Run! Faster! Keep going. Just keep breathing. I don’t think I’m gonna make it! Maybe I should just fall down and let him get me. She can feel her heart racing, the wind blowing in her ears, her legs burning…, her hope fading. She trips on something, a rock, and ferociously scrambles to her feet, neurotically checking behind her for any sight of him. She’s only a couple blocks away from the house and she can’t see him; she starts to think she might make it. Suddenly a hand takes her by the hair and yanks her onto her back. He drags her with her arms flailing and legs kicking wildly out of sight of the street.
“You stupid bitch. Thought you could outrun me?” he smirks and spits on her. She struggles in vain to break free of his grasp. “Stop fighting bitch!” He pulls her behind a bush and lands a blow across her face, followed by another one and a kick to the stomach. She writhes in pain and grabs at her stomach as his fist makes contact with her face again. For a second, she loses consciousness and when she comes to she can feel his hands running all over her body. He struggles to pull down her pants but can’t undo the button. She grabs at his hands and pushes him off of her and manages to make it a couple feet before he comes up behind her and slams her head into the ground and turns her over again, this time ripping her jeans so he can remove them. She feels his hands on her skin, and just as he’s about to rip her underwear, Riley sit’s up with a start. Tears stream down her face as she shakes violently wrapping her hands around her legs and starts rocking back and forth in her bed.
“My name…is… Riley Simons. I live…in Rockville…., Ohio. I…am…. fifteen years…. old. I am in… my bed, in …my room, in… my house. The walls are…pur..ple, the floor is white-ish, the ceiling is wh..white,” she starts reciting the grounding exercises her therapist taught her. The dog, Cooper, makes her way onto the bed and cuddles up against Riley, reminding her that she’s not alone. Slowly she feels her breathing start to return to normal, and she looks over to check what time it is. 4:30am, great. I’m not getting any more sleep. Maybe a shower will help. She thinks, slowly getting up out of bed and grabbing a towel from her closet door. Cooper follows, as always. Riley closes the bathroom door and she listens as Cooper paces back and forth a few times before she curls up on the floor right outside the bathroom. In the shower, Riley fights the flashes of memories that invade her mind, each time scrubbing harder and turning the water hotter until it burns and the memory fades. She lets herself sink to the floor, crying, letting the shampoo in her hair run down her face. She doesn’t care. It’s been so hard to do much of anything lately, it’s no surprise that taking a shower has become ten times more difficult too. She feels disgusting being naked at all, wants to rip all the skin from her body, make herself look as ugly as she feels. I’m so fucking pathetic. This happens to so many people and they’re fine! Why can’t I just get the fuck over it!? Angry, she slams her fist against the wall and pushes herself up off the floor of the shower and finishes washing her hair and body and steps out the shower in a fury. She catches herself in the mirror and is enraged, “You stupid little whore. Why the fuck are you always there, just staring at me like a little bitch. What the fuck do you want from me?!” she spits while she screams at herself in a whisper. Everything in her tells her to cut or burn herself, just to get some kind of release but, I can’t. I fucking promised Jade.
“Let’s go girls, your breakfast is getting cold!” Riley’s mom calls out from the kitchen. Riley hears her sisters scurry down the hallway yelling, “Coming!” as they go. She rolls her eyes and slowly moves herself off her bed, grabbing her backpack off the floor, & puts her money and keys in her pocket and gets downstairs just as her mom is about to yell for her again. She sits down and stares at the food on her plate, unable to stomach the thought of food. It almost makes her vomit just looking at it. “You look awful, babe. Couldn’t sleep?” her mom asks gently, giving Riley a light kiss on her forehead like she did every morning.
“Yea,” Riley responds quietly. “I’m really not hungry, mom.”
“I know honey, but you really should eat something. Can I get you a fruit? Or a piece of toast?”
“No, sorry. I don’t think I could keep anything down right now.”
“Oh, are you sick?” her mom asks, concerned.
“Um, don’t worry mom, it’s nothing. I’ll be fine,” Riley brushes her off, hoping she’ll let it go.
“Well, okay then. What about you two? You guys want more?” her mom says cheerfully to her little sisters.
“I want summore!” Valery squeaks in her baby voice making Riley smile.
“I don’t know yet, I’ll let you know,” McKenna says with her mouth full.
“Eww, don’t talk with your mouth full!” Riley scolds McKenna.
“Yeah McKenna,” Valery mocks.
“Leave me alone! I can’t help it if my mouth happens to have food in it when I wanna talk,” McKenna argues. “Just because you don’t eat doesn’t mean you get to shame the way I do.”
“McKenna!” her Mom yells, “knock it off. You don’t talk to your sister like that.”
“I was kidding! Geez,” McKenna says cowering a little when mom gives her a death glare. ”Okay, okay! Sor-ry!” She continues to eat her food quietly for a couple of minutes and then says, “Actually, can I have some more?” Mom rolls her eyes with a smile and pushes some more breakfast onto McKenna’s plate. Riley zones out with her phone waiting for her sisters to finish eating so they can leave for school. Most kids my age don’t have to deal with their little sisters in the morning. Most of the kids my age are already at school. But my family just had to send me to a stupid Jesus school. She mumbles to herself and actually starts to feel kind of normal for a few minutes.
