The final day of our youth group volunteering stint arrived on a beautiful autumn afternoon. The dry air felt as if it had finally lifted from the earth, like a heavy veil being pulled from a grieving face. Soon, the gardens would be green again, but for that moment, the cooler air was enough for me to feel nourished and thankful that there was a full time youth leader ready to take the reins and more importantly, the key from my chain.
Staying late at the hall after the pint sized religious battalion had marched on, had become a routine for Abby and I for two reasons; there was always something happening on a Saturday night and the room had a full length mirror, a luxury we were not blessed with in our own apartments. We brought a backpack full of essential supplies, complete with a mini iPod dock, makeup, and straighteners, and spent hours talking and getting ready.
Once the process was complete, we cleaned up any evidence and, using the combination of our strength while balancing on matching black stilettos, we managed to bring the doors together and lock the experience inside.
“Well, now I can add God’s Secretary to my resume, or even change my title to Saint Abby, kind of has a ring to it doesn’t it?” We laughed loudly with the noise of the music still echoing in our ears as we used our iPhone screens to light a dim path through the overgrown bushes towards our lonely cars.
“Fuck it’s creepy walking…” the rest of the sentence didn’t stand a chance, as the words were jammed back down my throat by a thick, suffocating palm which took with it my hearing as well as my voice. Panic gripped my world and my insides as my eyes darted around looking for Abby with the final seconds of light we were given from the fallen phones. Our eyes locked between the twigs and bodies as we were thrown down in succession with such force and lack of concern for the mounds of sharp debris waiting below that it felt like my heart fell out from my back ribs and into the earth, where it elected to stay.
My senses were freed from the wet embrace, but they no longer belonged to me; all I could hear was blood thumping through my ears as my skin prickled up towards the heavens. The Body was hurled onto mine, directed by its own impulse, as it grabbed and dragged at my skin, tearing it from its home and replacing it wherever The Body wanted to claw at next. As my hearing made sporadic comebacks, I could make out Abby’s challenged screams, snapping branches, passing traffic and her Body’s grunts and moans.
My legs were ripped apart as if they were the delicate legs of an injured spider at the mercy of its own torturer. Despite the thick mass between them, I clenched my thighs together so tight that I felt the snap of an elastic at the end of its tether and with that, my voice breathed to the surface again. A piercing scream left my throat but before it could reach its intended crescendo, The Body crashed its skull onto my mouth, leaving the rest of its torso free to continue the momentum. I lay limp. I lay silenced. I lay thoughtless and I stopped fighting while The Body took my control and put it in its back pocket.
As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for thou art with me.
The room is white and I am reddy-brown.
“Why am I dyed?”
“Sweetheart you didn’t die, you’re in the hospital. I’m here and your dad and Mark. And Abby is just down the hall.”
“I didn’t say dead. I said dyed. Dyed red”
Dad must have sensed the agitation in my voice and took it as a cue to step in and step closer.
“Bridie darling, you were attacked and you have some open cuts so they have just put some Dettol on you. We can wash it off soon, just get some rest.”
The room is white and I am clean.
“Babe you’re awake, fuck I was so scared. How do you feel? Can I get you anything? Am I allowed to kiss you? I swear to God I’m going to find the bastard that did this to you.”
The room is white and I am alone.
After only 2 days in hospital it felt premature to make us face the world again. My stitches would dissolve on their own and with refusal to take ‘just a daily pill’, there was apparently nothing more they could do than refer me to a mental health nurse and ‘start the process of healing,’ as the so-called professionals put it. Of course Abby saw it differently as she sat on the end of my bed and began her sermon.
“This is utter bullshit Bri. We are being pushed out of a private hospital when you can’t even walk properly yet. I haven’t slept since and I swear my ribs are broken but apparently there is nothing they can do about that either.”
The anger in her voice was unfamiliar, even when she found out her first love cheated on her, she never wore this amount of fierce hatred. I wondered if it was being wrongfully directed towards the hospital staff.
“At times like this I used to turn to God. What a fucking joke.” Nope, it was being directed at God.
“As if there is a God, I mean seriously Bri, can you imagine that we have spent a quarter of a century believing that there is some being, some spirit or whatever, guiding us through the path that he laid out for us. Thanks for the recent event God, that was awesome.” I knew there was meant to be sarcasm in her words, but to me there was just pain.
“I cannot believe that I have followed a life of religion, I know I haven’t been perfect, but if this is a punishment for a few glitches then that’s even more bullshit. I was a good catholic girl. Church every Sunday. Prayed every night. We were even youth group leaders for God’s sake! And this is what we get. There is no God.” I thought there was more to come considering the pace at which she was spraying the words out, but that was it. Enough said. We were raped and there was no God.
It felt like weeks had passed, and in reality it had been longer. I was different and time moved differently. I was now, in that moment, born again, a rape victim.
“Bri baby, do you think you might give your work a call today?”
A vacant sigh left my lips as I avoided eye contact of any kind. For the past ten weeks, Mark had been fielding calls from the shop needing my help desperately and even offering me a promotion to get back in amongst the size six fabrics, the taunting mannequins and the demanding customers who would do anything to become taunting mannequins.
“I hate to bring it up again, but it’s been over two months now and I’m really struggling to pay the rent on my own and … it will never be a good time to say it, but Bridie, do you think we’ll ever have sex again?”
The words cascaded from his open mouth as if they were all in it together, like a sentence wrapped in glad wrap, each word stuck to the previous one, hiding behind a clear film. I attempted to pick them up off the floor, as they had been intended for me after all.
