I used to believe in my love,
The kind that was fresh, bright,
I used to think that I’d be strong in love,
Good at loving her but in time
I realized I’m weaker than I knew.
He made her feel weaker and now all I know
Is love enveloped in thorns,
And current nightmares over the past.
I still believe in love,
I just do not believe in the love I can give.
James was someone that Amiyah could trust. He was someone that she knew had all the right intentions, and she knew he would try his best to understand her. The only issue was that James could never fully understand her. He would never deeply understand why Amiyah was so closed off; why sometimes she could barely touch him or look at her own unclothed body in the mirror. No matter how hard he tried, it was just a feeling that James could not comprehend in its entirety. He often questioned how he could possibly be there for her without relating to her past.
Amiyah knew that when she told James about her ex-boyfriend and the way he sexually assaulted her that it would put a set of hurdles in their relationship. She knew deep down that he would be loving and would care for her but she couldn’t help but feel scared of the commitment to him. She felt bad that he couldn’t get everything out of her that he could in a normal relationship. She knew he wasn’t as happy as he could be and, in a way, she was selfish for not wanting to let him go. All she ever wanted since that awful day was for someone to love her unconditionally and for something normal; she feared that if she let him go she would never meet another man like James.
James often thinks about how he could have reacted better when Amiyah told him about her past. It’s not that he reacted poorly, but he also knew that he didn’t react in the best way. He was shocked at her words and he struggled to see that she was a survivor. Instead, he instantly began to think about how she was more fragile, how she was a victim. He remembers the conversation clearly. It was months ago now but he still pictures it in his mind almost every day.
“James, there’s something I need to tell you,” Amiyah spoke quietly like she didn’t really want to be heard. She watched James turn around to face her while she sat at the kitchen table behind him.
“What’s up?” he asked. Amiyah fumbled and fidgeted with her hoodie sleeves. She looked up at him and her eyes were glazed over slightly. He became worried that he had done something to make her feel bad or nervous. As she began to tell her story, his stomach and face fell, realizing it was something much worse.
“Last year I was seeing this guy…” At that moment, James listened to every word she said but the memory of her telling him was painful. He didn’t want to hear the words replay in his head when he thought about that day.
James stared at her in shock. He stared at her for probably too long, saying nothing as tears fell down her face. He regrets not saying something. He regrets acting shocked. He should’ve just told her it was okay. But that’s the thing—it was anything but okay. Eventually, he told her he was sorry and that he would be there for her, but when he thinks about that day he always asks himself if that was the right thing to say.
Amiyah knew that James meant what he said with a good heart and she never expected him to act any differently towards her—but that is exactly what happened. A once laughter-filled and loving relationship turned into a space where the pair tiptoed in silence around each other. Before the secret was out, James assumed she just had insecurities surrounding intimacy as many people do, but after he knew the truth, something changed. She knew he couldn’t help how he felt, but it would be a lie if she said she didn’t wish for the way things used to be. Amiyah hoped every day that James would walk through the door of their apartment and see her as the girl she was and not the girl with the devastating story.
He loved her all the same, maybe even more after seeing how strong she truly was. Insensibly, though, he felt newly protective of her as if she were delicate. He didn’t know why he felt that way but maybe it was because of how much he loved her and didn’t want to be the one to cause her any more pain. She had told him that many people had reacted worse than him and some had even left her life completely. She told him he didn’t have to worry about her anymore, but it was important for her to tell him to feel comfortable around him and to trust him. She told him that she loved him and that it was okay if he needed some time to process the information, but for some reason, James just couldn’t process it no matter how much time he took to think about it.
Although it was difficult, James decided that he needed to stay with her in the hopes that maybe he would be able to move past how he viewed the relationship; in hopes that he would no longer see it or Amiyah as fragile. James knew that if they worked together, he would try to be a better partner for her. He knew that Amiyah truly wanted him to be as happy as he could be—sometimes he wondered if she wanted him to be happy with someone else. Someone without a story. Almost every woman has a story and everyone handles their survival differently and James knew Amiyah was handling hers the best she could. Although he was unsure of himself and unsure of the love that she needed, he knew that he had to stop thinking of the “what ifs” and get over the hurdles with her.
He had to believe in the love he could give.
Why I wrote this story:
When I heard that the topic of the month was Social Justice, I knew I wanted to focus on the MeToo movement and the impacts of sexual assault in a unique way. I developed the characters of Amiyah and James to showcase a small part of a long-term relationship that had been deeply affected by Amiyah’s past experience of surviving sexual assault. I think discussing these topics is extremely important in helping victims heal but I also think it is really important to talk about it from the perspective of a relationship. There is an assumption that “time heals all wounds” when it comes to emotional pain.
Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case when it comes to the lives of sexual assault survivors. In many cases, it affects an individual’s romantic and dating experiences for the rest of their lives and can put deep-rooted strains on relationships that they find themselves in. That’s why I found it interesting to tap deeper into how James felt (while still including smaller snippets of Amiyah’s thoughts) in the relationship and how he began to feel uncertain about himself in that context because it is an experience that can affect multiple people in a survivor’s life. By having James be the main focus in terms of perspective and Amiyah being a secondary one, it opens up a parallel that can be seen between the two characters and the struggles in their relationship that highlights the love they both have for each other and the act of holding out hope and trust in the relationship and for James himself.
Visit https://endingviolencecanada.org/sexual-assault-centres-crisis-lines-and-support-services/ for information on Canadian-wide Sexual Assault Centres, Crisis Lines, and Support Services.