In the weeks after Jay assaulted me, I struggled to understand him. But - well, a boy punching you in the arm or insulting you - isn't that how boys show affection? Hands up who learned that lesson?
On Thursday I was the guest of a networking group. 12 other women, mostly older than me. In the ten minutes of chatter before intros, one woman talked about meeting her husband when they were kids. He pushed her into a pond. “Oh - THAT was his way of showing he liked you, wasn’t it?” the convenor cooed.
Two days after New Year’s, Liam called. Jay had been hanging round Tunbridge Wells still, coming to the Sicilian cafe where I served full-fry ups, mugs of tea and - occasionally - a stunning bowl of pasta.
From one day to another, Liam might ask me if I was going out with Jay or not. Or he would tell me a message that Jay had asked him to tell me and asked Liam to ask me and told Liam to tell him what I said.
I was all insouciance. I’d had a few ‘boyfriends’ - the quiet, curly haired boarding school boy who bought me a body-shop Dewberry vanity set; the newly confident drama dark haired theatre studies student, lanky and kind; the assistant manager of the scary pub a few miles away, whose weekend shifts meant we could only have weeknight dates. We managed one, to Scream 2, but I had to leave early and run all the way home to be home by my dad’s deadline. He was waiting for me at the top of the roadside drive, checking the horizon.
These little relationships petered out, one of us getting bored before the other. I was not the sort of girl that the boys liked - too argumentative, too boyish, too brittle. Add in a heady dose of body dysmorphia/a body that was decidedly not 1990s slim, Catholic guilt and confusion and, mazel tov, I was not a sought-after girl.
Strong from working in a garage all day, Jay would pull me tightly into his arms, the marl polar fleece soft under my cheeks. No-one else held me like this - no-one else was brave enough to break through my walls and grab me for himself. In the dark chaos of Liam’s bedroom, Jay tells me I’m cute and - even though I knew he’d been lying about where he’d been, it was fine - he was not my boyfriend! I didn’t care.
Jay’s desire for me was thrilling. Forbidden. Life was chaotic and universities were rejecting me, the thin commiseration letters confirming that I was mediocre at best; my mum was crying all the time with tension and school was madness and so, I thought, some attention from a green-eyed boy could be a nice little piece of fun.
A couple of weeks after New Years, I’d gone out with friends. Everyone went to the huge Wetherspoons - cheap, big smoking space, booths. There was all six foot five of Jay, holding court, talking about going to the party at the girl’s grammar school with Liam, clapping his hands with glee and mentioning mentioning mentioning a girl called Lisa.
I stood, drink in my hand. Could I come close? Could I claim him? Liam had been ferrying messages between Jay and me all week. Two weeks ago Jay had fucked me. Last week Jay came to the cafe, then turned up at Steph’s when he said he’d already have gone home so couldn’t see me but there he was at Steph’s but the next day he’d held my head in his hands and told me I was cute.
I knew Jay had been lying about where he was and when, I was sure he was a womaniser but - when his wide lips stretched across his face and the flat expanse of his nose somehow spread across his cheeks to his preposterously small ears, his eyes sparkled and caught me. Held me in the quiet intimacy of our shared moments in Liam’s room.
The green in his eyes remind me of every misunderstood, good inside bad outside Motorcycle Boy, Rusty-James or Travis.
In the dark, echoey Spoons, I felt everyone’s eyes as I yearned for Jay to pull me into that hug, as I waited for him to allow me close, to flash those green eyes and watch the smile soften his face and slow him down. I waited for Jay to come to me to claim me, to slow the jiggle of his leg, to go from holding court to all that attention, all that energy slowing and softening and me - and I, just me - I was the cause of this change in him.
His voice was highly pitched; if he were a singer, he would have been a tenor, high up the scale. And he knew how to baby it, to cute himself and smile, his black eyelashes flitting up to his pale eyebrows over pockmarked cheeks, the pores of his nose perpetually black from engine oil and grime. He’d cock his head and say “Oh AnnStorr…” and hold me in his gaze. The most important girl in the room. More than this Lisa, or a Katie or a Cathy or a Taryn. I drank down my vodka, lemonade and lime. Waited. Watched his body move, his hands miming this Lisa sitting on his lap, crowing about her buying everyone drinks.
I laughed along, standing apart. How mature I was as I smiled and laughed with this man, telling us tales of a school disco. Finally Jay drew me in, squeezed those strong arms around my shoulders, rested his chin on my head and kissed me in front of his and my friends. I breathed out, pulled drags on his B&H, demanded he buy me a drink.
It was brilliant. I was lucky. I was in control.
Two weeks on from when Jay fucked me, my period still had not arrived. I noted, I watched. I told no-one. I didn’t know you could buy pregnancy tests. I waited.
Last week, 5 women alleged abuse at the hands of 90s uber-EMO schlock-horror idiot Marylin Manson. FKA twigs is suing ex-boyfriend Shia LeBeouf, alleging sexual battery, assault and infliction of emotional distress. Charisma Carpenter, ex of Buffy & Angel, alleges awful behaviour from Joss Whedon.
How many of us learned that a push in the playground, a punch on the arm or a ping of the bra strap is a boy’s way of showing affection? How many of still live in a world where pushing a girl into a pond is a declaration of affection?
Is your partner coercive?