In an Instant
I never called it rape.
This is a letter long overdue. There are things I need to say to you — things I deserve to say to you.
I don’t even know where to start really. My life is good — great actually. I have an amazing husband — married for 15 years. I have beautiful identical twins girls who are 9 years old. We have a beautiful life — opportunities to travel, a mountain cabin to retreat to with creeks, deer, turkey and even bear . My husband has an excellent job which has allowed me to stay home with our children. My life is beautiful. But it is also shadowed. I live in the shadows of feelings and memories that still haunt me after 25 years.
Do you remember the fight we had on our first anniversary? We had been to the beach, and I guess on the way back we started arguing about something. I really have no idea what. But, at some point, you shouted at me something like “You rape me of all my ambitions!”. Without even thinking and not even knowing where it came from, I shouted back, “well, you raped me too, so I guess we’re even”. You were absolutely furious. You picked up a vase — a wedding gift — to throw across the room. “Do not throw that”, I commanded. So you ripped off your Ray-Band sunglasses, threw them on the floor and stomped on them. I don’t remember what happened after that. Probably a lot of apologizing and begging on my part telling you I was really sorry and I didn’t mean it and please forgive me. At some point we made up and went to have our first anniversary picture taken. A happy couple to hang on the wall.
I don’t remember if we ever discussed that fight again or what was said. I don’t remember if I personally ever gave it any thought or wondered where my words came from or what I really meant by it. I feel quite confident that I did not and just stuffed those thoughts and feelings back from whence they came. The fact that it took me another 11 years to utter them again, and here, an additional 14 years to claim them seems to support that theory.
I was recently thinking about relationships in which one person is assaulted. I wondered how the partner responded and what effect it had on the relationship. Then I wondered what I would say if someone asked me what my boyfriend had said. I realized the answer was, “he cried, said he was sorry, he told me he loved me, and then he raped me again.”
Some things to consider:
“Consent as the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question.
Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.
When you’re engaging in sexual activity, consent is about communication. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes.
It does NOT look like this:
Refusing to acknowledge “no”
Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past
Sexual coercion is when tactics like pressure, trickery, or emotional force are used to get someone to agree to sex.
(If) You are Having Sex To Avoid Angering Your Partner
If you know that turning someone down for sex might mean dealing with an explosively angry reaction, you are dealing with more than just sexual coercion — this is also a major red flag that you are in an abusive relationship. Sex should never be something that is done out of fear, or to protect yourself.”
At this point, you are probably pretty pissed and for all I know may not even finish this letter. But, unlike in our relationship, I don’t have to be afraid of your reactions or anger.
Do you remember the night that you took my virginity? Even before I could put words to what really happened, that is how I always thought of it. I never “lost” my virginity. It was taken from me. It was never offered to you, granted to you, or given to you. It was never agreed to or decided. It was taken. And you knew. You knew I didn’t want to have sex. I had told you countless times. I had stopped you countless times. You knew that it was important to me to wait until I was married. And, please don’t pretend you had any illusions of marrying me at that point. You had never even told me you loved me. You slept with your ex-fiancé two weeks later and later told me it wasn’t a big deal because “we weren’t that serious then”.
You knew I had stopped you the night before, but none of that mattered to you. I didn’t matter to you. What I wanted — or needed (to stay a virgin) never mattered to you. It was all, ALL, about you — your needs, your wants. You didn’t care that I had my period which I can tell you is absolutely NOT how any girl wants to have sex the first time. You didn’t care that we didn’t have protection. You didn’t care if I got pregnant. All you cared about was your needs in that moment. And you got lucky. Because I never felt you take the tampon out. And I had no idea what was happening or what I was feeling. I didn’t realize you were actually having sex with me. I had no idea.
Do you remember that it took me hours to process what had happened? In fact, it took all day. I had to sort through in my mind the clues I was finding — where was the tampon? Oh, here it is — on the floor. How did it get there? I don’t understand. What has happened to me? Why do I feel so weird? Did we have sex? Maybe it wasn’t really all-the-way in sex? Am I still a virgin?
Do you remember me asking you that question as we sat on the bed? You said you were sorry. You had tears in your eyes. You told me you really did love me.
And then you raped me. Again. And again. And again. And again. I did know what was happening, and at first, during those times, I did say no. I said stop. I asked you please. And you would enter me, and freeze. And I would beg, “please …”. And you would smile this little half smile at me and just look at me as if waiting to see what I was really going to do — almost daring me to do something. And then slowly you would start moving again to finish what you started. And I was raped. Again.
When I think back on it, your complete lack of respect for me is really astonishing. You had sex when you knew I didn’t want to. You had sex with me while I was on my period. You had sex with me in my bedroom with my parents in the house. You had sex with me in my sister’s room with other people there. When we were working on my granny’s house, we were sleeping on mattresses on the floor. You had sex with me with my father a few feet away. You had sex with me over and over and over without protection even when you promised to take care of it. It is a miracle I never got pregnant. You would get mad if I wanted you to wear a condom, “why should I even bother if I’m not going to enjoy it” you would pout. It never occurred to you that I couldn’t enjoy it while worrying if I was getting pregnant at that moment. Or that I never enjoyed it. Sex was never about me. Only you. Except, I guess to critique my reactions. “I don’t know why you don’t like sex. All the other girls I’ve slept with liked it.”
