‘The structure of abuse’ by Veronica Cordova de la Rosa.
Oxford, United Kingdom 2019.
I have been working all day, thinking about my visa. How to spend the money wisely while procuring the visa. My work involves selling fabrics for curtains and dresses. I am among tables, people and fabrics. I am here in this store and wishing to be somewhere else. Where? I don’t really know where I wish to be, but definitely somewhere else.
However, I like the colours of these fabrics, I like to see the shiny colours, the printed patterns, the flowers printed on cotton, polyester, elastane. My favourite items are the wool yarns. They feel soft and when I touch them, I feel soft. My body, my whole self feels soft, as if my body was like these objects, soft and delicate. As if my skin was suddenly different, as if I had no bones or memories. I feel as if I was made of wool. Time stops every time I touch the softballs of wool in this haberdashery department.
I like walking around and thinking of nothing, just waiting for the time to pass.
Then, I feel I do not belong to this place and there is a young man who comes and stands next to me. He touches my hands and they feel rough and cold. He is handing fabric to me, he is giving me something but he touches my skin. I step back and look at him with suspicion. Why he is touching my hand? Why he is touching me, if he does not know me?
I walk away, every time I see this man I walk away. I do not like his necklaces. They look cheap and I don’t like the look of this man.
I am confused and walk away.
We go to visit a vinyl flooring factory. They show us different colours of tile types of vinyl. I play with them, I dress up as if I was going to give a lecture. I am just going to this training. I play on the floor, I am showing interest in this new product.
I offer a bike to this young man who has just arrived to Oxford, I was told. He has no bicycle so I offer him mine. I sell it to him for thirty pounds. He comes around to my house. We exchange phone numbers. I see he has a picture in WhatsApp with a woman, she looks young. I believe this young woman is his girlfriend. I see him at my place and see him very briefly. I am dealing with my visa application.
I think for a moment. He is young and he is with someone. I say to myself, “He is not available.”
I keep going. I’m back in the store. I work every day, not knowing exactly if I am interested anymore in the fabrics because there are other things going on.
Every day I go to work, I just talk with some people around me. I complain about not having a job at university. I say I wish I could live somewhere else in the United Kingdom. Maybe I could change my luck. This young man who once touched my hands now invites me to smell his wrist. He asks me if I like his lotion. I get close to his wrist, I am not sure why I am getting close to him.
He smiles and tells me: “Do you want to smell it?” We are in a café, sitting down, among strangers. I am thinking about my visa, my life, my job, my art. He distracts me with his smell. I do not remember how he smells. We go back to work.
I go to work, fold the fabrics, cut the fabrics, sit down to help people to choose the style of their curtains. They look at me and I think about myself.
This young man now asks me to go to lunch together. He says: “Shall I come and grab you?” and he moves his arms as if he was holding me. I say for the first time: “Yes!” I feel suddenly very excited and at the same time I ask myself: “What are you doing?” We sit down, and I talk and talk about my visa, my studies, my wish to leave Oxford. He tells me it is very easy to leave.
I go to work, I organise the wallpaper, I find different designs, images of mountains, images of giant flowers, images of exotic animals such as parrots, monkeys, giraffes, elephants.
People choose their favourite wallpaper. They buy it, I sell it.
He invites me to a movie I say yes, I say yes to this young man I do not know and dare to touch my hands when we started to work in the store. He has a weird accent, I never heard this English accent before, like softer and slower. I am not sure if I like his accent, it is so different from the rest.
Who is this young man?
I go to a workshop in Finland, where I invite people to fly with me. We are about fifteen people, we fly together. We pretend to be butterflies for fifteen minutes. We move our arms, our heavy bodies, we move around. We all have masks, I cannot see some of the other butterflies movements. I feel my movement. I am flying. I am flying and another butterfly comes close to me, to fly next to me. I can hear the movements of this butterfly, I know it is close. I fly somewhere else. We finish flying together. Then I go to the hotel and at night I text to this young man. I text and say where I am. I feel alone.
