SAAM 2021: That Moment
“I am a survivor of not only one, but two separate sexual assaults. I don’t know why the second event is seared on my memory, and the first passed without hardly a memory at all. My therapist seems to think I was drugged the first time around, as the complete memories simply are not there. I remember before, I remember after, but the event itself is lost. Something happened in those few hours between 4am and 8am leaving the back door unlocked, my underwear was strewn across the room, and the scent of a strange cologne on my sheets, but the details of exactly what is lost forever.
The second event I can still remember as if it had happened yesterday. I can remember the scent of the room, the color, and pattern of the sheets, exactly what I was wearing, and exactly when it happened. I wasn’t always able to recall it so clearly. It met me mostly in flashbacks, and nightmares. Pieces and fragments of the entire memory have been lost in my trauma cycle.
These are the moments exactly as I remember them. It has been quite a long time and few details may be blurred, but that doesn’t discount the validity of what happened. Rape is rape. I rejected my attacker’s advances and he continued on despite it. The how, why or mechanics are pretty much irrelevant to all but those of us who have to live with them repeating in our heads.
I had fallen asleep in bed next to a close friend after recently moving into his apartment. The same situation had happened many times before without consequence. We spent most of our free time together, and late nights often turned into early mornings. Besides that, moving in so haphazardly with merely the clothes on my back I wasn’t prepared with furniture or a bed of my own. He offered an old mattress for me to sleep on, yet after spending so much time with him I never took him up on it. He was my mentor, my confidant, and my hero. I admired him, but most of all I trusted him. We were comfortable with each other, familiar like the oldest friends. Our friendship was physical as far as hugs, sharing each other’s personal space, and playful bantering back and forth went, but overall had remained platonic. There was no obvious indication that it would change, and I was perfectly content with what we had. I was young, just starting to branch out on my own away from the watchful eyes of my parents, and painfully innocent. It never occurred to me that he could want something more from me, least of all anything sexual.
I’ve always been frowzy, and back in those days, I was caught between wanting to flaunt my feminine sexuality and hide my ample figure under baggy shapeless clothes. There were days when I would venture out in a miniskirt and tank, but they were fleeting and far between. I didn’t even know what I wanted from myself, and especially not how to determine what others wanted from me. I don’t want to say that I walked right into a trap, or that he intentionally set me up to take advantage of me, but looking back on it now older and wiser I have to wonder… The person I innocently encountered through working together, and the person whom I grew so close to seemed to be two entirely different entities.
He was so dramatically different alone in his own home. As if he became a different person outside of the imposing and constant eye of the public. It was both comforting and a little disconcerting as he began to open up to me. He had shared that life hadn’t been going very well for him in the months prior to our meeting and pursuant friendship. His mood swings were frequent, and he was often unstable at best. Watching the happy go lucky, confident, often arrogant boy I had grown close to, become scared, insecure, and melancholy in the blink of an eye made my heartache. I had experienced a few of these episodes prior to the attack. Even though some of them were intense and frightening it gave me a deeper appreciation for his struggle. He hid his strife and pain so well in the company of others, but one on one when everything was still he broke out of his shackles; the constraints of society. He became real, raw, and so completely human. I had never felt more intimately connected with anyone than I did with him in those moments spent soothing a tortured soul back into the quiet rhythm of stability. Watching him endure the prison of his runaway emotions reminded me of myself. It was morbidly comforting to see that I wasn’t alone in my emotional suffering, even if the reasons we were suffering were different.
I was exhausted from a long afternoon and fell asleep quickly. I had my back turned to him as usual. Nothing out of the ordinary happened at first. It felt like the hundredth time we had slept beside one another.
And then he rolled over, put his arm around me and pulled me close. Pressed against my back, he slid his hand across my chest to rest on my left breast, which startled me from my sleep. It had happened so quickly and without any discussion. I wasn’t truly sure what was happening.
Lying there next to this man to whom I had become exceedingly close, with his hand touching me in such a personal place, was completely new. Physically, I wasn’t a virgin, but emotionally I was. It felt good, in a confusing, dangerous way. I lay there silently with my eyes wide open, waiting to see what would happen next. There was a brief moment during which I thought he had merely rolled over in his sleep and was unaware of his actions. I waited a few more moments and then gently removed his hand from my breast.
Once our boundaries were restored, I managed to return to sleep. As soon as I closed my eyes, his hand found its way back. This time, instead of letting it rest on top of my shirt, he slowly worked his hand underneath. He started gently touching my back before slowly moving his hand again to my breast, and then he began to caress me. The caress scared me. It was one thing if he had rolled over unaware of his actions, but his caresses signaled a deeper, darker intent.
