Editor’s note: this article describes harassment, gore and violence.
This column seeks to connect the stories of my dreams/nightmares with my life experiences.
He had been following me for days. When I’d go to school, walk home, stop by a coffee shop – he was there. Waiting. Looking. His eyes were blue. Not the kind I liked reading about in the young adult section of the bookstore. He had the odd kind. They lingered a little too long and were always glazed over like he was stuck staring at something magical. He was only staring at me, though.
And this man – he never looked me up and down, chest to right above the ankle. Only my face. So I didn’t think too much of it. Men burning holes into your soul doesn’t hurt unless it’s something else they want.
I slept with a knife under my pillow for weeks.
One night, I had misplaced it. I left it on my sink’s counter, shining under the moonlight that bled through an apple-shaped window above the toilet. It was a small pocketknife – meant for cutting cans and things – that my mother bought me years ago.
I was six, and it was Grandfather Mountain. Or somewhere like that.
“Mah-mi! Can I buy this?”
My brother, upset that he can’t brand a knife of his own, angrily chimes in.
“No! I want one too.”
“You both have to be careful,” Mom says.
If you run your finger over the wooden handle, you’d feel my name in childish cursive.
That night, I had no promise of safety. No name to guard and keep mine.
My home became a haunted house. Not the silly ones with dressed-up ghosts or flickering lights or bleeding clowns – a real one, with real blood. I heard him open the door first. It was slow, like he didn’t want my family waking. But I did, anyway. My body was shaking, telling me to go find him.
As I walked down our carpeted staircase, the house was silent and dim. Navy darkness engulfed everything, until it didn’t. And I saw flames dancing on the corners of every step. The man had set candles on every row, waiting for me to knock them over with my clumsy breaths. The house did not burn.
There. I could hear him. His own breathing, shallow and quick like a dove flying back home. Outside.
I unlocked our back door, its glass panes only revealing the night and its stars. When I stepped onto the grass, I could smell it. Copper and tang and tears and anguish.
Our hammock used to be a pretty shade of blue, tied between two oak trees on the right side of our yard. Now, it was red and brown. On it lies a girl, her body immune to the night’s cold air.
A faint glimmer sparked from below. I looked down to see my knife engulfed in the soft dirt’s embrace.
Before I returned to the girl, I noticed him. I think it’s what he wanted. His face marred the knife’s reflective surface, a smile contorting the lines that drew him.
It was the first time I really saw the man. I felt like I knew him. Like I’ve said hello to him in passing, introduced myself to him at a party, or ordered from him at a restaurant.
The tooth fairy does not give you twenty dollar bills when you turn eighteen. Instead, the tooth fairy kind of looks like you – dark hair, brown skin, trimmed-down fingernails – and hides something else underneath the pillow. Something shiny and smooth and cold and sharp.
You cannot feel its slimness or its lacerated edges as you sleep – only the comfort and safety it brings you, just in case.
Just in case the old bald man teaching you self-defense tightens his grip around your neck (even though it’s just pretend, he says, and your parents are watching) as he whispers strange things into your ear. Yet, you relax for a bit, because what he says makes sense.
You’re a girl, he says.
A guy could smash his glass of beer on your head, he warns.
I need to pin your arm behind your back, he murmurs, so you know how it feels.
Okay, okay, okay.
You stop running when I tell you to, he shouts.
This last practice is important, he declared. Come alone.
Don’t bring your parents with you.
But you always had – not because you didn’t trust him, but because you didn’t trust sweaty men whose business was run in their apartment, who asked before they could touch you (for the sake of the self-demonstration, allegedly) but still held onto you like you were a doll – their doll – that they could brush back its hair.
So when you look into his eyes and answer yes I’ll see you tomorrow, yes I can drive by myself even though you don’t have a license and you don’t plan on returning to his place ever again, you think of the knife under your pillow. Just in case – and you can’t help but think – your parents don’t understand you hate his meaty hands around you, and just in case he comes to your house (because an address can be derived from a check, right?) using the moves he taught against you.
Maybe, it would be better to keep the knife in the kitchen.