I grew up in an abusive home. A lot of the bad things that can happen to a person have happened to me. I don’t have the time or energy to tell that whole story right now. So I will tell you one, just one story in a string of the types of stories that almost every woman has. If you think that ANY woman escapes having at least one of these stories, well you are fucking wrong. Look to your right, and to your left, at the women in your life. They all have stories…
I have been widely and historically considered to be a “strong” woman, and this happened to me. Today, this is the story I choose to tell. This is the only story I have the strength for at the moment, and sadly, it is one of the easier ones.
I had just turned 21 years old. Six months prior, my big brother, who was my hero and someone more dear to me than life itself, shot himself to death and left me here. I started a new job at a hospital 5 months later, after leaving my last one in a haze of grief and being near-catatonic in the interim (unless playing The Sims in your pajamas for 8 hours straight and sleeping the rest of the time counts as “activity”). I had only had two boyfriends up until that point- had only slept with two people. Both had been amazing, wonderful boys who were good to me and in fact, TOO good for me. I knew it. I knew how damaged I was by then. I needed to be alone. I was better off not hurting anyone else.
I started this new job and immediately had more attention from men than I had previously ever encountered. It never even occurred to me they would lie to me, or push me, or be duplicitous. That had simply not been in my life experience. When one particular doctor started to ask me out, I turned him down instantly. I was just coming off a breakup, dealing with my brother’s death and anyway, the distance between 21 and 30-ish is VAST when you are 21… but a strange thing happened. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I was so numb, so devastated by my loss… I just somehow, lost my “strength”. He wore me down. I let him take me out to dinner, let him tell me about his loveless marriage (which I didn’t give a shit about), let him visit me at my friend’s house where I was currently living and just talk to me for hours. I let him cook for me.
By the time I was at his apartment and he was aggressively whispering in my ear and pawing me, I simply knew that I had let it get too far. I was practically physically repulsed by him, but that didn’t matter. I had to let him sleep with me now, because otherwise I was a tease. A bitch. And I had no energy to be either of those things. Without my brother, at that time- I was nothing. Who cared what happened to my body. This wasn’t even a question to me at that point- in 2001 there were no Tumblr blogs about rape culture- no popular feminist blogs I knew of telling me my enthusiastic consent was more important than a man’s ego. There was only the patriarchy, which I completely bought into, that told me, without question, I had brought this on myself and had no other option than to give in.
After that night, I cut him off completely. He acted tragic, called me for a while… then gave up. He was married, after all. And the worst part is- years later when I would be in (at the time) a loving relationship that lasted almost six years, I still could not admit that it had happened, because I was so terrified of my boyfriend’s opinion of me changing. Because it was MY fault. I should have been stronger. Physically, I could have stopped it- he would have been fired from the program if he had become violent and I reported him. My fault. I had said NO a few times, as it was starting- but he pushed past my no and by the time we were having sex- I stopped saying no. I just laid there until it was over. My brain left my body and I just thought of other things, and I tried like hell not to think of what my dead brother would think of me now. My brother who thought I was perfect.
Was I raped? To tell you the truth, I still don’t know. I’m not sure it even matters. What I do know is that a man who was more than ten years older than I was knew exactly what I was going through, and knew exactly how to take advantage of it. But the point is- I am salting and burning the shame that has prevented me from telling this story for 15 years. Purely in the hope that it will reach other girls who have similarly muddy stories. To tell them, and my 21 year-old, grief-stricken self: It is not your fault. Whatever happened, however you need to see it or however you define it- it was never your fault.
Photo credit to my brother, Jonathan