WARNING: This chapter will cover topics that will be troubling to some.

Again, I need to thank Adam Phillips, author of Crosscurrents (http://archerland.disbelieve.org/adam.htm) for his help with this chapter. Thank you also to Bill for his editing help.

Finally, as always, thank you to my partner. I love you more than words can ever express.

Chapter 15

They say if you put a lobster in a pot of cold water and set him on a hot burner to cook him, things heat up to life-threatening so gradually that the lobster doesn't even register any awareness...and before you know it, he's done.

I'm here to tell you that I totally get that.

Neal was from my hometown. Brian had known him back in our high school days, but I hadn't. After summer was over, he moved back to town and got an apartment. I was spending most of my free time with him; it was just kind of the way things developed. He seemed to want me around all the time. That was a pretty huge ego-boost for a guy who didn't understand that he was the least bit worthwhile.

I'd gotten home from work early one afternoon, and I'd made plans to spend a little time with Diane and her boyfriend. I hadn't seen her in weeks, except at work; she'd talked to me earlier in the week and we set a date to hang out over a beer or two. As I came through the door, Adam looked up and said, "Well, howdy, stranger; how come you aren't with your man?"

Annoyed, I said, "I'm not glued to the man."

"Coulda fooled me," he muttered under his breath. I bristled, looked at him sharply and said, "What did you say?"

"Nothing," he replied quickly. "So what's up?"

"I just came home to clean up a little bit. Neal's working late and I'm gonna hang out with Diane and Grant."

Adam smiled. Actually, he was beaming. Finally, he said, "Excellent."

"What's it to you who I hang out with?" I asked, annoyance rising in me again.

Before he had a chance to answer, the phone rang. I picked it up. It was Neal.

"Hi," I said, after he identified himself. "Still working late?"

"Yeah," he sighed. "I'll probably be another three hours. I just called to say hi and see how your day's been."

"Hectic, but pretty good," I replied. "Actually I'm headed out."

For a moment there was silence. Then he said, "Oh? Where are you going?"

The tone sounded vaguely accusatory. The tiniest little flash of resentment passed through me.

"Since you had to work and I didn't have too much school stuff, I thought I'd go hang out with Diane and Grant. I haven't seen them hardly all summer, so I thought it would be a good chance to catch up."

"Well, okay," he said, "as long as you aren't fooling around on me." He laughed dismissively, but the comment made me feel uneasy.

"Hey, why would I fool around on you when we haven't even fooled around very much?" I tried to joke, but there was a subtext. Physically, things were still a little weird with us. Something in me wasn't ready to push things physically. I could tell he was getting a little frustrated by that, but he'd been great about it so far.

"Well, that was my point," he said. "Maybe you're getting all hot and bothered because I'm not makin' enough moves on you."

"Who could I found out there half as hot as you, Neal?"  I laughed again; it was true.

"You got that right," he said. This time he didn't laugh.

I didn't know what to say in response, but before I had a chance to figure out something, he said, "Well, have a good time. I'll see you later."

"Uhh...yeah. Okay. Bye."

I had a good time catching up with Diane and Grant. They always made me laugh, and I loved hearing about what was going on with them. Spending time with them reminded me that there were other people out there who meant something to me. I told myself I'd have to touch base with these two more often, and while I was at it, it would probably do me good to repair some of the damage my neglect had done in my other friendships.

* * * * * * * *

Physically, I guess you could say that my relationship with Neal wasn't exactly ideal. He was so hot, and he turned me on a lot, but I was pretty messed-up emotionally,and not inclined to push things. For his part, he claimed never to have been in a relationship with a guy before, although I began to sense some rising frustration in him on that score. I noticed he was getting increasingly impatient with me when I didn't want to move things along beyond hand-holding, some extended mutual back-rubs, and some kissing. I really liked all of that, but it was about all I was ready for. Of course with Bryan, the guy I'd met through Diane, I'd done a lot more, and didn't really have a problem with the whole sex-with-a-guy thing anymore.  Something was holding me back with Neal, though. Whenever we got physical I kept having those same kinds of feelings I'd had when my cousins had assaulted me sexually. Somehow it didn't register that I had never felt that way with Bryan and that maybe I should realize that my feelings about sex with Neal weren't about my rape-induced fear of sexuality. But that never did register. I never considered together the separate facts that I had enjoyed being sexual with Bryan and that I was afraid to be sexual with Neal. I wish I had, but that's not how it played out.

