I wrote this blog post a year ago. I’ve carried the words inside me for 29 years. I’m an open book but I can also be intensely private. This is my story. I’m tired of pretending it’s not part of who I am, or that it influences my life. Today, I watched the video “Til It Happens To You” from Lady Gaga, and it’s like it happened yesterday. I’m done. Secrets eat you alive.
I look at your profile on Facebook once in a while.
Holding my breath the whole time, I don’t realize I’m doing it until I click away.
Your cover photo shows you standing with your wife and two sons, smiling. The American Dream, right? The comedy of the picture, with a previous family photo of you all lined up, on the stairway behind you.
I look at those boys.
Awkward in their teenage states.
I wonder, under my breath and in my head, “Will they grow up to be rapists, too?”
Because that’s what you were that night. My rapist. Mine. And then I click away. Avoid.
The bell that can never be unrung.
The night started out fun, a typical college fall weekend, drinking and laughing and all of us running outside, off to the next party. We kissed because you wanted me, and I thought what the hell, l’m having fun. It’s fun to be wanted. But. You were too needy. Some part of me sensed this, had always sensed it about you in regular interactions. Somewhere along the line, in my drunken stupor – I gave you the slip.
Went back to my dorm, the room began to spin, and I went into the co-ed restroom. Proceeded to get sick. Then I heard your voice in the hallway, and froze. You were calling out my name, banging on my door. I held my breath. Then another classmate said, Oh, she’s in the bathroom. Oh.
How I wish you hadn’t told him that.
Why did you do that. Oh.
I pretended to be passed out.
Would you tell your sons how you got under my arms, and dragged me out the door, back to my room? I opened my eyes in the hall, saw the girl who’d given away my location, pleaded with my eyes. But it was too late.
In your memory, I bet you don’t remember me telling you “No.” It was the only word I said.
Over and over. As you pulled my robe off. Pushed me into bed.
But it was not enough.
Years later, a therapist would explain to me that the reason I metaphorically left my body that night was to preserve myself. To save me further trauma, as you hunched over me, barely looking at me, absorbed in your own triumphant conquest. Thank god for small favors, right? You finished, you borrowed my robe to go to the bathroom, returned, dressed yourself & went back to your dorm room.
And you called the next day. A gentleman? Hoping for more? Pretending that word never happened, that it was some magical night.
At least we didn’t have phones in our rooms back then. Every time you called, I just shook my head. I’m pretty sure the senior classmate across the hall figured it out. She was pretty perceptive, even though we never talked about it. I went on to join a support group for sexual assault victims (I hate that word, “victim”, oh how I hate it) and I listened more than I spoke. Then I moved on to crisis counseling. I would channel my emotions into helping other people. I would gain weight, because nobody will ever be able to lift or drag me again. That powerless feeling is one of the worst feelings in my life, and I don’t know if it will ever go away.
Today, there’s lots of talk about addressing sexual abuse on college campuses. I listen to it quietly, and sometimes, if I’m getting ready in the morning and there’s a story on NPR, I’ll look at myself in the mirror. And my eyes fill with tears.
Because this will never leave me. I made bad choices. I got drunk. I kissed you back. And then, even though my voice said “No”, my physical being couldn’t defend myself and I was reduced to a warm body you used to your own satisfaction, never mind it wasn’t willing. “No.” I get to keep that word. You raped me. Your word is rapist. And I imagine now you talk to your boys, as a father, maybe you even say things about respecting women and you’ve changed the history in your mind, how I was a bitch who wouldn’t give you the time of day after a Friday night hookup.
What a bitch.
The bitch who said no.
The bitch who will carry that night of violation and pain with her for a lifetime. Oh sure, like all scars, they thicken and they fade and they blur. But what has been marked upon cannot be undone.
You took my power from me, and I hate you. I hate that you have sons. I wish you’d had daughters, so a part of you could feel queasy inside, maybe you would look back on that night and think, maybe when she said no, she really meant no. No. I even said it. I said it. And you, you ignored it. And you would think, I don’t want that happening to my daughters. Because you wouldn’t, right? I will carry your name inside me until I die, but I’m tired of the pain you caused. Tired of being fucking triggered by Bill Cosby stories and fucking movie scenes that eroticize rape and tired of badly-written books that glamorize an imbalance in sexual power. Tired of hearing words like “unrapeable” because a woman isn’t pretty enough, thin enough, young enough. I’m tired of being silent about it. I am, in so many ways, a force to be reckoned with and a strong, intelligent woman. So I’m going to own it. Yes. If you know me? You know someone who was raped. No matter what the fuck I did, what the choices were that I made that night, you can judge me all you want, but I. Said. No.
And that word makes all the difference.
(P.S. – I’m editing this to add that someone who is incapacitated does not even HAVE the ability to consent. My “no” was actually unnecessary at that point, but I have still clung to it all these years because with everything that was taken, that remained mine.)