Friday, October 12, 2012

The Girl I Pretend I Wasn't

A girl is walking in the dark.  Not totally dark, but that sort of dark that happens right before it becomes totally dark.  That is to say, it is not the middle of the night, but late in the evening when the sun has been gone for an hour or so, but it is early spring before the rolling forward of the clock so the night feels later than it is.  She has just finished work.  She is making her way to her friend’s house.  She is lost in a thought, maybe contemplating the spices woven in the scents of the dinners wafting from inside the houses she passes.  Maybe thinking of her friend’s funny little blue Datsun, wondering if it will come put-put-putting around the corner to meet her, as it sometimes does.  A car passes.  It passes again.  She notices as it drives by that the muffler is loose, and it makes too much noise for a car its size.  It has four doors.  

She hears the car behind her for the third time.  She hears the doors squeak open.  She hears loud footfall, like horses in a parade, she thinks.  Her vision fails a moment as a pain shoots from the top of her head down through her neck and spine.  Wha...?   It doesn’t compute.  It doesn’t make sense why she has lost her footing, but someone, or two someones? helps her up and then puts her into a car.  There is rust on the floorboard in the space between the front and back seats where she is confined, and she can see the road underneath her through the hole it has corroded through the metal.  

She feels something warm on her face and thinks that it must be blood.  She can’t move her hands to check because they are being held behind her and she is being pushed into the floor by something... maybe a foot? that all she can see is the road racing underneath her and the muffler must be just under and behind her because she can only hear the insanely loud rattle right next to her head and some faint voices.  And someone is laughing.  She can’t understand the voices.  She fights to lift her head, to untangle her arms from behind her.  It is the first time it occurs to her to fight.  Something is not right.  It is time to fight.

She fights.  

Her eyes weld shut with fury and fear and she fights blindly in the car.  When it stops and she is pushed out onto cold concrete, she fights.  When her jeans are pulled away and her two legs are held by two different men, she fights.  When the first man angrily pushes inside her and she feels herself being ripped apart, she fights.  He is angry.  She is angrier.  Her anger is exhausting. Then she is dissolving into the ground, she feels herself as a hole in the concrete.  A cigarette extinguished on her right shoulder re-ignites her rage.  She had been beginning to weaken then.  Fuck you.  She will not stop screaming.  She doesn’t know how long she has been screaming.  They want her to stop screaming.  She doesn’t.  Not for a long time, but she doesn’t know how long.  The meanest one of the four men, the one with hard, cruel eyes, has broken a bottle across her face.  Her left cheek sears when it splits open, then feels warm, then numb.  Her eyes close tightly against bits of glass but she doesn’t stop screaming.  Then another.  Another bottle maybe?  Her eyes are still closed.  Maybe this time a fist ...across her right cheek.  When he hits her in the mouth she bites her tongue.  My tongue... she stops screaming.  

Just like that.  

She stops fighting.  She lifts up and out of her body.  Her body, she surmises, is fucking useless anyway, to anyone except the four men occupying it.  Finding it useless to herself, she abandons it.  For hours.  For most of a year.

Hours later, she’ll go to the hospital, where she’ll learn that there is another hospital 20 miles away for victims of rape, but not that one.  They’ll arrange for transportation, they say.  She wants a shower.  She doesn’t want anything more in the world than a shower.  She wants a shower more than she wants justice for herself.  More than she wants revenge, more than she wants anything.  Intake processes and swabs and samples and dry questions from strangers about what she was doing and where she was going won’t get her clean.  Not nearly quickly enough.  She doesn’t care for justice anyway.  When she bit her tongue, she stopped fighting and checked herself into a self-induced mental and emotional coma.  She simply left herself there.

She is sixteen.

A year later, she won’t be able to remember where she went or for how long.  Vague details of her daily life are mostly blurred by her refusal to become human again: a job at a gas station selling lottery tickets and scheduling oil changes, a red polyester shirt with white snaps, a boyfriend who collected unemployment and went out late every night.  Sometimes he brought things home to her, like new boots or cans of biscuits.  She didn’t feel traumatized.  She didn’t feel like a victim.  Those traits are human.  She wasn’t.  She was simply a hole in the concrete.

So here is the question: was I raped?  Or was I only raped when I was fighting?  When I stopped screaming, stopped trying to kick anyone in the teeth... did I consent?  When I walked out of the automatic doors of the first hospital and went directly to a shower to wash away all the evidence, all the sticky shit under the filthy jeans I had to dig out from the dumpster they’d been thrown into, instead of accepting the ambulance ride to the other hospital for the “rape kit” ...Christ! like it’s a box of handy tools you tuck under the passenger seat of your car before a long trip? Honey, don’t forget to pack the rape kit... did I undo the crime?  

I emerged from that self-induced year-long coma one day, walked to the beach, paddled out past the break, bobbed in the water and tasted life for the first time, maybe ever.  It’s salty.  Life is salty, and it tickles your nose and dries up your sinuses and makes little bits of stuff stick to your skin, like sand and seaweed and shiny, golden flecks of pyrite.  And I still didn’t feel like a victim.  I felt human, though.  Entirely.  And inexplicably happy.  

I don’t eat canned biscuits anymore.  

