TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with an account of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people. Reader discretion is advised.
I’ve always wondered what rock-bottom would feel like. Prophetically, I also always knew I’d somehow hit it.
Would it be a sharp sting or a hard thump? Would there be a scar?
It turns out there would be no physical marks, nothing to symbolically represent the mental anguish I would experience. The deepest scars tend to be the ones we cannot see.
“You have the sort of smile that brightens up a room. You’re so pretty.”
My baser instincts kick in. Immediately, I know something is horribly amiss. Why would a forty year old male tutor be complimenting a sixteen year old female student around whom he should have drawn very distinct professional boundaries?
I mentally raise an eyebrow. A few seconds pass. I place the lead tip of the pencil to the paper to continue solving the problem.
‘X times the square root of three –‘
My thoughts are interrupted by his voice, which seems to have dropped an octave lower.
“You’re a dirty girl. You’re a very dirty girl. I would bend you over the table and break your pelvis, you naughty girl,” he growled at me, intensely angry.
I freeze in my chair, rooted to that very spot. Logically, I am aware that the fight-or-flight reaction should be kicking in, any nanosecond now. But no, my cells are in pause mode. I feel the blood pulsating through my veins, but my heart does not accelerate, my pupils do not dilate and my breathing remains deliberate and measured. I stare straight on, unable to blink.
He reaches out and snakes his arm around mine, trying to grab me.
Someone presses play. I grab the edge of the table and jolt backwards, banging the wooden chair many feet behind me against the wall. The loud crash creates the first waves of reality pulsating through the room. Someone save me. Why hasn’t anyone walked into the living room? My insides twist like serpents.
An enchantment may have lifted. He looks back at the book and repeats the next problem out loud as though the previous events never occurred.
It takes an eon for him to stand up, abnormally tall and disgusting, and walk out the front door never to be seen again, leaving me for the flies.
And thus, the shock of the assault starts to settle within my cells and the crying jags begin. There is no ‘eject’ button in life, and no one can truly save anyone else from the evils that seep in through the cracks like poison gas.
Three solid weeks of my life are lost while I barricade myself in my room and cry, mourning for the death of blissful innocence. An unnamed aspect of myself I barely noticed beforehand was brutally murdered by the event, like an extremity of which I was only vaguely aware got chopped off.
“Is the social worker in school today?” I ask a friend who was famous for her “troubled” ways and the numerous hours she spent in that tiny, cramped office.
“Yeah, I think she’s here after lunch.” She eyed me with suspicion. “Things aren’t okay.” Her assessment wasn’t a question.
“Ya.” I pinched my lips together and bobbed my head up and down with my eyes wide and disbelieving.
The arms of the clock moved like a turtle on sedatives, but the clock eventually struck twelve and I left a classroom to find the office.
“I feel like it was my fault, like I did something to instigate it.”
“Textbook victim reaction. You did nothing wrong. Sounds like you came across a real creep.”
“But I feel so disgusting.”
“I know a good trauma counselor who deals with cases like yours. I’d think you’d really benefit from counseling for a while, so I’ll give you the business card and you’re going to have to try to get some help.”
“Okay. I’ll be okay.”
“Take the card.”
I am reassured that I am a totally normal specimen produced as a consequence of being incubated within a highly abnormal situation.
“What about finals? I can’t concentrate. I’d rather take them at the end of the summer. I want to be left alone.”
“I’ll talk to the administration.”
And with that, I take my leave.
When I finally pluck up the courage to admit to my parents everything that had happened, they respond predictably. My father ignores the situation, unable to accept the fact that someone dared harm his little girl. My mother forbids me from seeing a trauma counselor because she fears someone will find out and she will be branded as a bad mother. There’s no logic to any of this, but I’ve grown used to dealing with dysfunctional attitudes and know little else.
I rip up the business card containing a potential savior’s phone number in front of my mother to prove to her that I’m okay. The pieces float one by one into the garbage. How very apropos: I’m in tatters as well. The mental anguish I am forbidden from expressing, from wailing, makes my face contort like a wax figure as I turn away.
I make my way up the well-worn rickety steps and take a seat in one of the mismatched chairs.
“Under the circumstances, I think things are extreme enough for me to deserve a rest,” I say strongly.
The social worker nods her head a millimeter to the right, and a millimeter to the left.
“They basically said, get over it.”
My jaw dropped. The nerve.
“I know, I know,” she emphasized, “This isn’t right, but academics reign in this place.”
“So what am I supposed to do now? Throw a tantrum? Break a window? Graffiti the building?” I snicker at the absurdity of the situation.
“They just can’t see through the fog they create. Unfortunately, this place is run more like a business than a school,” she says solemnly.
“But what am I supposed to do now?” I earnestly repeat my earlier question. I need guidance.
“You need therapy or you could come to hate men. The faster you get into treatment, the fewer the damages.”
I feel like banging my head off the desk in aggravation, but instead, I nod and leave the room.
Down, down, down the staircase I go, cloaked in a stupor of anger and bewilderment. Why must they make my life difficult? I’ve already been raked over hot coals.
I stop at a glass case holding a fire extinguisher and look at the reflection peering back at me. I look distraught and downright dreadful. My eyes move above the reflection, above the glass case, to a level built into the structure of the wall. My pupils dilate.
For a moment, a delectably tempting thought crosses my mind and permeates into every recess of my brain: pull the fire alarm. Yank the lever, and let the irritating reverberations pierce the air, an aural representation of my anguish. The police would come, and I would be arrested for committing a felony. But I would tell them my story, and how my plea for help went unnoticed. I am the emergency, and if pulling the fire alarm is the only act that will make others realize the extent of my desperation, then so be it.
After all, who made the principals judge, jury, and executioner over my fate?
Maybe if I caused enough of a scene, someone with some measure of power could swoop in and save me.
But in the end, I turn on my heel and walk away from a potential universe I could have created.
I’m a wuss, and I’m afraid of being arrested.
The natural order of the world called for me to get depressed. Being delegitimized by the powers that be leaves one feeling like mud, and so I seeped into the quicksand. Rock bottom is a necessary level of hell one must familiarize themselves with before being able to scale the molten walls of the pit and lift themselves out.
It’s been a few years, but not so many that I’ve completely put this behind me. I believe my soul suffered a needless hardening from the events enumerated in this piece, which, in a perfect world, would put the heartless leaders of our Jewish educational system on trial. Like skin toughens when forced to undergo extreme wear and tear, the soul secretes a protective membrane in order to shield itself from further harm.
The scars are carved into the nucleus of my essence. You can’t exactly tell they exist beneath the outer membrane, but there they lie, recognized occasionally by another wounded soul.
And so we continue on, scars and all.