One night in September we'd come back from dinner and a movie. It was actually a pretty good night, and I was feeling pretty good about him, and us. I was tired and ready to go home; we both had to work the next day, and we'd decided earlier not to make too late a night of it. After I'd settled into the car and shaken off the warm-and-fuzzy feelings of the night, though, I noticed that we weren't headed toward my apartment; he was driving towards his.

I figured he was just on auto-pilot and it had slipped his mind. "Hey," I said. "You're going the wrong way."

He didn't answer; he just kept driving. The radio was on, and he was listening to a song and singing quietly along with it. I figured he was lost in thought and what I'd said hadn't registered with him.

"Neal," I said, "This isn't the way to my apartment, it's the way to yours. We were gonna make an early night of it, remember?"

He just smiled and kept looking ahead as he continued to drive in the direction of his apartment.

After a minute or so, though, I pulled back and repeated myself. "Neal, I really gotta go home and get some sleep."

Again, he said nothing.

This scenario repeated itself over several minutes. The first few times, he just acted as if I hadn't said anything. After a while, whenever I'd say I wanted to go home--which I must have ended up repeating about ten times--he'd smile at me and pat my thigh. Now all kinds of red flags were going up for me.

Before I knew it, we were at his place, parked outside his apartment. I opened my mouth to protest--I was getting a little angry, and more than a little uneasy--but before I could get the words out, he leaned over and kissed me to shut me up.

It wasn't as though he hadn't kissed me before. But something about his whole manner was ominous. Worse, it was as if I wasn't even there, that nothing I said mattered in the least, or even registered. And beyond that, when he leaned over to kiss me, his body was over mine, and because he was so much bigger than I was, he was just overwhelming.

I've never been a huge guy, but I wasn't a twenty-pound weakling either. I was in good shape, I ran several miles a day and played intramural sports--mostly soccer and lacrosse--and I hiked and biked and went cross-country skiing. But he was big. All of a sudden that began to loom in my mind as directly relevant to what was going on here. And in an instant, I began flashing back; flashing back to things that should have made me wary when they first happened but hadn't:

When he was in a romantic mood, which he seemed to get into out of nowhere and with no warning, he liked to trap me against a wall or in a stair-well, and his kisses were always very aggressive. It felt vaguely as though he enjoyed dominating me, and enjoyed showing me that he dominated me.

I never knew what to make of this; I was used to Mary, and more recently, Bryan, the first guy I'd ever had sex with. With both of them, it had always been an interplay of equals. On any given day, one or the other of us might be more aggressive or might take the lead more, but it was never about power. Mary is no wilting flower and she certainly had no problem making what she wanted clear, but she never tried to dominate me like that, and as for Bryan, he seemed almost to prefer to let me take the more dominant role.

My only experience with any kind of power-based head-games, intimacy-wise, had been with my cousins--the ones who raped me.

All of this flashed through my head as I sat in this car with Neal, being kissed by him, being dominated by him. Feelings were coming violently to the surface, and they weren't good ones. They were the kinds of feelings I'd had when my cousins raped me. Here in his car, outside his apartment, where I'd practically begged not to be taken, Neal triggered the same response.

In an awful moment of clarity, I knew exactly what was coming.

Instead of becoming more insistent, more angry--instead of letting him know how unacceptable this scenario was--I discovered that I literally couldn't speak, couldn't say "no." Just like when my cousins would rape me. Just like when my parents would abuse me.

Still not saying a word, Neal got out of the car, came over to my side, opened the passenger door, and almost forced me out of the car. Not violently; not maliciously; not in any way to make a casual observer think anything was amiss here, but there was no question: he had me right where he wanted me and he was intent on having his way, whatever that was. His insistent manner had me out of the car and walking, dazed, into his apartment, where he practically ripped my clothes off once we were through the door.

Throughout all this, he never said a word.

I felt like a rag doll. I was totally unresponsive. It was impossible for him not to notice that, and I took note of him not noticing, but immediately I rationalized that he was just feeling passionate and as a result was particularly unobservant. This in spite of the dread part of me felt, because that part had known all along exactly what was coming.

