TW: Domestic Abuse
The realisation comes to me whilst I’m sat in his room. It’s slow, creeping, a dread that slithers down my spine and pools in my stomach. This is the moment I realise what I am and what I’m here for. It’s like being a princess awakened from her enchanted slumber by a slap in the face or an unwanted grope. Unexpected and jarring.
We were two months into our fledgling relationship, and I was infatuated. I use that word because that’s the only way 16 year olds who have never had a boyfriend can react to boys with curly hair, and brown eyes, and confidence, and opinions.
(It takes me a while to figure out that he’s talking at me, not to me.)
Love may be blind, but infatuation is the thick smog on a stormy night. You can never be sure of what you’re seeing. I fumbled my way through our brief affair, desperate and grabbing, like a child. I wanted to be Meg Ryan, the romcom heroine who was beautiful and funny and loved all along. I wanted to be the girl that men gushed about to bartenders at 2am in the morning. I wanted to be the muse, the Madonna, the ‘cool girl’.
So here I am. Running my hands along the spines of the books he keeps in his room, his large jumper draping over my smaller frame, at once swallowing me and also drowning me in his scent. Marked. I pick one out of the line-up, and settle on the carpet, content to quietly skim it. My perusing is interrupted by his deep voice. He begins to wax lyrical on the novel I have at hand. Turning my head to smile at him, I decide not to reveal that I had already read the book.
As he looks at me, I feel transparent. Suddenly, I can see myself through his eyes. Me, in his shirt, on his bedroom floor, reading his books, smiling at him. I was beautiful. Beautiful and … nameless. I frown at that thought.
Eventually he concludes his lecture, and I’m free to return to the book. Yet, out of the periphery of my eye, I catch him regarding me closely before reaching for his camera. My throat seizes up. This is it. This is my realisation.
You’re trying to make me into something I’m not, I want to scream. I can’t save you, not with my lips or my body or my hands or my heart. They’re supposed to be for me, not you. Please don’t make me save you. Open womb or not, I can’t carry that.
The camera switches on. A light flickers.
I know, in this moment, that I have a decision to make.
I can either stay, and be immortalised in one shot, and maybe even parade it to his friends that I’m his, only his. Or I could move; escape the trap he was setting for me, deny him the satisfaction of my surrender. Return to myself.
A click. The camera shutters.
Words by Naomi Adedokun
Illustration by Lille Allen