*Warning: Content includes references to and descriptions of sexual/dating violence which might be difficult for some to read. There's also some swearing. *

      The world spins around me as I stumble back. The edge of the counter digs into my lower back. I can barely breathe, and I grip at my chest wondering if I’m having a heart attack. His smug smile as he stands behind the podium with lights flashing all around him, infuses into my vision. It’s all I can see. 

           “Wait. Isn’t that─” Callie covers her mouth with her hand.

           I nod as my body slides to the tiled kitchen floor. The little television set in the kitchen was supposed to be for watching cooking shows and trying my best to follow along. Callie, my sister, and I were about to watch one that our favorite pop singer hosts. When Callie pressed the power button, we saw his face instead.

           His pale blue eyes and wild dark curls haunt my memories so often, I almost wonder if I’m imagining him there. Maybe it’s just a man who looks like him at first glance. I gasp for air. I feel a sharp throbbing pain between my legs that makes me wince. My therapist calls this a body memory. My body is reliving the actual physical pain of the night it happened. I rub my wrists and curl tightly into myself.

           “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Callie yells at the screen. “What the─”

           “W-what’s happening?” I nervously ask.

           Callie shakes her head, crosses her arms, and shifts her weight from one leg to the other. She’s the only one who knows our secret.

           “He is unbelievable.” Glossy tears roll gently down her cheeks, as she continues to shake her head.

           I can’t hear anything the television is saying. Maybe because my mind knows I don’t want to. It’s protecting me. All I hear is the song that played in the background while he did it, and I throw my hands over my ears.

           Callie crouches down next to me and places a soft hand on my cheek. I lower my hands as her thumb wipes away my tears. “I’m so sorry, Izzy.”

           “Sorry for what?”

           Callie’s eyes lower. Then she pulls me into her arms. When I close my eyes, all I can see is his face. The memory of his tuna fish breath makes me gag, and my stomach flips, threatening to toss its contents.

           In the kitchen, I see a pot, sage curtains, a stool, a refrigerator, and an onion skin dropped on the floor. I feel the warmth of Callie’s hug, her soft cashmere sweater, the tightness of my jeans against my waist, and the coolness of the floor. I hear clapping on the television, the hum of the refrigerator, and the chirping of birds outside. I smell Callie’s citrus shampoo and the onion we just chopped. I taste something metallic. My therapist taught me this grounding technique, and once I complete it, my breathing is calmer. Callie pulls away and looks me in the eyes.

           “What did they say?” I ask.

           “I don’t want to repeat it.” Exhaustion weighs down her face.

           “Please,” I whisper.

           “Keith Richter.” She swallows hard and takes a deep breath. Hearing his name fall from her lips, stings. It’s too ugly a thing for such a beautiful, sweet girl to say.

She takes another deep breath and then continues. “He’s being congratulated for all his hard work protecting victims of sexual assault.” She makes sure the word “protecting” comes out insincere and mocking. “For using his large platform to raise awareness.”

I laugh a loud, bitter laugh. I laugh the laugh of someone who has lost their mind. This is because I feel like I have. In what world has Keith Richter done anything to protect victims of sexual assault? When my fit of disbelief comes to an end, Callie locks eyes with me.

“You have to say something,” she urges. “People have to know.”

I shake my head. “No. All I want is to be as far away from him as possible.”

“But Izzy he─”

“No! There’s no way I’m putting myself through that.”

“I think─”

“No one will ever believe me.”

“I don’t─”

“Look at him! He’s handsome, charming, wealthy, and apparently a philanthropist of some kind now. No one will want to believe me.”

“That’s not─”

“Callie! I don’t even want to believe me.” My eyes flood with tears. “I liked him so much. Maybe I wasn’t─”

“Don’t! No one deserves that. He put you in the hospital.”

“I hurt him too.” I take a deep breath.

“You were protecting yourself!”

“Look, he’ll always win. Don’t you see that? People like him always win.”

Callie shakes her head. “It’s not right.”

“Like the world ever cares about that.” I spit the words out like sharp daggers. I push myself up and walk to my bedroom. I need to lie down. I need to sleep. Hopefully when I close my eyes all this will fade away, but I know what’ll really happen. The nightmares.

Every night for the past year my mind has replayed our greatest hits. Hits. That could almost be a pun in this situation. Not that any aspect of this is remotely funny. I rub my wrists. My left cheek starts burning.

Callie follows me into the bedroom. She stands next to the bed with her arms crossed.

“I bet there are others.”

“Probably.” I bury my face in my lavender pillow. That was another tip from the therapist, to add drops of lavender essential oils onto my pillow.

“If you say something, maybe others won’t suffer.”

I turn to face her and narrow my eyes. I hope my anger will burn through her like it’s burning through me. “Remember that hip hop star who beat his girlfriend to a bloody pulp? He just topped the billboard charts again. He has women lined up to date him. Same with that actress that beat up her boyfriend. Just got married and had a baby and is still America’s sweetheart. Remember that YouTube star who was accused by twenty women of sexual assault? He probably jokes about them with a cute girl on each arm.” 