He practically tossed me onto the couch. Lying there on my back, I distantly watched him undress. When he was naked, he knelt down on the floor and began licking my balls and kissing me on the dick. The rational part of me had vacated the premises; I was almost in a fugue state, and wasn't even sure who I was or what I was about. As he wrapped his lips around my cock and began to suck on me, the pleasurable sensations had my body responding in spite of my decimated emotional capacity. I began to get hard quickly. My body was responding, while the little bit of my brain remaining engaged was shouting "No! No!" The result was that I was sort of semi-responsive.

I was in a state of terror, but my mind had had years of training to shield myself from terror by going blank. Still, that distant, vacant part of me--a part of me rising rapidly to the surface--felt almost physically sick. The most terrifying thing was that he was holding my arms down.

I began to panic, but again, I really couldn't speak. And of course, in this condition of utter mental chaos and emotional paralysis, there was no way I could cum. He sucked on me awhile. When he realized I wasn't going to climax, he apparently decided it was his turn. Still utterly silent, he rearranged me so that I was sitting up. He straddled me and pushed me back into the couch. He was fully hard, and he forced his dick into my mouth and began pumping away.

My mind, my willpower, even my anger and terror went completely AWOL. They had risen to crisis level, but I couldn't endure the terror. I'd been here too many times before. So I zombied out.

He fucked my mouth savagely, and with a groan, shot his stuff down my throat. >From some remote psychic location, I heard one part of my psyche say to another, "My boyfriend just raped me."

After he was finished, he climbed off me and put his clothes back on. Still wordless, he tossed me my clothes. I dressed, embarrassed and just short of catatonic.

He led me out the door and to his car. The drive home was deafening in its silence, but it didn't matter; I don't think anything he'd have said would have even registered with me. My hold on reality had taken a long dinner break.

We finally got to my place. Before I had a chance to pull the handle and open the door, he leaned over again as he had before, dominating me with his body.

I was too scared to breathe as he kissed me, hard and aggressive. I tried to pull myself back against the door; he finally moved back to his side of the car.

I got my wits about me and pulled on the door handle. As I climbed out, my mind utterly devastated and chaotic, he smirked at me and said the only thing I'd heard him say since the beginning of the drive from the theater:


As soon as I shut the car door, he pulled out and was gone.

* * * * * * * * *

I felt like a two-bit whore. Once my brain came back into focus, anyway. Again, the voice from far, far away--the angry, violated part of me--kept trying to tell me, "He raped you." But all that was drown out by another thought: Once he got me naked I hadn't said no, had I? So I had no right to feel violated. At the very worst, I told myself, he'd just been amorous and unobservant. After all, he thanked me, right? You don't thank a person for what you steal from him, so he must not have realized I didn't want it.

I went inside, completely exhausted. By the time I was ready for bed, I had decided that I was just being hysterical. Everybody else was into casual sex, and I was just a prude, I thought; too damn squeamish and hung-up for my own good. As for all the alarm bells going off, I figured that was crap left over from being molested by my cousins.

By the next day I was ready to see him again.

That's pretty much how things continued, without variation, in our sex life. Neal would decide he wanted to get physical, and he'd just go at it. I'd vacate the premises mentally and emotionally--although never in quite as extreme a fashion as that first time--and he'd have his way with me. Sometimes he even got me off. That would just add to my conviction that I really did want it, and that I was just messed up in the head for the awful way it always made me feel, because other things we did and shared together were so good.

Weren't they?

Of course they were. He seemed to adore me. So much so that he didn't want me to spend any time with anybody else.

In any case, I kept telling myself that I just needed to get over my hang-ups, and every time something happened, it reinforced my tendency to freeze when he would push me to do something. I just went along like a limp noodle. In spite of the physical pleasure I had once in a while, I could never bring myself to participate actively. I didn't actively try to stop things, either, though. The end result was that we had an ongoing sex life, and there was not a single time that I ever felt anything but creepy and devalued after the encounter.

In September my lease was up. Adam and Megan had made other living arrangements, because we'd all agreed that while we really liked each other, the living situation was just too small to deal with.  As I was considering other options, Neal asked me to move in with him.

It seemed like the logical thing to do.

* * * * * * *

From the day I moved in, things began to change.

