“He Touched Me”: Sometimes it’s just Too Much
You never know when triggers are going to present themselves, or what they’re going to look like, or how they will affect you. They’re just there all of the sudden. Unpredictable.
It’s like a shock to your heart that radiates outward to the furthest reaches of your body.
It makes you shake.
Makes you flinch.
There is a physical reaction before the emotions come flooding in.
And when they do it’s like there’s no end in sight. No solution. No out.
Saturday afternoon I met up with my boyfriend and some new friends he’s made. We were sitting somewhere when a group of people walked past. One of them was wearing a cologne that holds some strong memories for me.
For me, scents are very closely tied to memories. When I smell Fendi I think of the time my mother accidently broke a bottle of the perfume, her favorite, on the bathroom tile - the entire house smelled like it for days. I think of the time my dad bought my mother a new bottle, even though it was an extravagance, for Christmas.
When I smell Abercrombie cologne I think of my freshman year of college. I think of sweaty nights filled with cheap beer, wandering hands, and stale cigarette smoke. I think of the lies they told me to get me into bed. I think of what he took from me. I think of my desperation in wanting a “do over”. I think of walking home in the harsh light of morning still dressed in my clothes from the night before, or of signing them out of my dorm building at all hours of the night. I think of cleaning the blood off my sheets in the communal bathroom sink at 4 am.
When I smell Abercrombie cologne a shiver of memories I would rather not have runs up my spine.
Five years later this still happens.
I have grown to expect it. Living in a major city it is inevitable that I will walk past or come into contact with someone wearing the cologne every once in a while.
Saturday afternoon it happened. And for once I was able to let the memories run through me and quickly leave my mind. I was okay.
…Until that night walking home from an event with my boyfriend and my roommate when something else happened.
There was a guy walking down the sidewalk directly towards me. He was in my path. But I refused to move because it bothers me that men take up more space on public transit, walk down the street taking up the sidewalk like women must move for them.
Then as he got closer I noticed he was drunk and most likely high on something. He was NOT moving. So I turned sideways to squeeze between him and my boyfriend walking on my other side.
And as I did he touched me.
He actually touched me.
His hand purposefully grazed my inner thigh.
Like my body was public property.
Like he had the fucking right to invade my personal space.
I turned around and yelled, “Don’t fucking touch me. Keep your hands to yourself”. And I kept walking.
My boyfriend and my roommate didn’t see.
They wanted to stop and get pizza on the way home. Seeing as I was having issues with my stomach that day and was internally having an anxiety attack I told them I was just going to walk home. They asked if I was sure, if I would be okay. I told them I was fine, I just wanted to get home. So I walked the last few blocks by myself fighting back the breakdown until I was home and safe.
When I got back I got into bed and just laid there trying to breathe and not let the anxiety overcome me.
A little later my boyfriend and my roommate got back, and my boyfriend came to get into bed with me. He asked if I still felt sick and was trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t respond and have a normal conversation. He became worried and asked what was wrong but I couldn’t say it. I just started crying.
He kept trying to get me to talk, and eventually I managed to get out a few words; “He touched me”.
My boyfriend didn’t see what happened. He thought the guy just bumped into me like any other drunken asshole. But when I said that he knew. He asked if that’s why I wanted to go home so bad, why I couldn’t talk when he got back. I said yes.
He held me until I fell asleep.
The next day I couldn’t help but notice that it was almost a reverse of what happens when my boyfriend is experiencing dysphoria. He even said what I’m often thinking when he’s in that space… That I was scaring him. My obvious upset and inability to talk, to tell him what what happened, to explain was frightening. There was something going on, something that was hurting me. Yet I couldn’t tell him, and he couldn’t do anything to help.
The switch in roles was interesting.
And I think I understand him better for it.
Sometimes when he’s experiencing dysphoria he won’t tell me or explain it. He will silently suffer.
In that moment Saturday night I understood this silence better. There are times that it is impossible to talk about something, even with the person you love, the person you know wants to support you. Your own grief and confusion render you unable to make sense of anything, much less communicate it to someone else.
In this my history with sexual assault and his dysphoria affect us similarly.
They are realities we carry with us daily. Some days these realities are easier to manage than others. Sometimes we can talk about things, and sometimes … it’s just too much.