How should we forgive men who have hurt us? Is it even possible? It is 2009. I’m in a chain coffee-shop, space that is not just neutral but nowhere, a rash of familiar decor infesting the walls, waiting for a man. Waiting for a particular man. People who ask why I like coffee shops so much usually haven’t had their arse grabbed in a bar. I’m particularly keen for that not to happen today, because I am maintaining a tricky equilibrium between loving compassion and the impulse to smack the next unsuspecting, undeserving male human I see in the face and shout incoherently until he develops some goddamn humanity. I buy a cup of truly appalling chain-coffee-shop tea, plant my feet on the floor in the corner, and wait.
The man I’m waiting for is late. When he arrives he apologises, although not too much. We talk about how he’s doing, how my boyfriend is doing, how his wife is enjoying her new job. Years ago, this man raped me after a party while I was passed out on his bed. I’m here to see what he has to say for himself, because I am pretty sure that he has chosen to believe that what he did wasn’t rape, because he’s a good guy, and good guys don’t do that s--t to teenage girls. They don’t f--k them unconscious without a condom and infect them with something mercifully treatable. Did I go to the Police? Did I hell. I thought I was a stupid slag who deserved it. I was afraid I wouldn’t be believed, by the law or by mutual friends, and that assessment proved entirely correct.
An edited extract from Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny, Bloomsbury, $29.99, available now.