It was little things, at first. He'd been getting increasingly controlling concerning my time away from work. He had already gotten into a habit of wanting to know who I was with and where I was at all times. Once we were living together, he moved on to requesting that I spend all my free time with him. Soon he began cajoling me not to leave except for work, unless he was with me. It all changed so slowly that I didn't notice the move from asking, to cajoling, and finally to controlling. He began dictating when I could leave the apartment and who I could associate with. By November, he was in total control.

That's when the physical abuse started.

Again, it started as small things. He'd push me too hard, or pin me down, when we got into a conflict. And always, always, I rationalized, I denied. I told myself I had misunderstood him, or that I'd irritated him with my hang-ups. Any excuse I could grab onto. Anything to enable me to turn a blind eye to what was going on.

By January he was beating the crap out of me.

As the new year began, he had total control over me and treated me as he wanted when he wanted. Physical and sexual abuse were now the norm in our relationship. He knew enough not to break any bones, and not to leave bruises where they could be seen. Sexually he no longer even pretended to care if I was enjoying it.

Somehow, in the course of half a year, I went from beginning to recover from my traumatic senior year in high school to becoming psychically numb and incapable of freeing myself from this psychopath, and it all happened so slowly that I didn't realize how easy it had been to get there. Every time things got worse, I noticed...but it wasn't that much worse than before, so it didn't jar me into doing something about it.

Even when you're in hell, life goes on and a person goes on about his routine. And I guess there's nothing in the cosmic balance that says if you're in hell life can't push you down deeper: That spring, Mary got married.

She had started dating a guy from her school named Rob her second year in college, after I had broken up with her and broken her heart the summer after I graduated from high school. He'd had wanted to date her for two years and was thrilled when she finally said yes. I'm not sure how she really felt about him. When she brought him home for Thanksgiving that year, he wasn't exactly a hit with the family. No one would have ever said anything, but no one was enthusiastic about him either.

I stayed away for most of her visit; it hurt far too much to see her with him. Besides, at that time I was involved with Bryan, and I figured there was no need in opening old wounds and derailing what was turning out to be a very good thing with Bryan. Mary's relationship with Rob continued, though. I didn't like knowing that, but I wanted her to be happy, and I certainly didn't have any right to tell her not to see anyone else.

They got engaged early in the year, and that spring, they came home to have the wedding. Mary had asked me to be a groomsman, along with Brian. It hurt, but I was so honored, and I would have crawled across broken glass if Mary had asked me to. Neal didn't like it that I was in the wedding; he hadn't been invited. He fumed around for days, but didn't do anything to stop me. For once in my life I had been quietly defiant. I told him I was going to do this and that was the end of it.

As far as I was concerned, that was just another black cloud associated with Mary's wedding. But there were still more: Rob, Mary's fiance, didn't like it a bit that Brian and I were groomsmen. He hated me. I think that he realized Mary still had feelings for me. I don't know what his problem with Brian was. He seemed to hate Brian even more than he hated me.

The wedding was like a knife in my heart. Mary had been the only woman I ever loved; she'd been the first love of my life, too. Those feelings had never gone away.

I sat in the church trying to shut down, trying not to feel, as I watched him place the ring on her finger. As she began saying her vows to Rob, I started breathing deeply in and out, focusing on getting through the ceremony without totally losing it. Mary, the first person I'd ever made love to--the girl I'd once dreamed of marrying--was saying those vows to someone else, making a life with someone else.

I went to the reception to be polite, saying all the right things, smiling, laughing, acting as though it was all wonderful. But I left the reception as fast as I could.

I drove home. I knew Neal wasn't there. I went into the bedroom and sobbed my eyes out.

Time passed. Mary and Brian and old memories of love faded from my attention, along with the deep pain those memories brought. But it was in the days following Mary's wedding that I began, in the quiet background, to get a handle on what was going on with me and my relationship with Neal. That's not to say I was doing anything about it, but in the deep recesses of my thought the wheels of survival were beginning to turn. I came to realize that Neal was a master manipulator, and that, consciously or not, he had set out to do this from the very beginning. He had sensed early on that I was an easy target. I also came to understand how I'd let things go this far: If he'd ever hurt me in the beginning of our relationship, or dictating where I could go and when, I'd have left instantly. But he'd smelled my guilt and fear like a shark senses blood in the water. He'd played on that guilt and fear and he'd done it so incrementally that I never even saw what he was doing.

