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Rose Quartz Journal, Burning House Press, Memoir Mixtapes, and You Are Not Your Rape (anthology). You can find more of her writing at Medium and connect with her on Twitter @j_vandermolen. Her debut chapbook, Death Library: The Exquisite Corpse Collection, was published in August 2018 by Moonchild Magazine.