Today I’m going to tell a story, gentle viewers. It’s a story with a lot of feelings behind it, wrapped up in it, entwined in it. Some of those feelings are harsh like needles on very cold skin. Some of those feelings are like knowing you’re alone and unsafe in the dark. Some are relief like water. Others are hot like pain.
I promise you two things if you stay with me.
I promise you honesty. I will be candid. I will be open. I will paint a blurry watercolor and not a pen and ink to spare you details. But you will be among the first to hear this story.
I promise you hope. While this story starts on the outskirts of darkness and wades in, it also wades back out into the light.
I promise you honesty, and I promise you hope. If you take my hand, I will tell you a story.
This story doesn’t begin with a once upon a time, nor does it end with a happily ever after. It’s in no way a fairy tale, and that is okay. It shouldn’t be a fairy tale. It simply is. A tale.
They say it’s almost always someone you know. We humans fear strangers like we fear the night, but for me it happened in the broad light of day under a hot southern sun, and it was someone I knew.
The asphalt caught my shirt and jeans as I sat on the ground to end things with him. He lay next to me, puppy dog eyes full of knowing. Knowing that his words affected me. Knowing that I flinched from him already. He told me his earlier words were my fault. He accused me of lying with a smile on his face and the whisper of a wagging finger behind his gaze. I had never lied to him. I told him it was over, and I meant it.
For a long time I thought what he did was my fault because I thought I owed him the courtesy of telling him face-to-face when he had already brutally destroyed my trust in him.
I told him it was over, and he tried to kiss me. I said no. Over and over I said no. I pushed him away. I repeated that tiny syllable. I said it louder. And finally I froze. I went somewhere else. And when I came back, it was over. In a tiny voice I told him I hadn’t wanted that.
And he told me I should have stopped him.
You know what I’m talking about, gentle viewers. You know what happened. You know what it was he blamed me for. I’m sorry if it causes you distress. But I promised you honesty, and I promised you hope. You have the first, and the second is coming.
Months went by before I could say the word. Three months passed before I had the strength to cut him from my life. Still he followed. He called. He asked to see me. He pried into my friendships and asked me about any dates. Seven months went by before he tracked me down at work and called me there. Seven hours went by after that before I called him and told him never to contact me again. Six months later, he tried to message me on Facebook.
Somewhere in that span of time, I admitted to myself what he had done to me. I said the word in my head, a tiny tendril of thought, a wisp of smoke in a darkened room. I said the word rape, and it sounded raw in my mind. I spoke to a few trusted friends. And when I did, some dam burst.
I wasn’t alone.
By everything sacred and warm, I wasn’t alone. Women I loved. Women I knew and knew well. I hadn’t known that we shared that word. I hadn’t known. With one story we were suddenly bound tighter. Bound in silence and grief. I had always judged women who didn’t report their rape. I had thought insidious damning thoughts, wondering how things would get better if women didn’t tell. Until it happened to me. And now I know why they don’t break their silence.
Here are reasons, and some of them are mine.
He was a friend. He was well-known. Everyone loved him. He was charming. He was kind. No one would believe me. I had no proof. He was my husband. He was a cop. He was a marine. He was a fellow soldier. He was drunk. I was drunk. I’d slept with him before. I’m a man. It wouldn’t even go to trial. He didn’t leave a mark. He used a condom. He used his hand. He didn’t hear me say no. He’d say I was lying. No one would believe me. She was a woman. He was a politician. He was married. He had a gun. He told me he’d kill me if I told anyone. He said I had it coming. He said it was my fault. I believed it was my fault.
Most rapists are never convicted. I think the number stands around 2%.
Something happened that day. It dropped a thick dark sludge into a pure place of my soul. It cut a ragged swatch from my confidence, from my self-respect. It made me feel weak and lesser and small. Those words, “You should have stopped me” ran on repeat in my mind. Could I have fought harder? Could I have kicked and screamed? Yes. I could have.
But no one would have heard me, and he could have hurt me worse. He was 6’3″ and over 250. I weighed half as much.
When I met my husband, the first few days of our acquaintance showed me something vital, something that began to slowly patch the rift in my honor and dignity. It was a simple, simple thing.
I set a boundary. He honored it.
That is hope. That is light and warmth and hope. That is what makes love happen, for it is the foundation of trust. It took the words of friends and family and the fledgling hope built by the man who would become my husband to show me that my boundaries are valid. That when I say no, that means more than “no further,” it means “back off.”
I shared my story with you today because in the three and a half years since I was raped, I have heard over a score of stories from women I love. I’ve heard even more from women I don’t know — but with whom I share that raw and frightening word.
I thank you humbly and from my heart for listening to my story.
There is a woman named Eve Ensler. Years ago, before I joined this community of survivors, I knew of her. She wrote The Vagina Monologues. She is a survivor of abuse and of virulent cancer. And she started a movement called V-Day that has raised over $85 million to stop violence against women and girls.
For the next week, I have dedicated my voice and my blog to sharing her vision. I promised you hope, gentle viewers, and I shall deliver. I will take you on a journey of hope and inspiration. A journey of renewal and vitality. I will tell you the stories of the women who have shaped our world and who have shaped my life. I truly hope you will join me.
Women are beautiful inside and out. Women are kind. Women are strong. Women are fighters. Women survive. Women overcome. Women have the power to defeat their pasts.
I hope you agree.
I hope you’ll share this week with me.
As always, I invite discussion. How have you seen women overcome tragedy (not necessarily sexual violence)? How have the women in your life shown you their strength? Their hope? Their ability to survive?
If you tell me about one of your heroes, I will include her in Thursday’s blog about the women who have inspired me.
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