Looking For Reasons Why
“So you attracted your own attacker by manifestin’ him through your nightmares…”
The round, well-meaning woman sits nodding to herself comfortably in her chair. White walls enclose on me, and whilst she makes every effort to soften the room with personal photos and her Chihuahua sitting quietly at her feet, neither the carefully chosen tone nor the assertion of her southern beliefs really make this experience any warmer.
“Gurl, I think any man who lays his hand on a woman deserves the death penalty!”
A sentence made lighter from the elongated words escaping her mouth. I try to conjure up a chuckle that comes out as more of exertion of air. Trying to drought a face that’s flooded with tears, desperately attempting to find any consolation from a woman I’ve paid $152 to see.
It all happened within eight minutes.
8. Measured by a photo taken as I turn around at the only window perfectly framing the water, sparkling in the morning sunshine; this is where he had watched me.
7. Rounding the corner trying not to think of snakes in the hot mid-morning Mexican sand, catching a glimpse of fleeting movement up ahead.
6. Smiling to the man standing in the bush with his shirt tied around his face revealing only his eyes (a moment of empathy for the local who works hard in the sun all day).
5. The sound of footsteps and a foreign touch on my hips, pulling me back with force.
4. A moment of instinct screaming at me to run, even though my brain reasons for the man’s overstep of confidence.
3. The sound of his heavy steps landing closely behind me. A horror movie playing out: “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” you’d yell at the girl, and of course, she fucking trips.
2. He’s on top of me; he’s ripped off the jumpsuit mum bought me for Christmas. I see his lips form words I don’t recognise.
1. I’m not going to die in this ditch! A final kick seems to land hard; he backs off granting the space I needed to run.
Eight minutes. Measured by the first photo taken of that beautiful view, and a second photo, unintentional, taken whilst I ran.
“This is why I didn’t want you to travel around Mexico; they don’t play by our rules, my love,”
Her softly spoken words filtered with love through the phone. It took me a while to tell her; I was scared she would hear in my voice how broken I felt. That my pain would be infectious to the woman who once carried me, like she’s carried all of my burdens ever since.
Trying to find solace through support offered 13,513 kilometers away, I knew I was as truly alone in that moment as I would ever be. Whilst her intent was coloured by the protection in her heart, she condensed an entire nation into the trauma of eight minutes.
I’m not sure how long I ran for. It felt like a lifetime, and after five minutes, the adrenaline was wavering, urging me to take a breath. With two young local women walking towards me, I recognised familiarity within the foreignness of this experience. I recognised something so incredibly universal in the walking, talking excited-ness of this early-morning Saturday catch up. I yearned to be one of those girls. But I was not.
“Stop, stop – there’s a bad man, don’t go down there.”
“Si, si , ah… la hombre, no… bueno.”
The closest house, comprised of tin sheet walls and a slanted roof, was settled with certainty amongst the dust of the street. Confined within the chain-link fencing were three more women. Three women, of three generations: a child, a mother and a grandmother.
In amongst my short inhales of shock, I felt soft air push against my face from the mother fanning me and repeating, “Tranquilo, tranquilo.” Essential oils were massaged into my wrists by the older woman to subdue the rush of terror that had occupied every inch of my body, and the young girl danced at my feet, to lighten the weight in my heart.
I sat fixated on a patch of dirt in the ground, trying to explain to an English-speaking journalist what had happened, while he relayed the message to seven dumbfounded male police officers all standing too close, staring at me.
“I know it’s fucked, but I wish I could tell you not to spend another second going anywhere on your own.”
I winced hearing him say it. Words spoken by the most progressive critical thinker I know – and I’d never heard him cry before. Years of physical absence had grown between us, yet he was the first phone call I made. I was sorry to have to speak to him on these terms, teasing his protective duties as my older brother. Knowing it would kill him inside to know I was on the other side of the world where all he could offer were kind words broken up by shitty hostel Wi-Fi.
The weeks that followed entailed falling asleep each night with the light on to children’s movies, staying within the borders of the four walls that surround the hostel and searching for some peace at the bottom of an old-zip lock bag containing remnants of partly crushed Valiums.
“You know you’ve overreacted right? And can you think about why you’ve maybe acted this way?”
I’d never felt so isolated from the person who had known me most intimately for two years.
Six weeks later, on a resort island in Panama, I was soothed by words of reassurance from hostel workers before departing on a walk alone through the dense tropic plantation to my hostel. At 2pm on the 10-minute stroll, those words were undermined as I rounded a curve to find three drunken men standing in front of me. Only having just started rebuilding my world, it seemed the foundation wasn’t quite as strong as I’d hoped.
A thud from the rock thrown landed by my side. I tried not to flinch, but my heart sank into my stomach with a rising anxiety bubbling through my blood.
200m left, head down, fast pace.
A warm touch on my arm with an aggressive pull.
“Sorry about my friend!”
His alcoholic breath engulfed my face, but it was the smirk that made me run.
When I phoned him, I didn’t mean to make him worry, but the panic had overcome me like a tidal wave; I was left with the mess of the destruction, and I desperately craved someone to help me clean it up. He found me shaking, holding myself tight on the cold tiles of our air-conditioned room, trying so hard to revert into myself, hoping to disappear entirely. I could tell he was terrified. This was screaming at me, protruding through his misplaced anger.
Four weeks earlier, I had picked him up at the airport in Mexico, sore and sleepy from a long flight. He walked through with a heavy board bag and his temporary home on his back, but it was me who was carrying baggage.
I am losing myself, fixating on the flecks of dust dancing through the cold white room illuminated by the glow of mid-afternoon October sun. Her words sink deep. I manifested this. I take it all in, try on all of her ideas and observe myself in them, viewing the way they fall upon my skin, from every angle.
But I don’t like the way they look.
It was just eight minutes. Eight shitty minutes.