A few nights ago, I had just turned off the light at the end of a long day and was looking forward to a good night’s sleep when my phone buzzed to let me know I had a Facebook notification.
“Suzanne Frey Hawthorne has tagged you in a post.”
Why is she tagging me at midnight on a Thursday? Aren’t all middle-aged moms like us supposed to be in bed by now?
Suzanne and I have known each other for a long time. We learned to swim together, sat side-by-side in the choir, and fumbled through adolescence giggling ‘til our cheeks hurt.
When I opened the notification, the sweating started and my pulse rate quickened.
Three weeks passed since I told Jamie I wanted to see other people, yet he was still leaving me messages on my answering machine every day begging to have “one last conversation.” I finally relented, but with the caveat that it could only last an hour and had to be in a public place. I figured there was less chance of it escalating into another shouting match if there were people around.
“Why are we parking so far from Wendy’s?” I asked. “There are plenty of spots next to the door.”
“We could use the exercise,” he said, as he cut the engine and stomped on the emergency break a little too aggressively.
Great. Another dig at the “freshman 15” I gained last year.
The sun had taken its final bow for the day, leaving behind a half moon wearing a veil of clouds. The neon sign above us cast a red glow over the parking lot advertising rooms for $29.95 per night at the Red Roof Inn.
Jamie appeared on my side of the car just as I put one foot on the ground to get out. He held out his hand offering to help me up. I didn’t want to take it–to touch him at all–so I ignored the gesture and got out of the car, clutching my Pappagallo purse to my chest with both hands.
I walked ahead toward Wendy’s, as he manually locked the car. He caught up to me, snaking his arm between my inner elbow and side.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said.
Suzanne had posted a photo from her wedding that showed all seven of us bridesmaids standing there in our fuchsia dresses, with big hair and matching pearl necklaces. Everyone is smiling broadly except me. Looking bemused, my lips are a thin flat line. Everyone else’s arms are relaxed, resting at their sides. My hands are clenched together at my waist.
“Let go of me!” I said through clenched teeth.
“Come on, baby. Where’s your sense of spontaneity?” He grabbed both of my wrists and pulled me across the parking lot in the opposite direction of Wendy’s.
“What are you doing?” I tried to break free, leaning as far back as possible, but he tightened his grip.
“YOU’RE HURTING ME!” I yelled. I looked around to see if anyone was watching, but the only thing I saw were the headlights of those traveling on the main road several hundred feet away.
He held me by the wrists with one hand, as he fished around the front pocket of his acid-washed jeans with the other. A key fell out onto the ground with the number 157 engraved in white against a red keychain. The distraction allowed me to jerk my hands free and I took off toward the road, toward streetlights, toward anything other than what was waiting for me in room 157.
The photo should have just been a line of happy bridesmaids, but right before the photographer pressed the shutter button, Jamie leaned in to give me bunny ears.
Suzanne’s post read: “Look what I found! Sure miss that boy.”
I never told her that he raped me.
The voice inside my head told me what happened in room 157 two days before her wedding was my fault, that I could have fought harder, screamed louder, or talked him out of it. It also told me not to ruin my friend’s big day. So, I didn’t.
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into years of not knowing how to hold so many conflicting emotions simultaneously—shame, anger, grief, humiliation, to name a few.
Once I finally got help, I learned that getting the symptoms of PTSD to subside is like escaping from a Chinese finger trap; much like the cylindrical gag toy, the more I try to pull myself out of the grip of anxiety, the tighter it holds me. I have to lean in to the discomfort, stare it down, and ground myself in the present moment before I can expect to feel normal again.
As for Suzanne, I think it’s time I asked her to stop tagging me. Maybe someday, I’ll even tell her why.