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Self-Defense | Short Fiction

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#YesAllWomen has become more than a hashtag: women and victims of abuse, rape and discrimination from all over the world have used these three words to share their stories and connect with others. While the discussion was sparked by a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California, the power behind the words has launched an outcry against misogyny and opened channels of truth, healing and recovery for countless women across the world.

But what about the men standing behind, beside, and rallying for those women? The men who not only haven’t committed any crime against a woman but who are supporting, loving and listening to their wife, sister, mother?

Truly healing after trauma includes growth, acceptance and forgiveness – especially the victim for herself. Moving on means letting go, moving forward, and being better than your aggressor. It takes time, reflection, and honesty – and not blaming subsequent men in a victim’s life for what one person did. SPC’s own Jordan Rosenfeld explores this idea – the anonymous man behind the mask of violence – in her short story “Self-Defense,” first published in Void magazine, 2006.

Feel free to share your feelings, even your experiences with this subject, in the comments below. We always love to hear from you.

***

Self-Defense

Three days a week, all day, I weather their blows. They start off like little girls, barely tapping me. When they say “No” as instructed, it first sounds like a question.

But it doesn’t take long before the stuff trapped at the bottoms of their souls explodes out, and I have to brace against the impact of feet, fists, their bodies hurtling my way. Then they say, “No, you bastard!” “I said No, you sonofabitch!” “No, you fat slimy fuck!”

Three days a week I am privy to their true nature, take their force, the blunt shape of their trauma. Some weekends in the summer I lose five pounds inside the suit from sweating. I’m thinning to sinew; can’t eat enough to replenish what I’ve lost.

I wish I could see this woman’s face more clearly through the thick padding and mesh. What I can see is the blur of the room—enough to know which direction I’m pointed when I get back up again, my real head ringing inside this huge padded dome.

This one, she’s a real fighter, but she isn’t following her training.

“Remember,” shouts Mona, the instructor. “He’s on PCP. He doesn’t feel pain. Don’t waste your strength. Remember his weak points. Eyes, testicles, armpits!”

These exercises turn soft women into taut creatures of fear. They thought they were beating their abusive uncles, family friends who went too far, men they met at bars who didn’t take no for an answer. But a stranger on PCP who feels no pain, slipping through their window at night? That’s not in their schema.

I know my job. I catch this one by the ankle and drop her to the floor. She moans in frustrated defeat.

“Rebecca, if you’d been on the ground when you kicked, he couldn’t have caught you like that!” screeches Mona. The women murmur.

This one is doing everything she shouldn’t; dancing out her reserves, struggling like someone who is about to drown. I am on top of her now, ready to pin her.

“Flip your hip, dump him off. Eyes-eyes-eyes!” shrieks Mona.

The woman beneath me doesn’t listen; she lifts up with both hips, pushing ineffectually against my massive padded chest with both hands. She writhes. Even though I barely weigh one-sixty at 6’3”, the suit is heavy, it intimidates.

But she isn’t seeing the suit. I don’t even have to see her face to know. She’s fast going limp, and this is not good. She’s got to keep pushing, so I break protocol and whisper, “Who am I, really, right now?”

She goes completely slack. Shit.

“Rebecca, don’t give up!” Mona commands. “When he goes for his penis to rape you, you turn him over, grind it into his zipper or knee him in the groin!”

Once in awhile a woman like this comes along and I recognize her every time. She doesn’t want to learn how to defend herself. She wants a reenactment. Why? To be sure it really happened? To stoke her rage? Because it is the only way she can be close to her perpetrator again?

Mona blows her whistle, the sign that Rebecca needs a time-out. I stand up, feeling lightheaded. At least I didn’t have to pretend to take my penis from inside the gargantuan suit, so humiliating.

Five more ladies follow. The look in their eyes when they face me always gives me the chills—like I am just a golem, a toy man, a stand-in they would gladly jam knives into or set on fire.

When class is over, the ladies leave, patting each other’s shoulders kindly, some of them with spines straighter, heads lifted. I scurry off to the changing room.

When Mona hired me she made a few things very clear. “You can’t take the mask off in front of the women,” she said. “They can’t ever learn to see you as a real person; they need to hate you.”

On the way out this time, though, Mona grabs my elbow and says, “I heard what you said to Rebecca,” in a tone that makes me glad I’ll never accidentally stumble across her in a dark alley.

She plaits her hair into twin silver braids, which I think is very misleading. There’s nothing soft or girlish about Mona. Then she’s gone, shepherding the last of the women out. Maybe she’ll fire me, or maybe she just wants me to remember who has the power.

Once alone, I dump off the head of the suit, emerge from its body, pale, damp, and sore like a newborn worm.

I shower, change, eat a Powerbar and drink two liters of water. Bloated, woozy, I stumble out to my car, almost too tired to drive.

It’s quiet out here—no voices shouting, nobody rushing at me. The air is balmy and breathable, smelling faintly of hay and apples.

Then the back of my knee lights up in pain. I drop. My low back takes a kidney punch. I turn to see if Mona has finally lost her mind, if she too has learned to believe the illusion of the suit, but there is today’s last woman, fists up in the proper stance, ready.

“Rebecca?”

“Fucker!” she yells, and kicks me in the face. Something snaps or pops. I taste blood. “No!”

She kicks me again because I am beyond defending myself. Then she spits on me, her sobbing a percussive echo as she runs off.

Whoever he was, he probably deserved all that I got and more. But I can live with that; another day, another woman who found her “No.”

 

Creative Commons License
Photo, “Focus” by Keith Ellwood under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

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About Jordan Rosenfeld (41 Articles)
Jordan is Managing Editor of Sweatpants & Coffee. She is author of the novel Forged in Grace, and three other books. Jordan’s essays and articles have appeared or are forthcoming in such publications as Brain, Child, Modern Loss, The Nervous Breakdown, The New York Times, Ozy, ReWire Me, Role/Reboot, The Rumpus, Publisher’s Weekly, San Francisco Chronicle, The St. Petersburg Times, Washington Post, Word Riot, Whole Life Times, Writer’s Digest magazine and on The California Report, a news-magazine produced by NPR-affiliate KQED radio.

1 Comment on Self-Defense | Short Fiction

  1. Such an interesting and compelling story.

    I found myself thinking a lot about the entirely different effects that violence had on Rebecca and the narrator. Rebecca was traumatized by the violence, paralyzed by fear. The narrator is satisfied by the violence; feels his own broken nose and thinks “I can live with that.”

    What causes the disparity?

    Is it the intent behind the violence? That the reasons “whoever he was” hurt Rebecca are less valid than the reasons the reasons Rebecca hurt the narrator?

    Is it the nature of the violence? Is sexual violence inherently more traumatic than “merely” being beaten up and spit on?

    Is it the nature of the individuals? Does Rebecca naturally think of herself as a victim while the narrator naturally thinks of himself as a martyr?

    If it’s the nature of the individuals, does it have anything to do with their respective sex? When women and men suffer violence, are men less likely to feel lasting trauma?

    Has the man “saved” the woman from the trauma of the violence against her, by allowing her to transfer it to him? Is he, essentially, a martyr, offering up the integrity of his body so that women can reclaim the integrity of theirs?

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