“Emotional rape,” she says, lightly. My English teacher. She sits serenely at the front of the class, Mrs Dalloway poised between her fingertips, unaware of the effect her words are having on me. Echoing around my head, they cackle at my fallibility as I stiffen. I feel as though she has dragged a knife across the base of my neck and I watch apathetically as memories bleed from the cut. Wounds can always come unstitched, there is always some fact to be found in fiction.
Fact: People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (commonly abbreviated to PTSD) will naturally heal over time, regardless whether they receive treatment or not, as their life continues beyond the point of trauma.
Fact: Knowledge that pain will end is not enough in itself for said pain to end.
“I slit my thumb off once, when I was cutting onions,” she continues. My throat tightens. The smell of blood makes me retch and my senses evoke it before me. The class launch into a lackadaisical discussion about their various levels of squeamishness. I know this deviation cannot last, much as it repulses me. I hold the book open in my lap and wonder if there were ever words in it. A black haze ripples before me and streams of ink slide across the page.
I remember as child, my choice superpower was irrevocably ‘invisibility,’ although usually hotly contested with the ability to fly. In the classroom now I would take either aptitude quite gladly. I wish I could disappear, sink away into my ugly plastic chair; leap through the window and drift upon this April breeze. I can’t remember it like this. And yet, now I have begun it, the relighting of memories I thought had burnt away, I find I cannot stop-
Your face. Drawn too close to mine. On that step which was always too narrow for two. Your smell. The way you shook your head and laughed. These recollections reminding me of Henri Bergson’s words: The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause. I have confused myself. She speaks, I see her lips moving, and I hear you. Your voice; which was always too soft for such hard eyes. Black. Blacker. Blackened. Flicking in those deep sockets, like burning coals that give the illusion of turning as flame rolls over them.
“Look at the words!” She cries, emphatically. “What does Woolf say?”
I stopped you in the road. I said your name and you stood before me. You were different then. I felt sympathy for you, we felt sympathy for each other; on that road. Now there can be no understanding.
“She does not say ‘it hurt a bit,’ she refers to it as an ‘indescribable outrage.’”
You shamed me. You sat me on that step and let the people watch me. Judgment stricken upon my red cheeks with each fresh lick of eyes, searing my skin like whiplash. It thrilled you. To see me like that. Exposed beside you. I was yours and you didn’t want me. You wanted to see how far you could take me on your wave of egotism, how long it would take for me to drown.
“Forcing your soul, that was it.”
I can hear the rain but I cannot see it. Spat. Spat. Spat. Against the window behind me. Such earthly violence was not meant to be seen. The last time we spoke, you shied away from me. I had given you that letter and perhaps you had begun to understand that passion comes in many forms and I had passion. I remember laughing because you finally understood what you’d done.
“These ideas are connected with rape, he wants absolute control. What we’re talking about here is a psychological rape of identity. There,” she says gently, pointing towards the text. “Mrs Dalloway is lightyears ahead of her time, she understands that in the face of this violation, suicide for Septimus was relief. Life is made intolerable; they make life intolerable, men like that.”
You left and I didn’t cry, although they thought I would. Tears are a sign of strength and I was not strong. I stood atop the tallest hill I could find and watched as the skyline lit up. It was almost Christmas and I remember thinking how I had nothing left to give. Your parting words, the last gift from Pandora’s box, wound about me and I felt unbearably alone. You’re becoming yourself, you said to me. You’re becoming yourself, and then you paused. Those eyes perused me and I felt your gaze boring into me, as though I was a diamond mine and you wanted to strip me until there was nothing left to glitter. You’re becoming yourself, you said, maybe you already are.
“Remember, Clarissa escapes. She retreats from passion through her marriage to Dalloway and she saves herself. Septimus has been subject to the horrors of World War One, he’s been forced to experience invasion: violence. His death makes her re-evaluate her life, she thinks about her past; what could have been, but wasn’t. The love she could have had.”
I stood on that hill and I thought, I could die but I won’t. Humanity has a strange way of surviving whatever is thrown at it. If I was supposed to die, I would already be dead. And I’m still here, finding ways of living. But not in your shadow anymore, I will step aside of you and into the light that I have so long missed. The thing about people which makes them so special is their ability to preserve something of the self that no one else can ever have access to. Even if you’re in a loving relationship with someone, there is always a part of you that is retained. You tried to burn me, but I am made of bricks and mortar, and bricks and mortar cannot burn.
I am frequently told that pain is good, pain is character-building. There something to be said for it. Like a panic attack where you cannot breathe and are certain you will die this time; there is strength to be found in waking up the following morning and tasting the oxygen you inhale. Of course, a nightmare too is terrifying and unfathomable as it unfolds, but when you wake it seems silly; only a dream. I’m not saying pain is good, but it does teach you something.
When the next man walks over with his dark eyes and smiles. You can smile back, put on your sunglasses and say ‘I prefer the light.’
Amber Sidney-Woollett is an editor of Warbler Magazine and can be found on our team page. She has learnt to manage her anxiety and is 'doing a lot better.' She hopes you, the reader, are doing well too.