The day I lost my breath

This story deals with serious topics such as sexual assault. All names have been changed.

When I was younger, I always feared my last breath, wondering how it would feel like. I was afraid that the day I died I wouldn’t be able to feel the sunshine on my skin one last time. That the end would come too abruptly.

But that night as your big hands were wrapped around my throat, I struggled to breathe and my head started going blurry. I didn’t think about the sun, but instead hoped my last breath would come soon so this nightmare could end.

There is a common saying that during a near-death experience your life flashes before your eyes. I didn’t have that as you strangled me. Instead, I was left thinking of every mistake I made earlier that night.

The day started normally enough. The bar I worked at was having a dart tournament, which meant a lot of drunk men saying crude things to me as I poured their beers.

Going out for drinks with my coworkers after a long, tiring shift felt like a no-brainer… that was my first mistake of the night.

I have always had trouble saying no to people. I grew up in a Catholic family, which meant Sunday church and lots of talks about how to have a “good” character. Saying no was almost never an option; you must help everyone you can in order to get into heaven.

“Jesus would never turn his back on someone who asked for help, so you must always say yes if someone asks for your help,” my Sunday School teacher, Julie, would say.

It doesn’t take an expert to understand how that sentiment could easily be taken advantage of.

You wouldn’t be the first person to take advantage of me. Two weeks earlier I finally escaped my manipulative boyfriend of three years.

“Come out for a smoke with me,” you said. “I don’t smoke,” I replied.

“Please, I just want company.” I couldn’t say no to that.

It is hard for me to think that all of this could have been avoided. I should have said no.

The smell of smoke covered me as you blew clouds in my face – it made me nauseous.

I should have seen it coming, I knew that look you were giving me, I had seen it many times before. It was the look of a predator wanting something from its prey.

The look brought back memories of my fifth-grade teacher. He was the first man to assault me. Did you know how much that terrified me?

With a cigarette in your mouth, you asked if you could kiss me. I stood there a bit baffled. I never answered but yet your mouth came to mine and ashes from your cigarettes filled my throat.

The meaning of consent in sexual terms is described as “an ongoing and enthusiastic yes.” According to The Canadian Women’s Foundation, only one in three people understand what consent is in a sexual context. You clearly weren’t one of the ones.

I was not prepared for the night to take this turn…

Our coworker, Drake, was both our ride and our place to crash for the night. I chose to ride in the back of the car, I was hoping you would forget about me and leave me alone. I needed an escape plan. But as your hand snaked around my thighs, I knew it was too late. I was stuck in your hands.

Once at Drake’s house, both of you drank a lot. I was already pretty tipsy so I stayed on the couch, trying to get sober. Every so often you would sit next to me and put your hands down my pants, our friend oblivious to your behaviour.

I could have said something to Drake but I didn’t. I was ashamed, embarrassed and worried I was overreacting.

As he went upstairs to go to bed, I could feel my anxiety rise. I was now left alone with nowhere to hide. You whispered in my ear, “Let’s go outside.” Yes, let’s go outside. What could you do to me outside?

Turns out, a lot.

“You know, you have such a beautiful neck,” you said while smoking a cigarette.

Panic hit hard. My neck?! All of a sudden I noticed how much taller, stronger and bigger you were than me. You kissed me again but this one was hard, rough. You smirked and slowly wrapped your hands around my neck.

“BAM!” My head hit the brick of the house hard. My vision went black. It took me a second to get back on my feet.

While trying to fondle me, you smacked my head against the brick wall.

“You are okay, let’s go back inside the house,” you said, not giving me a chance to answer.

It didn’t take you long to get me on the bed. “Please, please I don’t want to do this,” I begged.

You grabbed onto my hair, as I thought, “This is it. I should close my eyes and pray it is done quickly.” But you surprised me.

“You don’t understand, Myriam, I need this.”

I looked at you blankly.

“I am so depressed but you could help, I promise if you do this I will get help. You could really help me.”

This was my other mistake. I gave you a chance to talk. I should have run into the street, knocked on doors and begged for help.

But I stood there, ready to hear what you had to say because I felt bad. Depression hit me hard once. I knew that it could be like a monster that takes over. Maybe the monster wasn’t you but the depression?

“I just need someone to touch me, I won’t hurt you I promise, I can make you feel good,” you explained.

“I really don’t want to do anything. We can go get help right now, I can call you an ambulance. The Ottawa Montfort Hospital has an amazing mental health program.” I tried to negotiate.

“NO!” You grabbed me by the throat and threw my body onto the bed. Tears came to my eyes. You were hurting me. All your weight was on my body. I couldn’t move.

“Don’t cry, it will ruin everything,” you hissed in my ear.

I clawed at your hands, I couldn’t breathe. You didn’t notice that my stomach stopped going up and down. I felt faint, no air was coming into my lungs. I prayed my death would come quickly so this nightmare would end.

Suddenly, you let go, and I realized I was alive. I could feel my whole body as you grabbed onto my breasts hard, bruising them in the process. I was no longer dying. Instead, I turned into a doll for you to pleasure yourself with.

Catching my breath, I didn’t move. I was afraid you would attack me again. So, I retreated into a secret place in my mind and waited until you finished.

I waited until you fell asleep so I could quietly make my escape.

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