This is the story of Bella, who woke up one morning and realized she’d had enough.
So begins Helen Zahavi’s 1991 novel, Dirty Weekend, a parable of revenge. When we meet her, the protagonist, Bella, has been driven into hiding behind the locked door of her basement flat. A sexual predator named Tim has driven her there.
Tim has been watching Bella from his window across the courtyard for some time. When Bella closes her curtains against his uninvited gaze, Tim begins a campaign of phone harassment. One day, dying to escape her airless, dank quarters, Bella dares to venture out. But no sooner does she sit on a bench to let down her guard, breathe the open air and enjoy a view of the sea and the sun on her cheeks for the first time in months when Tim appears and sits down next to her.
Tim is a physically imposing man. Looming over her during the few minutes of their first encounter in the flesh, Tim terrorizes Bella, threatening violence into her ear that he assures Bella she deserves, because she is a dirty whore who sickens him and makes him do it. Before leaving, to make sure she understands clearly the seriousness of his intentions, Tim crushes Bella’s small hand in his giant mitt until she whimpers and shrinks, helpless in pain. Passersby, seeing Tim and Bella sitting so close together on the bench, seeing Tim grip Bella tightly, assume they are a couple in love. They smile and keep walking.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, Bella has her awakening. She has had enough.
Bella resolves to get Tim first.
By the next evening, Tim is lying in his bed, his brains bashed in by a hammer and Bella, hungry and exhausted from the deed, is in Tim’s kitchen calmly making a snack. From Bella’s point of view, she has not committed a crime; she has done the world a favor. She embarks on a killing spree and over the course of a weekend, dispatches seven more abusers.
By the end of the novel, the protagonist is no longer “Bella,” no longer the puddle of fear to whom we were introduced in Chapter 1. She has become “The Bella.” She is the collective rage of all abused and terrorized women. She is a warning to all bullies, to all abusers, to anyone who will use their power to hurt, harass, humiliate, silence, threaten or destroy others, to make them small, to control and manipulate them with shame and fear and confusion about who is in the wrong or at fault for the abuse. That warning is this:
Be careful who you fuck with because you just never know. She might be The Bella. She might have woken up this morning and realized that she’s had enough.
Not all of us are made smaller and controlled by abuse and harassment. Not all of us are the type to “shut up and take it.” Not all of us hide in fear and pain and shame or try and drink these feelings into oblivion. Not all of us are confused by what happened. Some of us come out swinging. Some of us are The Bella and there are more of us out there than you think.
I am The Bella and I woke up early in life. Abuse and bullying, starting in my infancy, starting in my own home, is a large part of what made me who I am today. By the time I entered grade school, I’d long ago realized I’d had enough.
I learned early on both at home and at school, that to complain, to cry, to try and explain my side to those who should have protected me got me nowhere because I must have done something to deserve it. I was “difficult,” after all. A troublemaker. Making a big deal again out of “nothing.”
I am not The Bella because I kill. I am The Bella because abuse, bullying and harassment make me want to kill. I learned early on that when it came to justice, the weaker, the smaller, the ones without power in society – we are on our own and that filled me with a murderous rage that has been both my salvation and my downfall ever since.
My rage blinds me and compels me to go after bullies and abusers and harassers no matter who you are, no matter your size, your power, your target, no matter the consequences. My rage makes me fearless. It makes me reckless, too. It makes me risk my physical safety, foolishly and without thinking. It compels me to speak my truth, and talk back, to power. It has cost me jobs. My rage has also stopped a stalker making threats against me (“I’ll get you first,” I said, meaning it) and it has scared off a trio of drunk men who tried to gang up on and “have a little fun” with me on the street one night. It has made a Green Beret trying to intimidate me burst into tears and flee. When a college boyfriend hit me for breaking up with him and sent me sailing across an elevator, I sent a half a dozen members of the Division I university wrestling team I was tutoring at the time to pay him a visit the next day and teach him a lesson.
I am The Bella, and if you hit me, I will hit you back, harder.
I am The Bella and I don’t file complaints to HR or bother with forms when you harass me at the workplace. I will get even. It will be ugly. And you will never see it coming.
I am The Bella and to anyone who has ever bullied or been abusive to or harassed me, or someone I love, don’t be fooled by my politeness when I see you. I have not forgiven you and I never will. Even if I have accepted your heartfelt apology, you are on my Shit List for all time. I could be sharpening the blade behind my back even now. Know this.
To all the women and men and children out there who have bravely joined the #Me Too movement in the last months and are contributing to a sea change we are witnessing in social consciousness – this might not be your way. You might not be The Bella and you don’t need to be. Harassment and abuse and bullying must be stopped by every available means at our disposal.
I get that my way might offend, alarm or even disgust you.
I don’t mind. I just don’t care.
I am The Bella. I do not wish to change.
To all abusers and harassers and bullies out there – # BewaretheBella.
We are the monster you created and unleashed upon yourselves.
We are not alone. We are not afraid. We are watching you.
~ LEP ~