I posted a sneak peek of this novel in progress back in 2014. Since then, I’ve had five books published, and I’m almost done with a screenplay adaptation of Goddess of Suburbia. So, this book ended up on the back burner – but it’s my heart book and the hardest one to write. It’s no coincidence that it keeps getting pushed to the side by easier projects. But, now it’s closer to being completed, and I plan to adapt it for a screenplay at the same time. I’ve never posted an entire chapter online, and it’s a bit scary to do so, but I think this can help all of the women who are suffering in silence and those who are bravely coming forward, so I decided that now is the time to share this… (© 2017 Stephanie Kepke)
Warning – 16+ only. While the violence isn’t graphic, it can be harrowing…
So, here is Chapter One of Feel No Evil:
2:21. 2:22. 2:23. All I could see were the digital numbers of the clock. All I could hear was his menacing voice, “Is it going to be hard or soft?” All I could say was, “Please stop. Please don’t.” See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. They forgot feel no evil. All I could feel were his hands pushing down on my shoulders and the searing pain ripping through my core.
I close the journal—the flowers on its cover faded; the paper almost silk-like from age. It has been over twenty years—twenty-one years, to be exact—since I wrote those words. I wish that they were fiction from a long ago college creative writing class, but they aren’t—they’re real and every year on the anniversary of my assault I pull out that journal and read that entry. After I read it, I put the journal back in my old leather briefcase on top of my closet and drink a glass of wine. It’s my way of marking the anniversary and moving forward. My husband, Alec, keeps our kids downstairs or even takes them out for a slice of pizza or ice cream, so I can read it alone, in peace. So I can shed a tear or two.
I know that it might seem odd for a forty-one year old woman to still think about something that happened so long ago, but if you’ve ever been assaulted, you know that the fact of what happened never really goes away. It just sits like a rotten little bit of food in the back of the refrigerator. The smell will eventually take over the whole thing if you ignore it, so every year I pay attention to it—I take out that rotten bit of food, throw it in the symbolic garbage and try not to think about it, until it starts festering again a year later. It’s an odd ritual, to be sure, but one that works for me or at least it did work, until this year.
It’s a cruel joke being raped on tax day—for months before commercials remind me that the day is coming. “Don’t forget, April fifteenth is right around the corner,” a voice ominously intones. It’s everywhere, warning people of the day of doom. For me it’s the lead up to reading that passage. I know I’ll pull down the briefcase, I know I’ll open it to the same page and I know that I’ll put it back and lock down any thoughts of that April fifteenth so many years ago for another twelve months. But, as I put back the briefcase, I know that this year is different. This year I might not be able to lock it down. This year, the person who destroyed my life, Vin Merdone, just popped up on Facebook as “someone I might know” three days before April fifteenth and I realized that while he damn near ruined my life, his life just went on as happy as could be.
With morbid curiosity I had clicked through his profile pictures. There were pictures of him smiling on a beach; swimming with dolphins; lazing on a lounge; emerging from a pool and one of him holding up a beer, no doubt saying “cheers” to the person taking the picture. He looked happy and tan—and, quite honestly, had a slight menace about him, muscles bulging beneath the tattoos covering his arms—in all of them. The worst photo by far was the one of him kneeling next to a large shark lying in a pool of blood. The smile on his face was broad and satisfied, a cruel glint in his eye. I quickly moved on, the knot in my stomach tightening. One glance at his About told me that he now makes Miami his home. It didn’t look like he had a wife and kids, thankfully, but it did look like he was living a dream life, happy as could be.
The shock of seeing his face after all these years cut right through me—sure, he was older, but the set of his jaw remained, the curl of lip was the same. He still had a full head of hair—slicked back in most photos, giving him a look of smarmy intensity. When I clicked on our mutual friend, shock morphed into anger. The thought that my old friend, Sean, the friend who introduced us that fateful night, the friend who apologized so profusely and swore up and down that he didn’t know Vin was violent, the friend I thought I loved was still friends with this person, even on Facebook, filled me with a feeling I couldn’t quite name—rage, surprise, despair. Or perhaps it was all of those rolled into one.
I quickly “unfriended” Sean and started to block Vin. Only I couldn’t. It was like passing a car crash on the highway—I just had to look at it. I had to try to make sense of the man he is now, so maybe I could understand the boy he was then. Staring at his grinning face, once again I berated myself for only filing an anonymous police report—one that went on his record, but didn’t get him arrested.
