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A few years ago I was raped. It was someone I’d known a long time. No knife or gun or anything like that.

Took me a few days to recognize what had happened. Take one degree in Women’s Studies, add it to a heightened feminist awareness, and you get the same confusion and self-doubt as every other victim experiences. Funny.

The day after it happened I apologized to him.

Took me a year to stop dwelling on it all the time. Now I only dwell on it a lot.

Understand: this did not happen in a vacuum. Bad things happened before. Bad things happened after. Some good things, too, but lots of bad. More than my fair share. So it goes.

Took me several years to decide to write about it. Here we are.

Silence is comforting. I’m beginning to understand, finally, why Alice Walker withdrew after she was seriously injured as a child. Never made sense to me before. Because I have to maintain a job and function in the world at large, I do not have the luxury of withdrawing into total silence — but I do have the option of retreating partway. 

So let me be clear. I don’t want to chat about this. I do not want your pity. I do not want the comments section below to turn into a sympathy card. Here is what you will be tempted to say:

“Oh my God, how terrible.” Yep. Sure is.

“I had no idea!” That’s because I didn’t tell you.

“You’re so brave.” No. Bravery has nothing to do with this. 

I’m talking about this because silence is not a good way to deal with violence at a societal level. Thank you, Women’s Studies degree and feminist awareness. I managed to learn something from you after all.

I’m talking about this because there is so much rage and sadness in me. Again: there are lots of causes. Probably genetics deserves a lot of the blame. A variety of unfortunate life circumstances have contributed. Being raped was just one of them.

Golly. I shouldn’t have dressed like that.

That is what we call gallows humor, for those of you playing along at home. That was a joke.

After I finish typing this I am going to sneak straight back to my cocoon of silence. Thank you for respecting that. If you have read this piece and feel compelled to contact me, okay. There are legitimate reasons, just like there’s legitimate rape.

That was another joke. Ha.

But mainly I just want to be left alone. This is particularly true if you are a friend of family member. If I had wanted to discuss it with you, I would have done so years ago.

“Raped” anagrams into drape, pared, and padre. “Rape” anagrams into reap, pare, pear, and aper. Now you know.

Others have it much worse. Children get raped. Some people get raped repeatedly. Some people get raped by family members. Some people get raped as part of war. Some people get raped to death. 

Human suffering does not measure on a comparative scale. You can only compare your pain to your own past experiences, and even then it’s difficult to judge, because memory does funny things. But I feel safe in supposing that my own pain is relatively mild.

I am not dismissing my own pain. It is horrible. I’m just observing that other people’s pain is more horrible.

That kind of pain changes you. I picked up the psychic equivalent of a chronically bad back. I can still function, basically, but it’s a lot harder, and some days it’s almost impossible to move. The trick is to go about your business without anyone noticing.

I haven’t healed fully and I doubt I ever will. I was depressed and anxious before I entered adulthood. 

There are good bits. Not as many as I’d like. But some. 

No message to leave you with. Sometimes life arranges itself into a tidy narrative. In this case I have no moral, no advice, no inspiration, no warning. In this case all I have is an ugly story with no lesson that offered no catharsis in the telling. Perhaps the next time I write here I will offer a picture of a kitten as a palate cleanser.


4 responses »

  1. Jessica,
    Thanks for being you. Persons of your intelligence, wit and candor are rare. E
    ven during brief encounters from behind the reference desk, you have indeed enriched the lives of those searching for enlightenment. A more suitably comprehensive response for sharing the data in this post will follow by separate e-mail. For the record the new book on Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell is pretty well done. You could easily be an advisor to Winston Churchill, Viceroys and desert Princes. Best regards from the Tidewater as Springtime arrives,

  2. Jessica, when I was 22, I lost a son to adoption and didn’t speak about it for over forty years. The most important fact of my life was something I kept hidden, and not a day went by when I didn’t think about him, wonder how he was, and long to see him again. I felt like an imposter in my own life, because even though I walked and talked like what I thought was a normal person, I felt anything but normal inside. It wasn’t until I married Mark and got my life in some sort of order that I felt able to take action and search for my son. I found him the day after his 44th birthday in 2012, and both of our lives have been transformed. Of course, we are thrilled to be reunited, but our journey hasn’t been smooth sailing. In fact, David is now in detox and headed for a residential rehab facility to deal with his alcoholism and PTSD. I am writing a book about my experiences, though I feel like I’m tempting fate every time I say that.

    What I want to say to you is “good for you” for speaking out. Carrying a dark secret keeps you enthralled to the idea of who you think you are. I found that by talking and living my truth I feel free for the first time in my adult life. I truly believe that secrecy is more damaging almost than the trauma itself. It certainly compounds it. By telling the truth you tell the world that the past doesn’t own you. You are a remarkable woman, and I wish you joy.

    Pam Mom to David, 46 (found by me 1/12); Tanner, 43; Dabbs, 40 (adopted from Vietnam ’74); Saskia, 37 Grandmommy to Jonas, 9, and Atticus, 4

  3. Thank you for sharing. I spent a lifetime not understanding my mother’s behavior, her pent up anger, her sexual randiness. I remember when her rapist died …. about 50 years after the event …. and she was still venting. I recall being critical of her and declaring that she needed to let it go, that he was still controlling her from the grave. It was beyond my understanding. Mom is dead now, and her anger and rage still haunt me. Does this make him the victor? Now having some control over my thoughts as well. Damn him. Damn the rape.

    • Rita: I don’t know if it makes him the victor. If it does, it’s a hollow victory. Just thinking aloud here, but part of why it’s such a horrible thing is that the victim’s suffering is wildly disproportionate to the victory of the rapist. He gets his jollies once — and honestly probably forgets about it a few months later — while the victim undergoes permanent psychological damage. And not just her, but her kid.


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