Before you read my story below, please keep a few things in mind.
I am recounting something that happened to me many years ago but still continues to have a profound effect on my life to this day.
When I was in highschool I wrote a version of this story which had been lost and so I have spent the last little while piecing together the memories and taking a somewhat painful but ultimately cathartic journey to re-tell my story.
This story is about sexual assault and you may find it triggering or upsetting. I was prompted to revisit this piece due to having an extremely strong emotional reaction after I was approached in a shopping centre toilet recently.
Some of you may know a verion of this story, others may have heard me mention it very briefly and some of you may be learnign this for the first time.
Please understand that this was difficult for me to write, it is even more difficult for me to press the publish button and immensely more difficult to have extended conversation about this with anyone.
It was another scorching summer day and I found myself in Borders searching the manga section to see if they had the latest volume of the Kindaichi Case Files, a murder mystery series I was thoroughly addicted to. There was nothing quite as thrilling as following the adventures of the two teenagers Hajime and Miyuki finding themselves at the centre of seemingly endless grizzly murders that they ended up solving without the help of the police.
Despite knowing deep down that it wouldn’t be in stock because manga was barely flying off the shelves and Christmas was only two weeks away – there was something comforting about perusing a shelf of books hoping I might strike gold.
Two careful scans and no luck. There was, however, something else that caught my eye. Something I could not let anyone else see me looking at.
The manga section was always quiet, and today was no exception. Looking both ways to check that I was in the clear, I slowly crouched down and located one of the men’s love series called Gravitation. Taking a volume from the shelf carefully as if one wrong move would set off alarms and out me right then and there – I gave the action my full concentration.
Slowly, slowly and safe.
I flicked through the pages to see if there anything steamy. I couldn’t seem to find anything of interest but every time I heard a muffled voice becoming clearer and louder it made me jump and I would look around me again.
Still no one.
It all felt too risky, so I put Gravitation back.
Slowly getting back up, I moved to another section I knew I wouldn’t be interested in.
It looked like I was browsing just as I was before but this time my eyes were out of focus as I ran a finger across the uneven spines rippling along the shelves.
I would do this a lot, it felt performative. Often, I would lose myself in this state of this performative nothingness. It was calming.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Mum called out from behind me. My focus came right back to the self-help books in front of me and I turned around to find Mum standing at the far end of the aisle with shopping bags in either hand.
“No, they didn’t have it.”
Mum pursed her lips slightly, “Come on, let’s go get something to eat and then we can find presents for the cousins.”
While I had largely escaped shopping duties since I was, until recently swamped with exams and end of year assignments, now that I was on holidays – I had been enlisted to help.
I didn’t really mind because Mum always let me look at the things I liked as well. Though, she may have preferred it if I was buying less manga.
We left Borders and walked through from the recently renovated section of Highpoint to the older section which had barely been touched since I was a much younger. I couldn’t count how many times it had just been Mum and I, sometimes my brothers and dad too – walking through Highpoint, on a mission for something. We’d fought, laughed and cried walking through this shopping centre. I had come to Highpoint with my friends, exchange students and even by myself a few times, it was very much a place that had been a constant backdrop in my life.
Mum and I had made our way to the food court we always went to. It had the place she liked to get her sandwiches from and the Chinese place that I liked. Recently, they had also started selling sushi.
Putting her shopping bags down, Mum took a spot at a table by the fountain. She pulled out her wallet and passed me a twenty dollar note, “Make sure you get yourself a drink too.”
Looking at the offering in the bain-marie, I decided the sushi looked more appetizing. Summer never made me feel like having anything incredibly hot anyway. On top of this, I could almost hear Mum saying something about chicken sitting in the bain-marie all day and food poisoning.
Two hand rolls and an aloe vera drink would do me.
Mum looked at the drink suspiciously, “What’s that?”
“It’s an aloe vera drink, it’s really nice!”
Raising an eyebrow, she took a sip “Not sure about the chunks but it tastes much better than I thought.”
I set myself down and Mum went off to get her food. I was convinced that she would get a salad sandwich and probably some kind of juice. A water was also a possibility but definitely not a soft drink.
Munching away on my sushi, I looked around and wondered if I would see anyone from school. The bright food court was bustling with unfamiliar faces. No one I knew.
Mum came back, she had a juice with her sandwich.
“So, after this, we just need something for the twins. All the others have been sorted. What do you think we should get them?”
I had no idea. I was close to the twins, but we had very different interests. Wondering what I could suggest, I went for the safe option, “What about something from the body shop? They go on holidays a lot so maybe some stuff they can travel with.”
Mum thought for a moment, “You’re right, they’re always at the holiday house in summer. What about some cute beach towels?”
It was totally different from what I suggested but I told myself that I must have helped Mum arrive at this conclusion somehow.
“That sounds good.”
