Don’t walk behind me
By Amanda Orive and CRP
“I can’t breathe.” Gasping for breath. “I can’t breathe!”
“Okay, slow down. Your heart is racing. Count to ten.”
“I can’t count. I can’t think. The darkness is closing in. They’re chasing me. Oh my God!”
“Okay, I want you to listen to the sound of my voice. I want you to count with me. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two-- one. Breathing slowly, in... and out... You’re safe. Everything is safe. Now, how do you feel?”
“Um...Still anxious, but better. Why is there so much darkness? Why is it closing in?”
“Lift your left hand and move the darkness away from you. Do you see the light? It’s a beautiful sunny day outside.”
“Oh, yes. That feels so much better. I can breathe a little better now.”
“Good. Feel the sunshine on your face, listen to the birds. You’re safe. Okay, now open your eyes.”
It happened months after the rape. I had left all the “friends” I'd made in the criminal underworld. Everyday, waking up felt like dying. Pervasive painful images would flash through my mind, tugging on my stomach. Nothing felt good. It was no different at night, except for the vivid terrors. I started running marathons to escape the sensation of being constantly wrong. What was I going to do, talk to a therapist and reveal to a mandated reporter the plethora of my crimes?
No, I had to deal with it. I couldn’t get away from it.
One friend, I won’t name him, did look out for me. He always made sure I was safe. If I’m being honest, which I strive to be, he’s the reason I’m alive. At a house party, months before, he gave me a switchblade. Little, portable- perfect for someone of my size. He told me to keep it with me for when he wasn’t there to fend off my many, let’s call them, ‘suitors.’
Well, I had that very knife on me the morning in question. I had awoken at 430 AM, so I could watch the sunrise, and avoid running into my mother. (She could always spot when I was- not lying or necessarily upset but- crooked, and I wasn’t ready to deal with that). I was running on a trail that splintered off a few miles from my house, when I heard someone running behind me, almost in perfect rhythm with my pace. Hardly ever had I run into other runners at that hour, and if I had, they always made as much of an effort to avoid me, as I did to avoid them.
But soon the pace increased, and the sound of a ragged breath became more and more apparent. I can’t quite explain what it was specifically that made me uncomfortable. Perhaps it was remnant emotion from the violation, perhaps it was because I felt entirely isolated, perhaps they were going to harm me...I doubt I shall ever completely remember.
When goosebumps trailed my spine, no emotions, no thoughts passed through my mind. At that point, the adrenaline and serotonin were distracting me from such things, and so when the knife slipped from my hand and engaged, I hardly even realized it. Never even heard it click.
It wasn’t until I stopped running to face my stalker that I knew the knife was out. In truth, I hardly remember stabbing him, besides the pop in my wrist, and the surprising ease with which it slipped between his ribs.
After that, the memory becomes hazy. The sunrise was bright red. I made a phone call from home while washing blood off my hands, feeling equally odd and satisfied.