I woke up this morning and promptly threw up.
I woke up two hours before my alarm. I woke up panicked and crying. I woke up, not because I was sick, but because I was afraid. I woke up because in those minutes as a person, unprotected, in sleep, he was on me and all over me again.
I think I should write about it.
The thing is, it is drastically hard to write about rape and abuse in general without heavily employing the use of metaphor. We blur over the ugliest details with the prettier words, as if by alluding to the way he killed the flowers in my soul will make easier the way he also fucked me brutally enough that I required internal stitches. I don’t want to make excuses for him. I don’t want to make excuses for me. What happened, happened. I used to hate the way it changed people’s ideas of who I am. You can see it in their eyes, how different you become once you become someone stolen, broken, dirty, someone with a shame so horrifying in its realism, you become too intense to love lightly. I hated the way my abuse defined me. It scares people. It makes me hardened. And I get it, I do. For those who don’t have to deal with it, it’s much simpler to put up a wall and run from it. The wobbly thing is fragile and needs to be taken care of, but if you don’t have to, then I can understand shying away from it. I wish I could, too.
But since I can’t, this is what happened.
It was the end of March, 2009, and I had loved him. I had loved him so much, and perhaps that blurs the line between yes and no, not for me, but for the police I told after the first few times it had happened. They told me that it wasn’t a matter of police attention to settle disputes in teenage relationships. They told me to figure it out. And by then, I had already bleached my blood out of my carpet. I had already bitten through my lip once while complying – “shut the fuck up and be good, and I won’t kill you.” I had already been reduced to bruises littering my thighs and my neck, shadows where he had been and the light couldn’t quite reach me anymore.
But the last time, it is the last time I see in my dreams more than the rest. A few days before, he had grabbed me by my hair and smashed my face into the wall, over and over, until my screaming became nothing but a scared whimper. No one could hear me. No one even cared. I implored him to “Please, please stop. Please listen.” I could already feel the dull ache in my jaw turning into a rhythmic throbbing and he told me, “Shut the fuck up, bitch,” as he grabbed me by the neck, held me, choked me, against the wall until my vision was black, fuzzy with sparkles at the edges. Then he threw me into a bookshelf, and as my eye collided, hard, with the corner, I passed out.
My jaw was still green, purple in places, but not to be compared with the deep burgundy that had taken over my right eye. I wore glasses instead of contacts, and I was told I was lucky to only have severe optical nerve damage, because I could have lost my vision. I didn’t feel lucky. My headache was constant, and my life was in shambles. He hadn’t left my side at the hospital, telling them that I had passed out and fallen out of the car. I heard his voice crack when he exclaimed, “She just hit the pavement so hard.” And so it was standard. He remained in control of everything. No one looked too closely, and I felt hopeless. No one could see me, and I felt myself becoming invisible to myself too.
The details of the fight that day are hardly important. What is important is that I begged him to let me use the bathroom without him. I begged him to let me out of his sight for 2 minutes. He reluctantly agreed, and told me I’d better not try to escape, because he’d surely find me quickly. I promised, and off I went. I still remember looking at myself in my own bathroom mirror as I dialed 911. I hated who I saw there. I hated her lack of control. I hated her puffy eyes and the deep sadness there. I hated her for looking like the broken, battered girls you see in posters and not in real life. And when they answered, I kept eye contact with myself as I whispered, “I am about to walk back in to my bedroom, and I don’t know if he’ll beat me or rape me this time, but I can’t do it anymore. Please come. The back door is unlocked.”
I don’t consider myself to be a particularly brave person, but I consider what I did that day to be among the bravest things I have ever done. I knew that an end was in sight, but I knew that the end could only be achieved correctly if I walked back into the fire. And as I did, I knew this one would be the worst. I opened the door, and he caught me by the wrist. “Took you long enough, bitch. I came here to fuck you, and I’m not waiting all day.” I opened my mouth to protest, and he slapped me across the jaw, effectively shutting me up. He twisted my wrists in one hand, and I tried to kick him in the back of the knees. He laughed as he fought me into bed. He actually laughed. I am not weak. I am not small. I am not a bad fighter. And yet, he always made me seem like a helpless puppy, my punches back proving useless, my attempts feeble, at best.
