Almost every time I’ve gone into anything but the bare minimum details of my abuse, one thing which I can see coming into the minds of the people I’m talking to is “How did you survive?” Right now, when I hate myself for having survived, I’m hoping answering that question helps me hate myself less.
You know how movies and books talk about how survivors often create a different place in their minds to go to when they’re being abused, a place where the abuse didn’t exist? That’s basically it. That’s what I did.
But that space wasn’t there initially. I didn’t have it when he first hit me in the face. I didn’t have it the first time he pushed me against a wall, trapped me, and forced his mouth on mine. I didn’t have it the first time he almost ripped my clothes off. I didn’t have it the first time he had his friend stand guard as he pushed me, so I fell and kicked me for what felt like an hour. Those first few times, I felt everything. And I felt like I deserved it. Hell, till that last one, I was worried about him, because I was convinced that for him to do something like this, something had to be gravely wrong with him; or I had done something gravely horrible to deserve it.
I don’t know when I created my escape. I think it may have been around the same time I started fainting. It was probably before the first time he raped me. My escape room was made of pure concrete. It’s grey and uncomfortable and looks like a bunker for the end of days. The people who know my love for colour may be surprised to know that it had no colour. I never painted the walls of this safe haven with the colour which made me feel safe. I didn’t hang pictures of things which made me happy, which gave me strength. I never gave that room furniture where I could sit when I was in it. It was a concrete prison.
I lived in it. I didn’t just enter in and out every time I was getting my life beaten out of me, or had my body converted to a toy. I just lived in it. At least, a part of me did. The room had walls so thick, that it was basically soundproof. It was buried so deep that it was barely accessible from the outside. And I lived there. I sat in the corner, on hard concrete floors and that was it.
But it wasn’t completely bare. It had a TV. And that TV showed what was happening outside that room. I could rarely switch the TV off, and when it was on, I’d see him, I’d see them, I’d see what was happening to my body, which was outside the room. I’d see the pain that girl would feel, I’d hear her scream, I’d hear her cry, I’d hear her beg. I felt sorry for her, I felt disgusted by her. And I felt oh-so-grateful for my prison, because I may have to hear it and see it, but at least I wasn’t experiencing it.
I knew I was though. The prison didn’t let me believe that real life didn’t exist. It just dampened it. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel every kick, punch, cut. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel their hands, their bodies, their dicks in and on me. I just felt it all from a distance. I guess the TV might have been one of those 4D TVs where you get the whole experience. My body felt it, and I felt my body from a distance.
But in the room, I wasn’t her. Before the abuse started, he called me something only he and his friends did. He used to say that neither my full name, nor my familial nickname were close to being representative of how cool I was. But my initials were. So, he only ever called me by my initials. Outside the room, I was my initials. Inside, I was my full name. I couldn’t be my familial nickname, because that girl had been so innocent, and even though I was in that room, I was definitely no longer innocent.
Inside the room, I had a favourite colour he didn’t know about, a favourite book he’d never read. Inside the room, I was stronger than he ever knew. Inside the room, I was training for survival. Inside the room, when I cleaned myself up after coming home, I could scream out loud, when outside the room I stayed silent. Inside the room, I could scream as loudly as I wanted when I stepped into the shower and felt the hot water and soap clean out the dirt from the broken skin, no matter how silent I was outside it. Inside the room, I could cry when I walked completely normally and felt my thighs burst into flames every time they touched. Inside the room, I could cry and cry as I said nothing to my family, and they saw nothing wrong.
I have many many black holes in my memories about what all happened, and the timeline is something I could not create accurately if my life depended on it. Maybe that’s because I did manage to switch the TV off, and could stop hearing, stop seeing what was happening to me.
I know there were times when I didn’t escape to the room fast enough. I know that most of the times I lived inside and outside the room simultaneously. I know that there were times when he almost reached the room, snuck a toe in, snuck a finger in, snuck in. But inside the room, I felt the degradation of being naked in front of him, them, from faaar away. Inside the room, even when he snuck in, he was far away. Inside the room, I didn’t have to read every single word I wrote, I didn’t have to hear every single plea, every single seductive word.
Inside the room, I didn’t dance for him. Inside the room, I wasn’t tied to the bed as three men used my mouth, shoved things inside other orifices and counted how many fit. Inside the room, I wasn’t dying of shame, inside the room, the humiliation wasn’t all-consuming. Inside the room, I could survive, because it was like watching a horror movie in 4D. Inside the room, I wasn’t living it as much.
But the room never cracked. And I lived in it more than I didn’t. I lived in it after I didn’t have to. I think a big part of me still lives in it. It’s the prison I created to keep myself safe. Isn’t that what we do to women? Lock them inside to keep them safe from the big, bad world? I locked myself in, and I don’t know if I know how to get myself out.
I’ve been living in that room for almost a decade. In this room, I see the world on the TV now, not just what happened to me; though those reruns never really go away. Perhaps it has two TVs now; one for life as I know it today, one replaying the most horrific hits on a loop. I still sit on the concrete floor watching everything happen on those scenes. It isn’t as deeply buried as it once was, it isn’t as soundproof as it once was. I can hear the voices come in from outside. I can see through the peephole, into real life. I feel everything, still from a distance, but maybe a little less far away than it once was.
Or is that what I’m trying to convince myself of?
Because the prison didn’t have space for emotions all that much. The barrenness has a need for space which takes over everything. Because I’m still alone in that concrete prison, sometimes, I try and bring people in for a visit, but all I can manage is getting them to peek through my peephole. Through the peephole, I show them my TV screens, where I play selective videos only. Through the peephole, I can speak to them, and they’ll hear only what the soundproofing allows. Through the peephole, they may see the concrete, but they won’t see the barrenness of it. Through the peephole we can connect, but only by the touch of the tips of our fingers.
I can exit the room, but when I do, I lock it behind me so that no one else can enter. And I always return. It’s one of my homes. It’s one of the places where I exist. It isn’t the only place, but a part of me lives in that concrete prison still. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly want to escape it.