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The R Word This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , Pittsburgh, PA

When your boyfriend hits you for the first time, a harsh slap that echoes around the room and imprints on your cheek, your stranglehold grip on sanity will begin to loosen. You’ll look in the mirror and find him as shocked as you are; who are those people, staring back? The wild-eyed girl with handprint skin and the boy with lips he’s chewed through a thousand times, where did they come from? You don’t recall letting them in.

When your friends ask what you’ve done to make him so angry instead of inquiring about your safety the world shudders beneath your feet and your stuttering mouth will search for the appropriate response. Apologies feel like a foreign language but excuses march off your tongue like soldiers, even when you’re shielding someone you do not recognize any longer.

There’s a bridge between his house and yours; you’ve walked it a thousand times, but today is a rare commodity. The sun beats down and adds sweat to the mix, you are dripping blood that squishes with each step. A group of teenage boys walk past your sobbing figure and laugh. This is why you go home and cry in the shower instead of the police station, this is why you plaster red lipstick on like you didn’t leave a red trail to follow already, miles and miles running down the drain. This is why you take black thread and sew your lips together, tuck your arms around your middle and kiss the same boy who wiped blood that was weeping out of your body all over your sullied mouth.

He had a cross above his bed. You remember seeing it in strange flashes, your eyes reduced to small slits after the headboard connected with your lovely skull. The first time you read tarot cards with his face in mind, your red fingernails touched The Lovers and Death. You ignored the hooded skeleton in favor of the man wrapping his painted arms around a pastel girl, a hummingbird in his strong hands. You burn them all in a metal trashcan, eyes hollow at the ferocious flame. You don’t have any crucifixes to blame. You are hesitant to say it yet-- he has a temper, you supply, he was confused, you try, but never he raped me. You cannot make yourself believe the truth; he made you pancakes a few days earlier. He writes poems about your smile.

You are scrambling backwards to the same bed you were defiled on, you are seeking sanctuary in a contaminated coffin because fear used to taste like handprint skin and green bruises but today the flavor’s been altered. Fear glints through bamboo blinds and reflects on a golden soccer trophy gripped in your boyfriend’s hands, fear convulses with each footstep forward, it is the clarity in which you can think he is going to kill me he is GOING TO KILL ME HE IS GOING TO--

People always say you would look nice as a redhead. You’ve seen how blood looks matted into your scalp, crimson liquid dripping into your eyes. You do not wish to recreate the image.

The next day you tell him to never contact you again. Your friends glare at your shaking hands and bloody lips, they accuse you of insensitivity, of not recognizing how callous it is to break a boy’s heart over the phone. He broke a trophy over your skull, but they can’t be bothered to mind; you swallow your rage and let it mingle with the rot inside. How do you tell people with ideals stone-aged and serrated that your life is more important than common courtesy?

You sleep with the lights on and lock the doors nine times when you are without him. Every day waking reverts you back to deep blue sheets and a pounding headache, back to impurity and the months when your worth was chained to the hand of a boy who beat you senseless. Your dead-eyed stare has gone unnoticed because people do not believe the gory details even as you sob your way through the story; you stop writing poetry because no combination of pretty words can change someone’s mind. Nothing can undo the remnants of terror that tarnish your body.

On February 14th, you try and scrub the handprints off of your skin. Your romance movie is a horror in disguise but the killer is the protagonist; you’re fighting against yourself and the terrible way his words are sewn into your skin like sinewy snakes coursing through your thighs. It’s been months and you cannot let go. There is a reason hurricanes have names, and you live awfully close to the most devastating storm a fifteen year old girl could encounter. There must be something in your blood that pleads hurt me; why else would your name become synonymous with Victim? Why else would you take savage pleasure in peeling apart your flesh, letting irreverent tongues lash at your open wounds and bend your broken bones further backwards?

When your best friend kisses your rapist, your fingertips stop scrambling for normalcy and you let yourself fall further into sickness. Your life is an eternal loop of the day you lost your mind, trapped underneath a boy who was supposed to love you, trapped underneath a man taking everything from you, trapped underneath a monster whose harsh breaths haunt you to this day. You were young for an infinity and a moment, but this cruel concession of remembrance haunts like forgotten lovers separated too soon, and she’s still got her lips attached to his. You wonder if it is too crass to question her about how your blood tastes.

Everyone calls you The Girl Who Cried Rape. You hang plastic stars on your ceiling and count the ways the world could end. There aren’t enough.

When you see the loving couple, one small redhead with a snappable neck and one hazy war story of a boy, console yourself with the thought of pulling out each yellow tooth and grinding it to dust beneath your fingers. Make your hands hammers and his bones brittle fossils, exercise your control like you would brandish a whip, remember the plights that plagued you when his house was the place you went to be buried. Dig up your fifteen year old body, rotting for a year now, rescue your bones from the graveyard he calls home, from the place where you withered away in chains masquerading as a heavy handed teenage boy. There is no limit to the corners of your life he has desecrated, but you cannot keep decaying in radioactive fallout. Drag your body back home.

When he comes to find you after he’s graduated, invading your school, your broken voice finds sound again, your tongue finds purpose as you scream and scream, louder than he thought you capable. You look into the eyes of your mother, the police, the school counselor and collapse readily, writing the story out time and time again, explaining why you cannot get out of bed. Your eyes refocus; there is no passive staring any longer. Rage climbs past your organs and into your throat, tears past a year of lies and trauma. You are finished keeping this monster’s secrets for him. You are so tired of burying your bones, of cleaning up your blood, feigning polite disinterest when he caresses someone who was supposed to be yours.

You still wake up scared he’s above you, a knife glistening in clever fingers. You still can’t be alone in the dark, and you can’t go into the neighborhood next to yours, where he sometimes would kiss you. It’s getting easier, though. You can walk behind boys without crossing the street. You can wear cherry lip gloss without wondering if that means you are asking for it.

You don’t remember where all the bruises were; you stop trying to make new ones. Before he raped you, he said “I am doing this because I love you” and for a long, long time you bought into his whispers. Now, though, you recognize the easy lie that rolled off of his tongue; loneliness is a clever thief. It turns rancid lies into reasons to stay. Your hair stopped falling out a few weeks ago; sometimes, that’s all you have left to measure growth by. Sometimes, that’s enough.




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