Instead of waiting to see what happened next, I again removed his hand. This time, I threw it away from me. I hoped with my force he would get the message that I was not interested. Instead, immediately after I tossed his hand away, he returned to grab me in a much more forceful way. It was painful as he grabbed me and felt very possessive, as though my body didn’t belong to me, but, instead, belonged to Noah.
I tried to push his hand away once again, but this time he completely refused. I struggled briefly before his hand left my breast, and he then forced it between my thighs. I gasped and arched my back, trying to scoot away. I wasn’t so lucky. He forcefully rolled me from my side onto my back and held both my arms above my head. He continued to roughly violate me with his hand. He never removed my underwear but, instead, pushed it to the side. It became painful as he continued with great force. Suddenly, there was a transition. No longer was he violating me with his hand. Instead, he penetrated me. I only remember the pain.
The pain seared in me as he continued, harder and faster. I yelped as I struggled to free my arms, and I desperately tried to use my feet to push myself away from him. When that didn’t work, I tried to close my legs, anything to end the searing pain. When that didn’t work, I returned to my previous attempt to slide out of his grasp. I managed to scoot a few inches away from him, but the only thing it accomplished was to leave my head pressed uncomfortably into the headboard of the bed.
Any time I tried to get away from him, the force of his attack intensified. My neck was twisted at an uncomfortable forty-five degrees and my head smacked violently into the headboard with enough force that I felt blood trickle through my hair. I cried out once again. He then released my arms, grabbed my hips and pulled me back into himself. With my arms freed, I used every ounce of force I could muster, trying to push him away from me – to push him off. I connected a few solid blows on his chest before he pushed my arms aside and leaned in, putting his full body weight on top of me.
I couldn’t breathe. It was pitch black in the room, and I couldn’t see. Suddenly, he kissed me. Not a gentle, romantic kiss, but a forced kiss that seemed to rob my last bit of humanity. Whether it was the weight of his body on top of mine or the emotional weight of what was happening, the kiss caused something to snap inside of me. I yelped again and tears began to run down my face. I fought harder, finally succeeding in pushing him away.
The pain stopped, and I immediately rolled over onto my side. I curled my knees tightly to my chest and continued to sob. I was unable to process what had just happened. Instead of running away or calling for help, the only thing I could do was freeze and sob. I had no idea where Noah had gone. I only knew that he was no longer hurting me. When I realized that he could still be in bed with me, I quickly stifled my sobs, which was more difficult than I’d anticipated. Eventually, though, the tears stopped, exhaustion took over and I fell into a fitful sleep.
By the time my alarm went off, the sun was high in the sky, and my rapist had disappeared. He was no longer in the bed beside me, and I heard no telltale signs that he was home. It was odd he’d left without telling me, but not completely unusual.
As I stirred from sleep, the events of the night before became blurry and distant – as if I’d dreamed it. I stared at the ceiling, trying to process the thoughts 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 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 and made my way into the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror.
Through my tee-shirt, which exposed my navel, my breasts were barely shrouded. I stared a moment longer and then closed my eyes, hanging my head in self-disgust. “I might as well have climbed into his bed naked,” I mumbled.
After becoming so close, I’d thrown myself into his bed in a suggestive outfit. To use a horrible cliché, I felt that I had “asked” for it. How could I blame Noah for acting the way he did? If I truly hadn’t wanted him to make a move, I should have slept in my own bed. At that moment, as I questioned my own actions, guilt began to seep through my soul and I blamed myself. I blamed the victim. Me. How could I not? It was all I knew. I’d grown up in a society that places the weight on women to bear the responsibility of crimes against them.
As I stood in front of the mirror, with bloodshot eyes and a broken spirit, not once did the word rape cross my mind. Looking back on it now, I can see that what happened was most certainly a violent rape. But at that moment, immediately following the attack, I chose to think of it as “previously not discussed intimacy.” I shook my head. I was angry and frustrated. My frustration, however, as self-loathing took over, was more with myself than with him,
Shaking my head once again, I quickly undressed and hopped in the shower. I was due to report to work, and I knew that staring at myself in the mirror wasn’t going to pay my bills. I lathered up the loofa and ran it over my body, wincing as I encountered the bruises I had yet to notice. My lower back and both hips had light purple and blue marks. I could clearly see the outline of his handprint on my left hip where each of his fingers and thumb had pressed into my flesh as he tried to keep me from squirming away.
