Operation Manual by Lynne Schmidt

TW: Sexual Trauma

Jessie told me
that a partner worth having
would build their own manual
to understand how to handle me.

They would know the moments to tuck my head into their shoulder
when I’m coming unraveled.
Or when to slide their hand into mine
while their finger tips explore the places belt loops protect.

They would learn to not ask certain questions
or when to push me to talk.

They would teach themselves when to row their boat into the calm ocean
or when to set an anchor and brave the goddamn storm because I couldn’t find a pen.

And so,
here I am on a couch with a potential new partner.
and he won’t let me drink.
Not that he won’t let me drink,
we had tequila with dinner which was hours ago and has burned its way through my system.

But that, he doesn’t want to touch me unless I am sober
unless I am right here beside him
and not lost and tuned out in my head.

So I try,
but also during dinner, he looked me in the eye when he said he cared about me.

When he told me all the ways I’ve disrupted his life,
and how my presence was the best part of his day.

And I believed him.

But this moment on the couch with my unbuttoned jeans,
this is something I’ve never been good at.
Because while his hands are new, and while his smell is unlike anything else,
my skin feels the ghosts of literally everyone else before him.

The ones who didn’t ask permission before slipping under the fabric.
The ones that were so rough they came away with hands bleeding.
The ones that didn’t stop when I said no,
Shoved away,
Tried to escape until the exit sign burned out and I was left in pitch black pretending this was happening to someone else.

My best friend said the next partner would make their own manual to know how to handle me,
and when he asks if I’m okay,
I can’t speak.

Lynne Schmidt is a mental health professional and an award winning poet and memoir author. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Gravity (Nightingale and Sparrow Press), and On Becoming a Role Model (Thirty West). Her work has received the Maine Nonfiction Award, Editor’s Choice Award, and was a 2018 and 2019 PNWA finalist for memoir and poetry respectively. Lynne is a five time 2019 Best of the Net Nominee, and an honorable mention for the Charles Bukowski Poetry Award. In 2012 she started the project, AbortionChat, which aims to lessen the stigma around abortion. When given the choice, Lynne prefers the company of her three dogs and one cat to humans.  

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