I wish I had broken my arm. I wish I were wearing a cast that everyone could see. People would immediately notice.
"What happened? How did you break your arm?" they would ask curiously.
"I had an accident," I could say. "I fell, I tripped, I cracked my arm right in half.”
"Wow that sounds serious," they would reply. "I hope you heal fast," they would add.
It's serious to crack your arm in half. People wouldn't ask me to carry heavy books or bags. No one would expect me to hold the door as others walked through. I wouldn't get pushed in the pool. No one would even invite me to go swimming. Everyone knows you can't get a cast wet. It won't heal properly.
"Let me carry that, I’ll get it, do you need anything? Can I help you with that?” my friends would ask. People know how to help a broken arm.
“Yup, here it is,” my doctor would say pointing to the x-ray. “You have a transverse fracture. It will take about nine weeks to heal completely. Feel free to take Advil every six hours — you’re going to hurt for a while. Here is a list of things you can and cannot do. Here is a list of physical therapists — we’ve highlighted the ones that will accept your insurance. What color cast do you want?”
I would leave the hospital feeling annoyed and in pain, but happy to have a clear plan and time line.
It might be frustrating sometimes to have a broken arm. I would hate not being able to pick up my dog or wrap both my arms around my wife. I would be annoyed when I couldn't go to the pool with my friends. They're reasonable, however, and would find another activity for us to do. I might be frustrated. It would be tougher to do every day tasks like fry an egg and put on my pants. Showering would be a pain; I’m impatient and would hate not being able to do these things in a timely manner. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to sleep on my stomach with my arm under my pillow like normal. This would drive me nuts.
But I wouldn’t be mad at myself for having a broken arm. It was an accident, after all. I wouldn't feel ashamed. Accidents happen and arms break. These are things people understand. These are things people can see.
I don’t have a broken arm. I have a broken brain. I didn't have an accident, but I did have an encounter. I left a bar too late and I was certainly too drunk. I was a seven-minute walk away from my apartment. I could have gotten in a cab, but I didn’t.
Men don’t know not to walk too close to me at night now. They don’t know how their benign fastening pace makes me accelerate mine. They don’t know how panicked I am riding in an elevator with them alone. Twenty-four floors down have never seemed so long. I hold my breath and stare at the decreasing numbers the entire time. Men probably think I'm rude for not making eye contact or hardly being able to return their pleasantries. What a bitch, they think as I cross the street in a hurry without returning a simple, "hello." My friends and wife don’t know when a look or touch they give me will get misinterpreted by body and cut my breath short. I shut my eyes tight.
“Is it normal I still feel this way? When will I feel better?” I ask my therapist. “It seems like it’s been a long time.”
I’m better than I was six months ago. I don’t want to stay alone in my apartment and sleep. I can go hours without thinking about it. I now want to be around my friends and family. I can mostly sleep through the night. I have fewer nightmares. I’m better than I was but not where I want to be.
“There isn’t an exact timeline,” my therapist says. “I think it’s important to be patient with yourself. It’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. Everything you’re experiencing is normal.”
She’s thoughtful and kind when she speaks but isn’t able to say what I want to hear.
I leave feeling annoyed. I want a timeline. I want a pill to make everything go away. I want her to give me a cast.
There is no list of specific instructions. I don’t know how to open my mouth to tell people when I’m having a hard time. Where would I even start?
People still ask me to carry heavy books and bags. I go to the pool even though I shouldn’t. I get pushed in. They think we're having fun. But I can't swim right now and I hate being wet.