I'd seen this kind of thing over and over at work. I knew the dynamics: On the job I worked with people almost every day who were in violent relationships, counseling them to leave and helping them through that. Yet in my own life, I hadn't acknowledged that I was in in a violent relationship myself.

Something about that insight began to raise my awareness, gradually. I began to see the slow, insidious way things had transformed. I came to understand that it was similar to the kinds of things that happen when you have a growth spurt as a kid: One day you discover you can reach something you couldn't before, or you smack your head on something you used to be able to walk under.

Here's how I woke up.

I looked in the mirror one morning when I got out of the shower and saw the bruises on my arms. Immediately I began thinking about what shirt I could wear to cover them. I started thinking through the possible things I could tell colleagues if anyone else discovered them. The whole time I was thinking about all that, I was hoping Neal wouldn't barge in and do something to make me late to work.

All of a sudden, the insanity of these frenzied thoughts struck me like a slap in the face. And I saw, with sickening clarity, exactly where I had gotten myself. It took my breath away.

I was reeling, emotionally; struggling hard to keep from totally breaking down, when, sure enough, Neal barged into the bathroom.

I lost it. For the first time, I tried to fight him. My anger began to unleash on him, out of nowhere. I began yelling and pounding on him with my fists.

This got me nowhere; even if he hadn't had eight inches of height and a hundred pounds of muscle on me, I was certainly no match for a black belt in anything, and I'd never deliberately hit anyone before. He managed to defuse that situation by simply overpowering me, and somehow we both got through the morning able to stagger off to work.

It changed his tactics, though.

The next morning at breakfast, we were back to business as usual, and pretending that the previous morning had never happened, when he said to me, seemingly apropos of nothing, "You know the other day at work I was bored, and out of the blue I got to wondering if I could kill someone without being discovered. I started thinking about it and pretty soon I figured out a way to do it, so now I know I can. Weird, huh?" He chuckled a little, as if someone had told him a mildly funny joke.

I chuckled along, wondering to myself, in detached terror, when it was that he would kill me.

About a week later, I called Brian one evening. The conversation wasn't worth much; I hadn't really kept up with him after I'd begun seeing Neal, but I just needed to hear the sound of his voice. We made some inconsequential chatter and hung up.

I went into the living room to watch some TV with Neal, and after about half an hour he said, "I was thinking about some of our mutual friends the other day. My buddy Brian, I guess. I was just thinking about that little game I was playing in my head at work the other day, and I realized that if I was some kind of really bad person and I got it in my head to kill Brian, he'd be a really easy target, and I know for certain I could get away with it."

I stared at him, open-mouthed, for a full minute.

He just kept watching TV, casual and laid-back, as if he'd simply made a comment about the storyline.

The terror that I'd felt the first time he'd talked this way was ten times stronger when I felt it this time. And at that moment I realized, in utter despair, how isolated I had made myself. How defenseless.

When this lunatic finally decided to cause me or a loved one of mine serious trouble, there was no one who would know enough to come to my aid.

I realized I had to get away. I had to end this nightmare.

I called Brian the next week. He wasn't at home but I left a voice mail message. Later that week he called back. I picked up the phone on the third ring.

"Hello, Sam here."

"Hey Sam, I got your call." When I recognized the voice I was so happy I wanted to cry.

"Brian! Good to hear from you, man."

"What's up, buddy?"

"N...nothin', man, I'm doing o...okay. I j...I mean, I...well, you know, it's been a while and I wanted to say hi."

He didn't answer at first. Then he said, "Well, better late than never, I guess. You doin' okay? I hope you're not workin' too hard."

"I...I'm not," I said. Five seconds went by. I had no idea what to say next. It felt like a lifeline had been thrown out to me, but I didn't know what to do with it.

Brian continued. "Sammy, I gotta tell you, it's really started to hurt some that you haven't talked to me since camp. And even then we didn't get to say much. I had so much I wanted to say to you, dude, so many things I have wanted to say ever since...ever since...since, uhh...high school, and I was all ready to say those things when you came to camp. Life has gone by so fast since high school, and I...I miss my friend. I've never been able to talk to anybody like you and me talked."