If I said no, really held my ground, you would get mad, pout and get all huffy. “You just turn me on so much” you would say. As if it was my fault you wanted to have sex with me. If I wasn’t so “pretty, sexy, whatever…”, you wouldn’t want me. Therefore I should finish what I started. I owed you. In the end, most of the time, I just gave up and gave in. I couldn’t afford to have you get mad and leave me. I couldn’t live with that and here’s why.
Being a virgin and waiting until I was married was the bedrock of my identity. I didn’t know much about myself. I didn’t believe people really liked me. I was often unhappy and depressed. I struggled with peer relationships and friends. But, I knew, I knew I would wait until I was married to have sex and that my husband would be the only person I ever slept with. It was who I was, who I wanted to be and the only thing I could imagine.
In an instant, you took that from me. In an instant, you changed the course of my whole life. You shattered my self-identity. You shattered my future. You shattered everything I knew about myself. I literally lost myself that day. If one’s DNA could actually be altered, mine was that day. In the days that followed I no longer knew who I was. Do you know that I took one of my exams that next week in my favorite blue soft shirt, sweatpants and while clutching my teddy bear? I was shaking the whole time. Do you know that I went to the Student Health Center — alone and scared — terrified I was pregnant — and when the Dr gave me the birth control prescription I told her I didn’t need it because it was NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN. She made me take it anyway. Did you know that when my mother found that prescription she left little post-it notes all over my room with bible verses and comments on how great it was to wait until marriage? Do you know that I didn’t fill that prescription for about 2 months until the point at which I realized I had no control over what was happening to me. I couldn’t trust you to do the right thing and wear a condom and I was going to get pregnant if I didn’t do something. The moment I decided to take the pills was the moment I gave up fighting you or pretending that I had any say in the matter or control of my own body.
Why in the hell didn’t I just break up with you after those first few times? Why was I so afraid of your reactions to the point that I no longer risked resisting? Because it was too late. It was too late after the first time. Once everything I valued was taken away and shattered, I was completely unable to imagine a future where I was someone who had had sex and was not a virgin and my husband would not be the only man I ever slept with. It was simply incomprehensible to me. I could have broken up with you — or pushed you off of me and refused to have sex with you in which case you would have broken up with me — but — then I would be that girl — a not–a-virgin girl. A girl who would go on and date and meet someone and have to tell him I wasn’t a virgin. And I did not know how to be that person. The only option was to make the reality the fantasy. My husband would be the only man I slept with. I have slept with a man. He has to be my husband. I cannot let him leave me.
I wanted to believe I could trust you. I wanted to believe you cared about what I wanted. I gave you so many chances to prove it, and you never did.
At some point, I gave up. I never wanted to have sex with you before we were married. Never. But, when I realized I didn’t have a choice, I tried to convince myself I did. I tried to convince myself that I wanted it and that it was ok. I tried to convince myself that the fact that I rarely felt anything at all was just the guilt. That the lying there and hoping it would be over as quickly as possible would end once we were married. Getting married would make it all better. Getting married would transform an unwanted act into a passionate response. I could relax. The guilt would go away. I would be able to enjoy it. Another fantasy that would never come true. On the second or third day of our honeymoon, I went outside and sat on the swing of our honeymoon cabin. We had just had sex. And it was awful. The guilt wasn’t gone and it didn’t feel good. And I spoke out loud into the silence of the afternoon, “Oh my God. What have I done? I have made a terrible mistake.”
A few more facts:
“Saying “no” multiple times and then saying “yes” once doesn’t equal real, obtained consent. This is called coerced consent, and it’s technically rape. “No” is supposed to mean “no.” Not “maybe I’ll change my mind if you keep asking.” And coerced consent isn’t really consent at all.”
Coercion is using manipulation against someone until they give in. When people are coerced, they are not saying “yes” on their own terms. This looks very different from consensual sexual activity.
Coercion is used in many sexual assaults. It can look different in different situations, but ultimately all coercion is manipulation.
pressuring (e.g. repeatedly asking someone until they are worn down)
It’s important to understand that the person was not given the space to freely say “no.”
It’s not that they did not say “no,” but that they could not say “no.””
Including the first time, in the almost 5 years we were together, I rarely gave consent for sex. Before we were married, I said no. I said stop. I said please. And you did it anyway. I was afraid. Afraid if I pushed the issue, you would get angry (which you did) and would leave me (which I couldn’t process as mentioned above and I believe you would have). Maybe we eventually reached a point where you were committed enough that you would not have left. Maybe. But, you would get mad. And that would be my fault. So, then I just gave in. I stopped fighting you for the most part. I just let it happen. Once we were married, my choices were even more limited. I HAD to have sex with you. Now I really didn’t have a choice. My body was yours, right? God said so. And still, on the rare occasions the first couple of years that I did say no, you would get mad. Eventually, I got better at pretending I was asleep when you came to bed so you wouldn’t bother me.
