A Conversation with Aunt Willow
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Trigger Warning: References of assault.
You shouldn’t have dressed like that!
You shouldn’t have gotten drunk!
He was only playing!
It’s your fault!
I knocked hard on Aunt Willow’s front door, my knuckles growing bruised from trying to drown out the voices in my head. It didn’t work. I kept knocking.
I don’t know why I expected her to answer. It was the middle of the night. I was coming unannounced from New York down to Boston. She might not have even been home. She could have been drinking martinis with bestselling author friends, dragging along her new artist squeeze, in some impossible to get into night club. And here I was on her front step, my faux jean jacket trenched after rain, my hair frizzy like I just got hit by a lightning bolt.
And yet I kept knocking.
When she answered, she didn’t ask questions and just pulled me inside. It was as if my arrival was foretold by oracles. She sat me on her couch with a fuzzy blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. She stood before me, arms crossed.
“How’s the case against that boy going?” she asked.
I sighed. “Why’s that the first thing you wanna know?”
“Because I know it’s why you’re here.”
He seems like such a nice boy.
You’re ruining his life!
I don’t believe you!
This is all your fault!
I sat back against the couch, face in my hands. “It’s… it’s going fine, I guess. He’s definitely getting sentenced, though probably not for long. ‘Such a waste for a boy with such a bright future to end up in prison for long,’ the judge said.”
“So, basically, you lost,” Aunt Willow said.
“No, I mean, they’re still sending him to jail for a couple of—“
“If the judge feels worse about sentencing a predator than gaining justice for the victim,” Aunt Willow said firmly. “The victim is the one that has lost, regardless of what petty sentence the predator is given.”
The judge will see through you, you attention-seeker!
He shouldn’t fall so hard for one mistake!
It’s your fault!
I couldn’t stop the tears once they started. I just wailed. It must have woken up the entire neighborhood. But Aunt Willow didn’t make me stop. She just got me another glass of hot cocoa.
“Thank you,” I said, rubbing my eyes.
“Don’t thank me,” she said. “It’s the least I can do.”
I took a deep sip, and the cocoa must have been a potion of truth, because, without thinking, I said, “I wish I never reported him.”
Aunt Willow crossed her arms. “And why’s that?”
I shrugged. “Well, I mean, firstly, it’s not like NYU is supporting me—“
“They wouldn’t have supported you if your assailant was Ted Bundy and he’d blown up the UN. I know that’s not really the reason,” Aunt Willow said.
I sighed and crossed my arms. “Well… there’s also that… I mean,” I groaned. “It doesn’t help that my own parents aren’t supporting me.”
“You mean the parents you specifically went to NYU to get away from,” Aunt Willow asked.
“And? It doesn’t make it any less painful…”
It’s your fault, they’d said when I told them what happened. And they haven’t spoken with me since. No answering calls. No responding to texts. It was like I was the monster instead of him.
Aunt Willow sighed and sat next to me, wrapping me in a warm embrace. “Look kid, your parents… they’re the kind of people who think that everything is everyone else’s fault except for the people actually doing the bad thing.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Well… I mean, do you remember the reason that I stopped talking to your mother all those years ago?”
I nodded. “You divorced your first husband.”
“Yep. And the reason I did it,” she lifted up her shirt, a bright red scar cutting across her stomach. “Was because he stabbed me. Over pretzels.”
I blinked. “Well… they never mentioned that…”
Aunt Willow laughed. “Of course they didn’t, ‘cause in their worldview, the guy can never be the one at fault. The one woman has to be the one in the wrong for making the guy angry. If we lived in biblical times, they would’ve probably forced you to marry the beast.”
I gagged at that.
“All this to say, your parents aren’t normal,” Aunt Willow continued. “Whatever they said when you first told them what happened… however they made you feel, I just want you to remember that none of this is your fault.”
My eyes watered again and I tackled her in an even deeper hug across the couch. “Thank you,” I said softly. “Thank you so much.”
She smiled warmly and caressed my head. “Don’t mention it kid,” she said, getting up. “Anyway, I gotta go prepare your bed.”
“Hey, uh, before you so,” I said, rubbing my arm. “I just… I’m embarrassed to say that… I don’t really wanna go back to NYU.”
“Understandable,” Aunt Willow said. “Though I hope you realize it won’t be better anywhere else, so don’t go in with that expectation.”
“I know, but…” I sighed. “I just, I wanna go somewhere closer to you.”
Aunt Willow smiled. “I’ll pull some strings in the morning. I’m sure Tufts would be happy to take you.”
She left and I lay on the couch. The two voices in my head were mostly quiet now, replaced by my aunt’s.
None of this is your fault.