Do you remember how you tore me apart on the phone and still haven’t apologized for it? Do you remember how you projected on me and said a whole bunch of things that were both true and untrue in a way that was so insanely unkind it doesn’t matter? Do you remember how you tore me apart – taking everything I have ever confided in you, bringing it up to a boiling point and throwing it, scalding, back in my face?
If you needed to say goodbye, say goodbye. Why did you feel the need to pick up my personality like a 2 x 4 and beat me over the head with it?
Do you remember how not too long before that you put your arm around me while we were watching a movie and you kissed the top of my head and played with my hair? Do you remember how you told me I was “fucking awesome” and “beautiful”? Do you remember when you kissed my forehead with your hands on either side of my head and I said, “When you hold my head like that, I just feel so safe with you.”
Do you remember stopping me and saying, “Raquel, whether I hold your head, or your hand, or your foot, you should feel safe with me.”
Then, with a few nasty remarks, you disintegrated that safe place, but before that, do you remember telling me that being with you was my anxiety-free zone?
How could you not have understood the value I put on our relationship after all that? How could you not have anticipated my tears – tears of disappointment and hurt from your verbal assault after you promised me you could be my safe place?
How do you reconcile these two completely different sides of yourself? Your Jekyll and Hyde, your black and white, your print and your negative. How can you project so much of both onto me? And how can I absorb it? Is it because I am also like a coin: on any given day, I could land on either side?
So I’m sitting in confession a little while ago:
“I’m working on this story about sexual assault and consent,” I tell the priest. “And my co-worker says to me, ‘I think you’re probably the wrong person for this story.’
“‘Why’s that?’ I ask.
“‘Well, it’s like as if we assigned a nun to the story.’
“Father, I almost choked on my bubble gum! He thinks I’m a virgin. I feel like such a hypocrite. I feel like I’ve completely misrepresented my faith and myself as a member of this faith. What do I do?”
I thought my delivery was quite good – especially that bubble gum line, but Father keeps his eyes averted the whole time out of politeness. When he goes to speak, he still avoids eye contact.
“You know, it’s confusing sometimes how the same person can be faithful and devoted, come to church every week and sing loudly as part of the congregation – and they can also be the person who flips someone the bird when they’re cut off on the highway. We are both the saint and the sinner.”
Father went on to give me more advice on Christ’s forgiveness of this duplicity and encouraged me to be grateful for the gift of a humble heart – and he asked me to pray for couples struggling with the teaching of chastity.
But I was struck by “saint and sinner,” the two sides of the coin. It’s damn confusing.
Like I said before, abuse is really confusing. And yet, here was the solution sitting heads up in front of me. It was possible to love in two different ways as well: I can both love and distance myself and not feel guilty. I can love someone’s essence and separate myself from their abuse, and in doing so keep my essence in tact.
My surfing instructor was a chotchy, tanned Australian with beach blond hair and rock solid abs…and arms…and pecks…and I digress. He was less than interested in giving me a one-on-one lesson, even though the manager of the resort on the South African coast of the Indian Ocean, who I’d befriended, insisted on it.
“Here’s your board,” he threw it on the ground. “You’re the one surfing, so you can carry it.” Hmmm, charming.
I wasn’t intimidated, though. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my grandmother it’s how to flirt my way into any man’s heart.
“If you listen and do what I tell you, you’ll get up on the board. If you don’t, this lesson will be a waste of your time and mine.” Mitch was his name.
I flashed him a smirk that I made sure included some batted eyelashes. “Don’t worry. I’m a fast learner,” I replied.
I was over-attentive to his instructions and was conscientious to try to emulate exactly what he was doing. If I don’t convince him to change his attitude soon, I thought, this will be a waste of time for both of us.
My first attempt to get up on the board was a disaster. I tumbled off in the first two seconds in the most graceless way and came up coughing and sputtering with salt water pouring out my nose.
“Well, this is the sexiest sport I can think of,” I said sarcastically.
Mitch was laughing at me. “Surfing is very sexy. Do you need a breather?”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “I’m Canadian. I have more stamina than I know what to do with.” And I winked.
I caught a smile – that had impressed him.
“How much time do I have to get up on the board?” I asked.
“See that sand there? You have until you hit the shore.”
“Smartass,” I retorted.
I tumbled again. When I came back up, Mitch was smiling at me.
“So how old are you?” he asked.
Well, that was easy, I thought. A little self-deprecating humor, some sexual tension – he was like putty in my hands.
After I’d won him over, we chatted easily the rest of the lesson, like we were old friends. He told me about his plans to travel, his criminal record and his escapades with past resort guests.
I crinkled up my nose.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I started. “I’ve just kind of…given that up.”
“Given up what? Hot random sex with strangers?”
“Something like that.” We laughed.
“Okay, let’s head back.” And he took my board for me. (What did I say? Putty) “I’ll meet you in the showers.”
“For hot random sex?” I joked. He cracked up.
The showers were actually uni-sex, but since I kept my swimsuit on, I didn’t bother to close the door. Mitch came in about five minutes later. He strutted into my stall. “Well, you ready?” he asked.
I reached behind him, pulled the door shut and jumped him right there. Fuck it, I’m on vacation.
I’m kidding! There was no random sex, hot or otherwise, during my trip to South Africa. But I can’t say I didn’t think about it for a half a second. Fortunately, half a second was too much hesitation. Mitch walked out as quickly as he walked in and I finished showering alone.
I then returned my wet suit and left the resort with bragging rights: for two short hours, my hot Australian surf instructor was kind of into me.