Continuing my series for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Last week I shared the specifics of the attack, and this week I’m sharing the aftermath both physical and emotional. Not as graphic as my previous post, but still a bit so.
***ADULT CONTENT*** By the time my alarm went off, the sun was high in the sky and my friend had disappeared. He was no longer in the bed beside me, and I couldn’t hear any tell tale signs that he was at home. It was a little odd that he had just left without telling me, but not completely unusual. As I stirred from sleep, and rolled over in the bed the events of the night before became blurry and distant as if they had all been just a bad or over exaggerated dream. I stared at the ceiling trying to process everything flying around in my head. The more I thought about it, the more I began to justify his actions. We were both single, spending a lot of time together, and intimate in every other sense of the word save for sexually. Would I have been hurt or betrayed if he had made a sexual advance toward me during the day? Was it only because it happened somewhere in the space between sleep and waking that it seemed so skewed and inappropriate? Inappropriate. When that thought crossed my mind, I sat up in bed and made my way into the bathroom looking at myself in the mirror.
My breasts were hardly shrouded through my tee shirt which exposed my navel and low cut panties. I stared a moment longer and then closed my eyes hanging my head in disgust. I might as well have climbed into his bed naked. After becoming so close, then throwing myself into his bed in such a suggestive outfit, to use the horrible cliche, I felt that I was asking for it. I felt that couldn’t blame him for acting on impulse the way he did. If I truly hadn’t some how wanted him to make a move, I should have slept at home in my own bed, or on the couch. Instead of taking action against him, I fell into the trap of victim blaming. It was all I knew, growing up in a society that places so much weight on women to bare the responsibility of crimes against them.
Not once did the word rape cross my mind in all of my mulling and evaluating as I stood in front of the mirror, with bloodshot eyes and a broken spirit. Even though now I can see what had happened was most certainly a violent rape, I instead chose to think of it as “previously undiscussed intimacy”. I shook my head, angry and frustrated more with myself than him as I quickly undressed and hopped in the shower. I was due to report to work and staring at myself in the mirror wasn’t going to pay my bills. As I lathered up up the loofa and began to run it over my body I winced encountering bruises that I had yet to notice. My lower back and both hips had light purple and blue marks. On my left hip I could clearly see the outline of his handprint, where each of his fingers and thumb had pressed into my flesh to keep me from squirming away.
For a moment I stared at the marks on my skin as emotion began to overwhelm me once again. Something about seeing the evidence of the violence shook me to the core. I dropped the loofa, and grabbed one side of the shower to steady myself, as I moved my other hand to my lower pelvis pausing before I gently touched myself in a further examination of the damage. The moment my fingers touched the sensitive skin of my labia I winced almost doubling over in pain. My genitals in their entirety were bruised and swollen, my vagina raw and so swollen that I couldn’t actually tell how extensive the damage really was. The inside of my thighs were also beginning to turn a light shade of purple brown sensitive to the touch. At that moment I collapsed to the bottom of the tub. I could emotionally deny what had happened between us, but I couldn’t escape the physical evidence.
I began to sob once again sitting there watching the water run down the shower drain as I curled up as tight as possible while sitting on my knees. It was then that I also noticed bruises on my wrists, which made my sobs even more intense. What did it all mean? Where did I go from here? I couldn’t run away. We were friends, but more than that he was my closest friend. My best friend. The only whom I could tell all my secrets to with out fear of judgement or retribution. Where could I go now? Who could I turn to now that HE had hurt me? Even then as I was still struggling to comprehend what had happened I was sitting in HIS shower, with HIS scent lingering and wafting through the steam slowly filling the room, HIS hair lingering around the shower drain.
That’s when the panic began. My heart began racing as my head began to spin, nausea and the inability to breath caught me off guard. I closed my eyes, the only thing I could think of to do as the water slowly began to fade from warm to cold. I was numb. Physically and emotional, numb sitting there in the darkness overwhelmed by reality and the trauma I had experienced.
As the water lost it’s last trace of warmth, my head stopped spinning and I opened my eyes. I stared at the drain a few moments more before I was finally able to pull myself off of the bottom of the tub. The panic had passed and I had decided that there was nothing that could be done. What had happened was now in the past and I was determined not to let it destroy me. I had to get to work. So I climbed out of the shower, quickly dried myself, found my uniform from the day before, dressed and left not sure if I would ever return to that place again.
As I continued on with my day, steadfast and determined the memories began to fade. My mind was occupied with the present, circumstances at work, and everything else in between. The overwhelming emotions began to subside the less and less I thought of the event. A few things remained, his hand on my breast, the kiss, his hand between my legs, but the violence and depravity of his willful disregard of my humanity faded into oblivion. So much so that when he called me later that evening and invited me to come over I happily agreed.