That was a long time ago.  I’ve never written about it, but whenever anyone asks me why I’m so happy (though I rarely say why) I always remember why.  I’m happy not to be a hole in the concrete.  I’m happy that I can taste the salt.  When I think of that time, it’s exactly as I wrote it.  I can see it very clearly, but it’s someone else’s life.  Whatever tethered me to that girl has been severed and I can only empathize wholly and greatly with her.  You know someone like her, I guarantee you do.  And it’s all over the news these days, girls like her.  Victims of whatever the current lawmakers define as legitimate rape.  I listened to the vice-presidential debate about morality and policy and pro-choice and pro-life and I listened to a lawmaker, a congressman, state that there should be an exception for infringing on women’s reproductive rights in instances of incest and rape.  Let me make sure I’ve got this straight: the only time a woman should have complete access to reproductive health care (Plan B, abortion services, etc.) is if she is the victim of incest or legitimate rape? Then I wondered: what constitutes a good old fashioned legitimate rape these days, in 2012, anyway?  Let’s talk about legitimate rape, and the danger for women that there is even such a phrase in our modern vernacular.  

Last week, October 2, 2012, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to overturn the conviction of rapist Richard Fourtin, Jr., 28, citing that the 26 year old woman he assaulted in 2005 didn’t do enough to negate the advances of her attacker.  The victim, who has cerebral palsy, cannot speak and by most accounts can only move one finger.  But, ruled the Supreme Court of Connecticut, she could have bitten, kicked or screamed if she’d wanted to resist.  The trouble with this case is that the prosecution initially fucked the whole thing up by charging Fourtin with raping someone who was unconscious.  They stupidly equated her inability to communicate with unconsciousness.  She was conscious during the attack, but did not communicate her disapproval of his advances by kicking, biting or screaming.  It is of note that the victim’s testimony reportedly took four painstaking days, as the prosecution and defense asked her yes or no questions which she answered by pointing to the words Yes and No on a tray in front of her index finger.  She must not have had that card handy when Fourtin was raping her.

"We are not persuaded that the victim was either unconscious or so uncommunicative that she was physically incapable of manifesting to the defendant her lack of consent to sexual intercourse at the time of the alleged sexual assault," the high court ruled Monday.

Read more from the Connecticut Post if you like:

Is failing to properly say no the same thing as yes?  What is a proper no?  I can’t recall that I ever said no.  I have full verbal capacity.  I don’t communicate by tapping my finger.  I don’t think I ever said no, not even in a whisper.  Was that the same thing as: yes?  

Here is the slippery slope we’re on with regard to rape and reproductive rights (my guts scream RIGHTS! RIGHTS! RIGHTS! every time I use that phrase): who decides if you have been raped and whether you are granted access to medical services to terminate a resulting unwanted pregnancy?  How long does this process take?  If a woman walks out of the hospital that just refused to treat her and instead hides in the shower stall for three hours... was she un-raped?  If she is mute and can’t report it, was the assault imaginary?  If she is young, scared, angry, wants to ignore it, thinks she did something wrong... what fucking ever... who is writing the laws that determine whether or not she will be forced to carry a pregnancy that she does not want and did not ask for?  Every victim of assault has to find his or her own taste for salt again.  That’s on us.  It’s hard enough to get out past the breakers without some arbitrary policy in place about whether you have a legitimate claim to be there or not. The people having this conversation at the legislative level have no dog in this fight.

I got lucky today.  When I started to write this I didn’t know where it was going.  I figured it’d be abandoned as useless drivel because I’d have no way to wrap it up.  About the time I wrote the words “simply a hole in the concrete” it was time to close the computer and go have lunch with my 10 year old daughter at school.  On the way there, I was pretty sure I was going to throw up.  But I sat with her and her friends and we ate pumpkin bagels with peanut butter, washed down with cartons of cold milk, and I listened to those girls jab-jab-jabbering on about this and that and I felt indebted to her, to them, to tell this story for them. She’s not all that distant, really, that girl I pretend I wasn’t.

A note from my husband: don't feel sorry for this girl. This could be anyone's story. It just happens to be mine.


  1. Powerful stuff. I'm glad you kept writing and that you shared this out loud. For both of them - your daughter and the girl you used to be. I don't feel sorry for that girl. But I do feel empathy for her. Mostly I'm angry that this is even a mutha effing conversation in 2012.

  2. As someone who's trying to find the words to write her own story, thank you.

  3. Impossible to not respond to this moving story.

    Makes me wonder how anyone could do this to any human being but it also makes me mad that a presidential candidate could have pinned a vulnerable human being, who was assumed to be gay, down on the ground and cut his hair. It doesn't take much to understand why this presidential candidate isn't more understanding of women's reproductive rights as well as more caring of those who are not millionaires or billionaires. Mercy on us if this man inflicts his twisted Christian sensibility on this nation.

  4. That was very powerful, thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Your writing always impresses, and this is nothing short of superb. Bravo for having the capacity to regain (or discover?) your humanity in the span of a single year (with nothing nearly as brutal, my own early experience took decades before I could even come to consciously associate the term "sexual assault" with myself, thus giving the suppressed experiences the power to hijack the vast majority of my life)and for your commitment to a life of tasting the salt and sharing it with your readers. Your account of the Connecticut rapist galls, and I felt a burning fury in my gut as I read it. I'll go now and read the full story, but already it screams for an uprising. I repeatedly wonder, never with any satisfying answer, how the young women (or women of all ages, for that matter) of this country are not up in arms over the imminent and gathering threat to their rights. Their world hasn't heretofore included government-imposed restrictions on their sexual choices, and thus they can't seem to hear the drumbeat or infer its meaning. Those of us whose mothers fought for those rights, and those of us whose mothers were too timid to do so but were vastly relieved to share in the benefits, are all-too-cognizant of what's afoot. I'm reminded, with a shudder, of Margaret Atwood's A Hand Maid's Tale. Horrifying.

  6. My story is very similar to yours. You've said it much better than I can at the moment. Someday I'll be able to write it down without feeling like I have to un-tether myself emotionally first. Until then, thank you for being my voice.