I could only watch in horror as he grabbed anything to stop her from moving.  I wonder if someone else saw me struggling like I was seeing her but wasn’t sure whether to stop it.  This thought alone made me hesitate next to the glass, stomach in a knot.  Was he hurting her?…

    I’ve always loved unlovable things.  As a child, I would go out into the woods and find creatures others might avoid.  Bugs and reptiles became my closest friends.  I collected toads and once, when I found a wart on my pinky, I blamed the tiny creatures I held captive.

    There was a time that my cousin and I went out and filled a bucket with what we thought were tadpoles.  We were children and the woods held many possibilities.  The beings were wiggling like we knew that tadpoles should.  Their heads were big, and their bodies were much smaller.  Since we found them in water and everything else seemed to match up, they had to be baby frogs.  When we showed her older brother, he told us they were baby mosquitos instead.  We cried and clung to one another as he dumped them.

    Another time, I unearthed an ant hill and found the nursery.  Despite the colony’s best efforts, I picked up several of the larvae in my tiny hands and turned them over with my index finger.  They were younger than I was and would die before me, and I sat thinking about this for a long moment.  Finally, I dug a small hole in the dry dirt, placed them inside, and sealed it with a brick.  The next day I checked on my hostages and found a full-grown ant.

    When other children—and even my father—ran from bees and wasps, I would stand and watch.  They never scared me, even after I’d been stung so many times that they should.  Sweat bees would land on my skin in the summer and catch a ride wherever they needed to go.  Instead of waving them off, I’d let them rest.  I needed a rest, too.

    Spiders were also friends.  I would put daddy long legs on the shoulder where I now put my gecko and would walk around.  I trusted those the most because I knew they couldn’t hurt me.  I told anyone that would listen how they were incredibly venomous.  However, their fangs were too big to penetrate our pores, so they were fucked.  No one ever seemed to think that it was as interesting as I did.

    I tended to lift rocks and hold roly-polies in my hands and wait for them to unroll.  If they didn’t do that in time, I would grow impatient and pull them open with my nails.  Looking back, I realize how cruel this action was.  However, I didn’t mean for it to be; I just wanted to see their little faces and for them to see mine.  I wanted a connection.  I wanted the little guy to love me, maybe like a dog loves its human, but it was not to be.  No one can ever truly love the person who rips them open like that; I know that now.

    Or maybe they can.  I did.

You ripped me open.  From the moment that you put yourself where I never wanted you, the moment you thrust yourself between my thighs without taking any notice of my pain, you ripped me.

    Had I ever known that doing that to those pill bugs hurt as badly as what you did to me, I wouldn’t have ever done it.  I would have dropped them and walked away, never to darken their doorstep again.

    I was a child.  I did not know their pain. I did not feel their lives as acutely as I might now.  You, however, were an adult.  This wasn’t your niece playing too rough and accidentally scratching someone; this was you consciously sticking your penis into the vagina of a woman who had asked you to stop.

    I have always loved unlovable things, but I didn’t always know you were one of them.

    The only bugs that I truly hated were earwigs.  I had to be one in a play for second grade, so of course I knew all about them.  They didn’t bother me at all at first.  I didn’t mind their long bodies or the menacing pinchers they had acquired or the weird way they squirmed.  I wasn’t fazed.

    When I was around eight or nine, my family and I had gone to a reunion at a campground.  I had a cup of lemonade with a straw in it that I brought back home, and it sat overnight on the dining room table.  The next morning, I took a drink and nearly swallowed an earwig that had crawled into the straw.  I had thought it was pulp.  I’ve never forgotten about this moment and probably will never find it in myself to forgive those little creatures for something I almost did to them.

    It has taken me over a year to piece together what you’ve done to me.  It was all a mess for a long time, a jumble of memories and feelings: the sunshine coming through your sister’s window and your fingers between my legs; the way you ignored me when I came over after I get out of the hospital; your hands gripping my face as my chest heaved and I sobbed; the way you yelled my name; the sharp smack on your dog’s side whenever she did something wrong; your hands on my throat; the way you never listened to me when I asked you to stop.

    It’s painful to think about now.  Those moments all had the potential to be so much better than they were, and you snatched that away.

