Lindsay A Chudzik

CW: sexual harassment/assault

[Non-Fiction]  On Dangerous Men

At nine, the husband of my mother’s cousin phones. “Do you know about cocks,” he asks once I tell him my parents are working, that I’m a latchkey kid fending for myself. I feel more grown up than I should because I know how to make Kraft mac-n-cheese and Ellio’s pizza on my own. The next year his estranged wife commits suicide. When I finally tell my parents about the call, they say I must be misremembering.

***

A man flashes me and my friend while we ride our tomato red Huffy bikes in sixth grade. He rolls down his Camry’s window, jerking off and licking his lips while we stand silent, scraped knees from roughhousing, until he drives away. What makes his life so rough that he has to do such things, we wonder, or perhaps we ask each other this out loud.

***

Balanced on a rolled-up rug, my sequined homecoming dress pulled above my waist, J insists with forceful fingers I deserve the posh Hotel DuPont, not a musty basement and Strawberry Boone’s Farm. I hit him with the bottle because I’ve been taught girls who don’t want it have to fight back. I’ll later catch his mugshot in a Sunday paper, now a registered sex offender for forcible rape. My first thought—thank god it wasn’t me.

***

When I do lose my virginity, it’s to a good guy I’ll date for five more years. The soundtrack isn’t the punk rock I’d dreamed of, but rather an episode of Jenny Jones. The audience oohs and aahs over an out-of-control teen’s chaste make-over, a plaid jumper replacing her Pepto Bismol pink tube top and low-rise jeans. While bleeding, I don’t think of my boyfriend, but instead of being sent home earlier that day from Catholic school, my principal not wanting to be responsible for what my short skirt might entice men to do. How does she or anyone explain the boys being molested in the adjoining church, though, short skirts not a staple of their wardrobes?

***

In college, I run with packs of boys, downing shots of whiskey like shooting stars, sunrises more routine than romantic. It’s not that I don’t like the company of women, but I do prefer not feeling guarded in bars, in mosh pits, on late night streets and subway cars. I’m so often flanked by men who protect me from the horrors other women experience that I feel lucky, invincible even until one of those men also becomes dangerous.

***

F locks me inside my apartment, frustrated because I’m leaving for graduate school and never loved him back. He rips the phone off my wall, barricades the door, pisses on the platform shoes and Docs in my closet, and bloodies my lip. The neighbor across the hall turns up his Michael Jackson. The neighbor down the hall cranks up her Usher. He keeps hitting me in between telling me we’re soulmates even though I’m a bitch.

***

MFA boys write funny rape scenes and instructional stories about how to put women in their places, a dad teaching his son to call his mother “cunt.” The male professors don’t intervene and it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve already heard one of them tell an undergraduate he dreams about her in a green bikini.

***

Making out with a man after dinner and a movie, I lose interest and tell him he needs to go. He tells me I’ve been a tease, that we need to finish what I started. And I do start again, but then I stop a second time. He asks if he can finish himself off in my bathroom and I nod, relieved he’s not going to rape or kill me. He texts two months later: I miss you. Let’s grab some dinner or see a movie sometime.

***

A guy in my short story workshop lies and says he made out with me. I insist it isn’t true, not because he’s an undesirable alcoholic, but because I have a boyfriend. I cringe when he screams to his girlfriend, “I can smell your pussy from across the room,” just like I’ll later cringe when women I know continue to be friends with him in between their own #MeToo posts or when a talented female student asks, “Should I apply to an MFA program? Do I have what it takes?”

***

When I date M, it’s because I’m depressed from breaking off an engagement with a bipolar artist who treated me better than he treated himself. I want something easier, but a pregnancy quickly adds unwanted complication. I steel myself when the nurse at student health gives me a calendar to mark my due date and again at the forced ultrasound, miscarrying five days before my scheduled abortion. M insists we still go see the National that day because they’re his favorite band and because he hates when plans change.