I stared at the marks on my skin as emotion overwhelmed me. Seeing the evidence of his violence shook me to my core. I dropped the loofa and grabbed one side of the shower to steady myself. It took a moment to build up my courage, and then I gently touched myself to further examine the damage he had done. My genitals in their entirety were bruised and swollen – so much so that I couldn’t tell how extensive the damage really was. My inner thighs were turning a light shade of purple-brown and sensitive to the touch. I collapsed to the bottom of the tub. In my head, I might be able to deny what had happened between us, but I couldn’t escape the physical evidence.
I couldn’t breathe. My ears were ringing. I was dizzy and nauseous, and I began to sob once again, my tears mixing with the water as it ran down the drain.
I fell to my knees and slumped against the side of the shower. Through my tears, I leaned forward, resting my forehead on the bottom of the tub with my arms stretched out in front of me. It was then, in horror, that I saw the bruises on my wrists. A small ring of greenish-brown had formed around the base of both hands, and I could no longer think clearly. What did it all mean? Where did I go from here? I couldn’t run away. We were not only roommates; he was my best friend – the only friend whom I could tell my secrets without fear of judgment. Where could I go? To whom could I turn now that HE had hurt me? Even then, as I struggled to comprehend what had happened, I was sitting in HIS shower, with HIS scent wafting through the steam slowly filling the room. It was HIS hair filling the shower drain.
I closed my eyes to block out the world and find a moment of peace as the water slowly turned from warm to cold. I was numb – physically and emotionally numb. Sitting there in the darkness, the trauma of it enveloped me, and my brain began to short circuit.
Soon the water lost its last trace of warmth, my head stopped spinning and I opened my eyes. I stared at the drain a few moments more before pulling myself up from the floor of the bathtub. The panic had passed, and I decided that there was nothing more I could do. What had happened, I reasoned, was now in the past, and I was determined not to let it destroy me. I had to get to work. I climbed from the shower and quickly dried, found my uniform, dressed and left.
As I continued on with my day, steadfast and determined, the memories began to fade. I focused on my work, the overwhelming emotions began to subside and the events of the night started to fade. 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 to ask when I was coming home, I happily told him. Not once did I consider that I should move out or call the police.
Our friendship continued despite the attack, eventually blossoming into a dysfunctional romantic relationship. Throughout 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. In short, he sexually abused me. 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 that I had perceived as normal, grew accustomed to, and even enjoyed.
While I was completely unaware, on some level he knew what he was doing was wrong. 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 brought 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 PTSD for reasons completely unrelated to him or rape that the real memories began to surface and the dissociation began to fade. I can remember exactly what I was doing when the full memory of the attack broke through to my conscious mind. My current husband and I had just moved into our first home with our young daughter. I was unpacking some boxes and found my old CD binder. I popped in a CD that my attacker had given me toward the end of our relationship. I hadn’t listened to it in years, but it was somewhat significant and nostalgic. As I listened closely to the lyrics I really hadn’t paid attention to before, everything about the relationship began to run through my head. I remembered where we had our first date, the circumstances that lead to us briefly living together, a few of our worst arguments; then suddenly as I was mulling over the memory of how our sexual relationship began, it hit me. I remembered his hand on my breast, I remembered his hand in between my legs; then instead of skipping like a broken record straight to the kiss I remembered the distinct transition from his hand to the forceful penetration of his penis, I remembered fighting, trying to get away, my head being smashed against the headboard. I almost started screaming as tears erupted from the bottom of my heart. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, all I could do was sit there and cry while my husband at work, and my daughter sleeping soundly in her crib.
I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know who to tell, or if I should tell anyone. I was still in the early stages of my marriage relationship with my husband and talking about the relationship I shared with my attacker before had caused unnecessary stress between us. I didn’t know what else to do except writing everything I remembered down in an attempt to heal wounds that I had been ignoring since the end of the relationship. Which is exactly what I did, in addition to seeking professional help.
The first time I wrote everything down, I had intended to publish it on my personal blog, which my rapist’s wife had found and been following for some time. The way I met her and the reasons she is still following my blog are a tale in itself, but I’m not taking the time to share that here. What’s important is that she was following and before I began publishing the ugliness of what happened between her husband and myself I decided to contact her. Thus allowing her to make the choice to continue or stop reading. Instead of avoiding conflict, I think it only inflamed it. Where she had only been following before, soon he and several of their friends were watching every step I made for the duration of my recovery. It took me two years before I felt comfortable enough to pen the words written here, and my rapist tried every trick in the book to get me to remain silent, barely stopping just short of physical violence.