I had been wearing an oversized t-shirt and yoga pants. I resisted losing my shirt for a while, but he dug his nails into my neck, shook me, and I complied. I didn’t want to lose consciousness. I didn’t want to die. I can still feel his hand, sweaty, over my mouth. That same hand came back to cover my mouth when I cried out again, and it was wet with my blood. He pinned me down almost easily, beating me in height, weight, and insanity. Plus, he had no problem choking me, pulling my hair, biting my nipples, twisting my arms, and literally manipulating and forcing a fist inside me – the reason for the blood, and the stitches I would receive later. The whole time, he made me repeat after him: “I deserve this. I am useless. I owe this to you. I am a stupid bitch. I love it. I love you.” He spit in my mouth. He twisted the skin of my inner thighs. He laughed.
The door opened, and he struck me across the face. They pulled him off of me, out of me, and he was shirtless, his pants around his ankles. In one fell swoop, one cop pulled his jeans up, and one cuffed him. I felt frozen, but I shook so hard it scared me. I sort of collapsed into myself, and the cop who had so easily re-clothed him (albeit not before I got a good look at his dick, hard and stained with my blood) was wrapping me in my purple sheets. They read him his rights, and I sobbed. He protested angrily, and I offered teary apologies and pathetic “I love you”s. He had been what I had for a long, long time. Seeing him go, even in that circumstance, was among the hardest things I had done.
My purple sheets were retained for evidence. For as long as I live, I will never have purple sheets ever again. My shirt and yoga pants, as well as my bloodied underwear were taken too. I hardly understood the need to make a rape kit, as there was hard proof of what had happened, but I did what I was told, and cried when I needed to. They took DNA samples and stitched me up. They stood me up for pictures, of my face, my neck, my wrists, any place where his hands had left marks. They questioned me in excruciating detail, coming up with a statement that I signed with a trembling hand. At that time, I didn’t realize how few rapists are actually convicted. I didn’t realize how important every last detail of my experience – the timeline, what I wore, what was said – was, until I was asked to repeat them over and over. I didn’t realize there was still a chance that he could make any of this go away.
He wasn’t able to, but that isn’t the point.
The point is that so many other people go through events like what I went through and they are made out to be the bad guy, while the real bad guy goes free. We, as victims of violence, of pure evil, are left to feel dirty and ashamed. We find ourselves questioning if it was actually our fault. Did we not fight hard enough? Did we not yell “no” loud enough? And the people around us are sympathetic at first, but are quick to disappear. Every eye feels judgmental or threatening. It becomes a chore, deciding whether or not to let people know what happened to you. They inevitably look at you differently. You become this ruined, hollowed ghost. No one wants to love where abuse lived first. No one wants to voluntarily run into the fire I was forced to sprint through. People are scared of ghosts, and so we build our haunted houses up in silence. We hurt for the showers that never quite scrubbed them out of our skin, and the nights we can’t rest peacefully while plagued by nightmares, and the panic attacks that paralyze us in the fear that they’re coming to get us, and the stigma that says that stealing our body meant stealing even an ounce of our souls.
He didn’t get to take me from me, not really. What I went through was harrowing and brutal, but it did not diminish my being. Perhaps it sharpened it. I still awake to the human condition, flawed and scary and full of evil. But I recognize the ability I have, to fill this space with hope, compassion, healing, and the one thing he couldn’t give me most of all – love. I want to pour honesty, I want to be a voice for victims like me. I want to do so with warmth where he was cold, and forgiveness where there was condemnation, I want to scream that I was stifled and silenced and shot down, and I refuse to be quiet anymore. Does rape make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. But pretending it doesn’t happen only does a disservice to those of us who were doubted and ridiculed and beaten down already. It happens. It happens to your friends and sisters and brothers and coworkers and parents and children and teachers and bosses. And it happened to me. I will talk about it, because someone needs to. I will talk about it, because this is real.
Perhaps there will come a day when I don’t wake up, choking on the vomit that comes when I am smothered by him in my nightmares. And perhaps there won’t. Either way, there is still life here. Messy, beautiful, hopeful, tragic, chaotic, resilient, tough and scrappy life, yelling from the rooftops that he hurt me and sometimes it still hurts, but I am still here.
I am still here.
You are, too.
May we wake from nightmares to see the sun, to find light and love filling the broken places, making things new again. May we never surrender. May we believe in the promise of a love that does not bruise. May we live to tell our stories with grace, so that we may close a chapter and begin a better one.
May we write down our most painful stories, and may they set us free.
(Need help? Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.)