My politician liked to throw orgies in his castle. His guests danced in the smoke-filled air, an undulating throng in various stages of undress. I did things on a stage; I wore equipment, a collar. The guests never looked into my eyes. Everyone did drugs.
A gangster often came to visit. He worked for the politician. He made fun of me. He brought me candy, pills, toys. He protected me.
After one year my politician was finished with me. I had served my purpose.
The day I was to be killed, I waited for the gangster in the dungeon of the castle. Isn’t that what you call the bottom of a castle? I was tied naked to a table black with the blood of children.
The gangster came. He laughed at me. I called him names from the table. “You’re weak,” I said. “You’re a wimp. A worm. I’m stronger than you. I’m not afraid to die.” The gangster kept laughing, har har har, yet his eyes stared. The gangster wanted to be strong, like me.
“Wait,” the gangster told my politician, who was standing over me with a knife.
“Little bitch,” said the politician. “Little pig.”
“I have a bit more use for her,” the gangster said. “Let me have her.”
The politician understood that sort of thinking. The gangster knew how to talk to the politician. I knew how to talk to the gangster. Eventually, the gangster gave the politician money and we left.
The gangster carried me to his car in a blanket.
After I was sewn up, the gangster told me, “Go to America, to New York, marry someone your own age, not a drug addict, not a criminal, someone going to a good school, someone rich, someone from a banking family.” He was specific about the banking family.
Young flesh heals quickly.
First, I lived in a European city, in an apartment with a man much older than me. He did not treat me well, but I didn’t know that at the time. Had I known, I would not have cared.
Eventually, I made it to America, to New York. I was twenty. I married a banker from a family of bankers, just as the gangster told me to. We had three sons. I discovered yoga.
Ordinary people don’t believe my story. My husband does not want to hear it. Those who believe me are criminals. Addicts. Abusers. We catch each other’s eyes on the train, the street, in restaurants; we know who we are.
When I am calling for my sons to wake up for school, when I am making an appointment on the telephone, or asking a store clerk for help, I hear the gangster’s voice in my head. I do not hear my own voice. We internalize these things.
The gangster loved me—he saw himself in me. Abusers often see their victims as projections of themselves, both powerful and guilty, as it is the only way to justify their actions. Concurrently, abusers often feel themselves victimized and childlike.
No one has ever seen me as a child.
I learned this through yoga, after I came to America.
Gina Zucker’s fiction, journalism and essays have appeared in journals and magazines such as Tin House, Hobart, Salt Hill, Eyeshot, Failbetter, Opium, Esme, TueNight, Babble, Self, Elle, Cosmopolitan, GQ and Glamour. Her work has been anthologized in Fantastic Women, Labor Day, Altared, and Before. She teaches in the writing program at Pratt Institute where she co-directs the Writer’s Forum reading series. She’s working on her first novel.