For some reason whenever I found myself in a shopping centre, I always had to go to the toilet frequently and suddenly, “I’m just going to go to the toilet. I’ll be back.”
“I’ll wait here then.” Mum took another bite of her sandwich as she looked down at the water distorting the colourful tiles in the fountain.
Walking down the quiet hallway to the toilet, the slap of my thongs with each step was much more noticeable. The toilet was empty, and I went to the cubicle down the end, carefully placing toilet paper on the seat before sitting down and staring off into space.
Memories from the year floated into my mind before disappearing again, plans I would make with my friends over the summer break and of course when I would get the next volume of Kindaichi. Slowly I started thinking about the two years of VCE that faced me, how would I do? What would life be like after that?
As I spaced out, I didn’t hear someone enter the toilets and then the cubicle next to me.
“Psst.” Came a voice from above me.
I jumped and looked up to see a man in his mid to late thirties staring down at me.
Unsure, all I could manage was, “What?”
His eyes narrowed and I saw them ogle me where I sat, devouring every part of bare skin he could lay his eyes on. He mouthed something to me that I couldn’t quite make out but instinctively I said no.
Maybe he wanted toilet paper, I found myself wondering.
His head disappeared, and I felt a sense of relief.
Slowly cleaning myself up, I heard him call out to me again. I looked up and saw that this time he was holding a twenty dollar note in his hand.
He mouthed again to me “Suck?”
I shook my head and looked down at the floor. The thudding sound of my blood coursing through my body echoed in my ears and I felt glued to where I was, unable to move. That itchy feeling in my chest and a shaky weakness spreading to every part of my body.
I tried to focus on the tiles of the floor and see if I could find patterns like I did at home sometimes. There were definitely no patterns, but I kept trying. Maybe there was something in the grout. Just focus on the grout.
Without warning, something grabbed my leg and started pulling strongly. For a moment I watched without reacting, as if I had lost control of my body.
My mind was screaming to pull back, but my body wouldn’t – or couldn’t respond.
My shin hit the divider and scraped painfully as a strong grip held it firmly in place. That’s when I felt something wet and warm on my toe – I tried to jerk back but struggled and I realised it was his mouth.
For a moment I did nothing and then as I felt his grip relax slightly, I pulled back and managed to get free.
As quickly as I could, I got myself together and opened the cubicle door.
He was one step ahead of me, waiting on the other site of the door and pushed into the cubicle as I tried to get out, pushing me backwards onto the toilet seat. He towered above me. He held up a finger to his mouth, “Shhh”
The man leaned in close to me and started sloppily kissing my neck, I recoiled and squirmed but I couldn’t move away. His foul tongue scraping me and his hot, putrid breath filling my nostrils. I watched as his hand snaked its way into my pocket and fiddle around a bit.
Slowly he moved back, the saliva on my neck was still connected to his lips.
His crotch was level with my face. In a swift movement, he pulled down his shorts to reveal himself.
I tried to move backwards, but he used one of his hands and pushed my head towards him, “You know you want it.”
The smell was strong and repulsive.
I felt like I wanted to cry but I couldn’t.
With one hand holding himself and the other on the back of my head, he forced it into my mouth. That’s when I felt myself leave my body.
I watched from above as my empty eyes stared at nothing and he rhythmically thrusted back and forth. Both hands on the back of my head. The rest of my body was limp.
At the time I didn’t realise it, but this is what it felt like to break apart completely. To be smashed into pieces beyond my control.
It wasn’t clear how much time had gone by. But I felt something hot and bitter shoot into my mouth while he held my head firmly in place. He uttered the word, “Swallow.” As an order.
My mind still empty, I complied.
He moved back and pulled up his shorts before leaving the cubicle.
For a time, I sat there, unsuccessfully attempting to process what had just happened.
I had slowly come back to my body but not all the pieces were there. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew that a part of me was gone – destroyed.
No longer was my heart pounding loudly in my ear, my body no longer shook, I was numb.
Eyes still unfocused, I stood up and quietly exited the cubicle before washing my hands, face and neck. I washed my mouth out. I then pressed the soap dispenser and put it in my mouth to wash it. I just wanted to get rid of that bitter taste. After drying off, I exited the toilets.
The hallway was quiet, just as it had been and going out back into the food court, everything was just as it was before.
Mum was still sitting by the fountain but her sandwich was long finished, “What took you so long?”
“Oh sorry, my stomach was a bit upset.”
“It was probably that drink.”
“Okay, are you ready to go? Let’s go find those beach towels for the twins.”
As we walked back through to the shops, I felt my mind drift. Something about what had just happened felt so unreal. Maybe it didn’t happen. It couldn’t have happened.
I reached into my pocked and felt the note. A sinking feeling, a wave of dread engulfing me.
Everything looked the same, but it somehow all felt so different.
Petrified, that it would be my fault, I pushed it down and focused on the towels we had to find.