I go to work, I carry fabric rolls, I count the fabric, I count more than one thousand meters in fabric. This young man is with the young woman next to the sea. There are three people together for two weeks in Australia. I feel sad, never felt that sad at work, I feel like crying all the time.
He sends me messages — whatever he does, wherever he goes, he sends me pictures of the landscape. There is a kangaroo, it knows it has been observed, it stops and then it runs away.
This young man says this young woman is always fighting with her husband, they had plans but then cancel. This young man is telling me that she has dogs and shows me the dogs. She is sitting next to him on his last day of the holiday. I can see her naked leg, I can see she is next to him. He is holding and playing with the dog. I see his hands, those hands that once touched me.
I go to work, I wake up at six in the morning. I feel like crying all the time. I feel there is something I have not been told. I feel I want to cry all the time, I count shampoos, I count hand creams, I count maps, I count lipsticks. I go back home and I feel I want to cry again. I try to leave earlier but I cannot.
He comes back from Australia, we make love.
I go to work. I see him laughing with other women. I want to hide. I want to go somewhere else. He follows me. I want to hide from him. I do not want to see him next to me. I wish he was not there anymore.
I go to work, I talk to people. They tell me how nice he is, how he sweet he is every time he talks about his sister.
I am in the cinema, he sits far away from me. I go to work, I see the young woman around us. I go to work on Sunday. I finish work at five. I cry all the time while watching the film. Cleo, an indigenous woman, her baby that she lost, her working hours, the guy who tries to kills her. I cry throughout the whole film. Cleo thinks she is loved and she is taken to the hotel rather than watching a film. Cleo works for them, the rich family. Cleo’s story breaks my heart.
I stop going to work. I am in the hospital, the psychiatrist gives me an antipsychotic, the psychiatrist, tells me I am suffering from psychotic jealousy.
He the young man tells me that he can’t see me anymore, he is in the library up to one, two, three o’clock in the morning. I look for him he is not there. He says he is there but he is not there.
I am walking around my house, I walk but can’t walk very well. I see the sky, so clear, the air is so fresh. I walk and I feel I am air, I am the sky, I am dissolving into the landscape. I hold my mobile phone, the only thing I know is real, is this phone on my hand.
Moments ago, my housemate had seen me on the floor, my eyes are big, my head is big, I am a slug on the floor. I am crawling down the stairs, he is leaving the house. I am a slug in the house, sliding everywhere. My hands help me to crawl on the floor, to push myself to go up and down the stairs, I do not want to live anymore. I look at the window, I see the sun, the light on my face.
Something tells me it is time to leave. To leave the store, the fabrics, the bed, the wooden floor, the bike, the uniform to go to work, the people, the kids, the flowers, the grass, the tree, the university, the screen, the light on my eyes are telling me that it is the time. It’s almost time to go and I must get ready. I look at my housemate as if I was asking him to store all the memories left in my face for the last time. To remember where I am from as if he was the last person who could ever hold my body. He does not touch me. I can see how scared he is. I am on the floor looking at him as if I was going to drink all the blood from in his body. As if I wanted his heart, his lungs, his liver, his body to live myself. I look at his body, his tall body as if it was the last branch of a tree that I could hold on to it.
I take the pill, I am one with the sky with the flowers, with the world I walk again I hold the mobile.
I get ready to go to work, I wear my black dress that communicates nothing. I have nothing to say.
They the nurses in the hospital tell me I can’t go to work like that. My words do not make sense. They look at me as if there was no tomorrow.
The young man comes back to me, he makes love to me. I am next to him, his hands that once touched my hands, now he is touching my body but I can feel his hands, or his flesh.
I go to work, now I clean tables, I look at the window, people eating, kids eating, throwing all the food on the floor. I look at the shopping mall and I count the minutes, one, two, there are more than six hundred minutes left to make fifty-four pounds.
I go to work the next day. Another young man tries to help me to put the apron. I refuse his help.