Even worse, looking at those pictures, I spun back to that night. I had been drinking—I always admitted that, but I would never agree that drinking made me a victim, that anything other than violence made me a victim. Sean was hosting a party in his dorm room and Vin was there. After we talked for most of the party, Vin asked me to take a walk. Up until that point in my life, my sophomore year in college, I had only encountered people with good intentions. Even the drunk guys who hit on me at parties, took a “no” in stride and moved on to the next girl. If I did go home with someone, they too took my “no” in stride and were content to just fool around a bit, before I went back to my dorm room. I had never slept with anyone at college and I was proud of my ability to stand my ground. That all changed on an early spring night when I was twenty years old.
Vin was charming, regaling me with stories of growing up in the city, a hardscrabble kid who spent every day after high school training at a run-down boxing gym, but still worked his way into a scholarship to our small, liberal arts college in the country. He wanted to be a journalist, a music writer, and promised to take me to see his favorite band the next time they played in town. I liked the juxtaposition of tough guy and creative soul, so when he asked me to take a walk with him to look at the stars an easy “sure” slipped from my lips. Why wouldn’t I?
As soon as we stepped outside, he asked if I minded making a stop at his dorm. The spring night had turned chilly and he wanted to get a sweatshirt. For days, weeks, even months after, I beat myself up over the fact that I didn’t just stay in the lobby. When he said, “Do you want to come up?” I should have said, “No, I’ll wait here.”
I should have run back to my dorm, but I didn’t. I went up to his room and my life was never the same. As soon as we stepped in, he closed the door and locked it. He pushed me on the bed and climbed on top of me. It was so sudden and so shocking that I didn’t even know what to say, “Uh, uh, uh,” I spluttered. Then I managed to roll out from under him and bolt toward the door.
He stopped me, putting his arm up over my head, holding the door shut as I tried to pull it. He turned me toward the full length mirror behind the door and ran his hand down the side of my face, “So beautiful,” he whispered. “Why are you fighting me?”
“Let me go,” I hissed. Then I screamed. My screams brought feet running towards the door, followed by banging on it. As I tried to yell for help, Vin covered my mouth and only a muffled whimper came out.
“Go away,” he barked and they did. To this day I wonder who that person was—who listened to that “Go away” and decided that it was more important than my screams. It didn’t really matter of course. No one else bothered to try to save me—not even when Vin dragged me out to the bathroom a few minutes later, growling, “I need to take a piss and you have to come with me. I don’t trust you to stay if I leave you here alone.” Of course he was right. I would have left in a second.
Our dorms had co-ed bathrooms, so no one really thought twice about a guy and a girl heading into the bathroom together. Even though there were tears streaming down my face, even though his hand gripped the top of my arm as he dragged me. I stood in that stall while Vin urinated, my face to the metal wall, trying desperately to think of a way to escape. If I went under the stall would he turn, showering me with urine and pull me back by my leg? Would he catch me and smash my face into the wall? I didn’t know.
There really was nothing I could do, but stand there. Of course after, I went through all of the possible scenarios in my head obsessively. If I had just slid under the stall and ran out, someone surely would have helped me. If I had screamed loudly enough, maybe someone would have come to my rescue. But, that night I was paralyzed. I was a twenty year old girl and I just didn’t see a way out.
Back in Vin’s room, he pushed me back on the bed, that bed with black satin sheets that rose up in my dreams after like they had a life of their own. He held me down so hard that the next day I was left with purple fingerprints ringing both of my shoulders. I remember going to my favorite teacher, my creative writing professor, two days later not saying a word, just pulling my shirt back to show her my shoulders and she knew right away. She sent me to the Women’s Counseling Center on campus and I told my story.
My counselor marveled that I never cried. “How are you so strong?” she asked every time I came to see her. “What you’ve been through is so horrendous, Kate, even the strongest person would cry. I think you really need to cry,” she implored, so I never went back.
I called my high school boyfriend with whom I had broken up just a few months before, but remained close, and told him what had happened. I heard a loud thud and he said, “Sorry, Kate, I just punched a hole through the wall. I’ll need to call you back.” The next weekend he drove five hours to my school from his. When he arrived, he asked around and found out where Vin lived. He put Vin’s head through a wall, rather than just his fist.
Violence begat more violence as little by little people heard about what happened. A friend who had a crush on me and lived on the floor below Vin called me up a few days after and said, “Hey, Kate, I’m smoking a victory joint. Just beat the crap out of Vin. So, will you go out with me now?”
