Seventeen

Train station toilets and hospital rooms, especially bed seven, smell the same. Like chlorine and baking soda and coercion and cold. I’m seventeen and I wear my school uniform. No - she wears her school uniform, three layers of khaki and stockings. He wears a suit and carries an umbrella. 

How does she end up in the bathroom? She can’t fucking tell you. There’s talk of French lessons and kittens and a hit and kerfuffle and a “You’re really pretty but not that attractive to me.” It’s not flight, it’s not fright but a freeze. It’s eight in the morning and his breath smells of coffee. 

She says stop but it’s wheezy. She says you’re hurting me - please. She says no convincingly like she was taught in a workshop at school. Unlike the school solution, unlike the worked example, he doesn’t listen and it does not cease. Animals have a look in their eyes when life leaves them, like a moose when it’s hunted, like a deer in the headlights and like Grandpa, her hero, when she watched him die. There’s a crack in the ceiling and her soul must depart.

It’s done and he rezips her school tunic and he’s not even sure if he’s come. He smooths out his suit and he carries an umbrella and a flip phone. He snaps a photo for his album she guesses. She records her message saying it was consensual and he’s a really great guy. He films it three times with less vocal chord quivers and less cries. 

When she gets to hospital with a gut full of painkillers, they ask why and she sites “relationship difficulties” so the men in the room don’t ask further questions. It smells like chlorine and baking soda and fresh laundry and aspartame. She is discharged with a gut full of charcoal, a call from acute care and a referral to Psych. 

She stays silent and she suffers. 

Two years later, same man at a party. He apologises and flatters her, “You’re beautiful. You’re quite attractive to me.” She leaves and he hops in her taxi. She tells the cab driver to stop but the driver doesn’t listen and he smells like beer and peanuts and the man in the suit attacks her again. 

Five years later, she’s afraid of the men in her office and the ones that she’s dated and the one that she marries. She googles his name intermittently to see if someone else has come forward. She feels guilty that she hasn’t come forward but she’s scared he may hurt her again. He’s been involved with the law because he stalked another girl. She loses her breath but he isn’t convicted. She stays silent and she suffers. 

It’s been ten years and the #metoo movement is upon us and survivor replaces victim and she’s empowered by the girls just like her. It’s been ten years and not she, but me. 

I now see him again because he comes to my office but I will not stay silent anymore. This no longer defines me. This is my story and only a fraction of the whole. Today smells of buttered popcorn and new crayons and sunflowers, wet with fresh morning dew. I am strong and I’m brave and I made it out alive. We all will survive. Not survive, I will thrive.

-Tess Calopedos

Tess Calopedos is a writer, social worker and change manager from Sydney, Australia. She has a Bachelor of Social Work, BA in English and is working towards a Masters of Education. Tess still doesn’t know what she will be when she grows up. She recently has published a children’s book, Hello Lily, about English pronouns and sisters. More of her work can be found in UnsweetenedApomogy, Tharunka, Blitzand Flambuoyance, which she edits. Connect with her on Instagram @theroadtesstravelled