“In Real Life” by Clare Needham

I wanted to meet
his other victims.
I thought this was a simple
wish for catharsis.
By discussing our mutual hurt
we could ground ourselves in a
shared reality. Through our conversation
something might solidify.
As a solid, it could be located and
placed elsewhere.
I didn’t think it through.
I’d had the experience of telling
a friend. Someone who’d been
through similar shit, also lived
to tell the tale. We had a feeling
about each other, before either
of us said a thing. It would happen
this way, again and again, with
other people I would come to know.
But the first time I told her, I felt
sucked out, 2-D, hysterically on
the verge of hyperventilating,
hallucinating, as we stood outside
the bar. I was back to feeling
unreal in my own body.
I don’t discount this telling’s necessity.
It was a quest to know, thus
doomed to come at a cost.
The box with Pandora’s warning.
I kept paying for more. 
I wanted to meet someone who
had also seen his face. Heard him
speak. Could recite back the twisted
things he’d said and done — I had
no doubt he was a repeat offender,
and relied on rehearsed technique.
I found one victim I could talk to —
not part of the family tree.
A single woman, young, like me.
She took on a life in my mind.
I would imagine meeting her
in a café. Small talk, small
flurry of female compliments,
then down to business. I would
lean forward, and with trembling
righteousness, speak the words:
He raped me.
She would pause — then shift
in her chair as she steadied
her attack. She’d smirk,
get angry, then laugh in
my face. He raped me, too…
And I liked it…
Get over it, she added, her
face turning to stone.
It wasn’t such a big deal.
It was similar to what
happened when I had to
imagine for therapeutic
purposes my present-day
self going back in time to
comfort and advise the
teenage self. The younger
self would always win, would
praise him, and together they
would laugh as he threw me
down the stairs, against the
wall. My teenage self was
full of mirth. Cruel and bubbly
when she said
take it.
This violence I imagined
came from within
came from the him in me
and also came from me.
In Real Life — I never met her.
Chatted on the Internet
in a twenty-minute burst
that scared us both
that we would come to regret.
Scared of him, scared of each
other, scared of repercussions
for sort of speaking aloud.
It was clear we lived under
the same
                         gag order.
“I just want to stay completely
out of this, out of his life.”
“I had the most bizarre dreams
last night. Yes, seems it’s best
to let sleeping dogs lie.”
“Stay safe and warm.”
“You, too.”
Sure — go ahead and ask.
But not every question
has an answer you will like.
If you know too much,
you will lose your mind.

Clare Needham is the author of the novella Bad Books, published by Ploughshares Solos in 2015. Her work has appeared in New York TyrantCatapult, Bodega Magazine, Fiction Attic Press, and Armchair/Shotgun. She has been a resident at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

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