(72): The Night that Changed My Life: An Account of Rape and Home Invasion

Image (cropped) by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr. License

I started writing three different posts today, and I realized that all of them rely on the backstory of my long-ago experience of rape and home invasion. I suppose I should tell that story first and why it changed my outlook and focus on life. It was a long, long time ago in a college town far away. The summer of 1990, my first semester in graduate school. I had just moved into an off-campus house off the main parkway. Unbeknownst to me, there was access from some low rent apartments hidden behind thick overgrowth. And thus, it was from one of those apartments that my menace emerged.

One evening in July, after I had spent a couple hours reading on the couch, I retired to my bedroom, which was still only about half-unpacked. Boxes lined the bed and walls; I turned all the lights off except a night light in the kitchen (I wasn’t scared of the dark at all, just afraid I’d trip over my newly adopted kitten who was wandering at will through the house). At about 2:30 a.m. I woke, groggy, watching a creeping shadow in the doorway. In my stupor, I called out “Hello, who’s there?” I know that’s a stereotypically idiotic thing to say to a potential home invader, but I think I was still asleep at the time. I woke up right smart when he lunged and pressed me down with his body. At the instant I heard a knife clatter on the floor.

It was so dark, I couldn’t see any detail of his face and only knew he was standard build from the shadow he cast. Perhaps this is what kept me alive, I don’t know. But he told me not to cry out (putting his hand over my mouth just to make sure, then taping it for good measure) and positioned himself on top of me. He was removing his trousers. I endured the rape while involuntarily crying out in a muffled way at intervals, then ceasing when he threatened me.

When the rape was over, he tied me hog style, my feet drawn up behind me and tied to my arms behind my back. I remember thinking at the time that he was doing a piss-poor job of it, and I would be able to get myself free very quickly. But I also knew better than to try it while he was still there. One of the big ironies of my situation was that, in the box situated right behind the head of my bed, was a Smith & Wesson .38 Police Special revolver, zipped up in its case, unloaded with 6 shells in the case with it. (I wrote about the gun angle of my encounter here).

My assailant left me, gagged and hog-tied, while he looked for something to steal. I waited until I no longer heard any movement in the house, then easily untied myself, silently dug the gun out of the box, loaded the chambers, and swept every room of the house. Then I called 9–1–1. I suppose my rape experience was what you might call “textbook.” The police arrived as I sat on my couch with my gun in front of me on the coffee table. They took me to the local medical center, where I waited about 2 hours to get a rape kit taken, then back to the police station, where I gave a statement.

My life right after that was surreal. The strange way others reacted when they heard what happened to me gave rise to a feeling of otherworldliness. I was absurdly amused by the fact that I was able to go out to dinner the next day and pay for it with $40 that had been in my purse on the night in question but which my assailant never found because I was gagged and couldn’t tell him I had the money in my purse. I remember laughing unusually loudly at that irony.

Every little thing was new and exciting, that is, until the aftershocks of fear kicked in. I managed to stay with friends for a couple of weeks, and I never went outside alone. Then I moved to a different house — one with a roommate. She had 6 cats and a big dog. I was comforted. But it took the installation of poor-man’s window locks to really make it so I could sleep at night — mostly.

For at least a year after that, I still entered empty houses and rooms with extreme care. I had been known to wake up and sweep the house with the .38, just in case. My father had only given me that gun a couple of months before the attack. But I practiced with it after that. It was relatively heavy, with a 4 inch barrel, so I could easily aim it by looking down the barrel sights. However, I do realize that it won’t necessarily keep me safe.

In a way, it was just bad luck and lack of awareness that led me into the situation I found myself in that night. I had no real concept of household security, as this was the first time I had lived alone with no roommate, in a detached house. I didn’t think about locking the windows (which was the method of his entry), and I didn’t consider the danger of the part of town I had moved to. There were so many things I didn’t think about. I’m not saying that these resulted in my attack, only that they were things that I had never thought about except after the fact.

I had the rudest of rude awakenings, but in a strange way, it enriched my life. I would never have taken martial arts training, and I would never have understood the concept of the fire of full-intentioned engagement without this encounter. There is nothing like facing death to make one feel alive. Death is more than a philosophical concept to me now; I’ve faced it, looked it in the eye and shaken its hand. I was firmly convinced I’d be leaving the party with Death, but it was not to be — not this time.

The hard part comes in the quiet spaces, when nothing is happening; I hear the clocks ticking, the house settling, perhaps an animal on the porch. I still twitch and rise in the night to check on odd sounds outside. I still have skin crawlies even in the middle of nowhere when I let my dog outside at 3 a.m., wondering if someone is waiting on the porch. These feelings don’t intrude as much now as they used to; after all, it has been over a quarter century since it happened. But the door is open, and the shadow of the experience will never go away.