i saw a pair of black gum authentic vans at the mall on sunday. they have a tan rubber sole, all black on the top with laces to match. i will never forget them because the morning after i was raped i saw them sitting by the front door of his house, coated with a line of dirt, a produce sticker stuck near the toe. i had never seen him eat anything with nutritional value but i also never expected to lean into his arms and cry after he assaulted me. weeks later, the bruises changed colors, my chest the color and texture of two rotting pears.

i made a point of looking at the shoes and realized i had never seen him wear anything else over the last four months. they represented him in a way that used to be charming, now childish. i remember looking at them glued to the concrete floor during a weird basement show when he squeezed my hand, a rare display of public affection.

i saw the shoes on sunday, sitting on the shelf unbothered. i felt a quick pang of anger that they existed at all. like every man who buys a pair is guilty. like they should be prosecuted alongside him. judged by a jury of their peers. held to the fullest extent of the law.

i remember thinking later that day how impressed i was with myself for not letting the sight of that tan gum sole ruin me. i controlled my PTSD for one afternoon. i resisted crying among the five tween-aged boys working in the back. i didn’t begin my week with a shattered brain, unable to break out of a slick spiral of violent flashbacks.

i celebrated that victory until tuesday night, when i sat in the same room as a police officer who described a case of violent assault that happened in my neighborhood. he said many things, all revealing, none helpful:

“she was probably confused because she’s foreign.”

“she didn’t scream loud enough. it’s strange that no one heard since it was in the middle of the day in a crowded place.”

“she didn’t even call it in until after she got home. seems odd to me.”

i never reported months of abuse. i never reported two separate rapes. the only person who was there to save me during the end of one abusive relationship was a merciful lyft driver who took me home so i could confront a monster in my driveway. my knight in shining armor was a total stranger who merely stuck around to witness the ugly confrontation and made sure i didn’t get hit again.

he didn’t charge me for the ride back to my office in north side. a non-uniform, plain clothes citizen who saw me scream at someone who raped me in the middle of broad daylight. i tipped him $50 when he dropped me at my office and apologized for crying in his car.

i never reported anything to police because i know our justice system benefits my rapists. i am a lying whore. my rapists were two men i willingly dated, so i am making it up for attention. we had consensual sex previously, so rape doesn’t add up. i didn’t realize what happened to me until months later. i stayed with my rapist for two months after he hurt me. many law enforcement officers would send me home with a pat on the back and my tail between my legs. they’d dig up drunk mirror selfies with my ass and tits out. they’d find ex-boyfriends who said i liked public sex and always wore skirts that stopped above the knee.

one day i gave up the idea of lawful justice. i used to carry it around, a convenient fantasy, a project for tomorrow. now, instead, i lift weights.

i get up many mornings at 6:45, stretch my legs, walk two blocks across the street to my gym, and test my body. after 7 months of training, i have learned to make my body mine again. it has become capable of things i never knew possible. i realized i can deadlift more than what the average man weighs. will this protect me? i am never sure.

but my physical strength has become more of a security blanket than any perceived notion of justice. in the end, there will be no one and nothing to protect me. but i never want another person to feel that way.

instead, i want everyone else to remember that i am here, quietly building an army inside of myself, never doubting anyone.

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