The subtleties of sexual assault can be confusing to the uninitiated.

Aaron and I were on vacation at a hot springs resort. We were relaxing next to the pool side-by-side on lounge chairs sipping drinks in our bathrobes. A man approached us and asked Aaron for money. I was suddenly very aware that Aaron’s wallet was casually lying next to his feet, closest to the man, who could have grabbed it and run.

 

“Nah, man. I’m all out,” Aaron lied. I was worried the man might have seen Aaron spending money and get angry at him for lying, but he seemed unfazed. Aaron has that kind of laid back attitude that sets people at ease. The man turned his attention towards me.

 

“Hey, you got a knife I can borrow?”

 

“No,” I lied, too. I did have a small buck knife that Aaron had given me in the pocket of my bathrobe.

 

The man stood leaning on the bar of the gazebo that was next to us. He was close to me, I was in between him and Aaron. He was making casual conversation with Aaron who seemed unaware of what I thought was perfectly obvious: he was going to steal my knife and Aaron’s wallet, and kill us both in the process.

 

I woke up from this dream to my daughter’s feet in my face. Between her, Aaron’s snoring, and these kind of dreams I rarely get a deep sleep. I lay in bed for a long time watching the airplane lights flash across the sky on their way to and from SFO and SJO and allow myself some self-pity. Fucking PTSD, man. It’s never going to fucking go away. I’m never going to be “better.”

I start thinking about all the Weinstein accusations , and how that’s good, and that advances awareness and everything, but people don’t understand how subtle this shit is. Like in my dream, the guy wasn’t really doing anything wrong, just asking us for things. But in my experience, that’s how predators get ya. They walk a very fine line between inappropriate and uncomfortable so that if you catch on to them before it’s too late, they can always call you hysterical or something.

 

 

A homeless man is standing in front of the door to the studio where the writing class is held. I think maybe he is just standing there smoking a cigarette because there’s a bar a few doors down.

 

“Hi!” I said, hoping he would understand that I needed to get in the door and move.

 

“Hi is this the writing class? What time does the writing class start?”

 

“Oh, yeah, this is the writing class. It starts at six.” The very crowded street now seems incredibly empty. I begin to hope that a passerby will stop just so I’m not alone with this guy. “What’s your name?” Maybe he won’t kill me if I’m nice to him. Maybe he’s the kind of killer that only kills women who reject him.

 

“Batman.” What the fuck? Maybe this is the test to see if I’ll reject him.

 

“Hey, Batman, I’m Trish.” I pretend that I meet people named Batman everyday.

 

I figure out that Batman wants to put on his resume that he took a writing class. I can’t really fault him for that and I feel incredibly guilty for judging him. He says he will come back at six and I pray he will forget, but he doesn’t.

 

When he comes back he sits next to me and I force myself to uncross my arms and treat him like any other person. His body odor is offensive, but I don’t understand why I’m offended because usually I like body odor as much as it’s possible to like body odor, which is to say I respect that bodies don’t naturally smell like Axe Body Spray. Everyone is introducing themselves but all I can think about is that this is exactly how shit happens. I replay in my head everything I know about serial killers. I wonder if he will kill us all right here or follow one of us to our car and force us to drive to the killing place. I’m glad I parked right next to the busy intersection. When it’s my turn to introduce myself I keep it really short. I don’t want him to know anything about me. I feel terrible about it, but it’s the truth. The whole class I am uptight. We are discussing non-resistance and its importance to art and all I can think about is when this guy is going to snap.

 

I feel like a fucking bitch for it. Here he is, trying to better himself, and I can’t get over surface shit. I can’t  let slide how dirty he is. Not like me and you might be dirty, but like Dick van Dyke just come out of a fucking chimney in Mary Poppins dirty. Like he was mining coal all the live-long day. His finger nails are long and the black dirt underneath them is at least a few millimeters thick. How the fuck does a person get that much dirt under their nails unless they’re mining coal or digging a fucking hole in the ground like an animal. Maybe clawing his way up the steep side of a hill chasing after his most recent victim, that’s how.

 

This damn PTSD will never go away. I allow myself the self-pity thought, because, fuck, it’s a hard row to hoe. Most people just don’t understand it. Most people just see a homeless guy in a writing class sitting next to a girl with her arms awkwardly resting on her lap. They can’t see that the girl, by the very act of her being there, is choosing to trust that it’s better to be kind than afraid. She’s choosing to be killed in the most horrific way, rather than judge. It’s a gamble, for sure.

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Ms PTSD

(Ms Pissed)

Trish Graves is a creative nonfiction writer and a US Navy veteran who lives on a grass fed cattle ranch with her husband and daughter, and dreams of becoming the salty Martha Stewart of the ranching world. She writes about her ranch and more on her blog, thelazy8ranch.com. She is currently working on a memoir which provides perspective on military sexual assault, living with post-traumatic stress disorder, dealing with the Veterans Administration, and the impact these experiences have on every aspect of her life.