My Dark Vanessa



Our relationship lasted until after I graduated. She left her husband and I’d left school, and she came over to my apartment one day and we talked about doing it properly.

Over the next few months, I began to put the whole thing together in my mind and shook her off. I retreated into the ‘student/teacher’ dynamic and, one day, used it as a weapon to hurt her.

She slammed the phone down (back when you could do that) and it was the last time we spoke.

I’m pretty sure it fits the definition of rape, as my age meant that I was unable to consent. And if I look back on the manipulation involved, and the way the whole episode impacted on my schooling, it also qualifies as abuse.

I was also a ‘vulnerable’ teenager she had groomed for her own purpose, to which I was entirely susceptible because of our unequal status and the fact I was ‘maladjusted’.

I googled her once I started writing this and found quite a lot; she’s even on Facebook. There are pictures of her receiving her doctorate; a great one of her with her two adult sons. There’s also one with an infirm-looking old man. There’s enough of a likeness to suggest that he’s her dad.

There’s one particular photo of her sitting at a table at a café in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, taken about five years ago. I was wandering around Istanbul at roughly that time.

She looks happy and she is lit with the same corona of warmth and beauty that was upon her when I knew her.

I stared at that photo for a long time.  


Bessel Van Der Kolk, in the introduction to his book on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score,writes that trauma dislocates and deranges the developing brain, skewing an individual away from ‘normal.’ He tells us,

“I wrote this book to serve as both a guide and an invitation – an invitation to dedicate ourselves to facing the reality of trauma, to explore how best to treat it, and to commit ourselves, as a society, to using every means we have to prevent it.”

p. 4

He sounds like a scientist who, with his algorithms and calculations, successfully vivisects an animal, opening every angle to reveal there is no God to speak of. Just blood, and viscera, and death.


The sex scenes between Vanessa and her teacher are the most evocative parts of the novel. In fact, the scene on page 133 is stunning in the way it brings together the nature of both characters and presents them in a kind of poetic, dissociated fever-dream; there’s a breathtaking genius in the way the narrator explains the experience to herself and her reader while she escapes its corporeal reality.

And while the physical act of sex is not the focus of the novel, it is the key; Vanessa is trapped in a world where sex is not, and has never been, transcendent. One thing is for certain: Strane and Wye’s sex is never an act of love.

Strane, as the older, more experienced partner, never brings it alive for her. He never cultivates a loving, transcendent experience. Rather, he slowly surmounts her objections, progressively and delicately, so as not to break their gossamer constraints in the process of taking what he wants.

There’s not a lot of information on Vanessa’s sex life after Strane, but there’s been no significant other to speak of. And sex has never been a transcendent act of love, or even passion.

In fact, Strane is the practical embodiment of Dworkin’s dictum.

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