When everything changes

by Brianne Benness

I walk into the lobby with a boy that I’m just getting to know. He is dressed like Hulk Hogan and I am dressed like I’ve just been in a cat fight: ripped clothes, fake bruises, leaves in my intentionally messy hair. There’s a shuffle on the other side of the room and it takes me a minute to realize that G has caused it. G, who I’d broken up with a week before although I didn’t have the strength to insist that he stop sleeping in my room. G, who I’d been speaking to 45 minutes earlier and who’d promised me that he’d take his drunk upset self home and call me in the morning. G, who’d been dressed as autoerotic asphyxiation with a belt around his neck.

He takes the belt off and starts whipping it haphazardly at a baseball player dressed as a cowboy who he doesn’t even know. A former marine (actually, not just for the party) soon has G in some kind of hold. Hulk Hogan has left my side and is holding one of the cowboy’s friends away from G. I’ve never responded well to violence, and seeing that kind of rage coming out of somebody I care about overwhelms me. I hope never to see it directed my way. I don’t know what to do so I throw my wallet in the trash and hurry outside, where I sit on a low concrete wall and wait for somebody, anybody, to find me.

Eventually somebody I know turns up, and escorts me inside to reclaim my wallet; I’ve been especially helpless without it since my student card is also the key back into my dorm. I find Hulk Hogan and a few other friends and we head back to a lounge to watch cartoons; the prospect of the party in the wake of this violence is too much. Eventually I get a call from the local police department, and I thrust my phone at a friend since there is no trashcan for me to impulsively drop it into.

Hulk Hogan looks at my ripped tights and blue knees and asks what happened to me tonight. Nothing caused these bruises but everything feels different.

When G cornered me at the preparty, he was really upset but couldn’t articulate why. He wanted me to leave the party with him, talk with him, soothe him. I’d spent the fall in relative social isolation due to an injury that required surgery and seriously impaired my mobility for a couple months. G had helped me navigate the dining hall for a month, but he always snuck out of bed after I fell asleep to go to parties that I could’t attend in my limping, painkillered state. This was my first big party all year, and we were broken up, and I wasn’t going to miss it because of this vague malaise that he didn’t have the capacity to express. He agreed to go home, that we could talk about it when he’s sober.

My friend takes my phone and calls the police station. It turns out that G was really arrested, not just held-for-public-intox arrested. We couldn’t pick him up tonight as he’d suggested in his message, and would have to go to the county seat tomorrow to pick him up at the courthouse after his arraignment.

A friend offers to drive me, then another friend comes along for support, and soon the four of us are eating lunch in a random Thai restaurant. G is wearing a button up shirt that his uncle bought him so that he’d look presentable at the arraignment, since he hasn’t had a chance to go home yet. I have no idea what we talk about.

After lunch G and I are alone and he fills me in on what he can remember of the night. He remembers heading home down the covered walkway between the doors. He remembers liberating a chair through the walkway’s window. He remembers holding a can of spray paint in a back room while a girl that he used to date pleads with him not to use it, trying to leverage whatever feelings he may have had for her into decent behaviour. He remembers the former marine immobilizing him. He doesn’t remember taking the belt off his neck. He doesn’t remember me walking in. He doesn’t remember attacking a virtual stranger.

He remembers talking to me at the preparty He remembers feeling like he had too much testosterone circulating in his body, and knowing that he had to fuck it out or fight it out. When I wouldn’t leave with him, the fight became inevitable.

I know that it isn’t my fault that G attacked that baseball player; I believe in autonomy. But I’m not so sure that I believe in my own agency. I don’t notice that G has rewritten our entire relationship so that I am just a foil. Up until this year I have always seen myself as a subject in my own life; I’ve paddled 750 miles across Northern Ontario, I spent months abroad in France as a high school student, I spent the summer doing NASA-funded research at a DOE lab. While we were together I didn’t understand why G couldn’t stay awake and hold me on the day I found out that my father as I knew him was never coming back. After we broke up he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t leave a party with him so that he could fuck out his excess testosterone. This was the level of our dissonance.

At a Christmas party a month later, G whispers to me that I should follow him into the hall if I don’t want him to humiliate me during this game of never-have-I-ever. I do, and spend most of our conversation trying to understand what he could possibly want from me. I’m trying to text the boy who’d been dressed as Hulk Hogan and express my discomfort without G noticing. I don’t know why I followed him into the hall, and I don’t know why I feel trapped there and I don’t know how to make him feel better. When G is finally done talking to me in the stairwell, Hulk Hogan meets me in the hall outside my room and listens to my frustration and my impotence and my sadness while fighting the Nyquil that he’d taken before hearing from me. Over winter break the administration will ask G not to come back.

I’m 19 and some part of me knows now that sex isn’t about intimacy and it isn’t about me and it’s dangerous. What I’d been calling desire is just an incomprehensible male rage that’s been redirected. I’m not sure that anybody really wants me to begin with, and even if they seem to, even if they tell me that they do, I’m not sure that they aren’t just trying to keep their most violent selves at bay. I divide the men in my life into men that get to know me and men that get to touch me. When Hulk Hogan and I start dating, we stay clothed for months. It takes another theme party at which I don the most attractive of fake mustaches for me to suggest nudity. My boldness quickly fades as I become aware that I’m not really channeling any male rage, that I don’t know what else to channel, that I don’t know what he’s doing here, that I’m starting to panic.

Hulk Hogan sees my panic and he gets us both dressed and he holds me. He will be the one who holds me when I wake up from nightmares after G returns to campus. He will be the one who wakes up and holds me when my stepmom calls and tells me it’s time to come home and say goodbye. He will be the one who stays awake and holds me nights later when my dad is really truly gone. And he will be the one who spends six years trying never to feel angry in case I see that anger and think he’s been funneling it into me.