Not so long ago I learned though a former lover, Krystal Layton, committed suicide. While fifteen years has passed since we were an item and in that time we’d drifted far apart, I still found myself profoundly affected by the news. Given the aims of #metoo and it’s importance for helping to initiate conversations that lead to policy solutions which stop the culture of rape in America, I decided to write a memoriam that would add to the conversation. Lest it seem I’m taking liberties with someone else story, I’ll point out I’m only speaking with the same openness that Krystal modeled in the descriptions of her struggles with mental and physical health and substance usage for years on her blog (NSFW) and on her social media accounts. What follows is thus a long format rendition of her #metoo story, from my perspective, that I hope will not only give evidence for the need for more action to be taken to prevent rape and give appropriate support to those that have been assaulted.
The first time I heard Krystal say the phase Beauty is pain to explain something to me was when we were getting ready to go out to a goth club.
We were together in her bedroom at her parent’s house. The door was open. I was 18, she 16. I helped her tie up a black, lacy imitation-whalebone corset. She said that in the context of explaining how my concern over drawing the strings tight that she have difficulty breathing was unnecessary. “Beauty is pain,” she half gasped half said due to the pressure, “and I want my bust to look it’s best for you tonight. Tighten it more. So I can barely breathe, that’s fine. My boobs will look banging.”
We’d then only been dating a few weeks, so at the time I thought that Beauty is Pain was merely a witty comment of hers. Krystal was quick, perceptive and had a way with words. But during our brief relationship I came to realize that there was something more to this phrase. She’d repeat it in a number of different contexts, like it was a mantra, like it was a logic ever present in making itself felt in human existence. That night, however, I didn’t pick up the fullness of what all she meant by it.
I was reminded of this all a few days after I’d learned of the news of her suicide. I tried logging into an old email account I hadn’t used in ages and, sure enough, was granted access. I re-read the pages and pages of emails – something that now seems strange to say in this texting age – and a flood of memories came back from when we were teenagers. Most of our epistles concerns the stereotypical topics you’d expect of adolescents, but there was another current beyond the banal and the flowery phrases of adoration exchanged in the first stages of infatuation.
In those sections where we outlined the way we understood Spirit; the shapes of our fears and how to deal with them; the outlines of the larger things we longed for; all these showed the divide between our world-views. Krystal reflections about life seemed raw and dark. Bitter. For me, while always open to admit that that murk that exists, I always tried to aim for light. I’m not saying I knew then she would take her own life, merely that there was a difficult to negotiate divide and her penchant for darkness extended beyond fashion style.
Because of her appearance – my freshman-year college roommates told me with more than a hint of envy in their voice how she looked like a goth Victoria’s Secret model. That night that I tied her up and we went out? She wasn’t even carded by the same bouncer that closely scrutinized the one legal ID, mine.
We danced together and socialized. I wanted her to get to know my friends so didn’t dominate her presence. Whenever she wasn’t directly next to me in our small group, however, male strangers would try to talk to her. She was respectful, but when conversation turned to flirtation she would quickly quit them and come over to stand close to me to show who she was with. Feeling juvenile pride at their rejection and her selection of me, I fawned over her. One person in particular – a long blond haired older man (which for me at the time meant early 20s) – caused her to draw me in especially close. Uncomfortably so. The pressure around my ribs didn’t make me worried they break, but the crush of bone against bone was no pleasant sensation.
At first I thought this might be an ex that I was unaware of. A little tipsy, I mentally prepared for a fight, but he just smiled and continued to walk on. I looked down at her face and saw an expression that I did not then and do not now know fully what it was, other than that it haunted me. I whispered in her ear “Who was that?” and she responded “No one, I’ll explain later.” When we got home, she shared her story with me.
Several weeks before her and I got started dating, she’d been raped by that man. At a party that he’d drove her too, he’d drugged her drink, cornered her and then forced himself upon her. The way she described it, she was in a murky haze due to whatever he’d dosed her with. She could see what was happening, but couldn’t her body move in the way her brain wanted to and thus couldn’t fend him off. This was why she was so affected – she’d just seen that man that had literally stolen her virginity.
I’d later learn that this same person had tried the same thing with two of my female friends. In my novel Unraveling the very graphic, violent scene towards such a person with similar physical features is a variant of the recurring fantasy that I had towards this person at this time.
