I can remember what I saw when I finally got up and walked into the bathroom. I looked at the person in the mirror and didn’t recognize what I saw. I had mascara carving wicked lines into my cheeks down to my chin. My wavy hair, which was only made that way because of a perm, was knotted and matted on the left side of my head. This was of course, from him pinning me down and pushing my head into the mattress. After repeatedly telling him I didn’t want to have sex and saying “NO” over and over again once he decided to anyway, I wriggled and writhed under him and squeezed my legs together as tightly as I could in attempts to get away. He was stronger than me and eventually I stopped fighting and stared at the digital clock. The red from the numbers started to blur. The pain was excruciating, but I went numb and prayed for the minutes to pass faster. I was a virgin and the blood flowed out of me and spilled on the sheets; I bled for 3 days afterwards. After he was finished, he sat back on his legs and asked me if I wanted him to go down on me. I politely declined before getting dressed as quickly as I could and fleeing his house.
A few days later, I clipped a magazine article, probably from Seventeen or Glamour, which described date rape. Back then, rape was only something that happened by a stranger or so we were conditioned to believe. Nobody you knew could actually rape you. It was only once I read the article that I realized what had happened to me that night. I sat at the mall with my two friends and handed them the article. They dutifully read it, but said “you shouldn’t have gone into his room.” And “why didn’t you scream?” I knew what they meant with these questions. In their minds, it was entirely my fault. Why had I gone in his room? Why didn’t I scream? I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain why I hadn’t…at least not then.They suggested that I date him so I could save my reputations and wouldn’t be known as a slut throughout high school. I didn’t stay friends with these girls for much longer.
About 6 months later, I was moving out of state. In hindsight, moving probably saved me from killing myself. But before I left, my friends, the ones I had left, decided to throw me a going-away party. When he walked in the door, I ran out. They invited my rapist to my going-away party. I didn’t speak to any of them again.
I only told a few friends after that. I blamed myself and was incredibly ashamed. I stuffed it down and told myself I was fine. It wasn’t until college when I had many close friends become a statistic as well that it came bubbling up to the surface as I was confronted with it. We all had different experiences, but the trauma was the same. I felt the sickening lump in my throat as I assured each one of my friends that it wasn’t their fault, knowing how important it was for them to hear since I hadn’t myself. But the truth was, I couldn’t hold space for them. I still couldn’t hold space for myself. I turned away from their pain because I couldn’t give them what I wasn’t capable of giving to myself.
It wasn’t until I was almost 30 before I sought counseling and finally told my mom.
A few years ago, I found him on Facebook and after a while of gathering up courage, I wrote him:
“I wonder if you remember me. Or, if you have ever thought about me over the years. I certainly remember you. Especially the night of your 17th birthday, which would have been Sept 1991. I was the girl who didn’t want to have sex with you that night. Yes, I went into your room. I made out with you, but I never once agreed to have sex. I was the girl that you climbed on top of and held down to have sex with. The fourteen-year-old virgin who had never even had a boy’s hand up her shirt prior to that night. The girls who told you “no” but you kept on going. The little girl who was terrified and humiliated because she didn’t even realize what was happening or to know to scream. I wonder if you remember how I bled all over your sheets and how I had mascara stains down my face from crying because you didn’t stop. I wonder if you remember holding my head down. Or how fast I ran out of the apartment with blood still coming down my legs. Do you? Did you ever feel bad? Do you ever regret that night? Because I did. For a very long time. Not one person believed me. Everyone told me it was my fault. Everyone told me I should be your girlfriend so I could save my reputation. I was fourteen years old. Looks like you have a daughter about that age. Wonder how you would feel if that had happened to her. That is how I get to remember my very first time having sex. Thank you for that. And by thank you, I mean FUCK YOU.”
The funny thing is, I never expected a response from him. Or if I got one, I figured he would deny everything and call me a cunt or something demeaning and disgusting that little men default to.
Instead, on July 4th, 2013, 8 months later, he responded:
“I did a horrible thing. I must apologize. I would be devastated if that happened to one of my daughters. I am truly sorry. Please forgive me.”
INDEPENDENCE DAY. The irony is not lost on me that I received his message on that date. When I read his message, I wept all night for the 14 yr old girl in me, for the survivor who just wanted to be believed. After 20 years of blaming myself, my assaulter had accepted responsibility. For the first time since the act itself, my experience was validated. I didn’t have to question my memories anymore to search my mind for a detail I had so obviously missed. He admitted his guilt and confirmed how I remembered it was in fact, exactly as it had happened.
