Old Damage – Anthony Dragonetti

Why do they ask me to tell stories when we’re lying in the dark? The stories are supposed to get them in the door. Maybe it’s because I don’t know what to do with my arms once we’re finished. I must appear standoffish or awkward. I never know what to say while contemplating the placement of my arms, either.

I look up into space for uncomfortable amounts of time. I pretend I don’t feel an exploratory nuzzle. I cough.

It should come as no surprise that most normal people with any sense of embarrassment would try to fill the silence as soon as possible.

They start asking questions. Sly ones that add up to “what the hell is wrong with you?” Fine, then, a story. Here is what I tell them.

Memories associated with smells are often the strongest and cause the most visceral reactions. Wet grass on a humid summer night makes me miserable. It’s partially why I live in the city. I prefer everything suffocated under concrete.

I was sixteen. He was nineteen and ended up driving us in his parents’ Honda Civic. Yes, of course.

He graduated my freshman year. I couldn’t recall him ever really taking notice of me in school. I certainly noticed him. At the time, I didn’t have the language for what I was feeling. I just knew I wanted more of it.

We ended up at the same party one night in June. In hindsight, the fact he was still attending high school parties should have been a red flag. I figured he was always one of the cool guys at school, so he probably still had a lot of friends he kept in touch with when he was home from college. That night, he noticed me.

I was standing off by myself in a corner. One friend I was supposed to meet there canceled at the last minute. My other friend got carried off into a conversation without me. I was alone and nursing a Solo cup full of jungle juice. I didn’t see him approach, but there he was next to me, standing close with a purpose.

I looked around to see if anyone else saw this, if it was really happening. It was. He didn’t seem to care anyone saw him flirting with me. Maybe no one thought he could possibly be flirting with me. I had never experienced that.

He asked me if I went to the school he had gone to. I said I did. He didn’t recognize me and that stung, but I could feel his breath and got over that quickly. The conversation was whatever. The music was loud and I’m sure it was nothing of substance. Eventually, he asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I did.

We were in his parents’ car. I asked him where we were going, and he said he thought it would be nice if we hung out by the lake for a while. I thought about how the moon would look and how he would look under it. Yes, to the lake.

He parked his car half on the road and half in the dirt. The woods weren’t that deep. We walked through them and into the grass where things opened up. He sat down at the edge of the water and I sat close to him. We didn’t say anything and started making out. I remember feeling his hands go under my shirt and being almost disappointed at how soft they felt. Preferences were being established.

Our clothes came off and he beckoned me into the water. It was dark, but I was tipsy and didn’t care. We swam and kissed and grabbed at each other. His face changed when we got nose to nose. I felt him pressed against me. It was going to happen, and I was ready. That’s when I saw the lights.

Headlights cut through the trees and stopped at the edge, back by the road where we left the car. Footsteps were approaching quickly. He turned from me to look and he let out this groan. Like an animal pleading. Three girls emerged onto the grass. One of them rushed to the water and began screaming.

All I heard him say was “babe, it’s not” before he plunged my head under the water. He had me by the back of the head. It took a moment to register what was happening. I could hear muffled yelling under the water. He was strong, I couldn’t shake loose. It felt like I was down there for an hour.

It was then, for the first time in my life, I heard that little voice. I heard it say, “you know, you could stay down here.” It scared me, and I thrashed and I finally broke free, gasping for air.

He didn’t even look at me. He kept arguing with his girlfriend, while I got away and ran off into the woods. I sat against a tree and I cried. A boy was going to casually drown me because he panicked over getting in trouble with his girlfriend. And that little voice. That’s still around.

Usually around this point is when they embrace me. No more stories, just comfort now. Almost nothing about that little tale is true, by the way. No one has ever tried to drown me, that’s for sure. But, you know what? It’s plausible enough.

I’ve spent many nights with my face pressed into the flesh of someone’s shoulder, my eyes looking over them at the wall. Old damage is something they can understand. A sad story is a far easier thing to accept than what I could tell them, the truth, the moment after being so intimate with them, which is this.

I feel absolutely nothing right now.


I wish I was alone.

And in the silence, just like this, if I really listen, I can hear the quietest voice.