Already prone to depression before, she explained, the traumatic experience had significant effects. She had recurring nightmares, felt anxious when around other people, took too cutting and became averse to most of her male friends. Beauty is pain, she explained, as it causes such strong desires in others that many people are willing to do unethical or immoral things to obtain or experience the object of their desires. She didn’t wholly despise her attractive visage, but felt it was like something that she didn’t entirely want either. A flood of what she was struggling with eternally came out and she ended it all with – and you’re the first person that I shared this all with. I felt pride that she trusted me so much, and also at a loss of how to take the fact that she just shared she was in a near constant state of fear.
Over the course of our relationship the bad dreams would lose their frequency and intensity. She stopped cutting as often, but communicated to me that she’d only stopped as I’d asked her to. Beauty is pain and sometimes in order to keep it alive in your mind you must make sacrifices. She had a point, though I didn’t like that formulation in this instance. The lessening or disappearance of each particular symptom didn’t mean that she’d overcome the effects the event had had on her. New ones started popped up or came back. Like the panic attacks. Hearing her describe the horror she felt about going out both me my heart go out and my head go huh?! I’d never been in such a situation before and started to resent our relationship increasingly being occupied with issues related to her handling the rape trauma. Fifteen years down the road I feel ashamed at how I behaved in this and other ways, and could only explain it as a product of youth. I know how much she wanted to be rid of the cloud over her head and being optimistic, stayed. She was, after all trying to change herself so that she was less reactive .
She illicitly obtained anti-anxiety meds like Xanax. She was pleased with the way they made her feel vacant, and to me that was exactly why she shouldn’t take it. Beauty is pain, she said with a face that was both vacant and aggressive, you get what you wanted and then after a while you don’t want it anymore. I was 19. Like I said, I didn’t know how to appropriately react to all this. Especially as the two things that seemed to me that could “fix” all this – either me acting as an agent of justice myself or informing the blue-linnen’d authorities as to what happened – was off the table. She said the same thing that the women that have shared their rape accounts with me have said – the humiliating work that’ll go into making justice happen repels them from action. The drugs, though they shut up some the darker angels of her nature, didn’t provide genuine relief from the underlying issues.
Krystal later tried therapy to help with the myriad issues she struggled with. During one of our intermittent talks she expressed aversion to talk therapy. In her blog you can read of her talking about her struggles with depression and antipathy towards the psychiatrists that labeled her bipolar. The dynamic she protested then matched the dynamic that has so previously scarred her: a male older someone handing out drugs that impact the mind to deaden the senses. Whether or not this affected treatment, it seems to me that repetition compulsion in part explains the intermittent changes in medication and categorical disdain for the people she had to talk to in order for her to be provided with meds. After I completed my training at FICAM in 2013, she sent me an email expressing interest in doing bioenergetic therapy with me. I was happy at the thought of it as I was confident I could help her make some major inroads in releasing the energies she’d internalized, later proven true, but as she lived across the country this never happened.
My not knowing how to properly address the impact of the trauma was a major reason I ended our romance. At the time I hated myself for such a rationale. Now, however, I accept it as my having acted the best way I knew how.
I know she knew this too at the time because things between us afterwards were amicable. We socialized amongst mutual friends on a not-so irregular basis and wrote each other intermittently for years thereafter. After I got engaged, she even wrote me a nice note saying she felt happy for me as she’d not ever seen me appear so consistently joyful in pictures.
Lest it seem like I’m turning a whole life into the effect of a single traumatic experience let me be clear: These memories aren’t the only things that I remember about Krystal. In fact it is far from the thing that defines her in my and other’s mind. Krystal was kind and smart and creative and an amazingly talented photographer with hustle. Hearing her talk with the passion that she had about the arts that she practiced always impressed and inspired me. Her self-made zine was an impressively put together outlet she curated from the creatives that were drawn to her. Her dark humor made some laugh and others squirm. She was an all around awesome girl and young woman. I’m detailing the long-lasting effects of the trauma as while I can’t honestly draw a straight line from that trauma to her choosing to kill herself, I also feel that had she not been sexually assaulted then she would likely still be alive.
And it’s because of the fact that is far from an isolated incident that with effort could become less prevalent that I focus on Krystal’s rape when memorializing her art and life following her death. I’m writing this not just to exposit, but as a base for action.
Those of you that read this that her prints of her work, I’d ask that you send me high-rendition scans of them. Presuming I get permission from her parents, I’d like to curate a collection of her work and sell the prints in a hardbound book with the profits going to RAINN. And you know, if you can, donate a little something to themanyways. I know this won’t stop such horrors as what she experienced from happening again, but hopefully it can help to initiate some cultural change.