“You don’t get it,” I whispered. No one got it. My roommate, Heather, told me not to press charges, because I would just get blamed, since I had been drinking. “Let the boys keep beating him up,” she said between cracks of gum. “That’s vigilante justice, the best kind. Like Steven Seagal. He’s so hot.”
I didn’t care about vigilante justice. I didn’t care about much of anything. Days later, I still took the hottest showers I could stand, trying to wash traces of Vin off of me, even after they were long gone. I wandered around campus, hollow eyed, lack of sleep threatening to derail my studies and my sanity. I couldn’t go back to the Women’s Center, because I didn’t cry in front of people, and I wasn’t about to start. I couldn’t talk to my friends, because they didn’t understand.
The only person who seemed to listen to me was Sean, even though he was the one who had introduced me to Vin. I had stumbled back to his room that night and he held me all night long as I trembled and bit my lip, holding back tears. He didn’t try to beat up Vin. He just listened to me, no doubt feeling guilty about introducing us.
It was Sean’s idea to file the anonymous police report. He reasoned that if Vin did it to anyone else, that report would show up and he’d get kicked out of school for sure. He went with me to the campus police station and held my hand while I waited to fill out paperwork. That night, I slept on the couch in his dorm room. He tucked me in with a soft blanket and kissed my forehead. In fact, most nights I slept on the couch in his dorm room under that soft blanket. It was the only place I felt safe.
Slowly I fell in love with him, because he was the only person who didn’t answer violence with violence, who didn’t judge me. But we didn’t date. I was terrified of losing him if things went sour and I just wasn’t ready to date anyway. Heather couldn’t understand why I didn’t tell Sean how I felt. “He’s the one I go to when anything goes wrong,” I explained.
“That’s the person you’re supposed be with,” she insisted. “Your boyfriend should be the person you go to for everything. I just don’t understand why you’re so stubborn.” She shook her head.
It was simple to me—if I dated Sean and we had a fight, to whom would I run? No one, because there was no one else who could comfort me like he did. Yes, I still suffered from night terrors, even when he held me. I was still afraid to walk anywhere alone. But when we were together, I somehow felt safe—or at least safer than anywhere else.
But even Sean had his limits. Even Sean couldn’t sit by and watch me suffer endlessly without trying to fix me. I wanted him to just listen to me when I called in the middle of the night or showed up at his door, but he begged me to get help. I told him I didn’t need it. “I’m strong,” I insisted, after waking on his couch at the crack of dawn, shaking. A year later I still slept on Sean’s couch in his apartment some nights and he still woke whenever I did, just to comfort me.
“Getting help doesn’t mean you’re not strong, Kate,” he whispered right before he kissed me for the first and last time. “It just means you’re smart.” The kiss was crackling with the electricity between us and gentle at the same time. It was everything I dreamed it would be, and it filled me with terror. I threw on my sweatshirt and left.
Walking home in the stillness of early morning, I knew it was the wrong decision, but I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t risk losing Sean if I wasn’t ready to be with someone—and I really didn’t know if I was ready. It was easier to not even try. And I definitely wasn’t ready to hear that I needed help. Even just considering it made me see myself as weak. I called Sean when I got back to the off-campus house I lived in with Heather and three other girls. “I’m sorry I left,” I whispered.
“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
“I didn’t leave because of the kiss. It had nothing to do with it.”
“What was it then?”
“Look, you’ve been there for me during one of the toughest times of my life and if there’s anyone I’d want to be with, it’s you. But, I’m afraid I won’t be ready to do more, and I don’t want to risk losing you. I just…” I paused, searching for the right words. “I just can’t be with you like that right now.”
“I would never push you, Kate. I respect you so much. It was just a kiss. I didn’t expect it to lead to anything else. I think you know me well enough by now to know that.”
“I know,” I said quietly. “I’m just scared of losing you—what if we get together and it’s not good for you. I haven’t been with anyone at all since what happened with Vin.” His name was poison in my mouth. It lingered on my tongue. I grabbed a bottle of juice out of the mini-fridge I kept in my room and quickly took a swig, swishing it around my mouth. Of course, I couldn’t say what actually happened—it was hard enough just saying his name.
“If we were ever together…” Sean began before pausing, his voice low and unmistakably sexy. “It would be amazing. Really, really amazing. I just know it. That one kiss…” He trailed off.
“You know, Heather said that if we ever slept together, it would be like finding the lost planet.” I confided.
“Smart girl, that Heather. You know it would be.”
