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368 pages, Paperback
First published May 6, 2014
Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.
They held me captive for thirteen days.
They wanted to break me.
It was not personal.
I was not broken.
This is what I tell myself.
My mother has often told me there are some things you cannot tell a man who loves you, things he cannot handle knowing. She adheres to the philosophy that it is secrets rather than openness that strengthen a relationship between a man and a woman. She believes this even though she is an honest person. Honesty, she says, is not always about the truth.
My parents spent most of their lives trying to find their way home too. They wanted to return to their island, their people, their food...
I was kept in a cage inside a cage inside a cage. I became an animal, baring my teeth, throwing myself against the bars, ignoring the pain. I would have bro- ken my own body but the cage became smaller and all I could do was rock back and forth, hissing. Men who were also animals, poked at me with sharp things. They bled me for sport. They fed me bloody meat I tore with my teeth and fingers. The meat was slick and bland in my throat.The trauma of a rape is all the more potent after the event. Mireille keeps on running from all men. This description of her casual encounter with a policeman is harrowing.
I was kept in a glass box inside a glass box inside a glass box. I could see everyone I loved and they could see me. They were happy. They smiled at me as they walked by my glass box inside a glass box inside a glass box. I tried to shatter the glass with my fists and only shattered my bones. I stripped myself naked, pressed my body to the glass. I forced those beyond the glass to bear witness.
I was suspended from an iron bar chained to a vaulted ceiling inside a room inside a room inside a room. The muscles in my arms unraveled. My bones stretched. I grew longer. I grew longer. No matter how hard I swung my body, I never reached a wall.
I had no choice and in that there was freedom. There were seven angry men with tightly muscled, long, lean bodies. Their skin was dark and shiny slick with sweat. They used me in the worst ways they could imagine. I had no choice so I surrendered my body to it. The more they hurt me, the harder I came. The more they hurt me, the more I changed, the more I became what they wanted me to become. They left me gaping, open, wet, wanting.
I was still afraid of what he might do to me. He could throw me over the hood of my car and tear my clothes off. He could drag me behind the rest area or into one of the bathrooms. He could force me to my knees. He could make me put my mouth on him. He could take me in the backseat of his car. He could use his gun or nightstick and try to reshape my body in new and crueler ways. He could gut me or shove me in the trunk of his patrol car and take me into the deep Kentucky woods. There was nothing left for him to take from me but there were a great many things he could do. For the rest of my life, I would always calculate the worst possibilities of being alone with any man but my husband. I would always be prepared.(The author herself is the survivor of one such incident in her teens, and I am sure that has contributed to this novel. If it is so traumatic to read, I can only shudder how traumatic it must have been to write.)
The Commander brushed my hair from my face. He lay next to me and told me a story about his mother, who scrubbed the floors and washed the clothes and cooked the food for a man like my father. He told me how a man like my father treated his mother like a whore because that’s the kind of thing men like my father can get away with. The Commander said his mother is old now even though she is not old, more ghost than woman.Ultimately, it's Mireille's mother-in-law Lorraine (who actually doesn't like her), a strong woman herself, who brings her back to life. However, the first step in that recovery is the understanding that one is never going to recover fully, to go back to what life was before - as one perceptive psychoanalyst tells Mireille.
When he finished talking, I said, “Your mother did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like my father.” I said, “I did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like you. It is often women who pay the price for what men want.”
Only one therapist told me the truth. She sat in one of those expensive, uncomfortable chairs you see in modern design magazines. She set her leather-bound notebook on her desk and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. She said, “I am going to come clean with you, Mireille. You will get better but you will never be okay, not in the way you once were. There is no being okay after what you’ve been through.”There is no happily ever after. But for people like Mireille, gifted with affluence and a loving husband, there is at least a life. But for those millions of battered women who are not so lucky - what do they endure on a daily basis? The mind balks.
That truth freed me. I said, “Thank you,” and I meant it. I was lighter and cleaner and calm.