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October 20, 2016 / barton smock

(something brave that is not a poem)

{trigger warning: rape, sexual assault}

I am posting this for a family member, a cousin. She has asked me to help her have her story seen. As so many here are using language to silence the dying of language, I thought this may be a good place to start.

The piece below, which she wrote, has been privately published on Lulu and I am offering it for free to anyone who would like to put eyes on it, or put it in front of someone who may need it.

I am covering the cost for the piece and for the shipping of said piece. If you would like a copy, email me at bartonsmock@yahoo.com with a physical address and how many copies you’d like.

I’m glad it exists, but wish it didn’t.

I posted it anonymously, per my cousin’s wishes, some months back, however…in the current climate, she felt it was time to outwardly own it.

~

introduction:

Like too many people, I’m a survivor of rape.

I’m also an independent, outspoken and outwardly strong person. I’m someone who people don’t imagine would stay quiet after such an incident, which is why I think it’s important to explain why I did.

It isn’t a simple story. It’s real. It’s one that sucks to read, but you should read it anyway. Because if you haven’t experienced rape, no, you can’t imagine, but maybe this will give a little perspective.

WHY I NEVER REPORTED MY RAPE

“As a woman, don’t you think you’d feel safer knowing you had a gun in your purse?”

The question was a reminder that I was out of my element. Guns have never been a favorite item of mine, but my husband owns several. I’d signed up for the state concealed carry course to feel more comfortable with the weapons in my home. My presence perplexed a few of the gun-lovers in the room, who were all as kind as they were hopeful I would be converted.

After the lesson regarding gun law and self-defense, the gentleman ahead of me posed this question with a confident smile.

So would having a concealed weapon make me feel safe?

“Not really. I was raped once and owning a gun definitely wouldn’t have helped me then.”

The smile disappeared, replaced with the same look of horror and discomfort that people cannot help wearing when they hear such a thing. Knowing that he was struggling to respond, I continued the conversation about safety. I explained that I keep mace. I walk with my keys in my hands. Yes, I try to keep myself safe amongst strangers, but the person who raped me hadn’t been a stranger. Sometimes it made me feel like I couldn’t protect myself at all, and sometimes it reminded to protect myself better.

The strangest part for this man was surely hearing a woman so freely say she had been raped. The strangest part for me was realizing I was finally talking about it with a stranger.

THE “R” WORD

It took me three years to use the word “rape” in reference to that night. I felt guilty using the word, as if because my rape was not as violent, as painful, as traumatic as others, I shouldn’t be allowed to call it what it was.

I wrote it as if it were a confession:

Yes, I was raped.

No, it wasn’t violent.

No, I didn’t report it.

Yes, I tried to justify it. I tried to block it. I tried to forgive it.

Yes, I had forgiven myself.

It was then, in typing those last words, I understood I’d never been to blame. I didn’t have to forgive myself, and with this came a second realization: I would never forgive him.

Hatred hurts. It’s a lot work, and by self-imposed policy I avoided it. Somehow accepting that I would always carry that hatred lifted some of its corresponding weight.

If you’re wondering, I’m not telling you his name or mine. It’s in part because I didn’t tell anyone about it then, including myself, which means that there’s little that can be done about it legally. It’s also because I’ve seen that look of hurt and guilt on too many of the faces of people I love when I told them. Enough of my loved ones carry this burden with me.

As for why I’m keeping his name to myself, it’s not out of any desire to protect him. Rather, I never want a reason to interact with him again, and exposing his name seems like a good way to hear from him, especially since I’m sure he has never regarded what happened that night as rape.

So let’s call him “MF.”

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

MF was too good to be true. I knew it. I verbalized it. I got mad when a friend said “then it probably isn’t true.” As we all do at some point, I’d managed to be my own exception to a rule I applied to everyone else.

MF and I met through my ex, BM, making him a romantically safe friend because he had a long-term girlfriend. Okay, she was crazy and I wasn’t a fan, but it was easy to remain friends with him because we’d begun as couple friends with no threat of intimacy.

I don’t remember how I ended up in MF’s apartment the day after BM broke my heart, but I know I was a mess in a way I’d never experienced. It’s a mistake a lot of us make: I fell in love with someone who was broken, and rather than putting him together, I found myself correspondingly broken.