I pressed on and continued writing and publishing various memories between us including the account of the attack enduring their harassment until the summer of 2016. As I was finally reaching a place of closure on the horror show relationship with my rapist, I wrote a very defiant post detailing how I felt about their treatment of me during my recovery, and attempt to emotionally manipulate me. It ended with a very long comment from her, and the first-ever comment from my rapist on my public writing. In his comment, he finally confessed his true desire for me was purely lust. I was a sex object to him, and nothing more. While he denied the rape itself, he confirmed every other abusive aspect of our relationship. In addition to that, he also denied the existence of any sort of sleep disturbances. It was that moment when another revelation smacked me awake from my post-trauma stupor. The story he told me about mistaking me for someone else the night of the attack was just that. It was a story, to keep me around to fulfill his sick sexual fantasies. It took me several days to come to terms with that, especially since I’d spent the better part of my recovery defending him based on the fact the most violent acts only occurred between us at night after I had fallen asleep. Once I came to terms with it, and after several vaguely threatening emails from him, I went to the police.
3,894 days after the attack. 1,825 days after the relationship came to an end. 1,095 days since the memory returned to my conscious mind. In the United States, the statute of limitations varies from state to state. The jurisdiction where the rape took place has a statute of 20 years. I got lucky. Showing up to file my report was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. I showed up at the local police station and told the officer that I needed to report an 11-year-old rape. He was very kind and encouraged me to stay, but he was also honest about the reality of my circumstances. After so much time had passed, and without any physical evidence it was really up to the prosecutor to determine if the case would move forward or not.
Every officer I spoke to was very kind and encouraged me to pursue the full extent of the law. I submitted copies of everything I had written about the attack, as well as an official statement, all of the contact I had between myself and my attacker, and that was that. I was told a detective would contact me, warned again that nothing much was likely to come of it without hard physical evidence, and sent on my way. It was three weeks before I heard from the detective. By that point I had assumed that seeing the date of the crime, my report had been filed or tossed aside to make way for more current crimes. It was something I was prepared for as I took the step to come forward, and I felt comfortable simply knowing that I had done the right thing even if it was too late for my rapist to see justice. That is until got a phone call from the detective. I missed him the first time, and another week went by before we were able to reconnect. One month after I filed my report, the detective took the next step of gathering a statement from my rapist.
Thankfully, because the police were now involved the immediate fall out from my rapist and his wife was minimal. Where they had previously contacted me directly they left me alone. Through word of mouth and mutual friends, I was informed of a social media video directed at me, but otherwise, things were kept relatively peaceful. It was the best, most liberating, feeling I’ve ever had. The weight has been lifted off of me; the memory is just a memory now, not a flashback or overwhelming experience. The fact that my rapist is still following my social media closely no longer bothers me. Whatever he might say, as crude, abusive, or threatening, as it might be no longer bothers me even on my worst days when the PTSD I inherited kicks in and starts shuffling through all of the various traumas in my life. His part no longer bothers me.
What does bother me is seeing so many other women, or even men, suffer in silence because of the shame associated with speaking out about sex crimes? Even as a victim myself, I wasted so much time trying to rationalize and justify what happened as something other than rape, because it’s easier to talk about. “He threw me across the room into a dresser” is so much easier to say than “he raped me.” I still physically choke on the word: rape. I have a very hard time saying it out loud without tears and heart-racing full of panic. That is exactly why we need to talk about it.
Even in the current climate, where the circus that was the United States 2016 election, continues to bring sexual assault to the forefront of discussion; victims will cry out momentarily only to slip back into silence shortly after. Personally, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered why I didn’t hesitate to fight back during the act of the assault itself but stopped fighting when it came to pressing charges and speaking out against sexual violence. I’ve been through a lot in my thirty-plus years, enough that I’m more comfortable facing adversity than without it. I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor. I’m not going to remain silent about this anymore. I will take any and every opportunity to share my story. Not out of hatred, or jealousy, or revenge, attention-seeking, or any other excuse that is tossed around as a means to shame or silence me. I’m never going to stop talking about it because it matters. It needs to be said.
I’m Rebecca. A man whom I later fell in love, and entered a consensual sexual relationship with raped me. The memories were repressed for five years after the rape itself, I chose to remain silent for two years after they resurfaced, and waited an additional year after first speaking out to make my report to law enforcement. I will remain silent no more.”
To read more of Rebecca’s thoughts on surviving and overcoming sexually based crimes you can find Turquoise Boot Straps: A Survivor’s Thoughts on Amazon or by following the shop link above. Kindle and Paperback versions available now.
Copyright R. MacCeile 2019