Doni Shepard: Tales of Dissociation

Asking For A Friend

alternative titles:

tales of dissociation // all names and nouns have been changed in an effort to help the author process her PTSD // it could have been anyone //

Bryan was a friend of hers whose memories dated back to school uniform-clad days in the suburbs. She remembered when he arrived at her junior high. New. Quiet. Awfully scruffy for a thirteen-year-old boy. It wasn’t until high school that they began to build a bond. Bryan dated several of her friends during this time. He was funny and charismatic. He was the life of the party. One to defend her from an onslaught of unkind words from unkind friends. One of the first to make her feel beautiful.

Bryan was an alcoholic.

It had been more than five years since Bryan and she had seen each other, but they’d been talking for a few months when they decided to go on an actual date. He had drifted apart from her group years ago, gotten into a relationship, and subsequently had a child of his own. They were both relatively new to the dating world—damaged, and intensely bonded by their past together. He was her friend and she trusted him. She felt safe and she was eager for the opportunity to reconnect face-to-face.


*     *     *


On the Saturday after she moved into her new apartment they planned their first date. Bryan texted her to ask if he could leave his car at her complex so they could catch an Uber to dinner, just in case they had something to drink. This sounded logical to her. She agreed.

When he stepped out of his truck to greet her, it became obvious just how much time had passed. His hair was thinner. Beard longer. His demeanor seemed calmer, cooler.

The last time she had seen him was at a friend’s party. He tried to kiss a good friend of hers in front of the girl’s boyfriend and narrowly avoided a stone cold knock out. The same night, while he sprawled on a bathroom floor in a pool of sweat and vomit, Bryan attempted to buy weed off her ex. She deemed this an all-time low; but they were older now. They had moved on. She embraced the memories of him as a kind friend from high school. Blocked out the dark bits. The fights. The temper. The late-teen DUI. She chose to focus on the new Bryan—full of adoration, thoughtful texts, and who met her with a stunning pot of pink flowers as a housewarming gift the evening they reunited.

They caught a ride to a downtown noodle joint. On their way there, they talked about their busy work schedules; how happy they were to escape for a minute together. They giggled. It felt natural. It felt healthy.

At dinner she ordered a Moscow mule. She wasn’t much of a drinker, but it’s her go-to when she’s overwhelmed by unrecognizable lists of complex cocktails. Over the course of their meal, he matched her one drink with three of his own. Still, she recognized the face looking back at her. If he was drunk how could he be so composed, intelligent, and calm?

When they got back to her place, she walked Bryan to his truck. Rather than getting in, he reached along the passenger seat floor and grabbed a bottle of vodka, slugged back a large gulp and casually started to walk back to her apartment. Although she’d enjoyed herself on their date, she knew she wanted to be alone in her home. This moment was the first time that evening when fear stampeded her instincts.

Despite her discomfort, she convinced herself she was safe. His drinking was heavier than most individuals she normally spent time with, but he seemed coherent. Bryan took down the vodka and chased it with wine. She sat on the couch and he sat at her desk chair, playing her music. She assumed that her trepidation stemmed from the fact that she wasn’t used to dating. Her last first date was nearly a decade ago. What did she know? Maybe this was all normal.

They had been talking and listening and drifting from subject to subject when the name of an old friend came up. He struggled to retrieve memories. Her stomach began to turn. Minutes later he would inform her he hardly remembered a former girlfriend he dated for more than a year.                     More pain.                   More knots.

Sensing his level of intoxication, she conceded to his suggestions that he needed a safe place to stay for the night. He was supposed to be up early for work. She figured he could lie on the couch and quietly sleep off his cocktails. She dreaded the damage he could do on the road.

As it got late, she retreated to her walk-in closet, closed the door and attempted to put on the least alluring outfit she could throw together—full leggings and an oversized t-shirt. Subconsciously, she craved armor. She quieted the fear inside of her and pulled off her blouse. Within seconds, Bryan had opened the door and made his way in.


*     *     *


Before she hit puberty, she was thoroughly versed in the world of dissociation. She was abused by a close family member from as far back as her memory attempts to press until she was eleven-years-old, when the police came. Her grandmother’s husband at the time would slink into her room, haul her away, find any excuse he could to come consume the little bits of innocence left inside of her. Fear told her she could not tell anyone. Fear pinned her down. Fear cut screams from her vocal chords. Fear yanked years of memories from her mind.

On this night, she was paralyzed by fear, exhaustion, and terror. She disappeared. Bryan spent four excruciating hours pushing, pressuring, biting, pressing, dragging, forcing her body into places it did not belong. As the night progressed, the pain became insurmountable. Four hours in, she lay frozen and dissociated. He told her to “stop being weird.” She lay still, begging and pleading to herself to find strength. Asking a higher power to come and save her, to make minutes and hours pass more quickly than possible.

In the morning, after Bryan slept through alarms and refused to move from her bed, she stepped out into the hallway and called the people she trusted most. She sobbed, inconsolably—her body covered in bruises, jaw unable to open entirely, eyes swollen shut. She threw Bryan’s clothes on his chest and commanded him to leave. She felt utterly broken.

She forgot how to be human.

She forgot to breathe.

She forgot how to write.

She froze, again.


*Edited excerpt from personal essay, Pause

Doni Shepard is a poet and lifetime learner currently residing in Washington. Her poetry, personal essays, and journalism have been featured online by Lunch Ticket, Dirty Chai, Bloodletters Literary Magazine, Calamus Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, The Thought Erotic, and Ursus Americanus Press and can be found in the print-based love anthology Spectrum 3: LoveLoveLove. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles.