It all started with a horrible gut-wrenching feeling in my lower abdomen. But I was young and still bound by society’s rules and social obligations. I went on that date, that awkward awful date where he sat wordlessly from me across the table, vaping incessantly, occasionally going outside for a smoke.
I had a psychosis and while I was in the hospital he brought me a homemade magazine collage card I would eventually burn. When I got out he was the only one I knew who had also been committed. He took me on a date, spent hundreds of dollars on the perfect items for me, some of which I still own.
We had awful sex that I barely tolerated and if I was a smidgen more self-aware I would have said no to. The crisis of another assault and coming out to my parents as queer left me in despair, he offered me a place to live. Me, being a polyamorous relationship anarchist figured we could maintain our tertiary relationship while living together. I was wrong. He became all consuming and if not for my other lovers I would never have found my way out. I told him about my darkest fantasies and he decided to act those out on his terms, not mine, not negotiated, not with consent, lacking all the traits of good BDSM, it was rape. He woke me up, dragged me to the closet, stripped me naked and tied me to a chair. He forced me (a writer) to tell a story and strangled me unconscious with a scarf. When I came to I was in shock and almost relieved to see him, someone I trusted after such a harrowing event. It would take 3 months before I found the courage to leave him, after dealing with a drunken night of me trying to stop him from cutting himself in front of me again (he’d done that before too).
I left him. I had nightly terrors that he was gonna try to kidnap me and take me back. I eventually told the police. They interviewed him but couldn’t charge him. I took a valiant selfie in a bathtub after enduring my interview with them.
In the years that followed, I couldn’t write. Any part of me that accessed my creativity triggered panic. I was working on a novel, inspired by my psychosis, before my assault. But the faucet of my creation became a dribble into nothingness. I was robbed of my voice and I did endless throat chakra meditations trying to break out. He strangled me and my voice was gone. I lost my career in social media and started working near minimum wage in a coffee shop. I worked blocks from where he lived and had to walk past his street every day. The tension was so bad that my muscles started seizing up and they were squeezing and stretching my nerves, causing neural tension. My limbs were going numb, I was in chronic pain, freshly out as genderqueer and getting misgendered every day by coworkers and customers.
I was plagued by suicidal thoughts and flashbacks to his highly scarred arms and a hideous incomplete stick and poke tattoo of a Latin phrase. I offered to work on it the night I left him, anything to stop him from cutting himself but instead, he walked to a nearby bar and got drunker. He left his keys with me, so he had no way to get back in, forcing me to stay up the night before a job interview. How convenient. I fussed over where he was and eventually realized it had to be the bar. I walked in and slapped him.
I knew I had to leave then, had already reached out to the friends that would end up putting me on their couch.
I woke up the next morning screaming. I couldn’t find my glasses so I took his (I never lost my glasses before living with him), our prescriptions were close enough and I wasn’t missing my interview.
I told him as I was leaving for that job interview that I was making a choice to be successful, something he couldn’t understand. I got that job, at the coffee shop, and though I hated it, it kept me alive while I struggled to make sense of myself and what had happened. How did I end up in a relationship where being locked in a room with a bucket in it was normal, where he left me tied up while he took naps, where I would wake up to him standing over me with a knife and then he broke down crying about the horrible things he wanted to me, expecting me to comfort him. How did I end up in this hell, how did I lose myself so much that I resorted to violence the night I decided to leave him, slapping him in rage?
It wasn’t enough and violence was not the solution. I was haunted by that Latin phrase until one night it came back to me and I knew what I had to do.
“Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem”
“The last hope of the damned is to abandon all hope”
I had struggled to understand the meaning when we were together. In a way, I destroyed it as I represented the hope he wanted to abandon when we were together.
It was unique and sacred to him, as precious and messy and fucked up as it was.
So I decided to take it.
I did some research on the origins and the meaning. It felt like a mistake I had to make. Nothing would stop me. I found a tattoo apprentice that would do it for cheap, he even shared the same name as my abuser. Nice. This seemed right in a way.
The phrase is from the Aeneid by Virgil, the story of the Trojan horse. It speaks to the moment the city is to be overwhelmed with defeat, the warriors having emerged from the Trojan and everyone in the city decides to go down fighting.
It’s the moment when you have no choice but to fight for your life, to give up hope and just go. It propels you forward, like a cannon into the future.
My fiance bit his tongue while I talked about this tattoo I was going to get. He wasn’t really fond of revenge and I was stealing something sacred from someone else. He later told me it looked witchy, which I took as his secret approval.
I wanted it to hurt. The last tattoo I got hurt so bad because it hit the damaged muscles in my upper back from him dragging me. I anticipated getting it tattooed on my collarbone would hurt. Originally I wanted to get it on my shoulder, but it wouldn’t look as sharp as it does splayed across my chest in dainty perfect lines.
It didn’t hurt. It was, in essence, the easiest tattoo I’ve ever gotten, the easiest revenge ever. I was jumping up and down with satisfaction when it was done. I had known I needed to get a tattoo about my assault, to carry my story on my flesh.
Now when people ask me I can make them as uncomfortable as I was. I can tell the truth about what happened to me and what I’d been through. I usually get high fives and celebrations of survival. I still struggle with writing but I’ve taken the process public with Project Process, where I live-write and have released access to all my working documents for my novel. I used to struggle with an alternate reality where I was able to finish my novel and become successful. Now instead of living in pain with the incongruence, I am exposed and raw with my struggle around creation. My novel is a living universe people can occupy and I no longer want to kill myself.
Sometimes revenge is as simple as having the better tattoo. Now it’s my fiance’s favourite tattoo on me.