If this wasn’t bottom, it was surely the closest I’d come, and MF could tell. Instead of whatever tech support or favor he was supposed to provide with that night, he held me for four hours while I cried.

No one really understood my pain at my breakup with BM. My friends and family hadn’t known him well, but they’d suspected I was headed for heartbreak. MF was the exception. We’d all spent enough time together. He knew how hard BM made me laugh. He’d seen BM’s tearful confession of love-unlike-any-other only weeks before. He was able to see past the terrible boyfriend and to the pain, so his support was the comfort I needed that night.

Tech support brought me back to his home soon after. I’d bought a new laptop that wasn’t working well and he offered to help. While he fiddled with it, he said the dangerous words:

“You deserve to be with someone who will treat you with the love you deserve… And I hate that I can’t be that person.”

I froze. The statement was unwanted, unfair… but not unpleasant. A part of me leapt at knowing someone could love me.

Ultimately, I think I brushed off the comment and asked how he and the girlfriend of five years were doing. She was still possessive. She was still accusatory when he’d done nothing. He felt controlled. I wanted to tell him to leave her, but who was I to judge considering the unhealthy relationship I mourned? The day ended when he asked if I’d go to the bookstore with him. I said no (smart), but I borrowed several graphic novels, giving me reason to return (not smart).

FYI – They were the first several volumes of Fable and they were so fabulous that I don’t even associate them with that motherfucker.

Oops, spoiler. Well, you probably knew what MF meant, didn’t you?

I don’t remember how it all went down. I remember we stayed in touch, and it wasn’t long before he and his girlfriend broke up. Outings became more regular because he was taking residence on the couch and wanted to avoid the apartment until she found a new place. One evening we had a few too many drinks and decided to take a walk to shake off the buzz. We sat. My head slumped on his shoulder. His hand brushed my chin. We kissed.

Talk about complicated. Here I was still heartbroken, but I didn’t want to let go of an opportunity with someone who might have been the right person at the wrong time.

We didn’t see each other often those first couple weeks between our job and school schedules, but when we did it was electric. Eventually his ex found our texts and emails and apparently their breakup finally became real to her. She freaked, deciding that since she didn’t have friends and was far from home that she should get the apartment instead of him, and he moved in with his parents. What was worse was he had a strained relationship with them and hated to talk on the phone from home because they often listened. Since I was living at home too, our communication was soon nearly 100% digital.

We both felt the strain of our circumstances, which is how he persuaded me to go to a hotel with him for his birthday. I’d been hesitant, but I got assurance: “there’s no one I want to spend the day with more than you,” he said. “I promise not to push you into anything. I really need to get away from my parents’ house for the weekend though. You can even sleep in a separate bed if you want.”

It’s not like I objected to sex, but despite how unbroken I felt around him, I still didn’t feel whole. I wanted to take things slowly this time in the physical realm, which certainly matched our recent progress emotionally since our communication had dwindled to text messages and the occasional walk around town while he looked for a place to live.

I won’t go into detail because the more I think about that night the more my stomach feels like it’s going to come up my throat. I can tell you that we had a really good time. He bought a bottle of wine to take back to the hotel. We watched a movie while I steadily got tipsier. When the bottle ran out, he spent an unreasonable amount on a second from room service.

At some point I noticed he was pouring his drinks into mine. When I questioned him, he said he was having a good time hanging out and seeing this side of me. MF was sober. I was far from it.

The evening went about how you’d expect. I was drunk and feeling good, which led to a little fooling around. Even as it happened, I wasn’t sure how it had gone from that to it being dark with his body pressed against mine, his hands around my wrists, knees on my legs.

I said no.

I said no again.

I said no over and over, reminding him that he had promised not to pressure me.

He said that was before we’d started.

When I lost my virginity, happy and willing as I was, I remember realizing how easy it would be for him to rape me if I said I wanted to stop. That wasn’t the case and I knew he wouldn’t have done such a thing, but I still remember that moment of being a little freaked out that he was right there. I remember wondering what it would have taken to push him, and felt good knowing that I couldn’t see it happening.

Here I was, in what might physically appear a similar situation, but that felt very different.

I wiggled my arms. They didn’t move. I tested my legs.

He was there. Right there. Pressed against me, harder and harder to the point where I knew it what was coming. Then, in my drunken state I thought, “well, saying ‘yes’ is better than being raped.”

