I threw on my sweats and marched down the hall. "Just because someone broke into my house and hurt me doesn't mean I have to hide, God damn it," I thought. "I haven't done anything wrong and I'm not ashamed! Nothing's changed. Nothing!" But when I opened the front door and took my first step outside, I hesitated, alarmed that the sky and the hill and the street opened before me, shimmering in vastness. The scene was so huge and so endless and so wrong that I couldn't catch my breath. I felt a pain slash through my chest, left side, and doubled over. Slowly I backed up to the door, opened it, and let myself in. I sank to the floor and stayed there until I could breathe again. "Maybe it's a little too soon," I thought, willing myself not to cry. "I can try again tomorrow." In my mind, I had already crawled back into my friend's bathrobe and was lying, curled in the corner, on his couch.
After a week of waiting, my left eye opened. "Treat yourself to a coffee," the doctor said. "There's no permanent damage." I wanted to celebrate with a vanilla café au lait and take my perfect eyesight out to my favorite coffee house, the way I used to. But the bruises were still bright and they scared people, making them stare and clutch their children close and move away, creating a vacuum that sucked me to the front of the coffee line. "What can I get for you today?" the server asked without smiling, his eyes unwavering. "What happened to the line?" I thought.
I was angry. So very angry. I had gone to some dreadful, night-terror place that was slanted sideways, while my friends continued to exist in their safe, little, flat worlds, those lovely, frosted-glass shelters that were as certain and predictable as the lighting of a lamp with the flip of a switch. I never questioned. Until now.
The officers at the scene had come and gone, leaving a trail of evidence unexamined and uncollected. I didn't know what to do. "Don't let the police rape you too!" my best friend had yelled at me, waving her cigarette in the air. When she left, I washed my hair and never let her near me again.
I didn't believe there was really a man standing there, so I looked again. Yes. There was a man. I sat up in bed, screaming. It sounded garbled. This couldn't be real. But it was. I heard an explosion when he sprang at me with his fists. Over and over. Eyes. Cheeks. Nose. Chin. Back to the eyes. Again and again. I could hear the smack of bone against bone, but my face had gone numb. My head kept snapping back and forth. Crack! Crack! I was trying to cover my face with my hands, but couldn't. At some point, I stopped seeing. And then I stopped screaming. And it was only then that he stopped hitting. He pulled me from my bed. While I begged him not to hurt me, he dragged me around to the other side of the room and forced me to lie face down on the floor. He knelt behind me, forcing my legs open with his knees, and pulled my nightgown up. I felt something poke my back. A finger? A knife? A penis? "I have money I can give you. Please don't hurt me." He told me he didn't want money and he wasn't going to hurt me. He was going to "make love" to me. That's really what he said. "Make love."
"You used to live in La Jolla?! Why in the world did you move back here?" I had never been very good at answering that question. It made me think of the Cove, bathed in sparkles first thing in the morning, and the tops of its white-and-brown dappled rocks covered with seals, jutting through the brilliant blue, and the surfers heading out from the sheltered beaches of Wind 'n Sea, waiting on their boards for just the right wave, and groups of white-clad people in neat rows, dancing, turning and bowing their slow tai chi movements. I often jogged off the sidewalk and down a trail through the rocks. I used to look up at the dark, tinted windows facing the water, wondering if anyone was sipping coffee and gazing out over the sea, or if they were too busy, in typical So Cal fashion, tearing through the house, looking for keys, straightening ties and hunting down briefcases, on their way to downtown San Diego to earn the right to keep up with the Joneses next door, who had a two foot high, purple quartz pyramid (for peace) on a pedestal in their great room, and a Mercedes convertible tucked into the garage, and a vacation home waiting in the south of France.
My quiet beach existence turned upside down in the middle of the night, during a full moon, when a man roused me from my dreams, beat me, pulled me from my warm bed, dragged me across my room, threw me to the floor with my face turned toward the bathroom door, and sexually assaulted me. The rug fibers were scratchy under my cheek, but I couldn't see them. I do not remember how long it lasted. I do not remember how long I was in the Emergency Room, or when I was able to sleep again. My left eye opened a week later. The blood in both eyes cleared three weeks later. The bruises and swelling were gone six weeks later. My illusion of safety was gone forever.
"Why in the world did you move back here?" my Cincinnati friends persisted, not knowing what had happened. I never talked about it. I had moved back home as soon as I was stable enough. Years.
"Oh," I said, smiling. "I can think of a few reasons."
Louise Yeiser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Modern Witches, Wizards and Magic (Kerlak) and in ezines Tuesday Shorts and Six Sentences. In June, 2007, one of her pieces was used by Dr. Paola Trimarco in a presentation on flash fiction, during a one-day conference, sponsored by Edge Hill University in the UK. Louise studies Creative Nonfiction at the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Sewickley, PA with three English Mastiffs and one cat.