Sarah Certa’s Story: Dead Woman

Sarah Certa’s Story: Dead Woman

This story is re-posted with permission from Sarah Certa, it originally appeared on Luna Luna.

It’s mid-October and I keep referring to myself as a dead woman. Of course I am not really dead but it’s easier to call myself dead than what I really mean. Stop playing the victim card. I keep hearing that voice. His voice. And his voice. As if I want to be known for having been abused. As if I asked for it and am now basking in this special victim status, the alleged benefits of which I am still trying to figure out.

She’s a manipulative bitch. She lies about everything.

I was emotionally and psychologically abused throughout much of my childhood and adolescent years, but I didn’t know this until recently. Or maybe I knew it. Yes, I knew it, I just didn’t know how to say it, until finally my therapist and I unearthed one of my deepest psychological roots, the one from which so much of my inner life has grown, though it will be a long time before I can tell you the details of this story, if I can ever tell at all.

Trauma: Like this the truth trickles down to you. Slowly you peel back one layer at a time. You built walls in defense but now you live inside a house inside a house inside a house. You live underground. It is safer to be dead but you realize you’re not ready for that. Slowly you unearth your grave.

Slowly you make space around you. Slowly you take up that space.

I can tell you that as a child I was not physically or sexually abused. And I never saw myself as a victim of anything. Everything was, after all, my fault, and the details of my life did not add up to a classic abuse story, not what I’d overheard on the news, I wasn’t one of those girls, the ones whose stories kept me up at night, soaking my pillow with tears. The ones I would pretend to talk to before I fell asleep, whispering promises about how I’d make the world a better place for them, that somehow I would save them. As a child this is what I knew of prayers. This is what I knew of offerings.

And yet, I was one of those girls, in my own way, with my own story. My whole life I’ve had flashbacks to traumatic childhood events without the words to frame them. But now I know that of course I never had the words – my reality was not mine to name.

Now I have the words but they make me feel weak. Abuse. Victim. I look up their etymology because I am obsessed with the roots of things. I am obsessed with digging deep down, being among the corpses, as if I get close enough I can breathe new cells back into all this loss. I used to call this hopefulness romantic. Now I call it naïve. Now I call it dangerous. Now I call it necessary.

Abuse: from Middle English, early 14th century: “wicked art or practice, shameful thing, violation of decency.”

Victim: from Latin victima, late 15th century: “living creature killed and offered as a sacrifice to a deity or supernatural power.”

I love your tight little cunt. Keep it clean and shaved for me. My pet. Slut-cup. Whore.

The truth: I don’t want to talk about abuse but once I see something I never know how to look the other way. I deal with pain by gnawing on it like the bark of a tree, stripping my teeth of their enamel and then tucking every delicate shaving inside my pillow case. I don’t let anything escape. I can’t afford to.

The truth: the abuse I endured throughout my eight-month relationship with my ex-fiancé is in many ways very different from the abuse I experienced as a child, yet in many ways it is similar: Troubled Male. Need for Control. Female as Inferior. Female as Sub-human. Female as Sick.

Yet again, during the relationship itself, I didn’t have the words. I couldn’t see or hold onto anything tangible. All I had was my mind and it was deteriorating, no longer mine to make sense of, and so I desperately clung to the only thing I knew, the only thing that might still be real – he did, after all, appear now and then, the man I’d fallen in love with, the one who initiated our earliest conversations with innocent humor, a bit of charm; the one who said he’d read my chapbook and loved it so much he’d like to blurb my full-length poetry collection; the one who said I made him feel calmer than any pill every could; the one who said I don’t know what it’s like to make love to you but once I do I’ll never know how to stop. And when we did he said We earned each other. He said Marry me. He said—

I never actually read your chapbook but now I’m reading it and I can’t handle these poems about you wanting to fuck other men.

He said—

What are you gonna do without me? It’s not like you’re really living. You’re so fucking depressed. Your life is pathetic.

He said—

You’re such a cruel person. You’re such a cruel, cold person, you know that right?

He said—


He said—

You’re not cumming the right way.

He said—

You’re the sick one now. I got better for us and now you’re the sick one.

He said—

Try harder.

It occurs to me that I am writing this in the bed where he raped me. This is where I go when I want to feel safe but some nights I remember too much. The sheets have been washed but I know his dead skin cells are in my mattress because that’s what dead skin cells do, sink down and burrow like the mini corpses that they are. I don’t always think of it this way but today I do because today I am tired of pretending. Or maybe I am just no longer able to. Today my chest spilt open like a tree struck by lightning and I know it’s because every night I sleep on top of so much of his death. At least it is death, at least it is death, at least he is not here to wake me in the middle of the night with his cock, trying to enter me from behind and then yelling at me for not being wet enough in my sleep.