I’m still working on that last sentence he asked of me. Eventually.
It’s been almost 5 years since I wrote those words and received his response.
Since then, I was good, save the occasional triggers, until The MeToo movement ripped all the scab and scar tissue apart and left me emotionally battered and angry as hell. Reading others stories and hearing so many women (and men) share the trauma of these experiences brought up all the pain I had compartmentalized for so long. It made me realize that I have so much work to do and how my sexual assault and the stories born out of it have kept me in patterns of pain and trauma since then.
Honestly, I don’t think I have even begun to heal this wound because it isn’t just about the rape. It’s about my daddy issues and growing up with a mother who didn’t have self-esteem and who valued beauty above everything else. It’s about my relationship with my body, with food, with external validation and with sex before, during and after the rape. I’m only realizing now how truly complex, traumatic, complicated and interwoven it all is and how it has shaped my choices and behaviors for most of my life. I’m only now realizing how unsafe and betrayed I have felt. It feels like I’ll forever be pulling another layer of the wound back only to discover 15 more infections that I didn’t even know were there. Dissecting and healing, one layer at a time. But truthfully, I’m exhausted. As I type this, I weep. I don’t want to hurt about this anymore, but I know I have no choice but to keep moving towards healing.
This is why sexual assault is so horrific, because it has life-long impact. Don’t tell a survivor to get over it. Twenty-five years later, I can’t undo the damage that was done to me. I can’t undo what was taken from me. I can’t undo how this has shaped and affected my life. I’m no victim, I’m a survivor. I have tried to shake this off, over and over. I have tried to “get over it” more times than I can count. There isn’t a day where I don’t spend time and energy trying to heal myself from this. Something I shouldn’t have had to do in the first place.
When I’ve shared my experience with others, some have consoled me with “but it has made you stronger.” Some of these people have experiences similar to mine and say the same for themselves…that they are stronger for it. Maybe we needed to gaslight ourselves to manage this trauma because we had no choice but to remain silent. We had to tell ourselves that because it was the only thing we could do to get through back then. No one believed us. They victim-blamed us. They tore us down and aired out any character flaws we had if we spoke out. We ate the sharp pill of blame and shame down where it still rots in our stomachs. But today is a new day. Women are reaching critical mass and we are beginning to wield our collective power. We are speaking our truths and we are dissolving the shame and the blame that we were forced to consume with each and every truth-telling.
I’m not stuffing down my anger or my pain for one more second. It has been toxic for long enough.
I need to make something perfectly clear. I HAVE GONE THROUGH ENOUGH DARKNESS IN MY LIFE FOR WHICH I AM GRATEFUL FOR. I am grateful that I had a dysfunctional childhood. I am grateful I had cancer and went through a divorce. I am grateful life has thrown curve ball after curve ball at me. Because those things were the fire that forged me. I was already a survivor. I am amazing now, because of those experiences. I have risen from the fucking ashes 1,000 times already. But rape? I would have been just as amazing having never experienced that. I am not grateful for rape and I never will be. Everything else has been enough. EVERY SURVIVOR HAS ALREADY DEALT WITH ENOUGH. I’m sick of women having to accept this as a part of their existence; a part of their womanhood or as a rite of passage. I’m sick of women having to fear the consequences of sharing these truths more than the assailant’s dirty deeds. I’m sick of rape culture that perpetuates “boys will be boys.” That’s fucking bullshit and it stops today. We don’t need to experience more trauma to be strong. WE ARE WOMEN AND WE ARE ALREADY STRONG AND RESILIENT. We have inherited the trauma of those before us. It is embedded in our DNA. No more passing on more trauma to those after us.
To my fellow survivors:
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FEEL WHAT YOU FEEL.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO GET ANGRY.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SHARE YOUR STORIES.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO STAND UP AND DEMAND JUSTICE.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO RID YOURSELF OF THE BLAME, SHAME AND EMOTIONAL TURMOIL YOU CARRIED FOR SO LONG SO YOU CAN BEGIN TO HEAL.
As the poet, Dinos Christianopoulos wrote, “THEY TRIED TO BURY US. THEY DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE SEEDS.”
Do it for the daughters so they don’t have to dig their way out from underneath the dirt like we have. Do it for the daughters so they don’t have to lay their pain out for others to examine to prove to those who choose to disbelieve. Do it for the daughters so they don’t have their own ME TOO story.
TIME’S UP. TAKE YOUR POWER BACK.
And to everyone else: BELIEVE WOMEN. BELIEVE SURVIVORS.