The gratitude, and love, and sorrow, having been bottled up in me far too long, came rushing out. I could feel my face burning and my eyes were at the brink of spilling over with tears, but all I could say was, "Yeah, it has gone by fast. I've been really busy."

"Really involved, too," he said. "Too involved to talk to me." I could hear the undercurrent of anger that accompanied the hurt. My shoulders slumped; what the hell was I expecting to happen here? After I'd broken my promise to stay in touch? There was no way I could make that up to him.

Before the dejection had a chance to settle in, he said, "Hey, I got nothing going on Saturday; you're not working Saturday, are you?"

My eyes grew wide. "No," I said.

"Let's grab some lunch together," he said. "We haven't really talked in, like, a year, not a good talk like we used to always have. It would be so great to hang out some, okay?"

I played that scene out in my head. It would be like a dream come true; a port in a storm. But how could I? There's no way Neal would allow it, would he? I wondered if I could lie to him and tell him I had to work. No, that was stupid. Maybe I could just say Brian was starting to think something was wrong and if I didn't have lunch with him he'd start butting into my business. That might scare him enough to let me do it.

I was going through scenarios in my head as rapidly as I could, but even so, I must have not said anything for fifteen seconds.

"Sam?" Brian finally broke the silence.

"Oh. Sorry," I said. "I was just thinking..."

"Thinking what? I mean, you got anything else going Saturday?"

"No," I said, hesitantly.

"Well, let's do it then.  He hesitated, then asked, "I mean...you...you do want to get together, don't you?"

I hesitated myself. For too long. Finally I said, "Well, okay, I guess. I...I'll check with Neal."

The next sound I heard was Brian whispering, "Fuck!" under his breath. He didn't say anything for a few seconds, then he repeated, his voice utterly devoid of emotion, "Check with Neal..."

I heard him sigh. The line went silent again. About ten seconds later, he said, "Fuck that, Sam." Another pause, and then he said, "Look...I thought when you called, maybe...I thought you were ready to..." At that point I heard the anger rise in his voice, as he said, "Fuck what I thought; it's just the same-old, same-old with you, isn't it? I heard him sniff. He mumbled, "It was a mistake to return this fuckin' call." Pain and sorrow dripped off every word.

"Brian," I began, my voice cracking, "I..."

"Just forget it, Sam," he said, his voice filled with disdain. "Call me back when my friendship means a little more to you." Immediately after those words I heard a click and the line went dead.

* * * * * * * * *

In the weeks that followed, things seemed to deteriorate rapidly with Neal. I was constantly fearful around him, but I didn't see a way out that wouldn't result in someone being hurt. For his part, all the pretense dropped and the hostilities he had for me increased in spite of his extreme possessiveness. He began saying openly that he would kill me or someone I cared for if I left; he angrily blamed me for "turning him gay," saying I'd ruined his life. And when he beat me, he stopped even pretending to apologize; he knew I wouldn't leave.

Socially, I barely spoke to anyone. At work, I only talked about work. If we ever saw anyone socially, we saw only his friends.

Erica was one of those friends. He'd known her since high school.  Both of them were engineering majors and in the same classes. She and I actually began spending time together. For some reason, this was okay with him; I think he forgot that I was bisexual, because he didn't get as jealous when I was with women, so he let me spend time with her. She was taking Differential Equations that spring and wasn't doing well. She had asked Neal to tutor her, but he'd told her, "I don't have the time to waste; Sam'll help you, though." So she asked me.

Tutoring Erica was a small ray of light for me in an otherwise dark and insane world. She was about the only person I got to spend time with alone that spring who wasn't a client or Neal. Otherwise, I was in an utterly hopeless, utterly joyless, frozen void.

I would have killed myself. I wanted to. I looked for opportunities. But I was never alone long enough.

When a person is at the end of his rope, though, and not even suicide is an option, things eventually come to a head. For me it was on a Saturday, around 8 am. I was making breakfast; Neal had just gotten up. Erica was supposed to be over at 10 for some tutoring.

Neal walked into the kitchen and said, "I woke up all horny. Quit dickin' around with breakfast and get over here; I'm gonna fuck you."

On one level the words cascaded right off me; I could have cared less. But the remaining vital core of me, alive and defiant and finally determined, stepped up and took over.

