The Sun Shines Brighter in the West

Chandler Baker was raped two years ago and she kept it a secret until her mother witnessed one of her panic attacks. Her mother made her seek help, but she stopped showing up. Now, she's seeing a new therapist, Dr. Settler, who helps her through her journey of recovering and helps her trust men again.

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6. Charlie, Charlie Johns

I ended up attending the next appointment I had scheduled with Dr. Settler. I’m not sure I was really eager to go, but rather I just needed to share certain things with the only person I could share them with. After a couple days of not seeing him and keeping everything bottled up until it was about to overflow, I really needed it. I practically wasn’t even in his office before I started running my mouth about anything and everything.

After I had shared my full story with him, talking became a lot easier. I don’t know if I was losing it, but after talking to him it seemed that he got this warmer look of pain and sympathy mixed in his face as he talked with me and as he listened to everything I had to say. The whole time I was talking he had that look plastered on his face while he rested his chin on his fingers and nodded every once in a while to let me know he was hearing me.

Towards the end of the session I brought up the same conversation that I had had with my mom and Jess. “They both seem to think that I should start finding a man,” I scoffed, “But honestly, I think my mom only wants me to so she can get grandchildren faster.”

“I think that’s a great I idea.”

“I was afraid you would say that,” I smiled. “Now I wish I wouldn’t have brought it up.”

“I’m glad you did,” he reassured me. “It will be a great leap forward. You need to be able to trust other men because they’re not all Harleys.”

I wanted to protest more, but I knew he was right. It was something that I had to face and soon. Two years was long enough and soon two years would turn into four would turn into eight and then before I would know it, I would land myself into an institution. I couldn’t let Harley indirectly take over my life. He wasn’t worth that.

It was the end of the session with Dr. Settler so it was my cue to leave. I got up and gave him a friendly hug. “Call or text me anytime if you need anything. This next step you’re taking is going to be hard,” he said into my ear.

***

Later that night I lay in my bed just staring up at the ceiling and thinking about everything. It was early, not even seven in the evening yet, but I just needed to think so I had told my mom that I wasn’t feeling well and buried myself under my blankets. I kept my eyes glued to my ceiling, but I wasn’t registering the image in my brain. I was too busy thinking. I kept thinking about my conversation with Dr. Settler right before the session ended. He seemed to be so enthusiastic about the idea of me finding a boyfriend. I didn’t want to let him down and I wanted to get better, but I didn’t understand how this was supposed to help me make progress. A big leap forward? I thought that what I needed to accomplish first was accepting what happened to me and move on. To be able to cope with my feelings of distrust, hatred, and guilt.

I just didn’t think that finding a man would help all of that. I thought I needed find myself first.

I sat up in bed, frustrated. I decided to call Dr. Settler and repeat my thoughts to him. I wanted to try to convince him that I was right. Because I was right, wasn’t I? The whole time I was talking away on the phone to Dr. Settler, the other end of the line was completely silent. I could imagine him sitting there with his chin resting in his hand and nodding like he did in therapy. Once I finished, the line was still silent. Then, a few seconds later his voice reached my receiver.

“Right now, you’re dealing with those feelings of yourself with me,” he started, “And now you need to go and work on your feelings of men with another man. You need to work on both things at the same time because they are so intertwined. If you get better with yourself, it will all come crumbling back down once you get out on the dating game. If you keep seeing Harley after you’ve coped for your feelings, then they’ll all just come back.”

“The same thing’s going to happen if I start dating now, too. So, what am I just never going to get better?” I argued.

“Chandler, I want you to listen to what I’m going to say and then I’m going to hang up and I need you to think a lot about what I’m going to say, okay?” I agreed and he continued, “Once you start dating, it might set you back and it’ll most definitely take you longer to recover, but it’s best to prolong the recovery period than have you relapse later, you see? If you find a guy and you see Harley, it might set you back two steps, but we can take you three steps forward the next time you come to therapy. And then the next time you see Harley in another guy, it’ll only set you back one step. Now do you see how working out both issues at the same time is crucial?” He hung up.

I sighed, completely frustrated among a string of other emotions that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I slammed my face into my pillow and screamed at the top of my lungs. He was right. He was so right and I hated it.

Why did this have to happen to me? Why did I have to be targeted by that scum bag at that stupid party? I was a good person. I did well in school. I was supposed to go to college. I was supposed to be graduating soon and find the perfect husband to settle down with in the suburbs and start the perfect family. That was what my life was supposed to be and it was just stripped all away from me. The life that I had so vividly pictured for myself now seemed so blurry. Blurred by tears, probably.