    The Friday before I went into the first hospital, you picked me up from my house.  I had called you, crying, and you told me you’d be right there.  You had the phone on speaker, so your friend, Chris, heard me fall apart.  It was not the first or last time you exposed me when I was vulnerable.

    He was with you when you picked me up.  You took me to your house and the two of you got high and played Overwatch.  You told me that you only smoked on special occasions or when you were stressed out.  There was nothing to celebrate that day.

    Body language, I’ve decided, was not your forte.  You believed, as I was lying in a catatonic state on the couch, that I was suffering from anxiety.  Instead, it was the beginning of a major depressive episode.

    Your solution was to try and get me high.  You grabbed my face and kissed me forcefully, blowing smoke from your lungs to mine.  I erupted into a coughing fit.

    “Why would you do that, asshole?” I asked.  “I have asthma!  I don’t have my inhaler!  Why would you do that?”

    You shrugged and apologized endlessly, saying you wanted to make me feel better.  You got up and brought me a glass of water as Chris watched.  I struggled to breathe for another hour.

    I wonder what your friends think sometimes.  What did they make of our relationship?  I know that they often made comments that we were cute or adorable, but I really don’t know if they saw the way that you treated me.  Then again, if they had, maybe they’d think that was normal, too.

    You never wanted me to talk about the hospital.  You never wanted me to tell you about the things that went on there.  You worked at a hospital as a janitor for a bit, and the day that you cleaned the psych ward, you told me it was scary.

Scary.

    People like me were scary.  The people I spent two weeks of my life with are scary.  Maybe that’s why you never visited me either time I was admitted.

    The second time I went in, you barely reacted.  We were meant to go on a trip with your friends that weekend, and the only thing you really said when I told you was, “So, you aren’t going to go on the trip with us?”

    That’s what you cared about: whether or not I could come with you to Gatlinburg.  You didn’t make any effort to come see me that time, either—probably because you would miss your precious trip and you cared more about having a good time than about me.

    Later, when I filed against you, the detective told me what you said in the interview.  According to you, you offered to come right up to where I was at my parent’s house and be by my side.  The reason I left you, you said, was because I was angry that I didn’t get to go to Gatlinburg.

    Are you telling everyone that, or just law enforcement?

I can’t help but wonder from time to time what your friends think of me now.  What do they tell your new girlfriends about me?  They told me that Brook “fucked you up real bad.”  I can’t imagine what they might say about me.

    “Yeah, she was just a trip.  She was really erratic and then went into the psych ward—twice.  He’s better off without her; he had to support her through all of that and he nearly killed himself doing it.  Then, she just left him because she was mad about not going to Gatlinburg with us when it was her choice to stay.  She promised to come back to him and lied, telling him to date other people.  It tore him up real bad.  Then, as if that all wasn’t enough, she pressed charges on him for ‘sexual assault.’  Can you believe that shit?”

 

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    I think our relationship wouldn’t be so much of a puzzle if we hadn’t been dating for a year and a half.  If you had been some random man that did any of these things, maybe I wouldn’t be so conflicted; but I chose to stay with you for all eighteen months.  I chose that.  Some days that makes it feel like I deserved what happened because of my stupidity.  I should have realized that any number of the things happening were wrong, but I was young.  I had never been in a healthy relationship, let alone one with a man.  I just assumed that even when sex hurt, you just had to suck it up and keep going.  If it made your partner happy, then it was something you let them do.  Sometimes it was easier than making you angry.  If I refused, you’d pout and I’d have to give in anyway, so it started to make sense to me to give in right away.  At least you’d be happy with me.

    I knew what was happening was wrong in that I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like you touching me to wake me up and I didn’t like how you hit your niece and your dog, and I didn’t like how you pretended my people didn’t exist.  In the morning, I would roll away if you were “waking me up nicely,” as you liked to call it.  It never worked.  You never got the hint.  You told the detective that everything was consensual, but maybe you need to revisit that definition.

    I hate this piece.  It doesn’t feel good and writing it doesn’t feel good and nothing at all feels good.

    I used to wonder whether I made all this up in my head.  Then, I found out that I’m not the only one this has happened to.  Your ex, the one with the same name as your sister’s dog, messaged me.  She asked me if you’d done the same things to me that you’d done to her.  Of course, I said yes.  I read through our messages every now and then, just to make sure I know I’m not crazy.

