It’s been five years since the last time I was raped. It’s awful to have to say it that way, the last time. To be honest, I don’t actually know how many times there were. I don’t know the first time nor how many in between. That’s the thing with memory loss, I may never know. But I do remember three times, and the last time, well, the last time was different.
Five years since I left my last abusive relationship, about the same amount of time I spent in abusive relationships. Two guys totalling five years. Over ten years since the first began. I still remember the date. I still remember how it all began. A mutual friend set us up. Said we seemed good together. Our first date was at the mall. Ours moms drove us each there. That was the first date of many, the first of many firsts. First kiss. First for everything that comes after kissing. First abuser.
It was so cliché, you know, how I figured it out. I was in the bathroom at college and saw one of those posters with the signs of emotional abuse. As I read the poster I mentally checked off everything that fit our relationship. Every single sign was checked off. He had tried to keep me away from friends. Tried to isolate me. He had even threatened suicide when I did things he didn’t like. The poster was the wake up call for me my friends were trying to be. They had tried to help me see my relationship for what it was, but I hadn’t listened.
After I ended things, it was only a few months before I found someone new. He seemed wonderful at first. He doted upon me and made me feel special. Yet after a little while, things started to change and that’s where my memories go dark.
The next two years are largely absent save a few errant memories. Not only is the relationship a blank, but all the good times are missing as well. My friends from that time will tell stories I can’t remember. Occasionally, as they speak, a memory will piece back together from the abyss, but the small specks in the darkness barely speckle the sky of my memory of that time.
My memories start back up with my rape. The last time he raped me. While I don’t remember any prior times, I do have record of at least one other in an online journal I kept at the time. Apparently I broke up with him after that time as well. It was a strange moment when someone referenced the first time I broke up with him and I had no memory of it. I started searching through my old writings which is when I came across writings of the other rape. It’s odd to read about my own rape but not remember. To read my own words etched in time, yet have no recollection of writing them.
It’s been five years and I’m still missing those two. The two years stolen from me by trauma. A hazy maze of stuttered memories left behind in the wake of what my mind couldn’t handle.
After that rape, I stayed for a little while. I didn’t have the words to make sense of what happened. He was my boyfriend and despite all logic or reason, I loved him. Yet, when I finally found the word one night, the word to describe what had transpired, the word for what he did, I knew I had to end it.
At first, he seemed remorseful, but then he turned to attacking me. Said it was my fault, everything was always my fault. Said I wanted it. Said I had liked it in the past so what was wrong. At the time, I wasn’t so sure he was wrong.
I tried to forget about it. Pretend everything was fine. I didn’t want to let it affect me. But then, on a night that remains crystal clear amongst my clouded recollections, I broke. The guilt and shame and disgust I held came crashing over me. I spent that cold October night sitting on the stoop, chain-smoking for the first time, tears pouring in unending streams down my face.
Not long after, on October 28th, I went out with my best friend for Halloween. We went out to celebrate and dance and have a good time. I wanted so desperately to just have a good time and pretend everything was fine. We had fun. We met up with friends, danced, and did have a good time. Then I met a guy. We danced together. In a moment of reckless abandon, I invited him back to my place. This is where some people start to blame me. I shouldn’t have done that. It was irresponsible. When we got back, I did some things with him consensually. That’s where I lose even more people. Obviously shouldn’t have done that. Then he wanted to go further, somewhere I did not want to go at all. I told him no. Again and again in a way that echoed across time.
You see, time is a funny thing. It can twist and warp and flicker. Some days flick by in a blur, gone before we can truly appreciate their beauty. Then there are the moments that stretch out so thin that it seems as if time has frozen and this moment is all that will ever be. Even when the moment itself has ended, it still continues to play tricks with time. Hours blink by without recollection. Time jumps backwards, back to that infamous moment. That one moment seems to bleed into all others, a ghost always lingering in the room. A ghost that cannot be escaped or ignored.
A new ghost joined me that night that October night. Fitting for Halloween, my favorite holiday. I spent the next day with the police. Eight excruciating hours of tearing into my freshest wound, telling the story again and again. Letting officers examine my room, my bed, my clothes. Letting the hospital examine my body to see if I was lying.
I was asked what I was wearing by men who clearly saw me as a reckless college girl who hadn’t been careful enough. I was asked what I was drinking, how much, why. I was asked why I brought him home. Asked why I did anything with him at all.
Five years ago I was raped for the last time. Five years ago I was a broken mess of trauma and shame and guilt and fear.
Five years ago, with the help of friends, I started to build myself back up again. I began reading. I read stories of other survivors. I read through RAINN’s website. I read about ways to cope with trauma. I started reading up on feminism.
The following spring, I jumped out of a plane to raise money to help other victims of rape. I talked to the school newspaper about what I was doing and why. That was the first time I told my story publicly.
The next spring, I spoke at my college’s Take Back the Night. I spoke not only about the trauma inflicted by my rapist but the role my school played in the aftermath. I told of the psychologist who told me I needed to remember it was “at least half [my] fault.”
I began speaking at high schools and colleges in the area. Telling my story and working to inspire others to do their part in the fight against rape culture.
The following year, I appeared on national tv to talk about rape culture on college campuses.
Five years ago, I was raped for the last time. Five years ago, I left my rapist ex. Five years ago, I changed. Five years ago, I started on my path to feminism which led me to social justice and my passion to fight other forms of oppression, like ableism, as well.
Five years ago, my life drastically changed. While I certainly would not wish rape upon anyone, nor am I glad that it happened, I can see the good that has risen out of the pain. I appreciate the path I found as a result. My passion for helping others rose out of time of brokenness that I recovered from thanks to the help of wonderful friends who helped me through.
On the five year anniversary, I will gather with friends and celebrate a holiday I love that I refuse to have stolen from me. Despite the pain that inevitably comes each year, I will not let those men steal from me more than they have. My celebration an act of defiance and reclamation.