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The Message

By F+, Featured

Illustration by Katie Wittenberg

I know many women who wait their whole lives to talk about their trauma. They count up the years, letting the secret fester and grow, learning to slow down their breath as the experience gains capital. Someday they will be able to share it with someone who can make the most of it. I understand. If you had to experience trauma — why give it away? If you’ve suffered this much, why not use it to your advantage, barter your suffering to the highest bidder? It is a way of taking control — and a way of cutting your losses.

I see #metoo and the women who have now given away their pain for free — sometimes the story being the only collateral you have over your abuser, donated to spread awareness. It makes me wish we all would have been louder earlier. I wish we had chosen not to play along with patriarchal economics. I want to give everything away to protect everyone else, but then what would I be left with? How could I afford to survive?

The messages start rolling in on my Facebook — men living in Cairo who claim to have matched with me on Tinder — asking when I’ll be in town. I currently reside in Chicago and only allow women to be filtered through my results, so this strikes me as odd. I show my friend — my tinder has been hacked? She shrugs. I move on.

One man threatens me, am I his ex, why am I such a bitch, and can’t I just respond? This time, instead of a shrug, eyebrows are furrowed.

Then Cindy (I’ve changed her name for this article) reaches out. First it’s from a recently created and obviously fake Facebook account, and then it’s from a friend’s account. She’s in a desperate situation, she doesn’t know what to do, she’s sorry she’s reaching out to a stranger, we have a mutual friend — can’t I please respond?

I’m easy to scam. Something about me makes it simple to algorithmically determine my vulnerabilities. I, often egotistically, always want to help. I am bored and always looking for adventure. And I’m fascinated — I’m sure if you looked at my history you would see a wealth of experiences no sane person would have if they weren’t so goddamned fascinated. That stranger’s car, that couple’s hotel room, the back of that motorbike past midnight in Nepal; the list continues. I’m susceptible to the human experience.

However, there’s something about what this woman is saying to me that feels like she’s targeted me for a particular reason, one that has nothing to do with my wild streak. She’s appealing to my empathy, to stories she’s heard about me. I won’t judge her, I’ll understand.

And it is this final plea that intrigues me the most, and also keeps me from messaging her back for the longest. I do remember what it’s like to be so desperate and trapped you’re reaching out to strangers on the internet — and it’s because of men, it’s always because of a man.

I say this with respect for the increasingly non-binary nature of society and discourse. It is something I’m proud to be a part of, but also something that runs contrary to the bulk of my life experiences in which I have been victimized by men. Cis, social, and toxic men. And risking misandry — but risking dishonesty if I cite them as otherwise — I must call them by their name.

When I finally reach out to her, it is with the memories of these worst parts of life running on a loop in my mind — not even the moments themselves but the in-between stuff. I’m thinking about smoking two packs of cigarettes outside my rapist’s apartment, wondering where I can go next.. I’m thinking of what I would have asked for, from anyone if I thought they would listen and hear. Certainly a conversation on Facebook is a small thing.

“Hi Cindy,” I write. “What is going on?”

She tells me. We do have a mutual friend — she remembers photos of me and him in Tokyo. “You became a bit of an obsession — I would always say I’m not like Sam to him.” Here I think sadly of the women in my own life who have become “a bit of an obsession” for me. I think of the men who have used beautiful and strong women as points of comparison — as portraits for ways I was lacking. I have one ex who, after cumming, would roll off and sigh, that was so good, almost Kira. I was never as good as Kira. Never. No matter what I did, or what concessions I made to rise to her supreme level of sexuality. It is painful to realize I’ve been used in this same duplicitous way to hurt others without my knowledge or consent.

Cindy recently discovered her fiancé is a shithead and a misogynist, her words. He refuses to have sex with her, wanting to keep her pure for marriage — while simultaneously carrying on affairs with sixteen-year-olds. She’s angry, she’s afraid. She’s trapped.

So she does what any sane person would do — she decides to catfish him. And, I’m a bit flattered I will not lie, she uses my identity as bait. “Could you understand?” She asks me.

Oh yes. I could and do.

Ultimately, this is all I can provide for Cindy. I allow my image to roll like a worm on a hook and return to my life, wishing her luck, wishing beyond any desire I’ve felt in some time that I could do more.

It surprises me, her pain, and how similar it rings to me. My friend checks up on my scammers — I provide her with an update. She also knows how Cindy feels.

I ask, do you think every woman does?

Pause — the dot dot dot of incoming messages.

Probably. TBH.

Why don’t we know that? What can we do to make the expense of sharing less of a sacrifice? How can we learn to share if we’re still afraid?

I don’t know. Right now my sentiments are concise. Anger. Loud wrath.

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