Still stirring the scrambled eggs, I turned my head to him, and in a calm voice that showed I just didn't care, I said, simply, "No." Then I turned back and began stirring the eggs again.

He froze. The whole kitchen was engulfed in his black, ominous silence. Then he said softly, in as scary a voice as I'd ever heard from him, "What did you say to me?

I turned back towards him. "What part of 'no' are you too stupid to understand?"

It was suicidal and I knew it. I hadn't done it deliberately; it just came out of me, from that deep, alive place. But just as the hurricane began, the thought crossed my mind that now he'd finally kill me and this hell would all be over.

The thought made me happy.

"Fuckin' tell me no, you stupid little shit," he screamed. His face was contorted into a savage mask of fury and hatred. He stomped toward me, grabbed my left arm and yanked me toward the kitchen table. "You better hope you'll live to regret this, bitch," he yelled, his face right up against mine. Then he hit me across the face.

As I fell, I remember observing, in a detached way, Weird how the table's coming towards me.

* * * * * * * * *

The next thing I remember is lying face down on the floor, my head pounding with the most intense pain I'd ever felt, and seeing Erica kneeling next to me.

Tears were streaming down her face. "Sam," she said. "Ohmygod, what happened?"

I could only moan in reply.

"You didn't answer the door so I went around back," she said. "I saw you through the window lying there. I broke the back door window so I could unlock the door and get in."

It hurt to breathe; I moved around just the smallest bit, trying to get up. Pain shot up and through my body like a skyrocket. Then I passed out again.

When I came to, she was putting blanket on me. "Don't move, Sam," she whispered. "Please, don't move. I called 9-1-1. Someone's coming to help. Just be still."  She started crying again, and that's when I passed out again.

* * * * * * * * *

When awareness came back, it was only briefly. Initially, there was only a sensation of warmth in my hand.

Slowly I opened my eyes. The first thing I saw was Brian. He was holding my hand and looking at my face, crying. I looked around the room. His parents were there. So were his oldest brother Mike, and Mary, and Erica, and my godmother, and a couple of friends from work. I scanned their faces, faces filled with love and concern, and then everything faded to black.

I don't remember much of the next week. After I finally recovered full consciousness, I learned that my spine was broken in two places in the middle of my back. Several ribs were broken, and I had a severe concussion. Additionally, Neal had gotten what he'd wanted, apparently, and I was badly torn up in the rectal area.

My parents never came to the hospital.

Neal was arrested. He confessed to everything, in his own fashion, telling the police, "He tricked me; I just wanted to be his friend, but he confused me. He made me do gay things. I thought he was making me gay and I finally just flipped out."

The prosecutor didn't buy it but didn't think he could get a conviction either. He was probably right; they hadn't gotten a conviction on any sexual assault that had gone to trial in eight years, so a "defensive" assault on the evil fairy who was out there converting good straight boys wasn't likely to get very far.

Neal pleaded guilty to simple assault, and I got a restraining order. He served three whole months.

I took a memory along with me of those first moments of consciousness in the hospital, a memory that I just couldn't shake. It was the memory of waking up in the hospital, feeling the warmth of Brian's hand as he held mine, seeing the tears stream from his eyes and the stricken look on his face. It's hard to explain how that memory both comforted and tortured me.
I couldn't face him after that; I was humiliated. I felt dirty, wrong, weak, stupid and guilty. It seemed to me that every time our paths crossed, for what seemed like years now, I had hurt him. I hurt him by being in his life, I hurt him by loving him, I hurt him by ignoring him, I hurt him by not trusting him, and I hurt him by being such an idiot as to stay in a relationship with an insane maniac who beat me half to death that I allowed to keep me from him.

In light of all that, I couldn't even look Brian the eye. He tried and tried to get me to trust him, to let him help me heal, to let him befriend me. The torn feeling I felt was unimaginably horrible, and I wanted so badly just let rest in the warmth of his friendship, to let him lead me out of this hell, but I just couldn't. I felt completely ruined and unworthy of anyone's concern, much less love. I wasn't sure how much Brian knew about what happened, but he certainly knew that I had let Neal beat the crap out of me for close to a year. How could I possibly explain to him how I could have done that? I was ashamed to the core. I couldn't face him. I couldn't face anyone. I wanted to sink into the ground and disappear. People would come to visit and I wouldn't even look at them.

