Deep in the Act
First Published on Chaleuria
Warning: Contains descriptions of rape and trauma.
Fang Chi could not stop looking at his watch. It was getting closer and closer to the scheduled time for Gao Zhun’s appointment, but he was still completely unprepared. Two stacks of documents lay on the table before him: on the left were several case studies on male sexual assault victims, while the clinical studies on PTSD in female victims of sexual violence rested on the right. As he had expected, the two fields remained distinct in local academia. To date, no one in the country had attempted any integrated studies in both areas; Fang Chi had run into a veritable void in psychological research.
Rape… He had never associated Gao Zhun with the expression before. Having worked with female rape victims, he knew far too much about the significance of such a term. It stood for coercion, humiliation, and the loss of chastity. It also meant physical violence, damage to the genitals and reproductive system, as well as sexually transmitted diseases. But far beyond that, it was a term that implied prejudice from the external environment, and lasting trauma.
Gao Zhun was raped – this knowledge had a strange power over Fang Chi. He became stifled. His heart and lungs seemed to struggle for air, and a numbness pervaded his mind. Even his hands had gone cold. Gao Zhun – proud, beautiful Gao Zhun – brutally crushed by another man… Fang Chi could not imagine it at all. He smashed a fist against the tabletop as he finally understood everything: all that trembling, all those unfinished sentences, and Gao Zhun’s admission that he feared his disdain.
Fang Chi yanked off his tie and strode to the washroom to freshen up his face. Secretary Li knocked on the door; Gao Zhun was here for his appointment. Treat him the same way you always have, Fang Chi told himself. Don’t pity him. Don’t be overly concerned about him. The door opened. Gao Zhun stood in the doorway with his usual polished manners and refined elegance, looking perfect to a fault. But his head was lowered; there was no polite greeting this time, no friendly smile for Fang Chi.
Fang Chi tried to reach for his hand, but he evaded the contact without any subtlety. Fang Chi could tell that he was shaking. “Shall we take a seat first, Mr. Gao?”
Gao Zhun pressed his back tight against the door, cornered and guarded. It pained Fang Chi to see him driven into such desperate defensiveness. “You managed to say it out loud. It was very brave of you, and I admire your courage,” Fang Chi said as he took a resolute step towards Gao Zhun and closed the distance between them. Ignoring the other man’s wordless protests, Fang Chi gripped his hands and refused to let go. They felt like snow – so cold, and so soft. “I can help you,” he continued, “as long as you are willing to entrust yourself to me.”
Gao Zhun caved; he could not resist Fang Chi’s temptation. “What else do you want?” he stammered. “I told you everything. I’ve already shown you all of me!”
Fang Chi heard the hurt and complaint in his voice, as well as the deep, intense longing for redemption. These were enough – Fang Chi knew – these were enough to ensure Gao Zhun’s obedience. “It’s not enough. I need you to walk me through the entire process. Share every detail and feeling from the experience with me.”
Biting his lips, Gao Zhun looked up at him with eyes full of terror.
“What was he like?”
Gao Zhun’s body jolted violently at the question, but Fang Chi refused to let up. “How old was he? Was he tall or short? Was he Chinese?”
Gao Zhun still refused to give in. “Was it someone you knew?” Fang Chi persisted, “How many times?”
The questions were finally too much for Gao Zhun. He yelled in near-hysteria, “I didn’t know him! Just once!”
“Did he have a knife with him?” Fang Chi remained composed as he moved on to the next question.
“No…” Under the influence of Fang Chi’s collectedness, Gao Zhun began to calm down as well. Like a wronged child who had run crying to his teacher, Gao Zhun looked pitiful as he added, “But he hit me.”
Fang Chi tightened his grip on the other man’s hands. “Let’s sit down first. We’ll take it slow, okay?”
“Okay…” Gao Zhun was cooperative once more. He sat down on his chair, like he always did, and watched Fang Chi take his seat in the diagonally opposite chair with his writing materials, looking ever so dependable.
“Let’s begin,” Fang Chi said. “Start from the very beginning. There’s no rush. Take your time, and stop when you feel too overwhelmed, but don’t hide anything from me.”