I said You’re hurting me and clung to the edge of the mattress as if it were my life, shutting my eyes tight and hoping he’d be quiet so I could go back to sleep, my mascara bleeding onto the edge of the white comforter, which I’d bought brand new for us because that’s how he liked things to be: Unused. Untouched. Clean. Pure. Everything doused with virginity so he could be the first to claim it.

Sometimes he would shake so violently it felt as if the entire bedroom would shatter to pieces and together we’d forever be buried in the rubble.

I can’t sleep if I don’t have an orgasm. Why don’t you love me? Jesus Christ. I couldn’t pay you to have sex with me.

I said What are you talking about? We have sex every day.

I said I don’t want to right now.

I said You’re hurting me.

I said I can’t.

He said Then get me a washcloth. I’ll take care of it myself.

Of course it was always different the next day. Of course it was always as if I had made the whole thing up. After all I was just such a sad girl unable to let go of the past, unable to be in the moment. He said—

Baby I wish you could be in the moment with me.

He said—

You know I’m sorry. I hate hurting you. Please don’t beat me up right now.

He said—

What else is more important than us being together right now?

He never touched me when I cried. His hands would be still, his eyes somewhere else, as if my pain didn’t register with him.

My pain didn’t register with him.

Some nights I lie in bed and see his dark figure standing naked in the doorway, his eyes flashing a deep blood-red, his hair the blackest black. Many of these nights blend together, as nightmares tend to do, but there is one night in particular that has branded itself onto the side of my skull, forever claiming a part of me.

It was one of our earliest confrontations and I quickly learned it was pointless to argue, to stand up for myself, to be logical. It was like standing in the path of a hurricane. It was like asking to die. I quickly learned how to just do it myself, like an animal in the woods who plays dead in the path of a predator, death became my best friend. Some nights it was the only way out.

Are you going to get in the shower with me?! Are you going to fix this?! This is your fucking fault, now have sex with me and fix this.

I didn’t get in the shower that night. I tried to hold my ground, though I don’t remember what I did while he was in the shower. I don’t remember what the argument was. We hadn’t been drinking, I do know that, because neither of us like to drink very much. Did I cry? Did I think about calling someone? I remember being grateful that my daughter was with her father. I remember often fantasizing about running to her father and telling him everything. I wanted to, but I was paralyzed. What if I was wrong? What if it really was my fault? What if he found out I told? Surely it was not the smart thing to do. Surely it was better for everyone if I just scooped up all of his rage and held it safe. I was, after all, the only woman whose hands he could trust. I was, after all, the most important thing in his life. In the morning, after all, everything would be fine. It always was. Just get to the morning, just get to the morning, just get to the morning—

I don’t remember the details of how he moved from the shower to the bedroom and I know it’s because part of me was already halfway in the grave. The next thing I remember is being in bed, naked and on my back, in the very spot I am now, maybe six inches to the left of where I am now, my legs spread how he wanted them.

I don’t remember the sex itself and that’s because it wasn’t sex. Did I go along with it? Did I make myself come just to make sure he would stop? Because he wouldn’t stop until I did and there was no such thing as faking. He could read me too well. And to fake it would be the ultimate insult. To fake it would be to ask for more rage.

When it was done he looked at me, his face less than an inch away from mine, his forehead damp, his eyes no longer blood-red but the blackest black, just like his hair, and he gritted his teeth and said, See, isn’t that better?

I was already a dead woman and so of course I mumbled I guess so.

What the fuck is wrong with you?

I was already a dead woman and so of course I mumbled I don’t know.

Fix it he hissed, and pushed himself off of me, disappearing into the dark.

I listened as he washed his hands for a full two minutes.

He took another shower.

He washed his hands again.




The sheets are washed but I never did get the mascara stain out. Maybe it’s because I wear the blackest black and sometimes the dark is stubborn like this: no matter how much I try to scrub it clean, no matter how deeply I breathe in this bed, no matter how many letters I write to my girlfriends, no matter how much I laugh with my daughter, no matter my dreams, no matter how many new beds I fall into, how many new blankets, how many new sheets, there will always be a part of me that has been made dead forever, there will always be this tarred self that I scrub and I scrub and I scrub—


SARAH CERTA was born in Germany in 1987. She is the author of two chapbooks and her first full-length poetry collection, Nothing To Do With Me, is forthcoming from University of Hell Press in spring 2015. You can find more of her work online at




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