Without letting myself think about it, I shot a text to Jess asking her if she wanted to go somewhere to pick up a guy. She texted back almost as quickly as I had sent the message and the next thing I knew, she was at my door. Once we got to my room, she looked me up and down, her mouth practically gaping at what I was wearing. “You are not wearing that,” she whispered, eyes glued to my pajamas.

I rolled my eyes, “Of course not. I was in bed when I texted you.”

I walked over to my closet and found my best go-out outfit. A cute floral skirt and a plain form-fitting t-shirt to match. It was my favorite outfit that I owned, but judging by Jess’s face she didn’t like it. “What?” I demanded.

“Sometimes I just wish that you had a little more slut in you, that’s all,” she sighed. 

***

The next thing I knew, I was being pushed into a bar by Jess. Of course. Why had I let her pick where we were going to go? She would pick a bar. The absolute worst place to search for your future husband. “Jess, I think my type of man would be found at bible study, not throwing back an unknown number of shots,” I said in her ear through gritted teeth.

“Relax,” she waved her hand in the air, getting rid of my protest. “We’re here for practice. Now, tell me which guy you think you could picture yourself with in wedding photos.”

“I thought you said this was just practice?”

“Just do it, Chan!” she nearly shouted, clearly getting frustrated.

I sighed and scanned the room, but it was difficult. There were hardly any young, single guys in the whole place. It was filled with either old saps or young guys with their girlfriends. From what I could see, there were only three possibilities. Candidate number one appeared very drunk and still gulping on beer. Candidate number two had just walked up to a pair of girls and from the looks of the conversation from where I was standing, he was a pig. I sighed and watched Candidate number three for a few seconds. He seemed promising, I guess. He had a beer, but it was almost full and he was just twisting it around. He seemed harmless enough.

I started making my way over to where he was sitting and once he saw that I was coming, his eyes lit up. I sat down in the chair next to him and smiled. I felt awkward and weird. I didn’t know what to say, so I just sat there and prayed to the heavens that he would hurry up and say something before this just got creepy. Thankfully he did.

“I’m Dean,” he smiled.

“Chandler.”

“You don’t look dressed to be in a bar,” he observed.

“Yeah, I wasn’t really expecting to be dragged into a bar, actually.”

“Well, we could go to my place if you’d rather be somewhere else,” he winked.

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to gag or cry more. I had to get out of the situation so the same thing that happened with Harley wouldn’t happen again. I scanned the room for Jess and when I finally found her, I turned on my heel and walked away. But it was no use. Dean grabbed my wrist and pulled me closer. It hurt, but the pain wasn’t what I was worried about. I spit in his face and walked towards Jess, quicker this time and with tears in my eyes. I wanted to scream at the guy for being such a jerk, but what would I have said? “I’ve been raped before so you should back off.” No, that would not have worked at all. If anything, it would’ve made him want to violate me even more.

I told Jess I was going home and ran out the door before she could try to convince me to stay. I guess she was having too much fun catching up with the stranger she was with because she didn’t even bother to follow me.

I walked briskly towards my house. I didn’t grip my pepper spray or keep my eyes out for Harley this time. I just kept my head held down, staring at my fast-moving feet as I prayed to get home safely. As I focused on my feet, I tried to stop myself from crying so my mother wouldn’t be worried when I walked through the door. I turned at the next corner, only a couple blocks from home, and bumped into a stranger who nearly knocked me to the ground with his weight.

“Oh, my God! I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” I looked up at the voice apologizing to me. It was a guy about my age give or take a couple years. He had a heavy build, but muscular. Probably a football player or wrestler, I noted. He had dark brown, wavy hair that ended just above his eyebrow. His eyes were an emerald green color that now showed concern and were staring straight at me.

“I’m fine,” I assured him. I stepped around him and continued walking quickly, but he stopped me. I threw my hand up to punch him, but he caught my fist in his hand.

“Sorry. I…I just wanted to ask for your number. I’m not trying to start anything. I just don’t want a shiner. I have my brother’s wedding to go to next week,” he laughed awkwardly.

“Pen?”

He handed me a pen from his pocket and I wrote my number down on his hand. As I was scribbling my name and number down, he told me his name. “Charlie. Charlie Johns.”

Without saying another word, I scurried off. I didn’t want to run into anymore strangers so this time I kept my head high and observed the sidewalk ahead of me.

“It was nice meeting you, Chandler!” Charlie Johns called after me.

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