WARNING: This blog post contains graphic language and imagery and may not be suitable for all readers.
Before cell phones and wireless landlines, home phones came with long, curly cords - the kind still found in offices today, only longer and available in an icky range of pastel colors. When I was 16-years-old, I had the misfortune of having one of those pastel cords wrapped several times around my neck in an attempt to subdue and prevent me from screaming. It worked. During a shockingly brutal beating that I endured, I was choked hard enough to lose consciousness - though I'm fairly sure I was still screaming somewhere deep inside my mind. I woke to a boot coming down hard on my head, and then a quick couple of face dunks in a toilet bowl to refresh me. Needless to say, I was awake at that point.
This 19-year-old boy-maniac, suddenly stricken by some kind of psycho-guilt trance, knew that the only way he could right the wrong deed he had committed was by fucking it better. And so, he took his penis out, shoved it into me as hard as he could, grunted, cried, wailed, moaned, ejaculated, said he was sorry and then, for lack of nothing more imaginative to do, beat me again.
He knew I wouldn't fight back, and I didn't. He was a big guy with a violent soul. I was a soft, small, terrified girl with peace and love in my heart. I had no chance.
I've often wondered if this past experience really affected me in the way they say all victims of abuse tend to carry the story with them throughout their lives. I used to think I got away with it, that I was emotionally past it. I never had myself pegged as someone who would dwell too long on a bad thing, so the idea that this act might somehow define me or my life - well that was just unheard of.
But, it had changed my life. And, in a sad way, it defined it as well. However, being beaten and raped didn't make a mess of me; I didn't grow to hate men or sex -- I never stopped giving people a chance and I felt free to trust people as I saw fit. But what I did learn during those long disoriented moments down on the toilet water soaked floor was that reality -- as I knew it -- sucked. It was harsh and unfair and relentlessly heartbreaking. I was a kid, for chrissake. That wasn't supposed to happen. Reality hurt.
Reality not only hurt, it was boring, redundant and limiting. Between the raging anger I knew I was supposed to be feeling and the utter confusion I did feel as I grew into adulthood, I wanted more than what this kind of survival could give me. I wasn't content to only think of myself as merely a victim of a crime perpetrated by a sick piece of shit -- I wanted to be more than that. There was someone inside me that was huge, imaginative, crazy, artistic, musical - but it didn't stop there. I might have been confused, but I was equally as glorious and powerful. There were many different levels of me waiting to be acknowledged, and the only thing that could put a damper on this wild growth spurt I was about to embark on, this mad bloom of a flower that I was yet to become was... reality.
And so, in order to co-exist with the monotony of everyday life with its bad memories, its overcompensating survival methods, its soul-crushing disappointments and the eternal lure that keeps us so unnecessarily involved in its drama, I unconsciously created a detour. And this road, which became a well traveled and life long path, led to my favorite place, my home away from home: the world of fantasy.
My mind became my sanctuary. No one could touch this precious inner oasis, no one could penetrate my mind; it belonged to me, my one temple, my sacred ground. Mine. You could stomp on my head, but you couldn't kill my mind.
Ironically, my fantasy life has always revolved around one theme: the perfect, trustworthy, loyal friend. And so, I kept my heart open always, looking for that divine allegiance in those I met. Here and there, I would befriend perfect mates, people who fell easily into the idea that fantasy was always better than reality and that, perhaps it might be a fun idea to just - live there, at least for a while.
With reality always looming in the background, we paid as much attention to it as needed in order to get by. We lived our lives as normal people. Life was both fragile and treacherous, and the only way to live it without crumbling was by pretending there was something more, something special. Something only we in the fantasy world could share.
I had friends that lasted for years, but as any true fantasist knows, if all parties are not on the same page, the fantasy is over. And even though I'm certain I could have maintained the romance of fantasy forever, others have bowed out. Because, as life demands change it also demands that we adapt to the times whether we live in reality or fantasy. And endings, in either realm, can range from graceful to harsh.
I learned that the world of fantasy and role-play was a vulnerable field, perhaps even more so than in that of reality's playground. A broken heart is a broken heart in any world.
After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, my world fell apart. Reality, as I had always suspected, was truly the enemy of my mind at this point. So now, not only was life heartbreaking, it was precious, frail and threatened. And all it kept demanding of me was to pay attention, never escape, feel the illness, experience the full brunt of all the horror -- reality was asking me to die for it.
So, in the same way as I did with my reaction to the violence brought down on me when I was 16, I said to reality: Fuck you.
I got it. I'll work. I'll survive. I'll pay bills and walk the walk. I'll glide through this life in such a way that whomever catches a glimpse of me will only see another responsible adult, doing her thing. But inside -- I'm out.
Inside, I'm a lover, a friend. Inside, the sky is blue and friendships last forever. Inside, I live forever in peace and nothing ever gets ugly and no one ever betrays me. Inside, I have no fear.
Inside my mind, I live in heaven.
Dori Hartley is the author of Angels and Echoes, a novel of dark fiction. Order your copy here.