I knew Sean was right. But I just couldn’t let go of the pain and fear. Or perhaps I just wasn’t ready to—it was safer to stay surrounded by an impenetrable wall and blame it on the incident, as I often called it. And Sean kept his word—he didn’t push me at all. In fact, he never even tried to kiss me again. We simply settled back into our friendship—easy banter, dinners that never turned into breakfasts. I hardly even slept over Sean’s apartment anymore. Just once in a while I crashed on his couch after a night out and left before he woke. He dated a lot of girls our senior year—a different one every weekend—perhaps to fill the void left by the evaporation of our potential. We remained very close, but as the last of our college days slowly became memories, it was clear that I had missed my chance.
Still, I missed Sean terribly when I moved home after graduation. I didn’t know how I would handle life without him as my safety net, so by the fall I moved back to our college town where he had stayed to get his masters in forensic psychology. I almost told him that I loved him when he shared that he wanted to pursue that field, so that he could put people like Vin behind bars. Almost. I wanted the moment to be perfect. I wanted to be ready to give everything of myself to him and I still wasn’t ready to have sex with anyone. Not even Sean.
As crazy as it may seem to move away from home for just a friend, I wanted to be close to him. And not just because we hung out most weekends, curled up on his couch, watching movies. Not even because he listened to me if I called in a panic at 2:30 am, shaking from the nightmares that still haunted me. No, I wanted to be in the same town because I wanted to be able to act the moment I was ready.
I had it all planned out—I would bring over a bottle of our favorite wine, maybe some Chinese food and When Harry Met Sally to watch on video. While we were on the couch watching the movie, I’d tell Sean that he was my Harry, and then kiss his neck, moving my way down. I’d slowly unzip his jeans and take him in my mouth just to show him that I was okay with it after everything that happened. I imagined him carrying me to his room and making love to me so gently that all the pain locked up inside of me would just release in a torrent of tears, the good kind. I wouldn’t be broken anymore, because Sean’s love would fix me.
Only, I waited too long for that perfect moment, not realizing that there’s no such thing. A moment is perfect when you make it that way—it doesn’t just magically present itself. I finally understood that when Sean called me before dawn one morning to tell me that he’d gone on a date with a woman from one of his classes, Nicole. “It was amazing,” he whispered. “We connected instantly. She’s unlike anyone I’ve dated, maybe because she’s older—twenty-seven. She knows what she wants and is strong and smart. I’m so sorry I woke you, but I just had to tell you.” I cried myself back to sleep.
None of the women he dated before mattered to him, so they didn’t matter to me. But this one…this one mattered. It was a punch to the gut to realize that Sean wasn’t “mine” anymore—if he ever was. The more serious Sean got with Nicole, the further apart we grew. He admitted to me early on that Nicole was a little jealous of our relationship and until he knew exactly where they were going, we wouldn’t be able to hang out as much. “It’s not that I’m choosing her over you, it’s just that she’s my girlfriend and it’s still kind of new. I need to respect her wishes. You understand, right?”
I had no choice. “Sure, I understand. You do what you need to do—I’ll be here.” That was when I stopped eating. I shouldn’t say that—I ate, but only the simplest food possible. My guts were shredded with pain at all times—the cost of being strong and not crying, I know that now—and nothing sat well in me. My diet shrank to a few choices that didn’t leave me doubled over in pain and guzzling Pepto Bismol—plain English muffins, toast, pasta and baked potatoes. And even those I ate in small amounts. It wasn’t the first time food became the enemy, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it was the hardest to claw my way back from.
I lost almost twenty pounds and my once womanly curves diminished into boyish angles. At 5’2” I weighed eighty-seven pounds. Deep down I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t admit it. And there was only one person I wanted next to me. Only one person whom I felt I could trust. I dated here and there, but never for more than a month or two and usually just weeks—as soon as sex was on the table, I was gone. Sean was the only man I trusted enough to even consider it. After we drifted apart, I called him one night and asked him to meet me at our favorite haunt. He was also the one person I felt I could talk to about what I had become. And because well; I missed him. I hadn’t seen him in several months and we rarely talked on the phone. His hand flew over his mouth when I walked into the bar. “What did you do to yourself?” he blurted out.
“What do mean?” I looked down at myself, smoothed out my miniskirt; adjusted the straps on my tank top. Of course, I couldn’t see just how bad my jutting collar bones, my knobby knees and my skeletal arms really were.
