The man who raped me moved back to Wisconsin, back to the house he grew up in. His mom had converted his old room into an office, so he slept on the pull-out bed, beneath this blue fleece blanket he used to take on camping trips. At night, he was kept awake by the steady green glow of the internet router, and by moonlight reflected off framed family photos.
He got a job waiting tables, something he hadn’t done since high school. He liked not being able to think too much, liked the steady hum in his head when he was busy all day. He started seeing a therapist. Her office was in a small brick building between a health food store and a hair salon. She was from Russia, and it took him a little while to understand her accent. She told him to start keeping a dream journal, to start exercising, to drink less.
Dreamed of drowning fish. Dreamed of coughing up needles. Dreamed of polar bears, tangerines for eyes, running in circles.
He started meeting girls online. On his profile, he used a picture I’d taken of him a long time ago -- him at the beach, squinting at the sun, grinning. He said that he liked cats, and skiing, and that his favorite singer was Patsy Cline. Of the girls he met, the one he liked the best was a paramedic. He thought that was really sexy, and told her so.
In the spring, he went to visit his sister, who was living in Eau Claire with her boyfriend. She made artichoke pasta, and they talked about their parents. He even told her about the paramedic, how much he liked her, how he wasn’t sure if he wanted something serious. After dinner, he watched football with her boyfriend. Even though he had never cared about sports, it was nice, the way they both made such an effort. And it was nice to see his sister like this, so different from the wild, moody girl she’d been as a teenager.
One of his mom’s friends, who was ill, paid him to drive her to and from doctor’s appointments twice a week. He took on more shifts at the restaurant, and began to make friends with some of the other people who worked there. He stopped smoking weed, started taking Lexapro.
Dreamed of robots with water guns, dreamed of the color yellow, dreamed of his second-grade teacher.
The first time he slept with the paramedic, she giggled a lot, which irritated him. Her long hair got caught in his mouth, reminding him of me. Later, they ordered Chinese food and watched a documentary about bears. He asked her about the worst thing she’d ever seen at her job. She told him about a sixteen year old girl who jumped in front of a train. Whoever called the ambulance, it was wishful thinking, she said. The girl didn’t even have a head.
He quit his job at the restaurant, started working at a wine bar. He stopped taking Lexapro, started taking Cymbalta. He thought about getting a dog. In his parents’ garden, azaleas opened like mouths.
Dreamed of peach trees. Dreamed, again, of drowning. Dreamed of highways becoming rivers. Dreamed of me, my long hair in flames, my body no longer a body, but a burnt offering, strange smoke rising up to meet him.
He woke up, switched on the light, sat down at the desk with his notebook and a pen. For just one second, he couldn’t remember my name.