For the past seven years, right around this time I find myself anxious without just cause. Jitters and jumpiness, leaping lizards and all sorts of other springy-bouncy feelings zip through my nervous system, my body tensing for no reason as I rest my weary head moments before sleep. Finally I look at the calendar and realize, ah-ha, it’s almost my rape-iversary. And then it all makes sense.
When I think back on what happened (ugh fine, the rape. Can’t I just call it “what happened”? Naming it feels realer than it needs to. Which of course reminds me of something Dumbledore said: “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Fine, fine, let me start this who sentence over). When I think back on the rape, my rape, the first thing I think about is manners.
Fifteen years before being raped, at age 10, a boy in my fifth-grade class took a liking to me. I was flattered, for a day. But I wasn’t interested in “going-out” as we called it back then. Or even in just being friends. The boy proceeded to start professing his undying love for me, day after day. There were notes. There were kissy faces. There were comments. As one point while watching a movie about the lives of Michelangelo and Da Vinci, he managed to nudge my butt a few times before boldly running his hand down my leg. Eventually, there was a messenger, a letter, and ring. The principal began using the term “sexual harassment.” My parents said the boy had very bad manners.
That kid did not rape me. But recalling that story always makes me wonder about the correlation between bad manners and rape, about where the line is between someone who isn’t clear on social boundaries and norms, and someone who is going to force themselves onto you. I can’t help but wonder if my rapist was ever told he had bad manners. He must have been, because when I confronted him about how I had said no, he said something to the effect of, “Ugh, why do all girls say that?” Sometimes, I’m glad the guy would never classify it as rape. Maybe it’s the whole naming thing. At least he was afraid too.
The rape – my rape – happened on a night like many others. There was nothing remarkable about it. Block-party style post-work drinking extravaganza – one of several I’d went to before (though none I attended after). Tons of friends swirled around like a washing machine slowly moving everyone through, keeping tabs on one another, before it went into the spin cycle. There are photos of me from that night. I look happy in early-fall attire (which for the Bay Area mostly meant a light hoodie), and I remember feeling happy. I remember that night because for the first time in years I didn’t feel invisible. I felt alively in the moment.
He – the guy – invited me to his place along with a 12 pack of beer. I went, too naive to clarify my expectations against his (who knows if this would mattered in the outcome). Making out got out of hand, I refused over and over again, but eventually not even a condom was used. Afterward I laid there, stunned. He turned on the TV and suggested it would be weird if I stayed the night. With eyes like a deer in perpetual headlights, I went home and steamed up the shower in a very drought-unfriendly way.
My heart palpitated all night long.
A close friend of mine recently found out this whole rape-thing had happened. “Did you tell anyone?” she asked me. Whether she meant police or parents or friends, I didn’t know. Regardless, the answer was the same.
“No,” I replied.
I wasn’t even sure it had happened for awhile; I thought maybe it was just the outcome of two adults and some booze. I figured this might be like a ten year old running his hand down your leg. It might be normal, albeit bad-mannered, life.
I don’t think much about the rape anymore in my day-to-day routine. Not when people use the word lightly, not when it’s the tale end of a joke. Only when I read first hand accounts of rape, or when someone argues that men who verbally assault women simply have bad manners does the memory bubble to the surface, the accompanying feelings, the shock of it, the aftermath. Why why why were you stupid enough to let yourself be raped in the first place? I think to myself. But that’s always followed by, I was so lucky. It clearly could have been a lot worse.
Could have been a lot better, I suppose, too. But could have been worse.
I know I’m being vague in terms of details about him. It’s because I’m still scared shitless of the guy, despite what I believe to now be thousands of literal miles between us. As if he was going to come out of a black hole and strangle me at any moment should I talk about him or go into detail about what happened, thought I doubt he’s given me much of a second thought. I’m still afraid of a seven-year past boogie man who I have silently vowed to never say the “r” word in conjunction with his name, provided he won’t hurt me again.