Sean struggled for words, “It’s just, well. I don’t know—you used to be so hot, so…curvy.”
“I don’t ever want to see you again,” I spat. I turned and bolted out the door, tears streaming down my face. Of course Sean followed me out, grabbed my elbow and turned me around.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I’m just worried about you. It looks like you’re killing yourself, and I’ll say it again, I think you need help. I shouldn’t have said anything about being ‘hot.’ It was just—I haven’t seen you in months and it surprised me. It slipped out—that’s all. Of course you still look good. You’ll always look good to me. You know, I miss you, Kate.” He grinned and my heart tumbled a little bit. I still craved his support and I still missed him too, but I didn’t want to get help. I didn’t think I needed help.
“I miss you too, but you have a girlfriend now. We’ll never know what could’ve happened between us,” I bit my lip and turned away. I didn’t want him to see me cry.
“I’m so sorry, Kate. But, I couldn’t wait around forever for you. You knew how I felt about you, and yet you made it clear I was just a friend.”
“Do you think I would have moved four hours away from my home and my family for just a friend, Sean?” At that point I didn’t even care that the tears were streaming down my face. “Do you?”
“No, I guess not. But why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you ever say how you felt?”
“I was going to—I was going to bring a bottle of wine and When Harry Met Sally over and blow you.”
“Well, that’s just not fair to tell me that now…” Sean looked away and I couldn’t tell if he was serious or joking around. “Why would you tell me that now when there’s not a fucking thing I can do about it?” I got my answer in the anger and frustration lacing his voice.
“It’s not too late. Maybe we are meant to be. Maybe Nicole was just a place holder, so I could get my head together and we could try.” I felt a little guilty trying to break them up—I was just proving that Nicole was right to be jealous of me. But my love for Sean was stronger than the guilt.
“It is too late, Kate. I got engaged last week. I didn’t know how to tell you—I was really glad when you called, so I could tell you in person. Things have just been in a whirlwind, and I didn’t get to call you, though I wanted to. I really did.”
“But you didn’t, Sean. You didn’t bother to tell me. We were best friends for so long. I moved here to be closer to you—so as soon as I was ready for a relationship, you’d be right there.”
“You weren’t ready for a relationship, though, and I didn’t know if you’d ever be. I also didn’t know if your being not ready was an excuse, and you just didn’t see me that way.”
“You know I loved you.”
“How could I have known, Kate?” Sean just stared at me and I didn’t know what to say.
“That’s what I thought, I couldn’t know. Right?”
“Right,” I said quietly.
“Look, I’m sorry. I’m sorry we drifted apart. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I got engaged, and I’m sorry that you’ve been having such a hard time and I didn’t know.”
“How’d we drift so far apart that I didn’t even know you got engaged, Sean? How did that happen?” I asked angrily, not giving him a chance to answer. “I’ll tell you how—Nicole didn’t want you to see me and you listened. Our friendship didn’t mean anything to you. Goodbye, Sean. Congratulations on your engagement.” I climbed into my car and drove away.
I never called Sean again. Part of me blamed him. I felt that if he truly cared about me, he would have waited patiently for me to be ready to give myself to him. He would have pushed me harder to get the help I needed, so we could be together. If he truly cared about me and missed me, he would have tried harder to stay in my life, instead of letting Nicole banish me. But the more rational part of me realized that no matter how hard he pushed, until I was ready to get help, it wouldn’t have mattered. And really, how long could I have expected him to wait for me?
Over the years I kept up with Sean’s life through our mutual friends. I still cared about him, how could I not? I heard about when he and Nicole married a year after we last spoke. And when his first child was born, I almost sent a card, but didn’t. I still missed his friendship, and I knew that he had been right all along. I had needed help.
A few months after the last time I saw Sean, I was driving down a long, dark road on my way back from visiting my family for the weekend when I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain came on the radio. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically, and still had an hour of driving ahead of me. At dinner that night I had eaten only a roll and a few bites of plain pasta, ignoring the looks from everyone at the table. After dinner, my mother pleaded with me to move home, so she and my family could take care of me. I told her I was fine. I told her that life on my own was just great. But as my high beams danced with the moonlight on that long drive, I listened to Carly Simon croon and knew I wasn’t fine.
“I’m done,” I whispered. “No more.”
