Readers are advised that the following story describes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape in great detail. Opus believes it is important for this piece to be published, in recognition and memorandum of all lives lost or altered due to the reality of abuse, misogyny, and rape culture in our world. However, if this discussion might bring anything up for you, please feel free to skip this one, to come back to it later, or to read ahead with caution. For immediate support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

 

My Dearest,

It seems I have finally plucked up the courage to pen this down to paper. If you had knowledge of the myriad of troubles whirling through the deepest cavities of my mind upon this event, you would understand the disposition required of me to delegate these memories honestly for you. To be frank, I’ve been dreaming of this letter for a long while now. Our irreconcilable needs have been sending us in a downward spiral, never quite catching each other. This variance is what distinguishes you from me, as while your morals lie with lions reeking of masculinity and desperation, overlooking instances with a shrug of your shoulders, I do not forget. I do not often forgive, either; but this is merely a slight in the, as mentioned previously, myriad of troublesome memories that constantly plague my psyche. Per your grievances and reservations regarding this subject, which I am inclined to ignore, I shall make a promise. I will remain faithful to only two imperative essences:

 

1. What I say in this letter to you, Dearest, will be honest and, perhaps, confronting. I suggest you prepare yourself.

2. I will not apologise for my words.

 

Now, if this is going the way I had planned, you are perhaps snuggling deeply into that armchair of yours by the fireplace, crossing your legs over one another and refilling your favourite crystal glass with whatever golden liquor is closest to you. Are you alone? Or do you have company? No matter, you have my blessing to read this aloud, if you so desire. Insight is rare these days and, as stories always go, mine is just contributing to the noise.

Jacqueline Harpman may have gotten it right, penning a fictional world that bravely omitted men in a time when men ruled too much. I’d call it a fantasy world, only because I am able to admit to myself that I have grown incredibly bitter over the years and, frankly, I have known too many men.

I think back to my father, the way he treated my mother, and can almost see it in the reflection of the pool that is my predestined future. I can see it in every passing face on the street, demanding more from me when I have nothing left to give. Hence, this letter to you, Dearest. The horrors and torments of the world are at your fingertips and, I must preface, it is truth. I will not lie to you, I will not manipulate you, and I most certainly do not expect to gain your sympathy. Instead, I hope, by the end of this, you will have relinquished to me your strength.

As all good stories do, I shall start from the beginning.

 

The weather was just starting to turn cold. I was only young, too young to be making decisions regarding who would be warming my bed every night. Despite this, my heart was yours, Dearest. Oh, so young and claiming it was love, I cherished that commitment with the whole of my being. We were not good to each other, but it was something.

They say boarding school is a dungeon, but to me, it was a tower. Too tall for you to climb and too tall for me to fly from. Perhaps it was my immaturity, or my yearning to fit into a box I could never quite squeeze myself into, but a hole in my chest was laid to rest which, even now, still blooms with every passing season.

Gatherings were common amongst my small group of friends. Alcohol tended to flow freely, hangovers were inevitable, and the occasional romantic encounter wasn’t frowned upon. At one of these particular gatherings, I had found myself nestling a rather large bottle of vodka, enjoying the burn down my throat as all thoughts of you, my lover back home, disintegrated like ash on the wind. In truth, I don’t remember much of that night. Even now, it only comes back to me in flashes. I remember him lying next to me behind a shed, his legs entangled in mine, a pile of my own vomit resting at my head, tangled in my hair. We talked of the stars and skies (as he was a pilot, I should mention), conveying stories of our youth to one another. He was nice, and funny. Everything else is flashes of phantom pains down my thighs, his fingers splayed across my skin, and his tongue gouging out holes in my mouth. I know I mentioned I had you at home, Dearest, but he didn’t listen.

When I tried to leave, I realised I couldn’t move. I was so inebriated I couldn’t even lift my head off the ground. I was paralysed, stuck to endure something I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around. When I woke four hours later, watching the sun crest over the distant hills and light up every empty beer bottle, I tried to remember. I couldn’t, of course, but there was a heaviness attached to my chest. Guilt. I had betrayed you, Dearest. I believed it was my own doing, my own fault. A week later, I had denounced my relationship with you. I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror, let alone face you.

In these six years we’ve been apart, men have stolen many things from me, Dearest. At another gathering (typical, isn’t it?), I met another boy on the dance floor. He asked me if I wanted to go for a walk, and I obliged. You see, it had been a very long time since the first incident and I believed I was ready.

His idea of a romantic, intimate setting was on the grass between two cars. I told myself I needed to do it, I needed to get over my past. So, despite his overbearingly sloppy kisses and handsy manoeuvres, I laid down and pulled down my pants.