***

When I break up with M, he tells me he wants to date younger girls who are less accomplished anyway, girls who are still trying to figure themselves out. He specifically uses the word “girls,” not women. Our landlord barges in a week later when a male friend visits me. She says she thought she was renting to a couple, not a slut. M says and does nothing.

***

Waiting for a friend in a Chapel Hill bar, a group of philosophy PhDs say “hi.” They aren’t being overly flirty and I’m distracted, too. Then out of the blue, one says, “I don’t want to fuck you anyway. I’m married and you’re not pretty enough.” I wonder if his wife knows the type of man he is when she’s not around. I wonder if any wives do. I can’t stop thinking about how I’ve been pushing away nice guys—Zs and As—because I don’t want to be wrong about them. He adds, “Try them if you want to get fucked tonight,” pointing to four Mexicans playing pool. I inch closer to their table, not because I want to fuck anyone, but because I can’t imagine a group more dangerous than these college-educated white men.

***

I don’t recall anything from the night I hung out with my friend D after moving back to Philly, at least nothing after my third drink. I’m someone who can hold her liquor well, someone who can hang with the guys. But this time I black out and wake up half-dressed next to him. When I ask if anything happened, D assures me we were good. I feel sick, violated, but I go teach four back-to-back classes to college students anyway, proud of how responsible I’m being, proud I embody what my parents told me I should be: someone who shows up when they’re supposed to be somewhere. I run to the bathroom in between classes to vomit, whispering over and over to myself, we were good, we were good.

***

M guilts me into talking to him again, saying he doesn’t have the same support system, saying he’s moving to a city I know well and I owe him my help. I hate that he’s following me to Philly, a city I love more than any other, a city of which I want to claim ownership. At dinner with a friend, I receive no less than thirty Facebook alerts before finishing our pizza: someone is trying to log into your account from an unrecognized device.

***

My “friendship” with M ends in court, in mutual protective orders filed. He tells the judge I’ve hacked into his computer and maybe raped him since he can’t recall what happened one night, stealing my stories, trying to make them his own. He tells me he’s tired of everything working out for me, that he wants to destroy my charmed life. I know which version of the story he tells his current girlfriend because I know which version he told me about his ex-wife.

***

I sometimes Google M to know which shows and bars to avoid, learning instead things that keep me up at night. It scares me he now teaches middle school, a period when girls are most vulnerable, most malleable. It scares me he dates women who look online like feminists, like women who mostly have their lives together. I wish I could tell them my story, but I know they won’t believe me until it happens to them too.

***

F tries to reconnect and I tell myself we can be friends, that he was only violent once, knowing I’m only counting physical violence in that ratio. I want to go back to the simplicity of before, to our time in London, in Amsterdam, in Prague, but he’s an addict now. He loses his job because he can’t stay sober while touring with famous musicians, a job most would kill for, but he takes for granted. He blames me for the stress I caused him, worrying I’ll meet and marry another man while he’s away. I do start dating my future husband and when he asks if I should be scared of D, or M, or F, I shift and shrug, say probably.

***

I forget how many times I’ve been grabbed by men whose names I will never know in mosh pits or while walking or commuting home from school on crowded city blocks and subway cars. I forget how many times I’ve been followed too closely, forced to act like I know another man on the street, praying that man isn’t also bad. I forget how many times I’ve been told to smile; how many times catcalls have turned to insults and threats of violence because I didn’t respond favorably. I don’t tell these stories at first because I’m ashamed, but later because they are so common.

 


Lindsay A Chudzik‘s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Chiron Review, Clementine Unbound, Defenestration, Dogwood, Fredericksburg Literary & Art Review, Ghost Town, Haunted Waters Press, Map Literary, and Pembroke Magazine, among others. Her fiction had been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and her creative nonfiction has been anthologized. Currently, Lindsay is Editor in Chief of Feels Blind Literary, an Assistant Professor of writing at VCU, and a recent recipient of a Gulf-South Summit Award for excellence in community-engaged teaching. She spends her free time contemplating creative ways to work Kathleen Hanna and Courtney Love into her stories and syllabi.

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