I had been working the late shift so by the time I arrived at his apartment the lights were low and he was getting ready for bed. The door was unlocked and I walked in just as I had so many nights previously. I called his name, and he replied from the bedroom. I balked slightly at meeting him in the bedroom and my heart began to race once again, a feeling of apprehension building in the pit of my stomach. It lasted only a moment as I made my way through the apartment and into the bedroom. He was laying on the bed, with the saddest most distressed look on his face I had ever seen. He patted the empty spot beside him motioning for me to join him. I kicked off my shoes and did just that.
As I crawled in beside him he took a deep breath before spitting out a rushed and frantic apology as he stared straight ahead, either not wanting to or unable to make eye contact.
“About last night. I’m really sorry.” He said nervously.
I tensed up nervous with anticipation, and replied: “What do you mean?” It was quite possibly the dumbest reply ever to an attempted apology but in the overwhelming situation my mind was racing so fast and furious it didn’t occur to me the what the apology was actually for. I had spent the entire day trying to repress and forget the memories of the night before, building up my courage to see him again, then this apology was thrown into my lap.
He paused, taking a few breaths, working up his own courage to continue and eventually said: “Last night, I got really intimate and… I… well… I thought you were someone else, and that you wanted to sleep with me, but you weren’t. You weren’t her and… you were crying. I mean… I’m really sorry, are you okay?” He stammered, finally turning his attention toward me, a look of grief, remorse, and a tiny bit of fear spread across his face.
I sat there momentarily trying to figure out if I was actually okay, or how to respond to his question accurately if I wasn’t. The moment passed briefly before I scooted over closer to him and answered: “I’m here, back in bed next to you aren’t I? If I wasn’t okay I wouldn’t be here.”
He looked at me searching my face for the truth, before he once again began to stammer: “Are you sure, because I mean… I never would have forced you to do anything if you didn’t want to. I mean… you didn’t really protest so… You… you like me. You wanted to sleep with me the first time you came to bed with me, didn’t you?” He said trying to justify his actions more to himself than to me.
I wasn’t really sure how to respond, still to this day, if I were placed in the situation again I don’t know how I would respond. All in all what happened was rape, but was is really? He wasn’t completely lucid mistaking me for another woman, as far as I could tell, and he appeared to have great remorse for what had happened. If I hadn’t made the choice to spend the night sleeping in his bed it never would have happened, so was he really the one who should bare the brunt of the blame, or was I? At that point in my life, I felt the blame fall squarely on myself, even though I had rejected his advances by pushing him away that night, and there had never been any discussion of sexual intimacy before hand.
After a few awkward moments of silence I said: “Well no, but I was in your bed and we never really discussed where our relationship was going so… it’s okay. I mean I don’t DISLIKE you, but I shouldn’t have been half naked in your bed if I didn’t want to give you the wrong impression.”
In that moment, that was exactly how I felt. I felt that instead of holding him accountable for his actions, I should instead blame myself. In the moment it was easier to accept the blame and fall into the self loathing I was accustomed to, further removing the event from my mind, blurring and repressing more and more as each fleeting moment passed.
He looked at me with the most sincere look I have ever seen from anyone, and said: “Well, I’m truly sorry, and it will never happen again. Can I have a hug?”
I obliged and he held me in silence restoring my sense of security until I fell asleep, once again in his bed.
Our friendship continued despite the attack, eventually blossoming into a dysfunctional romantic relationship. Through out our time together the sex was frequent and often rough, some falling into what I believed at the time was the “grey area” of consent. None of the other events were nearly as violent nor dehumanizing as the first, but damaging just the same. He was my first recurrent sexual partner. The only relationship I knew was ours. It never occurred to me that something was wrong. It was all what I had perceived as normal, grew accustomed to, and even enjoyed.
While I was completely unaware, he knew what had happened was wrong and he often brought it up in conversation. He would constantly question my motives for staying with him, and had completely convinced himself that the love I felt toward him could not be genuine. As much as he kept bringing it up, I never remembered the most violent rape as being our first sexual experience. Some things remained about that night. His hand on my breast, the kiss, his hand between my thighs, and the apology the next day but for whatever reason my memory recall stopped there. Whenever he referenced the first time we slept together a calm, tender, albeit incredibly awkward moment always came to mind.
When discussing the discrepancy in our memories became an issue, he often chose not to argue with me. The one time he pressed the issue I became greatly upset, firmly rooted in my denial. We never argued about it again, yet he continued to bring it up. Perhaps he was hoping that I would figure it out on my own, or perhaps he was protecting himself and his guilty conscious, either way I went on in blissful ignorance for many years even after our relationship ended and life took us in different directions.
It was only after I began treatment to address my out of control PTSD for reasons completely unrelated to him or rape that the real memories began to surface and the dissociation began to fade.