Once, when I was seventeen, I was held down by two of my male friends while they forced bread into my mouth.
That’s not a euphemism. It was just the three of us in an unsupervised room in the school while the pair of them smashed a bloomer into my face. While this was all meant in jest, it didn’t take long for the experience to become deeply unfunny at my end. After a few minutes of my kicking and struggling, one of them said, observantly, ‘This is weird.’
Both retreated and I only stayed a few more minutes before heading elsewhere. I was shaken up. I felt teary. I walked around the campus, trying to shake off the shuddery feelings. Mostly, I felt silly for this reaction, which I was convinced was over the top, because I knew neither had intended to make me feel that way.
That memory and that feeling had faded from my mind until a recent experience jogged those feelings back to life.
I’d recently started having casual sex with a friend I’d had for eight years, someone who I held in high esteem and truly valued. I thought this was nice. I liked my friend and I like sex, so having sex with my friend seemed like a fun no-brainer.
One night, however, lay in bed next to one another, something in the nature of our interaction changed. During a jokey disagreement over who would pick a shirt up off the floor my six-foot-something friend shoved me – hard, and with a totally unexpected and explosive force – out of the bed. My limp, unprepared body hit the floor like an embarrassing and ugly sack of potatoes.
A little too shocked to say anything, the wind knocked out of me (and cold because I wasn’t wearing any clothes), I tried to climb back under the covers but the attack happened twice more.
Without a word he kicked me out of the bed with completely unreasonable force. The next time I tried to get into the bed he wrestled me (successfully, because I weigh 105 lbs), painfully grabbing onto my wrists and arms and throwing me onto the floor.
Once more I climbed under the duvet, at which point he stood up, pulled the covers away from the bed, leaving me exposed and feeling very confused and very vulnerable. Then he picked up a full glass of water from the bed side table, and slowly, from a height poured it over me.
“Pick up the shirt” he said, not joking.
Curled up naked and now wet below the man towering above me empty cup in hand, I still felt the tiny, defiant spark in me that said, silently, ‘no’, but I lay absolutely motionless.
He picked up the second glass of water, poured it again, slower and this time taking great pains to hit my face and my hair. Then he got back in the bed.
I after a few moments of shock I began to cry.
“I didn’t know you were so sensitive” he said, before going to sleep in the dry patch.
I cried all night.
I wish I’d left. I should have picked up my things, called a taxi and never looked back, but I didn’t.
Too afraid to make my way home across London at two in the morning and too upset to sleep, I lay awake all night sniffling until the morning, when we both left the house.
Sometimes I still find myself stopping in the middle of whatever I’m doing, shuddering, remembering with shame and humiliation when the water hit my face for the second time. Remembering with sadness and confusion the moment I hit the floor for the first time.
Giving credit – if you can call it that - where it’s due, he did apologise that night. He did seem genuinely bemused as to why I was upset. Like the bread incident, I don’t think he intended to make me feel those feelings – but he did.
There may be rough and tumble in all sorts of male and female relationships - jokey fights between father and daughter, rude and crude verbal sparring between friends and rough sex between lovers – but in all of these scenarios there’s the unspoken, understanding of ‘the line’.
It doesn’t have to really hurt when you cross the line for it to be a really frightening, relationship-changing experience.
At that very moment I didn’t feel angry at my friend, or saddened by my friend or even embarrassed by my friend – even though the treatment was abjectly humiliating - these emotions were all attached onto the experience later, when I went through it over and over again in my mind.
At that very moment I just felt scared of my friend.
As much as I miss my friend and as many times as I have considered reaching out to him, deep down I know I can’t have a friendship with a man who doesn’t respect me or care enough about me to consider that as a bigger, stronger person – as a man - he has the power to scare me and that being violent towards me, in a big or small way, is not ever okay.
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