“Things are getting better. Some of them do face consequences. I've heard quite a few successes.”

“Remember that party where Jaime was complaining about how annoying rape victim girls are because they make it so hard for poor guys like him to get laid? Remember when Steve had that black eye from his girlfriend, and everyone just laughed at him and asked what he did wrong this time?”

Callie sighs.

“What makes me so special that you think anyone will care? What makes you think I can handle being asked to relive all those memories? All I want is for it to stop. I want to wake up in a magical world where none of this ever happened. To not feel like worthless trash.”

“First of all, you’re not worthless. You’re not trash. I love you. I want you to heal. I just think maybe the way to heal is through justice.”

“Justice? Ha! There’s no justice.”

“Silence only helps people like him,” Callie whispers.

“Fuck you!” I can’t take anymore of this. Like I have the power to singlehandedly stop this whole issue. She's nuts. Maybe instead of my silence, the concern should be the loud noise of people who will yell that I'm a liar who's trying to bring down this amazing guy. Some silence in the other direction might help. “Get out of my house! I’m serious!”

“Izzy, I─”

“You have no idea all I’ve been through! I basically lost everything to that man. My education, my dream job, my happiness, my sense of safety, my sanity. Everything! I can’t sleep. I’m always on edge. I barely have a life. And here you are asking me to give even more. I’ve given too much. Find someone else to fight this battle. It shouldn’t have to be me.”

Callie is silent a moment. “What if I do find someone else? Someone else who could back you up?”

“Go away,” I groan. I pull my blanket over my head.

Things are silent for a few moments, and I wonder if she’s slipped out the door. She’s done so much for me, but I can’t do this. I can’t give anymore. Can’t she see I’m on empty here? Slowly, I pull the blanket down. She is looking out my window lost in thought.

“Callie?” I call her weakly.

“I’m sorry, Izzy.” Her arms fall to her side and she walks towards me. “I shouldn’t be pushing you. I had no right to do that.”

I’m not sure what to say. She gently brushes my hair back from my face and pulls me in for a hug.

“I know this is hard for you. It makes me so mad though! After all he has done to you. It’s not fair.”

I shrug helplessly.

“I want to help you.”

“You are. Being here helps.”

Callie is silent. Her eyebrows furrow with concern. “What do you want to do?”

Her question takes me aback. In a way, I’ve always wanted someone to ask this. Since I never thought anyone would, I’m not sure how to answer. “I want to do something, Callie. Trust me, I do. I don’t want anyone to go through this. I want to stop it, but I can’t fight him anymore. I can’t.”

Callie nods.

"Maybe one day I can do more."

Callie smiles sympathetically. "I know you will when ready."

“I know I should I hate him. I know I should want to punish him. But honestly, most days I just wish he’d apologize. That he’d show some sign of realizing it was wrong. Is that crazy?”

“It’s not crazy.”

“This is the opposite of that, of course. His proclaiming himself an advocate is probably the biggest slap in the face he could come up with. I don’t think he’ll ever see what he did as wrong.”

“It was wrong though. You didn’t deserve it.”

“I try to believe that.”

“You didn’t. It’s not your fault.”

“I’m not strong enough to go against him.”

“You’re way stronger than you know.”

“What if we start somewhere smaller? Baby steps.”

“Sure, we can do that. Small steps add up.”

“I want to help, but I think I need to put myself first. Get better. Try to heal.”

“Whatever you want to do, I’m here for you.”

“Thanks, Callie.”

Calm trickles through my body as my muscles release their tension. I look at Callie sitting by my side. Callie answered the phone to all my sobbing, incoherent calls, and let me stay with her through the breakup. She helped keep me strong when he showed up drunk at her doorstep asking me to start over. She kept me sane while he tried to gaslight me and convince me I wanted everything that happened. She stayed with me in the hospital. Callie has seen the real Keith Richter. She believes me. She keeps me from feeling crazy. I wrap my arms around her and hold her tightly. I feel a warm love flow between us. My trust in her soothes all my aches and slows my racing heart. This is what other people need. Someone who believes, someone who understands, and someone they can trust. This is what I need to be and can be for anyone who needs it. This is what I want to be.

May 20, 2021 17:34

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Eric D.
01:03 May 22, 2021

Really well written story.


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Graham Kinross
14:33 Dec 19, 2021

It sucks that the only way to get justice for this kind of this is for the survivors to relive their trauma. There have been so many celebrities that were meant to be saints that had decades of this stuff behind them and people just looked the other way. Hopefully that changes but I’ve known two many that just can’t deal with speaking out about it because the reaction of so many is victim blaming.


Annalisa D.
17:44 Dec 19, 2021

It is very frustrating. Some people seem to have a really hard time understanding someone who is likable to them can still be capable of bad things but its possible and happens all the time. Hopefully it will change.


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Aoi Yamato
00:40 Aug 10, 2023

this is good. difficult things to write about.


Annalisa D.
02:51 Aug 10, 2023

Thank you!


Aoi Yamato
03:13 Aug 10, 2023



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