The next day I pulled a creased business card from my wallet and dialed the number I knew by heart. My doctor had recommended a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. I balked, protesting that I didn’t have an eating disorder. He pressed the card into my hand and said softly, “Yes, you do. You just don’t realize it and that’s the most dangerous combination. If you don’t get help, you’re going to wind up hospitalized, because I’m going to put you there.” I decided the doctor couldn’t put me in the hospital, if I didn’t go back to him. Simple enough. I was in no rush to get help. I looked at the card for weeks. I moved it from my night table to my desk to my wallet. I memorized the number. I even called once or twice, but hung up.
Making that call was the hardest thing I had ever done, because it meant admitting out loud that I needed help. But, I made it and I began seeing Robin, a soft spoken social worker who actually managed to get me to shed a tear here and there. More importantly, she got me to realize that there was something a lot deeper behind my stomach ills, more than just an intolerance to all but the plainest food. My fear of getting back into life and relationships was deeply entwined with a fear of food.
Little by little I faced the fears left so deeply entrenched in me by the rape. And little by little I started to eat more. By the time I met my husband a year later I had gained ten pounds and some of my curves back. I ate butter on my bread and marinara sauce on my pasta. I ate chicken and vegetables and pizza. I smeared cream cheese on my bagels. I was getting, if not happy, then at least content. My anxiety, unhappiness and fear no longer defined me. I teetered on the brink of normalcy.
Of course I told my husband, Alec, about what had happened to me, but at that point it wasn’t the center of my story anymore. The rest of my life took up the middle—my job that had morphed from entry level telemarketing into actual research and development for a marketing and events firm, my work volunteering at the local animal shelter, my new apartment. Even though what spurred me to live on my own hours from my family, my friendship with Sean, was gone, I stayed in our little college town, making a life here. I loved stopping at the coffee shop in the morning and browsing in the book store in the evening. I loved the energy and charm of the town and those were all the things I shared with Alec. The assault was just around the fuzzy edges—always there, but not in sharp focus.
Honestly, if I had met Alec a year earlier when that night was still front and center, I don’t know how long we would have lasted. Not that I don’t love my husband, but he likes things easy and happy. When we started dating, he told me that he loved that I was so low maintenance—I’ve spent a good number of years painting the picture that I am, even if deep inside, I’m not. I practice tai chi and meditate. I try not to scream, even when I want to. I work hard to make sure that the sinister thread of darkness woven through the fabric of my existence never wraps itself around my brain again.
Of course even as my adult life unspooled with relatively little drama—married a great guy, had two babies, there were times that the scars of being assaulted sprang to the surface in moments I would never have expected. One morning just before dawn my toddler, Jacob, climbed on top of me to get into my bed, pushing down on my shoulders. I screamed and bolted upright, nearly tossing him off the bed. The primal fear that enveloped me was a shock; I thought I was over it. Jacob started screaming too, and Alec shot up, as well, yelling, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” I told him I thought I saw a spider—a ridiculous lie—I just couldn’t admit the truth.
But as the years went by and my kids got bigger and our lives more hectic, I was able to compartmentalize that fear into a very back corner of my brain—one I only unlocked once a year on that anniversary. And, that worked—it really did, until Vin showed up on Facebook. I had reconnected with Sean a few years earlier on Facebook. I really missed his friendship and when he popped up as someone I might know, I saw it as an opportunity to apologize for the last time we saw each other; I saw it as a chance to make amends.
Before sending him a friend request, I scrolled slowly through his pictures. I saw that he had four kids and I felt a twinge of jealousy—I always wanted four kids, but Alec insisted we stop at two. For years I argued it and I even tried to get “accidentally” pregnant, which I did eventually—I wasn’t proud of it, but Alec was actually excited when he found out that I was expecting.
It wasn’t as nefarious as it sounded. I didn’t skip taking my pill or poke a hole in my diaphragm. We used the rhythm method, and I told Alec that it was a safe time when I wasn’t quite sure if it was. I figured if he was willing to use the rhythm method, he should be able to handle a surprise pregnancy. And he was able to handle it—he even admitted that he was kind of hoping I would get accidentally pregnant too, but making a conscious decision to have another child filled him with fear. I think I knew that, which is why I said it was safe, when it wasn’t. What could have destroyed us though, made us stronger. We were both over the moon, but I had a miscarriage at eleven weeks and even though we tried in earnest after I lost the baby, I couldn’t get pregnant again.
By the time I saw Sean’s pictures I had given up my dream of having a bigger family—things had just gotten too easy with the four of us, but for just a moment I found myself imagining another reality in which there was never a Nicole. A reality in which I told Sean my true feelings, and we married young and had babies—a lot of babies—young. An alternate reality in which I said, “You know what—you’re right; I need help, and I want you there with me while I get better. I love you and I want to be with you, even though I freaked out over a little kiss.”
