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Where the Trouble Started

Saidee Sonnenberg | Longreads | March 6, 2019 | 3,467 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Featured, Nonfiction, Story, Uncategorized

Where the Trouble Started

Decades after a childhood sexual assault, Saidee Sonnenberg tries to make sense of what happened.
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

Saidee Sonnenberg | Longreads | March 2019 | 14 minutes (3,467 words)

“Your lips are like Brigitte Bardot’s.” He had one sweaty, shaking hand between my legs under my field hockey skirt and the other gripped tight on my ass, holding me to him. The alcohol that burned off him was suffocating. I could smell and taste it, and even at 11 I knew well the half-mast cast of those eyes and wasn’t sure who to hate more for the place I found myself, because surely I knew better than to trust those eyes. His hands dug deeper. “You know who that is?” he asked. He moved to kiss me but held himself in the almost of it — in the conflict of it. I hated the fear revealed by the sound I made to swallow the saliva over-pooled in my mouth from anxiety and threatening to drown me.

“No,” I pouted. I had been told I looked like Jean Seberg and sometimes Marlene Dietrich, which I thought was just wrong. I didn’t want what was happening, but I did want to know if Brigitte Bardot was beautiful. I wanted to know if he thought I was beautiful. It was a thrill I wouldn’t know how to stop chasing. I wanted to be famous, to be a star, even though I seemed to possess no obvious talents. But I wanted to be the center of something, and right there in that moment, I was.

No one was home. I’d let him in because he had gone out with my mom the night before and she seemed to like him a lot, even though he was married. He was going through a hard time. I heard her tell that to a friend on the phone. He came to the door with pizza and wanted to wait for her. I called around looking for her at various places but didn’t find her. My little brother was out somewhere too. I let the man in. It was my fault he was sitting at our dining room table and I was caught up in his hands like I was.

“Get me that book,” he said nodding to the shelf where the art books were. There was a big coffee table book of the silver screen. “I bet she’s in there.” He didn’t let go of me. He pulled me tighter to him, his face traveling around the front of my body to smell me. His smile was reptilian, it implored me to understand and pity his delight — like it couldn’t be helped. I pushed away and got the book. I could have not taken it to him, but then what? I understood how to look at a book with another person and maybe that was to be the end of it. I put it on the table and he told me to look her up in the index. One hand went back up my skirt and he used the other to pull me into his lap. I found her name as he rubbed my lips and the letters — all those Bs and Ts — stung me. I turned to the page where I would find her. He was hard against me. Brigitte Bardot’s face was not quite vacant but it was staring off in the distance at something unseen. I looked out there with her as he fumbled behind me.

Those are details burned in — the simple world splitting beginning of it — but I can’t remember what else happened that night, or how it ended. It is buried deep in my middle school psyche under layers of becoming a smoker, a drug user, and promiscuous.

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