I was trying so hard not to cry.
I pushed my hair back, covered my face, dug my feet into the gravel, did anything I could to hold back the tears. None of it worked.
"Son, it's okay," the man said to me. He was in late middle age, his skin tanned from years in the sun, the hair left on his head a horseshoe of light gray. He had kind eyes. "It's okay to be upset. I'd be upset, too. But I need you to calm down enough to tell me what happened."
I nodded and managed to bite back the tears for a moment. I'd never been so happy to see a police officer.
"Okay," I gulped. "Well..."
My weeping came fresh and joined the shaking that had never stopped. I took a deep breath, made an unsuccessful attempt to steady myself, and guided him through the story as best I could.
"I was trying to get him off of me. I was trying so hard..."
I didn't know why, but I deeply wanted him to understand this point.
"I fought him," I said. "As hard as I could. For a second he was off-balance and I tried to knock him over. I swear I almost did it. But when he figured out what I was going for he spun me around and slammed my head into the stairs."
It's a funny thing, being strangled.
In the movies there's always this epic struggle between the victim and the assailant, always a knife or a gun lying just out of reach that's grasped in the nick of time. They don't tell you how fast it is. They don't tell you how your limbs go numb and your brain goes dead and everything fades to black in just a few seconds. They make it out like there's a fight.
It's doesn't really go down that way.
I can't remember if I tried to push him away or not. I can't even remember his hands closing around my throat. I just remember there suddenly being no air, and that awful absence wiped away everything else so much more quickly than I would have imagined it could. So you'll forgive me if I'm a bit hazy. I'd like to think that my hands were around his, attempting vainly to pry his thick fingers from my soft neck, but I couldn't feel my arms or anything else. Other than the pain, of course. But even that's not as bad as you'd think. It was a lot like falling asleep.
And then he was gone.
I popped back with surprising speed once he'd been pulled away, regaining my sight and rising to my feet as two men struggled with my attacker on the other side of the room. When I turned, I saw the burning brown eyes of my own father smoldering back at me.
"You," I spat. "Are as much of a pussy now as you were when I was fifteen years old."
And that's what it felt like. It felt like being fifteen again.
"What did you just say?" he asked, his rage welling again.
"Pussy," I inflected with as much venom as I could muster. "Still hitting people who can't fight back. I hope you feel big."
"I do," he shot.
And then I laughed.
"It's easy to feel big when you outweigh the person you're wailing on by a hundred pounds," I smiled. "But it doesn't mean anything. You didn't accomplish anything. You know, there was a time when men had honor. When did you all turn into such little bitches?"
His face went scarlet.
"You'd better shut your fucking mouth," he growled.
I laughed again and pushed my face to his through the arms of the men separating us.
"I won't shut up," I said. "I'm not afraid of you. Do it again."
In retrospect I'm not sure how I held it together so well in that moment. It must have been the adrenaline. It kicks in when you're in extreme danger, right?
I think that had to be what was propelling me forward, because the moment I was in my car and away from the threat I imploded like an old building.
"Oh, my God," I gasped. "I can't believe that just happened. I can't..."
Every time I remembered being whipped around, feeling my head hit the floor, and suddenly realizing I couldn't breathe I wanted to fold in on myself. It was my father who had done this to me. My own parent, a man supposed to love and protect and teach me, had endangered my life. I pulled into a field outside of town and sobbed for twenty minutes.
He could have killed me, I realized. He could have killed me.
Then I got my cell phone out and did with shaking hands what I should have done ten years ago.
"This is the Mountain Town Police Department."
"Sir? Sir, are you okay?"
"Yeah...yeah, I'm fine."
"You don't sound fine."
"I...I need help."
And that's how I came to be sitting on a park bench with the police sergeant who was considerate enough to meet me where no one would see the tears or the red marks that had turned my white skin crimson. I've distrusted policemen my entire life but will always remember that kindness.
When the story was told in full he nodded his head.
"This is definitely assault and battery," he said.
"What's the statute of limitations?" I asked.
"For a Class-1 misdemeanor it would be one year," he said. "I'm not telling you to do anything, but if you want us to we'll prosecute."
"Not yet," I said. "I need time to leave."
Because I am. I'd made the decision anyway but knew that once my parents learned I'd spoken with the authorities I wouldn't have a choice. That's how Our Family works: you don't fight back and you never tell. But it's a secret I should have stopped keeping years ago.
I'm not white in this, if you're wondering, not in any way free from blame.
I made a joke during prayer.
The occasion was my birthday dinner and my mother was leading our family in a grace that none but she or my grandfather really cared about. The young people were all still a bit giggly once she'd finished and to break the tension I cracked, "Good thing we didn't thank God for whiskey. That wouldn't have gone over too well."
Blonde Cousin laughed but my mother turned to me with a sickly smile and did one of the foulest things I have ever seen one person do to another.
"You know, BB, maybe your Neurological Condition makes it difficult for you to understand basic things, but prayer really shouldn't be joked about. I think you need to work on your comprehension that way." Her smile grew wider as she divulged my health troubles to an entire room full of people who had been unaware of them. "Maybe now would be a good time to think about that."
Years of shame and anguish roared into my chest in a fraction of a second.
"Yeah?" I replied without missing a beat. "Well maybe now would be a good time to shut the fuck up."
That was all it took. And so help me, the look on her face in that moment was absolutely worth being mauled by a bear-sized man. Or what passes for a man, at any rate.
Black Dress Girl, to her immense credit, didn't bat an eye when I called her in a state of clear distress and asked if I could stay at her house for a night.
"Yeah, dude," she said. "Get over here. Popcorn and Game of Thrones. Let's do this."
So many of the people around me, both friends and family, have proven to be generous, amazing people over the course of the last few days. I know they will be there to support me as I step into the light.
And that step is coming soon.