His voice continued to make noise as he mumbled and fumbled over a justification of the question, but all I could hear was a deafening hum as I tried to make sense of a word that was just said. Maybe I should look it up in the dictionary: sex.
It was Wednesday night and while I was given immunity from two dinners after the ‘incident’ as it had been politely re-branded, I was back on the compulsory guest list for the third and each one after.
We arrived at the prayer, and even though Mum had been eyeballing me for weeks to say grace, I closed my eyes in avoidance and waited for my replacement to start. Once I knew everyone else was in mid-prayer, I opened my eyes and looked up from my crossed fingers, not in the way I used to as a defiant child waiting to be caught, but because I just didn’t give a shit anymore. Looking around the table with a quizzical scan, I suddenly realized I was in the presence of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John and there, at the head of the table, was Mother Mary herself. Fuck I need to get out of here I thought in an urgent panic, borrowing the combination of pain and anger from Abby’s hospital bedside speech which seemed to be on repeat in my mind, demanding attention over any new conversations I was trying to have.
Before I had to say another Amen, I got up from the table and just walked. I frantically walked out of the house, across the driveway and up the street, comforted by the open space and streetlights throwing my shadow and following shadows onto the bitumen.
“Please. Let me talk to her.” Abby yelled the words so loudly that even I couldn’t ignore her demand. I stopped and turned to see Abby in front and Dad, Mark and Sean, who had also been halted by her words. No doubt Mum made the three youngest boys, still under her reign, stay seated. God forbid there was a scene in the street caused by her family.
I must have been ignoring Abby at the dinner, or ignoring the dinner itself, because until her loud yell on the dead-ended cul de sac street, I was completely unaware that she was even at the house.
“Fuck, B.” She said in a whispered yell as she edged closer to me.
“Lucky your begging worked and I’m even at this dinner or else who would be chasing you down the fucking street.” I searched my memory to find the begging conversation she referenced, but it wasn’t there.
Her stern face relaxed as she laughed and pulled me to sit on a neighbour’s lawn under an umbrella of light cast from a dented street lamp, maybe she was scared of the dark too, I thought.
“Shit, you should have seen your Mum’s face when you just kept walking ... and before amen. Tsk tsk.”
She was on the way to start mimicking my mother’s pleas and then demands to sit down when I interrupted. “How can you make love again?”
She followed my change of subject without question and looked as if she was already about to cry, “I don’t make love. I just screw so that maybe I can start replacing some of those memories with new fucked up ones.” I looked at her with sympathy, or maybe empathy as I again changed the subject without warning.
“Do you really not believe in God anymore? I mean, like any of it?”
She made a loud sigh, as if I was an annoying toddler again asking for a repeat explanation about why the sky was blue.
“Bri. We were FUCKING RAPED! We were raped behind our church as we left youth group,” She chose to emphasise ‘fucking’ and ‘raped’ on both its appearances in the sentence. Maybe she thought I had forgotten.
“Do you think the almighty God or Jesus or Mary or even fucking Judas was looking out for us?” Her voice then quieted with a pause. She took my hand but stayed looking forward. “I would rather believe that none of it exists, than to think that there is a God that would let that happen to us. To make it all part of our divine life plan? What, so we can help other rape victims or start a fucking support group?”
“Maybe” I said, still in a mixed state of reasoning even after six months on my torn couch doing nothing but thinking and staring.
I peeled myself off the floor after Mark had shut the door behind him. He left enough money for me to pay rent for one more month. It was a kind gesture that I’m sure relieved his mind of any guilt he felt for leaving a five-year relationship which had become a shattered reflection of a crime rather than the out-of-home sex fest he had signed up for.
It was on the second day of Mark’s inevitable exit, and six and a half months since the attack, that I pulled out my laptop and let Google be my guide.
Google search one – God. ‘The supreme.’ ‘A spiritual endeavour to find one’s God.’
Google search two - Spirituality. ‘The search for the sacred.’
Google search three – The Sacred. ‘(2009) Creepy Supernatural Horror Movie.’
Google search four – Finding peace. ‘Enlightenment.’
Good search five – Enlightenment. ‘Full comprehension of a situation’ ‘Buddhism’ Click. ‘Yoga’ Click. ‘Yoga retreats’ Click. ‘Mixing yoga with charity.’ Click. ‘Take a journey to Nepal to find yogic enlightenment and walk in the shoes of those less fortunate than you - BOOK NOW’ Click.
There was the boy again, with the big calves and the big ying and yang tattoo threatening to take up the entire flesh of one of them. He sat in the aeroplane seat about nine away from me on a backwards diagonal. I could have sworn he was in the same place in proportion to me during the last flight, and now as we sat on the tarmac of Dhaka airport waiting to make the takeoff towards Kathmandu. This boy, with his colourful hippy shirt, knee length shorts and scruffy brown hair was eating Nerds, drawing my attention away from the knot in my stomach - that I had felt for the first seven-hour flight - and tightening his own. I wasn’t sure if it was because his tall, brick like frame frightened me, or because it just didn’t match his friendly attire and snack choice. The questions then began in my mind like a child with ADHD on a trampoline – Was he following me? Did he look at me? Is he alone or is there an accomplice on another strategically booked seat? Do I think he’s cute? Could he have gotten through airport security with a weapon? His body is his weapon. Is this The Body? Then the parent of the child interfered, Shut up, Bridie!