Though my sister was a track star in high school and college, it’s the one aspect of her being I’ve never wanted to imitate. I hate running. It has nothing to do with my sister. While watching The Biggest Loser with Mom one winter, we split a cheesecake while the contestants train for a marathon.
“Why would you want to run twenty-six miles anywhere?” she asks. No truer sentence has been uttered.
In the fall of 2012, I’m living in Milledgeville, Georgia, the smallest town I’ve ever lived in (until I move to Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania in 2017). The town is home to Flannery O’Connor, Georgia College & State University, and Central State Hospital, once the largest insane asylum in the state, if not the country. I’m only here for graduate school at Georgia College, but the other pieces are cool, too.
I have no friends here, so when MK, one of the women in my graduate program, asks me to go for a run with her, I grab my barely-used Nikes, a sports bra I’ve had since high school, and the only pair of running shorts I own. How these managed to survive the move from Denver is a mystery. Regardless, I get dressed and get in MK’s car.
Running is supposedly the best way to lose weight, get in shape, and increase lung capacity. Since quitting smoking three years ago, my lung capacity has only been measured by dance practices and loud sex. The last time I went running, I was a first-year in college, passively trying to kill myself by not eating. I didn’t have an eating disorder. I didn’t.
MK takes us to the gym where we get on our respective treadmills and run for thirty minutes. She follows an app on her phone; I kinda just wing it.
But, as my addictive personality requires, I start running alone. I download several exercise apps and train to run 5Ks I never sign up for. I want friends and a distraction from what I can’t stop thinking about—my ex is in Argentina, not loving me; I’m single and broke, so lonely I’ve finished five books in three weeks and two seasons of Parks and Recreation in a single weekend—so I run. I don’t necessarily get faster, but I run.
Obsession looks the same for me. I track every physical activity from walking to and from school to cleaning the house. I run with Jen in the mornings and MK in the afternoons. I run alone on their off days. I create playlists and buy new sports bras and shorts. I start doing yoga every day. I eat. I drink more.
From August to December, I’m in the best shape of my life, despite the daily drinking and the two-a-days. I think I might have moved on from the ex. The new men I seize beneath are a healthy substitute. That whole first semester of graduate school, free from teaching full classes and thesis hours, I manage to write a chapbook, finish reading another five books, and kiss several new lovers. I keep running. Keep running.
One morning, as is inevitable with my depression, I cannot sleep. It’s been two years since I started running and even though my discipline has waned, I still force my body to run or do yoga at least once a week. I lie awake at four in the morning, shaking. It’s the fall of 2014 and the days aren’t yet cold. The leaves haven’t even changed colors. In the center of my chest is a sharp booming urge to kill myself.
How did we get here, Monica? Well, I did spend the night deep throating Steve, the man who raped me last year. I willingly drove him home tonight, the first night I’d seen him since he disappeared a year ago, and he invited me inside for one last drink.
We cuddled together on the couch while he told me how beautiful I still was. It wasn’t a compliment. He thought it was sweet because he thought I was desperate for his approval. And I was. Am.
I said nothing while he pushed my head toward his crotch. It was so easy to unzip his shorts, pull out his average dick, and put it in my mouth. Never mind it’s the same one he used to anally rape me a year ago. Never mind that he’s engaged now. Was I really this starved for attention, even from Steve?
I sucked him off until he finished. It wasn’t quick or beautiful. Muscle memory at its finest. I learned to do this with a man twice my age in a tiny apartment in south Denver. And that wasn’t quick or beautiful either—rather, I realized the power of a hand’s pressure on the back of my head. Like I belong there. And didn’t I.
He passed out. I stood up from the couch, my knees wearing the creases from the leather, and looked at him. Just a man. Just a sleeping, drunk man with his dick flaccid and ugly hanging out of his fly. Where is his fiancée? Better I didn’t know. Better she didn’t know. Better I took this homewrecker behavior out of this house where she will later sleep with the daughter they share. I vomited in the bushes outside before driving home.
I can’t explain exactly why I even spoke to Steve again, why I let him buy me drinks and tell me jokes with misogynist undertones. I have never been good at rationalizing my relationships with my rapists. When my therapist asks why I kept sleeping with Steve for two months after he raped me (because she will be the only one I’ll give the right to ask), I won’t have an answer.
Think, Monica. Maybe because, what else was I supposed to do?
How else am I supposed to process assault?
Maybe because I possess empathy and Steven didn’t think he did anything wrong so maybe he didn’t do anything wrong and I just misremembered him forcing his dick into my ass while I screamed for him to stop?
I kept sleeping with him because I wanted to prove to thirteen-year-old Monica who wanted love so badly that he couldn’t resist me, so much that he needed to assault me, that he just couldn’t help himself.
No wonder I threw up.
And now I’m here. Can’t sleep. Want to die. Never wanted to die with this much urgency before. Typically, as evidenced by the year I tried to kill myself in college, my suicidal ideation manifests itself in miniscule but calculated actions that, when combined, should lead to death: anorexia, alcoholism, unprotected sex, insomnia. But right now, I clutch the sheets of my bed to keep from walking into the kitchen and opening my own throat with the red paring knife I chose from IKEA two years ago.
Minutes pass. The feeling doesn’t go away, but now my knuckles are numb. The ceiling looks like a kaleidoscope in the dark, my eyes straining to make sense of this new moment. There are no answers above my bed, the numbness traveling up my wrists.
Finally, I sit up, turn on the bedside lamp, and count to ten. I keep counting to ten as I put on a sports bra, a creative writing camp T-shirt, and some shorts. I find socks in my running shoes. I put my phone on silent, put my ID and house key in my bra, and go for a run.