Here, tonight, will be one of my Possibly Big Posts Where I Am Very Bitter. I’m going to live up to the disclaimer under the title: not a role model. I’m not, I’m really not, and I know I’m not. In some ways, I think that’s the point.
The first thing any school official seems to rail on when you mention a sexual assault (case in point: the nurse today at the health center, when I went in to find out whether or not I have HPV) is whether you have Support From Your Friends and How Much and Have You Told Anyone and Do You Feel Better For Having Shared That Information With Them and Have You Made A Safe And Supportive Environment For Yourself. The list goes on, the bland and nonviolent wording continues, the message stays the same. And you have to play the Yes Sure Of Course My Friends Have Been Really Great card, with a wry half-smile and a humble shrug, otherwise you will never hear the end of it. They will make it their personal mission to ensure that you Take Actions To Build Healthy And Supportive Relationships.
Here’s the deal. The only time I can remember having a reliable “system of supportive friends” after a sexual assault was in my early years of high school, when I learned that three other girls in the group I drifted in and out of had also been raped by the same person as me. We discussed it over cooling instant ramen and bagels with our bare feet buried in the lunch courtyard grass, laughed and agreed that it reminded us of the vampire attacks in Thirty Days of Night. He just latches on, has a seizure for thirty seconds, and then it’s over! and then we went back in for sixth period and never spoke of it again, except when I told a tall brassy-haired senior about the miscarriage. She squeezed my hand tighter inside her pocket and said “hey, y’know you could’ve told me earlier”, and I nodded and lit her cigarette for her and that was the end of that.
To me, that was in a way support enough.
Flash forward to a year ago.
I was in College and finally had Good Friends who called me back and got good grades and didn’t refer to me as “Jew” and listened when I talked about politics and had real discussions with me on the walk home from parties where nobody ditched each other. I had a Nice Boyfriend back in my hometown who was polite to my family and laughed at my jokes and remembered my birthday. When we eventually broke up because of the distance, my Good Friends bought me dairy-free ice cream and read me Damn You Auto Correct to make me laugh.
When the rapes started –
Okay, quick item of business:
It was not one rape, it was rapes. This is something that generally loses me sympathy, because I Let It Keep Happening and thus Encouraged Him.
Let me explain something. When you are keenly aware that someone is an extraordinarily dangerous person with a good reputation on a low-security campus, and that person has demonstrated that they are perfectly willing to hurt you or people important to you or themselves at the slightest provocation, your priorities make a very dramatic shift. There is a very sharp learning curve to that shit, especially when a person knows exactly how to get to you and will stop at nothing to do it. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening your male friends until they back off from the friendship, playing on your extreme phobia of HIV/transmissible diseases by gashing themselves open and getting blood on you, and stalking you while making suicide threats.
That is why the “rape” is plural. Because in my survival-mode brain I did not understand that someone might have believed me had I reported. Maybe they wouldn’t have, but at least there was a change.
When the rapes started, my Good Friends dropped off the planet one by one. They did not see the rapes, but they saw the way I could be pulled from a room with an expression of fear by a single text or call, and they saw their friend My Rapist standing next to me, over me, behind me, omnipresent, with a grim expression and stained bandages on his shoulders and neck. They saw my nervous breakdowns, my sobbing and incoherent muttering about the knotted rope I had found or the butterfly sutures I’d had to contrive. In one case, they saw me collapsed on the floor of my closet with My Rapist’s blood clotting on my shirt and down my arms. I was seen as My Rapist’s possession, and they knew which side their bread was buttered on: the side that wouldn’t get them on the wrong side of a seriously disturbed sociopathic ex-wrestler with martial arts experience, namely.
And they came to accept this.
In some cases, they came to take advantage of this. I was a hollowed-out shell of a person who could easily have her boundaries pushed. I had forgotten how to have boundaries, moreover. Nothing could be worse than what I would have to find later that night if I were not On Time when My Rapist needed to relieve nervous energy.
Over the course of summer break I quietly cut contact with every friend I’d had, save for one – the only one to make any sort of confrontation about the situation, though it was admittedly more in the context of him feeling angry that I had been spending less and less time with him. He was reclusive and thus had seen far less than my other friends, so I could understand this much more.
When the time came at the end of the summer that I finally got the courage to tell him about the rape, he stopped speaking to me for two weeks, because apparently it was unforgivable that I hadn’t told him sooner.
Since then I have, against my better judgment, told more people. I have made the appropriate gestures at Broadening My Support System – seeing a therapist, checking in regularly with my RA, and sat through brief and patronizing explanations of why It Couldn’t Have Been My Fault from people who don’t really want to hear or think about this again.
In my experience, some people absolutely want to help, in that they want to point out to you some piece of the puzzle that you have somehow overlooked. They want their ten minutes on the subject to unravel every knot in the tangle you’ve created from hours or days spent looking at the ceiling and picking every detail apart piece by piece, because then you are cured and they are the hero and everyone lives happily ever after. They can’t deal with the fact that you will think in circles and believe things that have no logical basis and need to be told things over and over. So unless you want to be resented by people who Only Want To Help, you learn to look at the floor and smile and nod and say thank you and then never bring it up again. You let them play the part that lets them feel okay and keeps them comfortable, and then you move on feeling emptier and more alone than before.
I hope every day that this is only my experience, and that everyone who has been assaulted doesn’t experience these interactions. Because it seems to me like the ultimate irony, that the person who has experienced a traumatic event should also in every case need to choose between shouldering the responsibility for making everyone else feel okay about it or just not talk about it.
I have more to say, and I don’t know why, but this is already too long. Goodnight, everyone. I don’t know how this post made people feel, who I’ve insulted, who can identify with it, but I hope it does some good for somebody.