Not daring to look at Fang Chi, Gao Zhun dropped his gaze. He stared at the tips of his shoes and began, “It was… Friday night. Linlin’s birthday. I remember the time very clearly – 11:40 p.m. – I received a work-related call about a batch of Nepalese Buddha miniatures that had just arrived. I went downstairs to the parking garage…” He choked a little at the mention of the parking garage. “I have a Cayenne, Prussian blue in color…”
That took care of the mystery surrounding his fear of cars: the incident took place in the underground parking garage, and it was very likely that the attack happened in the car itself. Fang Chi scribbled down his notes.
“As soon as I opened the door, someone grabbed my neck from the back and pushed me into the car.” Gao Zhun clutched his collar, and his teeth began to chatter. “He wore a baseball cap and a sweater. He was in his late twenties. I thought it was a robbery, so I took out my wallet. But he didn’t want it…” His entire body began quaking. “He was very strong. He overpowered me. Held me down completely and punched me in the temple. Then…”
Fang Chi felt as if his heart had stopped beating. His palms were drenched in cold sweat as his back tensed and prickled with nervous unease.
“Then he put down the seat…” Tears began to roll down his cheeks. Fang Chi passed him some tissues; he took them but did not use them to wipe away the wetness. “He climbed onto me and unbuckled my belt… at the time, I had no idea what he was going to do.” There was no stopping his tears at all. They streamed down his chin and soaked into his collar. “He took photographs as well…”
The information seemed to hit a nerve for Fang Chi. “… Of your body?”
Gao Zhun shook his head. “Just my face. He took many photos.”
The mere possibility of that man using those photos sickened Fang Chi to the core. “When did you realize that he was going to… violate you?”
“When he touched me,” Gao Zhun replied in a near-inaudible whisper.
“Which parts of your body did he touch?”
“My lower body…” Gao Zhun’s voice dipped even lower; it was too soft for Fang Chi to hear. He had no choice but to shift his chair to Gao Zhun’s side before asking for clarification, “Do you mean that he touched your genitals?”
Gao Zhun trembled at the sound of the word. “And my thighs as well. He ground against me. He was so hard.” He became increasingly agitated. “I started struggling. But the more I struggled, the more excited he got!”
“Did he say anything?”
“He said…” Gao Zhun opened his mouth several times, but no sound came from his lips. “I can’t say it out loud.”
“Was it something insulting?”
Gao Zhun nodded. “I felt like I’d become a woman. I even hated myself for not having the strength to fight back!”
“What happened next?” By now, Fang Chi’s notes had covered an entire page. “What else did he do?”
At this, Gao Zhun finally raised his head. He gazed at Fang Chi with trembling cheeks and swollen eyes – a wordless, bitter complaint directed at Fang Chi for forcing him to continue despite already knowing what had happened. “He yanked at my shirt. Licked my face. Then he hit me again…”
The air thickened with tension as the narrative unfolded, detail by cruel detail – a tension so palpable that the room felt like a can which had been compressed to its very limit and was about to explode. Fang Chi knew that they were getting to the hardest part for Gao Zhun. Covering his face with his white, bloodless hands, Gao Zhun went on weakly, “I think he spat into a hand, and then… then…” Fang Chi watched as tears flowed from underneath those thin hands and heard him complete his sentence, “He entered me.”
Fang Chi’s pen threatened to slip from his sweat-drenched grip. Even as his face maintained its façade of calm neutrality, he struggled to hold on to his pen. He tried several times before he succeeded in forming all the letters in the word ‘entered’.
“It hurt. It hurt so much it burned and I thought I was going to die…” The pain was too much. Gao Zhun bent forward in agony, pulling his back into an arch as he curled up in his seat. “He kept asking if I felt good. If I liked it. Then he pinched my chest and kissed me on the mouth.”
Fang Chi felt that he was no longer the professional therapist he ought to be. His fingers tightened around his pen in agitation as he sank further into Gao Zhun’s narrative – a clear sign of transference between himself and his patient. “Why didn’t you call for help?”
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