I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this word — Träume (German, meaning “dreams”) — how it resembles the word “trauma”. Hardly an original thought, I’m well aware. But recently, my psychotherapist asserted that the act of dreaming is parallel to returning to an infantile state; vulnerable to everything hidden deep within my psyche. And when I dream, my subconscious never ceases to pull the rug out from under my feet. Earlier today, I had a very literal dream in which I very powerfully confronted the first person I ever had a casual hook-up with. My immediate impression is that it was everything I wished I could say to every man who has ever entered my body on a premise that falls short of honest. But with special emphasis on the first.
His name was Tim. He had shoulder-length red hair, coduroy pants, a soul patch, and a strangely sophisticated pair of specs with thick black frames. We had met on a previous occasion on transit, and crossed paths again that night on the train. I remember that it took me a bit to work up the nerve to tell him we had met before. I was a very vulnerable young adult, silently struggling with matters of sexuality and gender, unable to reach out to appropriate support networks. When he asked me to join him for a drink at the pub, I couldn’t believe my ears. As anxious as I was about money, and about whether I knew of a single alcoholic beverage I would like the taste of, I threw caution to the wind and had a few rounds of vodka slime. I remember telling him that I didn’t want to go home right away. This is something I had been telling myself since second grade, when I was responsible for taking myself to and from school.
What he heard when I said “I don’t want to go home right away” was an opportunity to stop listening for cues that trouble awaited me for when I come home, no matter what I do. I phoned home and told my mother that I wouldn’t be home until very late, so she probably shouldn’t wait up for me. Then Tim and I took a taxi to his home, and that’s when everything turned towards sexual exploitation. Whereas I was perfectly content with hanging out or even cuddling, he was not. And while I have little doubt that he could have been transparent about his motivations for getting me into that cab, I didn’t have the confidence and experience to stand up for myself and tell him no when he came onto me after I crossed the threshold into his room. My only displays of active participation were compliance with what he told me to do, when he wanted me to do it.
My feelings of shame and guilt were locked away in an instant when I picked up my cell phone the next morning and saw 16 missed calls and 3 voicemail messages from home. Tim’s delightful talk of making me some pancakes wasn’t enough to shake me from a complex of anger, anxiety, and a phobic response to what was inevitably waiting for me on my return home. I knew I had to hear the messages. I knew I had to go home. And I did what I had to do, red-faced and embarrassed, as I picked up my clothes and put myself back together again.
When I returned home, my father was glaring at me. My mother demanded that I join them in the “family room”, and the interrogation began. I had decided on my way home that there was no point in lying. But I was shocked when they told me that, between 3 and 4 in the morning, they raided my personal belongings in search of any contact information they could find before calling up every person whose phone number I had written in the back of my high school agenda (which was over a year old at the time). They demanded information from everyone who bothered to answer the phone, and when it was clear that the only person named Tim whose phone number I had written down was the wrong man, they phoned the police and deliberately misinformed them about the last time they had seen me so that I could be reported missing faster. And they told me to report myself not-missing.
Then my mother began asking the difficult questions. The kind that parents ask out loud even though they know the answer, and if I lied, they would just call me a liar. And if I had told the truth but it was what they secretly hoped to hear, they’d call me a liar anyway. When I answered assertively, without lying, my father bit back by asking me “What are you, some sort of a whore?” without even batting an eyelash. I think he expected me to feel shame, but he just made me furious enough to stop caring if I upset them or caused them to worry. I became, from that day forward, recklessly negligent of my own person.
When I caught up with Tim a few days later, he didn’t want me any more. Not as a no-strings hook-up. Not as a friend-with-benefits. Just not me. That’s when the shame overwhelmed me. That’s when I wish I could have said all the things I yelled at him in my dream.
In my dream, I was right back in that place. In his neighborhood. Watching him walk away from me after telling me he just doesn’t have the time for me any more. And instead of letting the blood rush into my face, and the tears well up in my eyes, I gave him a taste of what he put me through by grabbing him by the arm and stopping him in his tracks. I yelled at him and told him he exploited my vulnerabilities for his fucking orgasm. I told him that, had he been honest, I probably would have fucked him anyway. Even better than that, I would have done so with enthusiasm and kept coming back to him. I had my own frustration to work off, with a libido at least as powerful and persistent as his. I told him that the sex wasn’t just about him, but he didn’t think of that when he decided against trying to vocally establish consent of any kind. I told him that he took me for granted, that he objectified me, and that for treating me like I’m some sort of monogamous prude who wouldn’t possibly talk openly about sex, he’s a fucking asshole.
When I woke up, I knew I was dreaming specifically of him, but I suddenly started to think about all the guys who pretended to be my friend until they had fucked me once and pulled the same bullshit. And then all the guys who had pretended to be my friend until I pushed them off me in the middle of them putting the moves on. And I realized I wanted to say all of these things to every one of them. And to the guy who stole my keys after I accepted his offer to let him drive me home from a bar, and who then tried to park the car at the back of the airport — in the darkest corner of the alley behind that airport that he could find — as if taking a complete stranger of the opposite sex to a location that gets about as remote as it possibly can within the city, where no one could possibly see her struggling or hear her shouting for help, was the magic combination he needed to open my legs. I did yell at him until he took me to where I actually lived at the time, but I sure didn’t say what I needed to.
I wanted to accuse every man who has ever violated my body, to his face. I wanted each and every one of them to feel backed into a corner with no escape from the words “You raped me.” I wanted to finally fight back, even if I was pounding on his bloody fucking battered face with two broken hands, teeth cracking in my mouth as I tighten my jaw.
Without the ability to write it all out, my dreams would just be nightmares that haunt me whenever I’m in a lover’s arms, or terrify me into a fully wakened state when I’m alone. It’s a miracle I’m able to sleep at all, when this is what awaits me on the other side.