By Cavelle Sproule
Content note: The following story contains depictions of sexual and gendered violence and suicide. If you are feeling activated or impacted please reach out to the Sexual Assault Centre of Brant 24-7 support line: 519.751.3471 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-833-456-4566 for 24-hour support anywhere in Canada.
My body hesitated to lift itself onto the edge. This is what I want, but my brain and my heart disagree. The shiver that ran from my toes to the top of my spine reminded me of how cold it was. Tears frozen to my cheeks, the salted liquid crawling through my lips and onto the sandpaper I call a tongue. I swear I could’ve filed my teeth with the dry, red muscle.
I stepped up, one foot at a time, thankful for the wind blowing me backward instead of over the edge. Not that I wasn’t ready to take a step forward, I was just taking my time. My mother always told me that if you hesitated, you didn’t really want it. I wasn’t hesitating, just living in the moment. My last moment.
The short hairs on my neck stood up, matching the goosebumps that covered my skin like scales on a snake.
Snake. How fitting.
Snakes spend most of their time in solitary, only meeting up with others for mating or sometimes hibernation.
That’s what I had been like. Occasionally a friend would drag me out of the house to be her designated driver. I much preferred a book in my hand than a drink I was too young for. I wasn’t lonely. I had people if I needed them, but I didn’t need them. I’d been taking care of myself for as long as I could remember and that wasn’t about to change.
When I was eight, I spent my birthday party crying in a public bathroom. We had gone to one of those pizza and entertainment restaurants for my birthday, but all I did was cry.
When I was ten, my father finally left. Not that he had been around much before, but suddenly there were no phone calls, or Christmas gifts, radio silence, and a little girl who didn’t know what was going on.
When I was twelve, I met my best friend. Well, we’re not so much anymore, but at that time she was everything. All that I had.
When you look back on your life and realize you never did anything great, that you’re not even leaving behind a ghost of your memory, what will you do? You’re a face on a page of a yearbook that people will glance at in twenty years and not give a second thought. All your suffering had been for nothing. It sent a tremble through my bones as I coughed out a broken sob.
“I can’t go. I have a biology project,” I remember telling her. We both knew she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“We have weeks to do that! You could have fun if you just loosened up a little.”
She was right, of course, but keeping a high average didn’t come easy. I devoted everything I had to my education; I couldn’t give that up for a night of sweaty people rubbing up on me.
I went anyway, of course. She could convince me of something as easily as I could write a three- page English paper. The desire to turn back churned my stomach and made bile rise in my throat. Once I was in the car there was no going back. She had on her shortest skirt and wouldn’t want to take it off before a few drinks.
Suddenly, I’m heaving and shaking, my head knocking against a wooden frame. It’s fuzzy and blurred, like the letters at an optometrist, but I know what is happening.
When I was eight, my cousins and I wanted to play hide and seek at my party. The birthday girl got a head start while one of them counted. I wasn’t the last one found, but I didn’t leave my spot until an employee dragged me out.
When I was ten, I was terrified of my new teacher. Everyone had heard how strict he was, but never with me. He was kind, reminded me how smart I was. He challenged my brain in a way no one had before.
When I was twelve, I got over my fear of others and had my first sleepover.
“No thanks, I don’t drink,” I muttered pushing the glass away. The chatter in the background nearly drowned out my voice entirely, the way a wave takes a ship.
The same response I had given a million times before felt just as sour as the first time. I wasn’t a buzzkill; I just wasn’t prepared to crash my car.
“It’s just orange juice.” He smiled. He smiled that smile that made your heart race. He had a voice that I felt deep in the crater of my stomach and it twisted around my tendons all the way down to my toes.
Eyeing him with caution and raising my brow in the way that made my face lopsided and wrinkled, I pressed my hand to the glass. The warmth of my fingertips fogged the icy glass and I sipped.
Now, my hands were turning an unflattering shade of purple. I didn’t dare shove them in my coat pockets. Without full use of my arms, I might fall. Not that I didn’t want to, I just wasn’t ready yet.
I swirled the orange liquid around. Unknowingly, I felt my future disappear as it descended my throat.
When I was eight, my cousin found me hiding in a bathroom stall. I covered my mouth to stifle a giggle that made me miss the click of the door locking behind him.
When I was ten, I didn’t notice the way my pants became sheer as I stretched. The shoulder touches, that morphed into leg squeezes.
When I was twelve, I missed my friend inching towards me, lying beside me under a makeshift fort of scratchy blankets.
You always know that something isn’t right. It’s a familiar feeling from someone you trust though, so, it couldn’t have been wrong.
This was different.
Someone I didn’t know, violating what I was old enough to finally know belonged to me. The bright flash forced my eyes shut. I felt so weak, like I had eaten enough nightshade to take out a village. I was too tired to close my legs, I couldn’t lift my head or my arms, I couldn’t feel his teeth baring into my skin and pulling it from my body.
The building is three stories high. There’s a chance I’ll survive, but it’s the only place nearby with easy roof access.
When I was eight, I was playing a game.
When I was ten, I thought my teacher cared about me.
When I was twelve, it was just what friends did.
Now though... Now it was a stranger. Putting his hand where it didn’t belong, and I wasn’t going to stand for it. I had to tell someone.
I shouldn’t have told anyone.
If I had pretended it hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have shared the photos. “Evidence” of my enjoyment. According to him, we had both had a couple of consensual drinks and decided to take things upstairs. I must’ve just been embarrassed; they all knew I didn’t sleep around or let myself get tipsy.
When I was eight, he pulled up my pink frilly dress and covered my mouth with his hand. Told me to be quiet, and that if I was good, he wouldn’t tell my mom I was misbehaving.
When I was ten, I played twister with my legs spread and leggings stretched thin. I stayed after class, was so mature I could handle things other students couldn’t. He called me sweetheart and beautiful, praised me until I was weak in the knees.
When I was twelve, I felt her slender hand creep up my shirt and under my bra. She groped my flesh with her own, kneading it like bread dough, and sucking the warmth from my body. I tensed because it was happening again, but I couldn’t afford to lose the only person I had.
I was smarter when I was young, I kept quiet, my head trained at the floor or the ceiling. Of course, it wasn’t okay, and not my fault; but wasn’t it?
When did I ever tell anyone to stop? When had I said no, and screamed and kicked until I was breathless?
I was about to lose my breath for the last time. My foot hovered over the empty space, feeling like a domino ready to fall, ready to fix the problem and leave the world with one less mistake.
I knew what I had to do.