He crushed me under his body weight. Ignoring the multitude of hits I’d given his back, a sign of me saying ‘stop, I don’t want this, I can’t breathe,’ he didn’t stop. Not until my lips were cracked and my insides felt like a beehive. I quickly got dressed and re-joined the party, watching as people passed me, ignoring my dishevelled clothes and unkempt hair.

The following morning, I woke with bruises around my neck and mouth. My hair was in a clump at the back of my head and my insides felt like jelly. I smiled, thanked the birthday girl for inviting me, and drove the two hours home in silence, trying to forget the night before ever happened.

Six months later: New Year’s Day.

It was four in the morning, and everyone had gone to bed. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and painted a smile on my face. I hadn’t gotten a New Year’s kiss, you see, and I was wondering whether there was anything wrong with me. So, any male attention I received that night I pounced upon, never intending to do more than a bit of harmless fun. I smiled casually at a man on my way out of the bathroom, ready to spend the night sleeping in my car. I hadn’t spoken to that man all night, had made no indication that I wanted him. I didn’t want him to follow me out of the house. I didn’t want him to slam my back into the side of my car and slip his hand beneath my dress. I didn’t want him to beg for me to let him into my backseat, and he didn’t want to hear me say no.

He never touched me passionately, never wanted me to feel good. He watched me wipe up the mess he left on my stomach with my dress, then left without saying so much as ‘thanks.’

My Dearest, you must be getting tired now. I promise, I’m almost done.

Eleven months later, I was drunk on the green, waiting for an invitation to an afterparty. I walked from the track to a house in a town I had never been to before, excited about reconnecting with old school friends in a more casual setting. I spoke to an old friend, and despite the moments where I’d catch him looking at my cleavage or making an insinuating joke, I ignored my reservations. It was his personality and, plus, he never laid a hand on me, so I was safe, right? Around five in the morning, I realised I didn’t have a place to sleep. So, I turned to my old friend, asking him ‘can I share your swag for the night?’.

I faced away from him, trying to get the smallest amount of sleep. We were in the garage, the floor covered in sleeping people. We were not alone. It didn’t stop him, though. He would gingerly bring a hand over, caressing my skin, trying to dip lower. I’d say ‘stop, not tonight’. He’d stop. Then, he’d do it again. I’d plead with him, and he’d stop. After a while of this pattern, I gave up. He didn’t want to stop, anything I said wouldn’t matter. So, I let him.

His hands dug into the base of my spine, holding me in place. My face was smashed into the ground, and I had lost my earrings amongst the pillows and blankets. They were a gift from my mother, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I wanted to leave. I walked the half hour back to my hotel in the sweltering summer sun, trying to ignore the soreness between my legs and the hollowness in my chest.

A few years later, I saw you again, Dearest. You had gotten so much taller. In the years we’d been apart, I’d made many friendships. A man, one you are close with, Dearest, became my friend. Sure, we only saw each other at these gatherings, but he made me laugh and I felt safe with him.

I sat next to this man at a gathering, sharing cigarettes, opposite you, watching as another woman tried to get your attention. While you were so preoccupied with her, Dearest, our friend slid a hand up my thigh and leant his mouth down to my ear, whispering ‘give me a kiss, come on, just give me a kiss.’ I told him no. He didn’t listen.

He continued to touch me, whispering filthy things in my ear. I was unaware of everything around me. All I could focus on was the pounding alarm in my head screaming danger, danger, danger. Memories of all those men before came flooding back, the way they ignored my constant ‘no’s’. I think back, wondering why I didn’t simply excuse myself from the situation… But I was paralysed. I tried to bite back, tried vocally causing a scene, but to no avail. Dearest, you ignored this altercation, as well. And you were sitting right in front of it. Somehow, I got myself out of the situation, I can’t remember how. All I can remember is feeling disgusted by the complete disregard from you, the ignorance you beheld that night.

I think you will always be of importance to me, Dearest. Thus far, you are the only man that hasn’t taken anything by force from me, the only man that treated me with respect and dignity. Personally, I think that says a lot about our current society, but I digress. Perhaps in another letter to you I can explain the ins and outs of womanhood, if that’s something you’d be intrigued by.

I don’t think I’ll ever properly love again. Not after this. Not after us.

 

Regards,

Your Darling

Hannah Quilty

Hannah Quilty

Hi there! I’m an English Literature student at UON, with a passion for creative writing. I started writing for OPUS to originally get feedback for my work, but now I just want to write as much as possible. I aim to have my work traditionally published, so maybe you’ll see some of my stuff out there in the world one day!

Hannah Quilty

Hi there! I’m an English Literature student at UON, with a passion for creative writing. I started writing for OPUS to originally get feedback for my work, but now I just want to write as much as possible. I aim to have my work traditionally published, so maybe you’ll see some of my stuff out there in the world one day!