Or even an alternate reality in which he said, “No, don’t walk away. I love you. I want a chance to see what we could be together. I want to stay by your side while you get strong.” I didn’t know if my little fantasy was simply the result of my envy over his brood or unresolved feelings for Sean, so I didn’t contact him right away.
After a few days I decided that contacting him was harmless—who hasn’t fantasized about an alternative path to their lives? Kind of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books I loved when I was a kid. I sent Sean a friend request with a message saying that it had been years, but that I hoped he forgave me for the way I acted the last time I saw him. I told him that I did eventually get help and that I was happy. I didn’t tell him that sometimes I wondered what could have been if he had waited for me. Those thoughts belonged in the past.
I heard back from him right away. He said that of course he forgave me and that he was happy that my life had turned out so well. And, while we didn’t talk often on Facebook, we did post birthday wishes on each other’s wall and send each other the occasional How are you doing? message. Nothing I could feel guilty about and just knowing that I could “talk” to him, even on Facebook, made me feel, well, happy.
But, when I saw that he was Facebook friends with Vin, I lost any sense of warmth that I may have had for him. In fact, I was furious. When he wrote to me a week later to ask why I unfriended him, explaining that he was going to send me a message and saw that we were no longer friends, I didn’t even ask him about the message. I really didn’t care.
I simply answered with a missive about loyalty and sensitivity and honoring our friendship, which obviously meant nothing to him. I said that I couldn’t believe that after everything that Vin had put me through, after the ramifications of that night that lasted far longer than I could have imagined—that he would accept a friend request from him or even worse send him a friend request himself. I told him that even as an adult I still had moments of fear that I would slip back into an eating disorder if something sparked my memories deeply enough. That was really the root of why seeing Vin on Facebook terrified me. I knew that it’s such a gossamer line between well and unwell, between balanced and on the edge, ready to tumble over the precipice.
I was terrified that seeing him would send me careening back to those days when food was my enemy and just getting through the day was a monumental task. And I couldn’t believe that Sean would be the one to put me in that position. Vin wouldn’t have shown up if we didn’t have a friend in common. I would have been blissfully unaware that he was out there in cyberspace, collecting friends and showing off pictures of his beach house. I would have assumed that he was rotting in jail somewhere. I would have assumed that someone, far braver than I, reported him for another heinous crime and he paid the price. But no, now I had irrefutable evidence that he hadn’t paid any price at all—that he may have even done what he did to me to others and probably never had to face the consequences. And I felt that my knowing all this was Sean’s fault. I hated him for letting Vin off the hook, for not saying, “You ruined my friend’s life, I loved her and you ruined her. You ruined the possibility of us.”
Really, I blamed Vin for the wall around me that kept Sean out so long ago. I blamed him for the shock on Sean’s face when he saw me at the bar after all those months. Vin caused the eating disorder I learned in therapy. Vin ruined mine and Sean’s chance at happiness. He ruined what could have been. I think it would have been easier if Sean and I had actually dated—if we had a relationship and it just ran its course. Regret is the most insidious of emotions.
I was so mad that all of those feeling had to be stirred up again. I was so mad that my tidy little life with my husband and my two wonderful boys suddenly felt like a house of cards about to tumble. Sean wrote back to me right away that he was sorry and that he would be happy to unfriend him if that would make me feel better; of course he never liked him. He was just being polite in accepting Vin’s friend request. I didn’t write back.
Now as I slip that time-worn flowered journal back into my leather briefcase and lift it up onto the top shelf of my closet, I wonder if I should write back to him. I don’t feel like having a glass of wine, but I brought one up with me, so I sit down in my reading chair and lift it to my lips. It burns slightly as it goes down and I make a mental note not to buy this white anymore. I always drink white wine after reading the journal. Red would seem like blood and it gives me a headache anyway.
I take a few more sips and grab my laptop off of my bed. I click on Facebook and then Sean’s messages to me. I stare at his face in the little thumbnail and wonder how we managed to hurt each other so much. One of Sean’s roommates told me that Sean was devastated when I ran away from our one kiss. I thought that he must have been exaggerating—I mean it was only a kiss. Now I wonder if he really was devastated. Maybe he thought that I didn’t care about him enough to try to get better, to try to let him in.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I cared too much. Sean saw me as I was, and it scared the hell out of me—plain and simple. As long as I was alone, I couldn’t bring anyone down with me, I reasoned back then. Looking back on it, I finally understand that it was just as hard for him to watch me suffer and maybe that was why he didn’t try harder to convince me to give us a chance. I would imagine it’s awful watching someone you love destroy herself. And I do believe he loved me.
