Melissa Ferrone


For the days when rape is a word used more often than “oh” and “well” and “love:” a glass of merlot, a Xanax, and the half-burned-out lights on a Christmas tree.

For the moment your mother and father read the hospital report, the results of the rape kit; when you tell them the court date is November fourth: salted sunflower seeds, and whiskey on ice.

For the night you tell your new boyfriend, and you know you shouldn’t be this drunk, in a crowded bar where you have to yell above the music, the thrumming, heavy music; and the girl next to you flashes the bartender for a free drink, and all the men are howling, and you feel sick so your new boyfriend takes you outside, out into the still, frigid dark. For the night you have to explain your rape: two valium, and bar fries that you will throw-up within the hour.

            For the days when therapist bills are pressed like lilacs in a book of poems, when “rape” is always prefaced with “your”: a walk down Main Street in March, when the shops are all closed, the streetlamps haloed in the grey haze of rain that veils the night sky.

For the produce section at the market when you’re picking out pears, as you wrap your fingers around a pear, as you press, wanting the fruit to be just soft enough—and the grocery store falls out from under you, and the pear is no longer a pear but your rapist’s arm, and you’re clawing at him, and his skin is all around you, and this, you understand, is your first of many flashbacks: a weekend alone, the sleeve of Ritz crackers your roommate bought, and a down feather pillow.

For the walk to the hearing with your mother, both of you squeezed under a broken umbrella, for when you begin to cry and she murmurs, Hush, hush. When she pats the side of your head, when she adjusts your coat, and you remember being a child, fearful of the storm, and she’d zipped your jacket tight and smiled, It’s only thunder: two bottles of water and coconut flavored chapstick.

For after the hearing, the guilty verdict, when your mother says, astonished, He was so big: one large sundae with chocolate syrup and two red spoons.

For that day, your freshman year of college, when another student, your soon-to-be rapist, knocks on your door and says, I thought we could study together: a closed door, and the cup of tea you never got to finish.

For the evening your father is all nerves, fumbling with the broken bird-feeder in the yard—the feeder hangs on its side, the rope snapped, the wooden top rotted. For the evening you know he wants to ask how you are but can’t seem to phrase it and instead turns away, leaving strands of black cotton from his gloves in the splintered wood: a conversation, and a new anti-depressant that will keep you from eating for days.

For the moment “rape” is used in a debate on television, along with the words “consensual” and “lie” and “abortion” and, even, “God.” For the moment your sister eyes you nervously before she changes the channel: a photograph of when you were children—when your father was all shoulders, knees in the sand, with aviators and a white baseball cap; when you were a head full of knotted curls and dimpled cheeks browned in the sun; when your mother sang Neil Young to your sister as she drifted to sleep, tucked under a beach towel in the sand; when you were all far enough away from home that you yearned for it every second; when you, too, felt as unfamiliar as the land around you.

It is a photograph of the tide receding and dusk bleeding into night. Your father is folding the lounge chairs. Your mother is collecting the umbrellas and the pails and the newly broken kites. Your sister is holding your hand, following two steps behind, calling to your mother too far ahead.

You can’t remember who took the picture, but you remember the gulls, their heads tucked under salted wings, the dunes covered in seaweed and cattails, and that La Jolla's skyline fell heavy on your eyes, and dropped deep into your chest with slow, tender yawns.