He had a long, dark, curly beard. I had seen him hanging around the house a few times before I really took notice of him. Peeking through my window early in the morning, while I was still sleepy and walking around with my shirt pulled up and my white curtains innocently open. Strolling on the sidewalk opposite to mine when I took my car out of the driveway. Trying to make casual conversation with my parents while they rudely shut him away.
I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time. My last date with my ex had ended pretty badly, with a broken white wine bottle on the floor and not one but two girls crying furiously over a man’s mistake they blamed on themselves. Me, the pure and immaculate picture-perfect girlfriend: the one his parents loved but he didn’t understand how to please. And her: wild, exotic, carefree and with the most open and sincere heart I have ever seen. We chose to put our souls out there, in his hands, and his soft fingers chose to crush instead of caress them.
Not only was I distracted from my everyday activities, but I didn’t do much for myself anymore. Breakups tend to do that to you; they make you pull yourself back together, reconstruct every piece of you the other person took, often because you have to. Sometimes it is after a little while, sometimes it takes months or even years. So I took up jogging. I enjoyed the burning feeling in the top of my neck and in my throat of being a smoker and actually putting a strain on my lungs, forcing them to do what they were meant to do.
That afternoon I called my on-and-of friend and invited her to skip the gym she religiously attended every day and come work out with me at the park a couple of blocks away from my house. It isn’t a big park, and it doesn’t have machines or weights but we could use my front porch stairs and do some cardio. She agreed, and two hours later she was there, raspy brown hair braided in a single long line.
I remember telling her I had thought of inviting my best friend, who is a fitness crazy, but that I had forgotten to call him. She laughed her quick giggle and said it didn’t matter. She put on her headphones and we started running. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember seeing him near our path on the way to the park. Maybe it was around the corner from my house, maybe he was hiding on my neighbor’s garden, or sitting inside a parked car.
We didn’t get a full lap around the track before he jumped from behind a water fountain. My friend was ahead of me and she didn’t see him at first. But I saw his baby blue shirt come out of nowhere, and his black eyes, and his fucking curly beard. He launched for her and the bare stomach under her sports bra crashed on a pine trunk, droplets of blood and horrified sweat, curiously vivid in my memory, staining her gray yoga pants.
When put in a situation like this, you’re supposed to scream, run for help, call the police, do something to stop it. But I could not think of anything. He was aiming for me, I realized, when he momentarily let go of his embrace on her and looked at me dead in the eye. So I was raging, I was blind in my anger. It was only when I heard the screams, the high pitched guttural shrieks coming out of her mouth, that I rationalized that it was because of me that this was happening to her.
I tasted the sour bile in my mouth and my body lurched forward under a command I didn’t know I had made. I punched his back, his arms, I scratched his face and kicked his legs and his stomach. In a blur, I remember hitting her as well, missing my trajectory for an inch or two and my fist colliding with her body and not his.
I couldn’t take him off her. I couldn’t save her. I could only share her fate. My arms gave in, when his were relentless in his grip. My legs grew tired, when his had enough strength to turn around and kick me in the side. My adrenaline shot ran out when he had the manic energy of a hunter tracking down his prey after months of surveillance.
His lips were chapped, and I wonder why there was no one in the park. It happened in a far corner, against a fence that separates the track from a gated community. Maybe the people inside the houses didn’t see or hear a thing. Maybe they just didn’t think of doing anything. Maybe they didn’t care.
To this day, I harbor a white, shining, and crippling hatred towards men. Yet strangely, it didn’t start that day. It was long rooted on the fact that my mother was attacked around the same age I was, in her school. It is founded on the fear my parents taught me to feel whenever I walk alone, or go out at night. I see it on their eyes when they look at me at bars, hungry, dominating, wanting. I am not fragile, I am not weak, I am not stupid or reckless. I went down fighting, for my friend, for myself.
Perhaps this is the end of the story, or it is a long journey barely started. But those ugly black eyes could hunt me in hell.