After I went to therapy, after I started eating, I thought about contacting Sean and telling him I was better. I knew he was engaged to Nicole, but some small selfish part of me desperately wanted one more chance. I imagined him realizing the marriage would be a mistake, realizing that he was really meant to be with me. I just couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be right, and I knew rather than Sean having an epiphany, he’d probably just be pissed that I was disrupting his tidy life.
I heard all about Sean and Nicole’s elegant, yet simple wedding at a mountainside resort from one of our mutual friends. It sounded perfect, and I knew I was right not to contact him. I met Alec two weeks later. I think I was open to finally meeting someone, because I knew that my opportunity with Sean was long gone. It was probably for the best. We both got a happy ending, just not with each other.
I start to type, Yes, please unfriend him…and erase it. I type, Why, Sean, why did you ever friend him in the first place? and erase that. I drink another gulp of wine and cough a bit. Alec took the boys, Oliver and Jacob, to a movie this year now that they’re ten and twelve years old. It’s odd that it’s like a little celebration for them and they have no idea why—no idea that it’s the worst day of the year for me. They just know that they get to spend time with Dad while Mom stays upstairs—a rarity. They won’t be home for another hour. I can take as much time as I need to decide what to do next.
What I really want to do is drink the whole damn bottle of wine and send Vin a message, tell him that even though he probably has no recollection of me whatsoever, I can never forget him. I can never forget his face or the feel of his hands pressing down on my shoulders or the pain he sent ripping through me as he thrust into me or even how he almost choked me, when he shoved himself in my mouth—or the shock I felt when he dove down on me, his teeth roughly scraping delicate skin. That night was more than half a lifetime ago, but I’ll never forget. I go to his profile and click on send a message. I type Fuck you, you fucking piece of shit asshole, but close it. I could never send a message, because then he would see me. He might remember me, he might not, but I never want him laying eyes on me or my children.
Instead of sending him a message, I click on the three dots next to send a message and down drops a box with a choice to click Report or Block. While I’m so tempted to report his profile, I can’t really say that I’m reporting him for something he did to me over twenty years ago—I’d need to report him for something against Facebook rules on his profile now. I click on Block and a box appears, warning me of all of the things Vin can’t do if I block him, like see things I post on my timeline, tag me or invite me to events or groups. The best one says that he can’t start a conversation with me. He can’t add me as a friend either. Fine by me. More than fine. I click Confirm and with that Vin is blocked. I feel a rush of relief, a feeling of power. Something I couldn’t do all those years ago—block him—I can do now, even if it’s just virtually.
I click back on Sean’s message and type, Okay, I forgive you. Please unfriend him for me. You don’t need to tell him why. He has hundreds of friends and if you really don’t keep in touch he probably won’t even notice. Just do it for me. I’m sorry. No, I’m actually not sorry at all. Just do it. Please.
Not even a moment later, a message pops up, Done. I would never want to hurt you on purpose. You know, I’ll always regret the way our friendship ended back then—no matter how happy I am in my life now. The hurt in your eyes, the way you looked so fragile, like you could just snap in two, will always haunt me. I know today is the anniversary—I can’t forget that date either. That night crushed me too for what it did to you, and I’m so, so very sorry that I was the cause of you seeing Vin again, even if it was just on a screen. You’re a strong woman, Kate. I always thought that and I always will. You’re a survivor and that’s something that Vin can never take away from you. Please remember that.
I smile as I read Sean’s message. “He’s right you know,” I say out loud to no one and take another sip of wine. Then, I take that rotten bit of psychic food and throw it right into the garbage—rid of it for another year.
For a moment I think about taking back down that flowered journal and burning it or at least throwing in the recycle bin. Or maybe pulling out the pages and shredding them. But, then I realize that everything recorded in that journal made me who I am today. Destroying it would be destroying a part of myself. I need to own the dark parts, as well as the light. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that tamping those dark parts down, pretending that they don’t exist, is the most dangerous practice of all. So, I’ll live with the knowledge that there may always be a small part of me that’s broken and that’s okay. Because, just like Sean said, I’m stronger than I’ll ever know. I’m a survivor.