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After Brian Doyle
“It’s okay,” I told her.
She apologised: “I was just so out of it, you know.”
She had gotten in touch around the same time my legal advocate had notified me that the case had closed. “Lack of evidence,” he said. “You know, sometimes women are the worst in these cases,” he continued. “It’s the women on the jury who are the worst.”
I recalled all I had heard over the course of that year regarding those three months of rape. There was a guy friend’s slut-shaming defence. There were fatherly “don’t get drunk” rationalisations. There were the “he was your boyfriend” excuses from a dude boss. There was the “you just got drunk and slept with someone you barely knew” prosecutions from my previous boyfriend, a reduction of lethality into noxious romance. The psychology professor from undergrad asked, “Who do you need me to beat up for you?”
But she, a 19-year-old, had walked into a crime scene that night and crawled into the bottom bunkbed of a hostel workroom with me. I was 28 years old. I had lost my virginity to a serial rapist with warrants out for his arrest in Texas. She whispered, “It’s okay.”
Despite all of our vulnerabilities and the entirety of his hatred, the bloody comet stains up the white sheets where I had scooted up the mattress, trying to escape, the shaking, and the endless murderous excuses that existed in our flawed human connections, I did not push her away. I wrapped my quivering legs around her shorter ones. I clutched onto her at her tiny waist and pulled her close to my heaving chest. I took one hand and placed it on the small of her curled neck. She held me for six hours as I sobbed into her dirty blonde hair, pulled loosely into a messy bun, tendrils wrapping at her pale shoulders. Two women holding fast against that midnight. Two women woven together in the flesh, giving ourselves over to one another. I felt time halt and argue that who and what we hold within us is what we are. I felt numb, too, frozen in that inebriated still, rainbow graffiti doodling across a charcoal cityscape, shooting stars across a kitsch skyline, and the words “Katsooooooo,” the artist’s street name, sprayed all over. An out-of-place tiger graced a wall above a toilet. High local artists had stencilled Seattle’s outline in our hostel staff room. For six hours, I gazed, drugged up, at that inky complexion of contemporary civilisation rendered flat. Because all violence happened in connection, so did all healing.
I held her right back. For the rest of my life, I would hold onto that.
Michelle Renee Hoppe is a ghosty, nomadic artist, author, and educator with advanced degrees. Because reasons. She holds a BA in English from BYU, and she is an MA in TESOL/Applied Linguistics at Middlebury. Her work appears in Saw Palm, South 85 Journal, Cleaver Magazine, and HoneySuckle Magazine, among others. She teaches in the Bay Area.