Being called a strong woman has become a personality trait. A label. It’s said in commendation, as a way to stereotype your muliebrity because it sustains evidence of your existence. People pay tribute to you when you are a strong woman. It allows people to assign you value – otherwise, who would you be and what would you signify within a world where you are small? Being called a strong woman is a tautology that I hear in every narrative of my name.
Being called a strong woman is a trigger.
That look in his eye and the way his whole body convulses in apoplexy when he climbs over top you and uses his weight to hold you down, screaming, spit spilling from between his lips. His hands squeezing fingerprints into the back of your head, around your neck, and into any part of your body it can possess as you rush to create distance between yourself and their dramatization.
Anger makes a man faster than a woman’s fear.
My son shares a name with the North Dakotan who left me for dead in a hotel room at the Four Bears Casino. We were dressed up for a friends wedding rehearsal, stumbling back to the room after whiskey shots and endless Caesar cocktails – I sucked the vinegar off pickles and now I was craving the Swedish Fish I had left in the glove box of our car. He thought I was trying to take money from his wallet, even though he’d already given me all the cash earlier that day. He forgot about that underneath the bright lights and outdated decor. I don’t recall getting pinned down, just the accusations surging from his sour breath. There was a moment where twenty minutes felt like two hours, and it unfurled in schism where I could not tell time. He drunkenly swung at me for so long that he tired himself out – the wild turkey shooters motivating him to fall asleep face down on the bed – ignoring my postpartum body inching towards the door after being knocked around with intrusive limbs and inanimate objects. I remember thinking “all I wanted were the keys…”
I remember the sound of my lung exploding.
I hear it in my sleep – how my rib popped out of place after a blow from his boot. My own rib stabbed me in the lung, and I felt betrayed by my own body. I crawled, and crawled, and crawled towards the door until I sat on hands and knees in the hallway gasping for air that I didn’t have, thinking about the baby I gave birth to 6 weeks prior who I probably wouldn’t see again. Because I was dead.
It was 5 hours before I made it to a hospital.
Other times, by the coercion of more authoritarian hands, I never made it anywhere other than halfway through my bedroom door before being knocked down and dragged through the house by my ankles. In the movies, we’re taught that British men are charming and gentle – but he’d remove the door from its hinges if it helped him get a better view of where I was trying to hide – fracturing my cusp and protesting my negligence towards his adoration.
Rug burn has a very distinct burnt hair smell.
Blood would pool into the vein in his forehead while his fingernails hid pieces of my flaked off flesh inside of them. He begged for love as often as he begged to be obeyed – excited and aroused every time he heard me choke on his vindictive kiss. Any time I see icicles, I flashback to the unrelenting pulse of sadistic hips stretching out the space between my thighs, his serpentine tongue licking me sternum to snout, and the goosebumps that became tangled on my skin every time he pushed his mouth to my ear. He knew how much I hated that feeling, and he used it against me to entice my discomfort as punishment for not giving him his way. Sixteen years earlier I stole his heart…and he stole my virginity. His chest compressed against mine so tightly that I thought for a moment my spine was crumbling into the floor like the digestive biscuits he would always leave open on the coffee table. But he practically dislocated my jaw yanking on my chin trying to keep me there and aware of his closeness – fists and skulls in matching black and blue, and my fifth concussion.
He said it seven times in 3 minutes, that I’m his girl.
Both of these men have apologized since then. Both of these men were just two of many. Two of my four. Two of a million, or more, two different reasons I can’t sleep through the night or watch Lifetime movies. Two different ways to corrupt love and expand the SSRI market. Two different causes for apprehension anytime a man drinks too much, raises their voice, or walks in my general direction. Two different testaments to how I know miracles and prayer exist only for the cowardly.
If I share all of this with you, it will define me.
I can never be anybody else other than the woman who wasted her life with lovers who lacked self-control and relied on manipulation to confuse their prey. I’ll be the one who let it happen until suddenly I set myself free. You’ll overlook the damage they inflicted, my sleepless nights and inconsistent therapy, and how I flinch whenever someone walks up behind me while I’m at work. You’ll never know why it took so long to escape or how tight their grip was, or that one of these two is famous. You know his face, but not the taste of his sweat. You know his name, but not his desperation. I only know I talk too loud, lecture too much, and have a bad habit of being ungrateful for being loved. Recovery is gagging on my own willpower – because no one ever tells you that stamina is ≥ mutual suffering.
I am only a strong woman because I survived weak men.