I can still feel your fingers, wiggling into where they should not be.  I wish I had vagina dentata like that girl in Teeth.  During EMDR with my new therapist, she told me to imagine your fingers getting weaker and smaller.  It’s supposed to help when the flashbacks are too overwhelming.  I prefer to think of them being bitten off.

    No matter what I imagine or do, your fingers are in me.  Your nail scratches the inside of my vagina and your thumb scrapes against my clitoris.  It feels like sandpaper.

    After years of loving unlovable things, I purchased two of my own.  A pair of crested geckos made for good company.

    One night, I was up late with a book when I heard chirping coming from the habitat.  I knew that sometimes, when the female didn’t want to have sex, she would make a high-pitched noise.  This was that noise.

    I made my way over to their tank, watching in horror as my male gecko bit down on the side of the female’s head to try and get a good hold.  She kept walking even when he was on her back, trying to weigh her down.

I thought of you.

    I could only watch in horror as he grabbed anything to stop her from moving.  I wonder if someone else saw me struggling like I was seeing her but wasn’t sure whether to stop it.  This thought alone made me hesitate next to the glass, stomach in a knot.  Was he hurting her?  Did rape happen in the animal kingdom?

    One of the police officers that I spoke to when I gave my first police statement acknowledged that I had been raped.  While the older officer was a little scruffy, the younger was baby-faced.  He had blond hair that looked soft and bright blue eyes.  I think he believed me, while the other officer looked skeptic.

    When I told them about how you wouldn’t stop during sex, the baby-faced one said softly, “That’s rape.”

    Now I don’t know if we can prosecute for that rape or any of the sexual assault because of lack of physical evidence.  The PTSD that I suffer from, the flashbacks, the other girl whose story is the same—none of that matters.  It’s just whether he scarred me physically that matters.  The detective didn’t even want to speak to my therapist to get her opinion, and I don’t know if that means that he believes me or not.

Geckos by Anne Elisabeth Høgh

    I guess it doesn’t matter.  He’s already made up his mind either way, hasn’t he?

    I don’t know what all you said to the detective, but I know that you have been talked to.  How do you feel now, knowing that people are aware of what you did?  Did you tell your girlfriend?  You had to have told your family and at least one friend.  They’ve blocked me on Facebook.  Maybe this will make you take another look at yourself and what you’ve done to the people around you, if nothing else.

    I don’t know how long they had sex for the first time, but I do know that a few days later, the geckos went at it again three separate times.  He went at it, at least.  I don’t know how into it she was, and thinking about that makes me feel disgusting.

    Everyone is excited for the prospect of baby geckos, but I worry for her.

    You wanted me to have your babies once.  Every now and again, you’d grab my hips and pull me close, saying, “I want to impregnate you now!”

    I’m really glad that that never happened.  I would still be with you if it had.

    You had the cutest niece.  I always wanted nieces and nephews, and here she was, little Zuri.  She was the sweetest thing.  It pained me to leave her—almost as much as it hurt to leave you.

    We could make a kid as cute as her, you often reminded me.  I spent a lot of time thinking about names and what the child would look like.  I argued with you about how we would raise this child—whether they would be exposed to the LGBTQ community or if they would be able to pick their own clothes—but it didn’t matter.  We never had a baby after all.

    My female gecko looked pretty rough after mating with my male three times.  There was blood on her head, and she looked like she was pretty beat up.  I spent a lot of time looking online and discovered that everyone said that it should heal up and the wound would clear on its own.

    Being the anxious mom that I was, I checked back on her religiously.  I would spray down her tank so the humidity was high, and I constantly picked her up to check how the healing process was going.  Finally, one morning when I went to check, the wound’s scabs were peeling off.  Underneath were perfect scales.

    You have taken things from me for too long.  I can never forgive you for what you’ve done to me or the other women you’ve dated, but I have no choice to move forward.  I’ve done all that I can by reporting it, and it is up to the police to keep other women safe.

    I don’t need you anymore.

    I am a gecko: the scabs covering me will soon flake off, and all that anyone will be able to see is smooth, flawless skin.  It will be as if you never existed.

    You are an earwig: the only unlovable thing I could never love.