I was in the hospital and rehab for close to two months. I was lucky that I didn't lose any sensation or function after the damage to my spine, but it took forever to recover. Throughout the whole period of my physical recovery Brian, Mary, their siblings and parents, and Erica kept trying to convince me to talk to them. They would visit and sit with me, but all I could do was stare off into space.

I was also in the grip of some pretty severe episodes of post-traumatic-stress disorder. Flashbacks had always been an issue for me, ever since my cousins had raped me, but the flashbacks hadn't usually been terribly intrusive on my life. After Neal's final assault, though, I was having one or two a day.

Anything could set me off. Anything that reminded me of Neal in any way was jarring, and everything reminded me of him: the way someone phrased a question, or tilted his head, or touched my hand. It wasn't usually a complete break from reality--during a flashback I still knew what was going on around me--but I still couldn't function, because part of my mind would be gripped by a memory that I couldn't escape.

I hid them as much as I could. I could force myself to control the shakes that invariably accompanied these flashbacks until I was alone. I couldn't carry on a conversation during one, though.

Brian had stopped by once after I'd been through a rehab treatment. He'd been talking a good bit, and I was trying to nod and say a word or two here and there to show I wasn't a total zombie. Then he said something and touched my hand, and I started shaking, reliving all of Neal's "loving" touches by which he had so masterfully hidden the demon inside him. Brian caught my reaction.

"Sam, what's wrong?"

I couldn't answer.

"Sam...dammit, tell me. I'm not asking you, buddy, I'm telling you. You have to tell me."

I looked up at him in utter misery. "You...you touched my hand and all I could...all I could think of was Neal and how he..."

His eyes instantly flooded with tears and flashed with anger.  "Mother FUCKER!"

He looked into my face for a reaction. I couldn't stop shaking.

He looked out the window, crying, then looked back to me, totally defeated. "I guess our friendship is fucking dead," he said, his shoulders sagging. He couldn't keep the anger out of his voice as he said, "How could you possibly think I would hurt you like that? For you to think I'm that kind of scum, I..."

"No, Brian," I pleaded...."I don't...It's not your...please, don't be mad at me."

"Why NOT?" he yelled. "What have I ever done to make you think I'm like him?"

I couldn't explain it to him, and I began to cry myself. At the sight of that, a complete change came over his face. He turned as white as a sheet. "Oh, Sammy...I'm so sorry. I know it's not about me. It's about that asshole. Please, Sam, forgive me, I didn't mean any of that, I just want you to trust me, I want you to know I'm here for you, I've always been here for you, I will always be here for you...I'm so sorry..."

I wasn't listening, though. As far as I was concerned, he was right. As always, knowing me had caused a loved one pain. Again.

And it was Brian. Again.

I closed up even more after that. People continued to try, they continued to reach out, but it soon became apparent that their attempts were only driving me further inside myself. In light of that, just about everyone finally decided to give me some space. They would call regularly, but didn't push.

Erica kept coming by, though. She would just sit with me and not say anything. Gradually, she managed to coax me out enough to talk. Minor, unimportant things, really. The weather. Her grades. The hospital food. I helped her with her classes most of the time she came over, and slowly I climbed a little way out of that bottomless pit. Still, I was in a worse place than I'd ever been my entire life.

Brian had moved my belongings out of Neal's place while I was in the hospital and put them in storage for me. When I got out of the hospital and rehab, Brian's family tried to convince me to move in with them, but I just couldn't. I didn't want them to know what awful condition I was truly in.

I was absolutely humiliated: When my cousins hurt me when I was a child, even though I felt some guilt and responsibility for it, I knew logically that I hadn't had much choice. When I stayed with Neal as an adult, however, I had made a choice. A near-fatal choice. I didn't feel that I had the right to ask for help because of the choice I had made. I'd even counseled people in my situation to get away. I knew better, and I had still let it happen. That was the most humiliating thing of all.

The bottom line was that I was just too ashamed to accept help from the one family that loved me the most. I felt exiled from them forever.

Erica had a spare room in her apartment, though, and offered it to me. I accepted, and that was really the beginning of my relationship with Erica.