The Five W’s
++++++His name is Jefferson Wilcox. Jeff for short. A sophomore Sigma Chi. He always wears his letters around campus. The sort of guy who came from a prep school in New England, where both his father and grandfather graduated top of their class. The sort of guy that you know got in on family donations and legacies. On the Wilcox name. The kind that would walk out of here with a diploma no matter what sorts of grades he got.
++++++And who else? You. A freshman soccer player, a goalie, five weeks into your first semester. On scholarship, athletic and academic. Not the first in your family to go to college, but the first to go basically for free. A week after your acceptance letter arrived, back in the spring, you received a letter from the donor of your scholarship. The woman—one of the first women to graduate from the school when it went co-ed, she mentioned so in the letter—wanted to personally commend you on the essay you attached to your scholarship application. You have the sort of voice the world needs, she wrote. Refreshing, succinct, captivating. That letter is still hung by a flip-flop magnet to the fridge in your mom’s apartment.
++++++Tonight, you want to be far away from those scholarships. You took your first round of midterms this week, missed blocking three goals at your match Thursday night because your mind was on the other side of campus, running through all those multiple-choice questions on your Econ exam. On how many you got wrong. On whether those scholarships would disappear.
++++++Red solo cups, half-full, litter the countertops. Bodies press against each other, dancing in the dim light. EDM pounds out of speakers hung high on the walls. You can’t remember which cup is yours, so you get a new one for each drink, and then forget where you put that one and start back over. When you get back from the sour-smelling second-floor bathroom, someone passes you another cup. You’re too drunk by now to think anything of it.
++++++Your crop top rides up, exposing a strip of skin on your back. The more red cups you lose track of, the less you worry about pulling it back down, until you stop completely, the sweat clinging to your exposed skin cover enough.
++++++An idyllic New England town. A house off Elton Street, with a white clapboard façade and accents made of rich cherry wood. Not the Sig Chi house, or the soccer house. Some other party your roommate wanted to go to, so you went along. Your roommate disappeared hours ago. You don’t recognize most of the people, either because of the lighting or their make-up or because you just don’t know them. One of the juniors from the soccer team is in the corner of the living room, making out with some other girl. When you look back, a drink later, they’re both gone.
++++++The music is loud, thrumming in your bones in every room you venture into. The kitchen, the living room, the upstairs bathroom. It lives inside you, rattling your core. More drinking. You’re living for that music, for the way it drowns out the shrill shrieks from the women sharing Instagram handles in the kitchen, the quiet murmurs from the couples ducking out the doors, the laughter of more people coming in to replace them, and the talking. People asking you what happened at the game Thursday night. Why you let in so many goals. If you think you’ll get to start again this season.
++++++Now it’s Jeff passing you drinks in the kitchen. Jeff pulling you away from the questions you don’t want to answer again, without asking any of his own. Jeff dancing with you in the living room and laughing, low and throaty, when you stumble and he catches you. Jeff’s body moving with yours to the music among the press of so many others.
++++++Almost midnight when Jeff presses you up against a wall, his mouth pressed against yours. A minute later when his hand snakes up under your crop top, groping at you over your bra. Just after midnight when he leads you stumbling upstairs, to a bedroom rank with must, the floor littered with indistinct objects that catch under your feet, send you sprawling onto the bed. He climbs on top of you, his weight pressing you back against the blankets, unbuttoning your jeans and yanking them off in one motion. They disappear into the dark of the floor. Your eyes are heavy. The celling, then his face, swims above you. Then it’s after three a.m., so says the clock on the bedside table as its red blocky letters blur into focus, and he’s gone. Your clothes are all over the floor. There’s blood on the sheets, wet and dark in the weak light coming through the window. The skin on your neck hurts from a hickey he left. Your lips feel mashed, raw, swollen.
++++++Because you were too drunk to say no. Because consent wasn’t what he was after. Because even if he gave you the chance, it wouldn’t stop him.
The razors are in the shower. Two, one for you and one for her. You’d rather use yours. The plastic handle smooth in your hand. It would feel so good to dig those blades into the soft flesh of your arm, right into the monarch butterfly tattooed there, let the orange wings run red and turn the pain into something real, something tangible. To feel something other than the crushing weight of despair squeezing your lungs, your heart, would be enough. The scene plays against the black of your closed eyelids in time with your palpitating heart. You see yourself crawling out of bed, locking the bathroom door behind you. The skin under the butterfly tattoo itches. The ink was worked in right on top of those silvery little scars, so you wouldn’t cut again. Cuts would kill it. Your eyes open. The room is dark. The clock on the cable box announces it is 2:30 in the morning. She’s sleeping beside you, the stress lines around her eyes and mouth relaxed. She doesn’t know, about any of this. Not even the reason for the tattoo. You don’t want to worry her, thought you had this under control. But that’s depression. It retreats, sleeps, and then sucks you right back under when you think you have it tamed. You close the door to the bathroom with a soft thud, releasing the knob and letting the bolt turn back into place. Only then do you flick the light on. The bathroom is a mess. Her clothes pile up on the floor. It’s her apartment, after all. You only live here on the weekends. Your razor is right where you imagined it to be, behind the shower curtain, between the bottles of shampoo and conditioner. The handle is smooth plastic in your hand, little rubber grips along the side. It would be so easy, to drag this over your skin. Your heart is staggering from the thought, the fear. The excitement. You sit on the floor, knees drawn into chest. Air from the ceiling vent lifts your hair, blows it around your face. You hate how hard it is to draw a breath, how your thoughts circle and spin out of your control, until the only thing you want is a moment of clarity. You promised yourself you would never do it again. When your last relationship ended. With the guy who saw the cuts, shallow as they were, and the little scars they left, and never cared. With the guy who made you feel like your life wasn’t worth the air in your lungs. You broke up, you got out. The depression went to sleep. You met a girl, one that treats you like a real person, and now it’s decided to wake up, and drag you back to wherever it’s been hiding. The razor falls from your fingers. You tighten your grip on your knees instead, digging in with your nails. Ride this out. You just need to ride this out, then you can go to sleep. It won’t feel as bad in the morning. But—maybe it will. The razor is right there—
There’s a knock on the bathroom door, light. Babe, she says. Are you okay? You mean to answer yes, to tell her to go back to bed. It comes out as a choked sob. Can I come in? she asks. The door is pushed open before you can think how to respond. She crouches in front of you, those worry lines creased around her eyes, her mouth. You think of all the others before her, who’d tell you to get off the damn floor. But she only crouches there, inches from you, and takes in the tear-streaked blotchy sodden mess of you in front of her. She sees the razor, on the tile floor next to your foot. She doesn’t take it, doesn’t say anything about it. Only, c’mon, come back to bed. Helps you to your feet and back to her room. The razor stays on the floor where it fell. Her arm is solid around your waist as you walk back to her room, stumbling in the dark on shoes and books and all the other things she leaves laying around. The razor will be there in the morning. You’ll put it back on the shower rim, in its place between your shampoo and conditioner.
Rebecca Burke is an MFA Fiction candidate at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Her fiction has been published in Awakened Voices and the Same, and her nonfiction has been published in the You Are Not Your Rape anthology, published by Rhythm and Bones Press. You can follow her on Twitter @BeccaBurke95.