“Alright girls, time to get moving,” her mom says, prompting the three of them to get up, clear their plates, and get their backpacks before heading out the door. Riley gets into the front seat and puts her headphones in and opens up Tiktok. The drive to school goes by quickly, and before she knows it they’ve pulled up to the front entrance and it’s time to get out. Exhaustion hits Riley like a tidal wave, making getting up out of the car feel impossible but she manages to do it. She says a quick goodbye to her mom, takes a deep breath, and walks inside. She makes her way up the stairs and down the long hallway to her locker and opens it up to put her school books inside. Suddenly a hand reaches out and grabs her from behind by the shoulder, and before she knows what’s happening she’s back laying on the ground fighting him off of her while he tries to unbutton her pants. In reality, she screams and does a violent 180 and starts clawing frantically at the person who grabbed her.
“Riley! What the heck!? Stop it!!” she hears someone saying in the distance, but she can’t fully process what they’re saying.
More hands grab her and she starts attacking her assailants in every direction they’re coming from, because in her mind they were all him. He had multiplied and was now attacking her as an army of one.
“Riley. I need you to listen to me. It’s Miss. Jade. Do you know where you are?” Riley stops for a second, unsure of herself. She doesn’t let her guard down but she stops clawing at everyone. “Riley, no one is going to touch you, but can you maybe do some deep breathing with me and try to tell me where you are right now?” Riley feels calmed by Miss. Jade’s voice and takes a couple deep breaths which make her start to see differently. Now it’s instead four of him standing around her, it’s her best friend, Tyler, another teacher, Mr. Schlowb, another kid she didn’t know the name of, and Miss Jade, all there with their hands at the ready with looks of concern and confusion across their faces.
“I’m at school,” Riley says slowly as the veil continues to lift and she tries to put together what happened.
“Good, okay. Do you know what happened?” Miss Jade asks in her silky voice.
“No,” Riley says and she starts to panic and hyperventilate and tears start clouding her sight.
“That’s okay. You’re fine. There’s nothing here that’s gonna hurt you,” Miss Jade reassures Riley. She shoos off the random student and mouths to Mr. Schlowb that she’s got this. She tries to convince Tyler to go to class to but she won’t budge. “Riley, do you wanna come to my office?” she asks gently, coaxing her to walk with her. Tyler seems unsure of herself but looks like she wants to follow but also doesn’t want to trigger Riley again.
“It’s okay, Ty, you can go. I’ll come find you later,” Riley says, granting her permission to leave her in Miss. Jade’s capable hands.
“Sorry about that, Ri, I should’ve known better,” Tyler apologizes. It was her hand that had set this whole thing into motion. She gives Riley a loving look and then slinks off to class.
They walk in silence to Miss. Jade’s office and she gently closes the door behind them while Riley takes a seat on the cozy couch along the wall, a spot she’s become far too familiar with over the last few months. ”Lights on or off?” Miss Jade asks, breaking the silence.
“So do you know what happened yet? Has it come back to you?”
“I’m not sure, but I think it had something to do with the nightmare I had last night, and my lack of sleep, and what happened a few months ago, and all of that combined made me a little extra jumpy today and, oh my gawd, that’s so embarrassing!” Riley rambles, burying her face in her hands.
“Don’t worry about it. Things happen. Everyone understands, Riley,” Miss. Jade does her best to convince Riley, but to no avail.
“Seriously Jade? If a kid in your high school had a full on break from reality right in front of you would you just let that go and be like ’oh she’s just having a hard day’ and move on? No! Because that’s not how kids are! They think I’m crazy and they’re right!”
“You’re right. It probably would be big news if that happened. But they’ll move onto the next thing before the day’s over, because that’s how kids are,” Miss. Jade fires back. “Listen, Riley, it’s only been a few months since it happened and you are already so much farther than most kids would be in your position. You’re back in school, you’re getting good grades, you’re able to laugh and joke around with your friends, and you’re taking the time to figure out coping skills to deal with the flashbacks and the nightmares. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but you’re doing it. What happened to you was awful and shouldn’t happen to anyone, but you are so strong for not letting it break you.”
Riley stares at the floor, nodding her head in agreement but feeling like a fraud on the inside. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep going. Every day is just so hard. It’s like I’m fighting against this invisible force that always knows my next move so I can’t ever defeat it. Does that make any sense?” Riley looks over at Miss. Jade, willing her to understand.
“Yeah, that totally makes sense. And you are fighting an invisible battle. But like I said, you’re already winning. The fact that you can even sit here and talk to me about these kinds of things proves that you are,” Miss. Jade smiles at Riley. “Come on, let’s play a game or watch a funny video or something to get you feeling better. What do you feel like doing?”
“Honestly? I could really use a nap. Would it be okay if I just slept through my first couple of classes? I just feel really safe here,” Riley explains.
“Absolutely. I’m glad you feel comfortable here. I’ll wake you up when it time for 3rd hour if you don’t wake up on your own,” Miss Jade says. “Do you want me to play some music?”
“Sure, whatever you wanna play,” Riley says, already curling up on the couch, squishing a pillow under her head and closing her eyes. A feeling of safety and warmth spreads over her as she fades into sleep with instrumental music playing softly in the background and the smell of vanilla lingering in the air.