Content warning: This story contains themes of sexual assault and its content may affect some readers.
The office smelled of stale wool carpets and the sharp bite of sanitizer. The couch didn’t flinch as I sat, the cushions like cinder blocks under my legs. The cleanliness of the room reminded me of a hospital, making me shiver in the cotton sweater wrapped around me.
I looked to my school counsellor’s face, taking in the stinging red of his cheeks bleeding into the tip of his nose. His dark-rimmed glasses framed his sweaty face, accenting the droplets sliding from his hairline.
A staccato beat of high heels echoing from the hallway filled the heavy silence between us, the wooden door too thin to keep the sound out.
As I squirmed in my seat a pervasive, anxious fluttering in my chest was expanding into my stomach and throat. My eyes hung on the verge of heavy, ugly tears. My hands shook like an animal trapped in a cage.
The red pamphlet in my hands quivered — blinding white letters spelling out words I couldn’t bring myself to say.
Smaller letters detail the statistic that every woman knows: one in three. It hits me like a punch through my heart. I thought once that I would never become one.
The counsellor's voice abruptly filled the room, making me jump out of my seat. Nothing good would come of this, he said. What had been done was in the past — to move on, we must forgive and forget.
There’s no point in ruining someone else’s life.
He insisted I was partially to blame anyway. How could I stay so late, or wear those clothes? How could I have been so unconscious — what ironic wording — of my actions?
My gaze slid to the clock, its thick black frame reminding me of his glasses. I turned away. The bookshelf caught my attention, colourful pamphlets peeked over their plastic cover shouting about depression, abuse and school anxiety.
What a strange place, I thought. It was supposed to cater to the comfort of a vulnerable person, yet was so clinical and hard-edged.
“Miss Longphee,” he spoke, almost frustrated, but hiding it with a too-kind smile.
He’s right, I thought. Nothing would come from this. A voice in the back of my mind screamed in agony, but I silenced it with a smile so sweet my stomach turned.
Those words echoed in my brain, scrubbing off every surface. Forgive and forget.
When I stood up, he spun to his desk. He handed me a visceral red lollipop like I won some sort of prize. I took it, unable to hide the invading tremors.
His hand hovered over my back as I gathered my backpack, the presence telling me I have to leave: a disinvitation to emotions I know, deep down, I had the right to feel. This was his way of telling me to suppress them, to set them under an unmarked grave in my heart.
I opened the door, my arms heavily encased in shame. Exhaustion seeped from every pore of my body.
Once I turn to leave he says, “Remember, Georgia. You can’t move on until you learn to forgive and forget.”
Giving him a tight smile I turn, the effort making my body ache.
Stepping out in the hallway, hearty laughter made my body shrink away like a slug to salt.
Waiting for me at the bottom of the tiled stairs, my friends’ eyes widened as I approached them. It’s okay, they tell me. He has been dealt with. You don’t need to know who he is. We don’t need to talk about this again.
This is the forget step, I thought, standing in silence. But I still remember the night, memories strobing across my eyes. Muffled dance music still echoed in my brain from the bedroom I was put in for safe keeping.
I knew I would never forget, so I tried to forgive. I tried to look into the eyes of strangers at parties and not feel an overwhelming sense of dread. I tried to trust other counsellors, later in life.
Forgive and forget. What a dumb saying.
Yet I hold on to it, bitterly, never knowing how to achieve it. I still take it with me everywhere I go, repeating it in my head when flashes burn my eyes.
What people don’t talk about is what stays with you after no one believes you.
- By Georgia Longphee