We are in the airport. The young man starts taking pictures of the food menu. I feel angry, I say no, you are not going to send the woman from Australia pictures of everything we do. I was in the meadow, at midnight, I went there to cry, maybe my mother could listen to me, maybe she knows I am being bewitched by two people. I ask my mother for help. A doctor tells me to go home to try to sleep.
We are in Mexico, and the young man asks me if we are in paradise.
I walk in the streets, with my high heels, my skirt. I walk in this hot weather with all these people who do not know me. All these students are queuing up in the bank. I walk to try to solve problems.
We come back. The young man tells me he does not love me. We lost a suitcase, we travel again. I can smell the flowers, I see the beautiful city, a woman welcomes me. She tells me how important is to be with other people, how important is to have friends. We cannot just be with one person, we need more people around us. They invite me to swim in the sea naked. I cannot go.
I use this bergamot oil to heal the young man’s body, I help him, to get rid of the pain, the burden of shame to be who we are. My Chinese friend helps me too. We are two massaging his back. He is sitting on the chair, we are there helping him to cure his pain. Every day I experiment with what love is, every day I experiment with what love is without him. I do not know where he is, what does all day, I do not know what this young man does all day.
I brush the teeth of my Chinese friend. His eyes are so gentle, full of curiosity and trust. I brush his teeth, and he brushes mine. He holds my jaw and introduces the toothbrush gently, he looks everywhere in my mouth. He looks as professional as a professional teeth cleaner. I smile, I smile to him with my clean mouth cleaned.
This young man leaves early, the young man who touched me in the store without my permission, without me expecting it. We are back in the United Kingdom.
When I sit down in front of this young man, he disappears, he vanishes. He is not there.
He brings me food, makes me believe he cares, I know he is leaving in a few days.
He leaves. He tells everyone including the taxi drives that he is leaving but I am not leaving with him. He is going to live up in the North to start a new life by himself.
I cry, just a little bit.
He keeps texting me even more. He says he misses me.
I travel and I travel for him. I take the train and wish I could see him. I have the energy to go against everything just to see him. I leave everything behind, the work, the fabrics, the room, the house, the garden, the girl, the family, the wise women, the tall man. I leave everything behind.
I arrive and he is not there, he vanishes again. I look everywhere for him, the university, the last place we made love, the train station, the streets, I travel everywhere with my bike, I ask people in the streets if someone has seen him. I ask the streets for a clue. Every afternoon I look for him. I get lost in the roundabout, I remember last time I saw him there. I swear we were together in that room, looking at the window, looking at the cars, listening to the noise outside. Last time I saw him, I thought I could cure him with this massage and the special oil I prepared for him.
I swear I saw him in that room last time. I get lost in the roundabout, it all goes to the same place, I start where I finish. I bike in circles. I stop just to smoke, I sit down and look at the cars, the people traveling, I see the cars and people walking around me. I sit down everywhere I can. I hope I can see him one day.
Next days, I travel back and travel back again.
I come back to the city to the North once more time, to tell him I do not live there anymore.
I discovered him lately in pictures, I saw his face, smiling, like a Colgate smile. I saw him he was by the sea in 2016, 2017, 2018. He has been by the sea all these times with the same woman, his half-sister he met when he was his earlier twenties. I saw him for the first time, I see him smiling. I see him for who he is. But there is another person with them all the time, it is not just two people, there are always three people in the photos.
I go back to work, I fold clothes, I fold cashmere jumpers. I feel as if I am folding origami paper figurines. I fold them and organise them by various colours.
I walk to work, I see the seagulls, the river, the swans, the buildings with lights inside.
I see the church outside my window every morning.
I permit you to live your own life and assume your own life and beauty. In the heart where I dwell, I drive out the illusions of the unloved child. Like the bell tower of the cathedral, I spread the penetrating vibrations of love in your blood, all emotional demands that have become a travesty of hatred, and all jealousy, which is only the shadow cast by abandonment.
This story is based on a true story of coercive abuse. Oxford 2019.