It has been six years, and I’ve blocked most of it from my memory. Hell, I’d blocked most of it by the next day, and only later came to accept what had happened. I remember that I threw up after – that was a lot of wine and stress for one night – and he made me clean it again after I hadn’t done a good enough job the first time.

As if he hadn’t already proven himself an asshole.

I pretended like nothing was wrong, making the decision to be okay with it. I’d said “yes” after all. Now I needed us to stay together for a bit, to have sex regularly… and then it would be fine. We’d be a couple. I’d remember it the same way I remembered losing my virginity – normal, but with a fleeting thought of fear.

We stayed together for about a month after that. It quickly became apparent that we weren’t long-term, but I remember trying to stretch it a little further, still clinging to that illogical thought that staying together would make it okay.

Shortly after, I took out a student loan, got on a plane and did a study abroad trip in Europe. It’s now apparent that I was literally running from my life. I sought faith. I sought friends. I sought the bottom of bottles. I sought anything that made me feel like I had substance.

After many mistakes, I started to find myself again.

I found hobbies. I got a new job. I made good changes, but I was still massively depressed, and it wasn’t until I started facing that night that I was able to pull myself from it. People are always saying they have no regrets because their choices led them to the life they have now. I have a better life than I could have imagined. I have a husband who makes me laugh every day, a job I don’t hate, a home I love, friends and family I adore, and two cats that I like way more than is normal. But I can’t say I have no regrets. And that’s okay. I don’t think anyone in my life begrudges me regretting a single moment I had with MF.

CONSENT

Part of the reason it took me so long to admit what happened was the guilt I carried. I felt guilty that I had chosen to spend time with him, guilty that I had been drunk, guilty that I hadn’t woken the next day with bruises and broken bones.

My rape was not violent and I am grateful for that. I cannot imagine the pain that people who experience such trauma endure, because years later I still struggle to think about that night.

Eventually I understood that “rape” is a unique word in that it covers a whole range of evil, from absolute to something far beyond it.

I was raped.

Consent requires two alert parties. He was sober and I was far from it.

No one should ever be made to say “no” more than once. No one should say it three times, or ten times, or ever, ever think “saying ‘yes’ is better than being raped.”

I didn’t report my rape because no one would have believed me – I was in a compromising position in a hotel with a man I was seeing. Who would listen to that? And by the time I had finally dealt with my feelings on it, it was too late for there to be any kind of evidence. My brain had tried to protect me, but the only way I could have done anything was to get out right then and go to the police.

See the naked-in-a-hotel issue above. I doubt that would have done me much good. Do you know what it would have done? It would have made my life more painful. More stressful. It would have brought judging eyes on me, and I wasn’t in a place to handle that.

WHY AM I TELLING YOU?

I’m not telling you my story for sympathy. I have accepted this as part of my history, and I don’t need to hear anyone else’s “I’m sorry.” Not even his.

I’m telling you so you can hear at least one story from someone who didn’t seek help.

I’m telling you because of every time I’ve heard someone comment about “rape” where you could hear the quotation marks in their voice. I’m telling you for the people who don’t think it’s prevalent, the ones who think they don’t know anyone who has been through it. If you believe the latter, you’re likely wrong. Every person who said it to me was.

I’m telling you because when my sister’s best friend was assaulted by someone she had allowed in her home, everyone but my sister made her feel like it was her own fault. I’m telling you because I’m embarrassed to live in a society where the victim ever feels the guilt.

I admire every person who has reported their rape. I admire them because they did the right thing for themselves and society, though facing such a thing is a whole other kind of pain. I wish I’d been that strong. I wish I’d been able to face the questions and judgment. I wish I’d been okay that our mutual acquaintances likely would have taken his side. I wish I hadn’t cared.

For anyone who was wondering, yes, I was wrong to believe him. I clung to someone who had seemed so trustworthy to compensate for my heartbreak. I shouldn’t have believed 1.) That he and his girlfriend had broken up, 2.) That anyone trying to get me drunk while he was sober had any kind of good intention, or 3.) That planning on spending the night with someone who wanted sex when I didn’t was a good idea.

But you know what?

It was his fault, not mine.

And if you’ve been through it, it wasn’t your fault either.

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