Too Close to Home
Nobody liked the boy who raped me. Nobody thought it was a good idea for me to hang out with him. I did it anyway.
He was a Marine. An alcoholic. He drove a bigass two-tone Buick around and around the block. I would sneak out and get in it with him – breaking just about every rule my parents had for me. We would drive over the state line to NJ where he was of legal age to buy beer. Butterflies in my stomach as he drank a beer with one hand, rubbed my thigh with his other, and steered with his knee.
It was scary. And exciting. He smoked. He drank. He had a car. He was a man (18), and I was a teenage girl (14) with Daddy issues. He opened doors for me, held my hand with an authority that made me feel safe. I found his attention flattering.
And he was broken. It would come out when he drank – which was always. I learned about the violence in his household, and the way the military saved him. Almost.
When he came and saw my school play – stinking of beer and cigarettes – they almost didn’t let him in. I got an earful from a teacher who cared about me – a lot. Why was I hanging out with this guy? I was better than that. Didn’t I know?
No. I didn’t know. For too many reasons to count. And each objection just sent me deeper underground. Deeper into lies. Further isolated.
Until finally, there was the night that I lied to my parents (again) and said I was going to a drama club party. But I wasn’t. We were going to go on a proper date. Or so I thought. When I asked where he said, vaguely, to a couple parties.
Looking back at my naivete, I’m still dumbfounded. What was I thinking? Our first stop was to a local apartment complex with a room full of about 10 people I didn’t know and a table where various pills had been chopped into lines one could snort. I pretended I had to go to the bathroom right before it was my turn. I was so out of my league. I stuck close to him and tried to act as cool as possible.
I don’t think I was fooling anyone but myself.
Our next stop was deeper into the city, further from home. Not to a party, but to another friend’s house. This time it was just the three of us. There were more drugs and more alcohol. I didn’t have a taste for either. I’m sure I nursed a beer or two until they got warm. Then and now, I don’t have a taste for the stuff.
From there, my memory is fuzzy in some spots, and crystal clear in others – and to this day I don’t know exactly what made me feel that way. I just know that they started laughing – telling me it was going to be OK. Apparently, they had put something in my drink. To help me relax, they said.
I remember immediately feeling afraid to go home in that condition – not wanting to get caught in my lie. So my brilliant teenage move was to lie more. I called my mother to tell her I was sleeping over at the drama party. I even disguised my voice as my friend’s mom – and thought I got away with it (I didn’t).
I remember there was a bed in the room, and at some point, I laid down on it, too dizzy to sit up anymore. I remember him and his friend talking about things they wanted to do to me on that bed and not being able to respond. I remember him on top of me, feeling like I couldn’t breathe, and not having the strength to get him off, despite trying. I remember his friend leaving the room instead of intervening on my behalf – and later being thankful that at least he didn’t join in.
I remember us all being ashamed the next day. I remember him mumbling an apology, saying “that shouldn’t have been how your first time went.” I remember mumbling, “it’s OK” and getting out of the car to face my mom.
It was the very end of the school year, and I was grounded for the entire summer, which I’m sure was a gift. I didn’t have to see him drive around the block. I didn’t have to tell anyone what happened. I didn’t have to act normal. I read really long novels – In Cold Blood, Five Smooth Stones – and escaped into my stepfather’s extensive record collection in the basement. By the time my sentence ended, he had gone back to the Marines – and our paths never crossed again.
I spent a decade or so “processing” that night. What to call it? Who to tell? I did therapy, I reclaimed my virginity so I could lose it by choice. At a certain point, I figured I was as healed as I was going to get. There were still some things that made me flinch – but I figured it was the same as any other scar after a trauma. Expected. Inevitable. Survivable.
And then, about ten years ago now, when I finally stopped trying to “heal” and started a new journey to own and understand my sexuality, I unexpectedly got the last piece of the puzzle. I stopped looking at it through a psychological lens and began exploring my nervous system. My orgasm. My fear responses and patterns. My mind was settled on the matter, but my body still had a lot to say. And when I allowed it to speak, the final remnants of the incident left my system completely. Which is how I learned about stored trauma in the body. And since then, I have been able to gift others who have suffered similarly with the hope of healing further than THEY had imagined, too.
That’s the personal journey (the short version, at least.) Probably not the first or the last one you’ll read this week, or maybe even today.
I’ll be honest. As I’ve plunked out a few paragraphs a day for the past few days, I’ve wondered why I’m even writing it. Again. If it weren’t for the fact that I seem incapable of doing just about anything else, I probably wouldn’t be. I mean, there’s a point in your life – and I passed that point a couple of decades ago – where you tell yourself, “Enough already!” and you swear that you won’t give up any more of yourself to this thing that happened to you.
And yet, as Christine Blasey Ford steps out and shares her story of being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the dates pop out at me. We are the same age. We were the same year in high school when it happened. It was at the same time of year.
Our stories, our schools, our station in life, our perpetrators, and even our reactions over time to the experience – were all very different. But the solitary, silent struggle to pick ourselves up, put ourselves back together, and carry on – are so very much the same.
I have told my story countless times over the years, and still, I can’t quite fathom what it would be like to go and testify to the minutiae of it, more than thirty years later, in the way that she will this week. Or to be getting death threats for speaking out. Or for being doubted, scorned, and publicly debated and degraded in the way that she is right now.
This heaviness that has returned to my body is not from my own rape this time. It is from my place in the collective. This grieving that I’m feeling is not for my own loss, but for what we have lost as women – in innocence, in trust, in potential, in power. For what men have lost by not experiencing the profound beauty of an unguarded woman who feels safe and expressed in her own body. For the reactivated trauma we all keep perpetuating, generation after generation.
I may have walked it all the way out until it no longer owns me. Personally.
But it still owns us, collectively. Which means my work, our work, is in full swing.
The outpouring of our stories is necessary and important. Being recognized and believed matters. Making sure we never disrespect ourselves and one another by fabricating a story for political or personal gain is critical. Finding just solutions to past wrongs and healing whatever broken places exist within and among us. Not just punitive justice, but restorative justice.
But none of it resolves the root cause: our challenging relationship with our sex. Our need to take responsibility for the power of it. Our lack of understanding of the dynamics of it. Our unwillingness to engage with it openly and honestly. Our institutionalization of shame as a tool for control. Our participation in systems of manipulation and coercion. Our inability to responsibly reconcile our animal nature with our human constructs. Our commodification of sex. Our comingling of reproduction with economic production.
We have an opportunity right now. To not just stop at rage and anger, to not just settle for healing and justice, to not allow that which is meant to be whole, remain divided. But to collectively step into a new way of being with one another. One that is aligned with our encoded wisdom, rather than our enculturated dysfunction.
I hope we take it.