One more fact:
Rape isn’t sex. Rape — isn’t sex. It isn’t sex.
These particular three words hit me like a ton of bricks. When I first heard them, I sobbed for 45 minutes. Rape isn’t sex. It hit me hard because I could glimpse the implications of this statement. It would take a few more months to fully internalize it, but I finally understood.
The first time was rape. And the second time and the third time and the fourth. Eventually, I gave up and gave in. I surrendered in resignation realizing that I had no choice. Nothing I said mattered. And, surrendering out of exhaustion is not consent. Then, we were married, and I realized still, I had no choice. Nothing had changed. It wasn’t better. I still felt awful, but now, I really had no choice. You expected sex. You deserved it. I owed it to you. Obligation is not consent. Powerlessness over one’s own body is not consent.
And I realized. I never had sex. I had rape. For nearly five years, I was raped by someone who had almost no consideration for what I wanted or how I felt either emotionally or physically. Any failure to enjoy it on my part, was my failure. After all, all the other girls liked it. Not only did I get in trouble if I didn’t want sex, I got in trouble if I had sex and didn’t stroke your ego enough with my expressions of pleasure and enjoyment. There were a few times when I believe I made a choice. The last time in particular. In the house you were renting. I knew it was over. I knew it was the last time and I made the choice and in some way it was saying good-bye. There were a few times I chose. But, they were very few.
I was raped. I was raped for almost five years. Leaving the marriage, I had really no positive attitudes towards sex, few positive experiences with sex and the belief that it was because of a huge guilt complex. If I did it right next time, if I waited, it would all be ok. It was my chance for a do-over.
But rape isn’t just in your mind. It’s in your body. It’s in the fiber of your being. Although better with someone who really did love and care about me, my body only knew how to resist, how to defend itself, and how to protect itself. My mind thought it feared the guilt when what it really feared was the loss of control over my body and the ability to have a choice.
We did wait. And it didn’t matter. It wasn’t absolution I needed, it was the need to make decisions about my body. It was the need to have control over the choices that had been taken away from me in the past. Marriage took that away from me once more. And my body knew what my mind didn’t comprehend at the time. That without the feeling of complete control, I couldn’t find full consent.
It would be nice if just having issues with sex were the worst thing that has come with 25 years of shadows. It took 6 years after our divorce for me to ask my therapist — “Do you think I was raped?” It took 6 months to recover from the question. You’ve been on stage. You know that jittery, nervous feeling just before you start to sing. Your chest sort-of vibrates, you tremble a little. In PTSD, they call that acute anxiety. Imagine vibrating/trembling every day. All day. For almost 6 months. Imagine the years and years of nightmares about being slowly stabbed. You feel the point of the knife slowly enclave your skin — pushing down, down, but never quite cutting through. But you can feel the pain in your dreams as real as if it were happening to you awake. (it’s penetration symbolism, you see). Imagine being only able to think about one thing — complete obsession. What happened to me? Was it rape? Was it my fault? Imagine sitting in a chair with the lights low, talking to yourself and thinking — trying to work it all out, until you realize that several hours have passed and you don’t know how. Imagine the images of cutting that intrude into your mind and trying to hide the slices on your wrist while at the same time wishing desperately someone would notice and see how much pain you are in. Too many Ativan with too many Ambien are not a good combination and have the potential to make you blackout while you drive a car across a busy road without stopping and then it gets you admitted to the psych ward. For the second time. On the other hand, taking a combination of about 40 Benadryl and Lexapro is surprisingly incredibly ineffectual as a suicide method. I know. I tried. And even though it would be a couple of days before anyone realized what you had actually done, the suicide notes your mother found would be enough to earn you another trip to the psych ward.
But, nothing gets resolved. Nothing gets sorted out. Nothing really gets better. But, you have to function. You have to go on. So, you stuff it. You stuff the pain back down where it won’t destroy your life. But the shadows remain. And they never go away.
And then, one day, something happens. A trigger. And it all comes back. The trembling, the vibrating, the images, the lost time and hours spent crying in my car.
But, this time I am stronger. I can name it now. 25 years later. I can name that I was raped — over and over and over. But, I also have to name that the consequences are worse than ever. It’s been more than a year since I’ve had sex — maybe two — I really don’t know. I can’t remember. And the very thought of having sex makes my skin crawl and my body retract and makes me want to curl up on the floor. I don’t even want to be touched or kissed or held. I don’t understand romance, intimacy, or emotional connections. Even my connection to my children is a pale reflection of what it should be. There is a wall around me that I don’t let anyone pass. Sometimes I don’t even let myself pass it. In the 18 years we have been together, my husband has maybe seen me really cry maybe half a dozen times. I don’t do that — cry. I rarely do anyway, and when I do it’s alone. It’s always alone.
I spend a lot of time alone trying to be my own therapist. It’s how I’ve always done it. I don’t really do emotion with people. I don’t ask for help — I never have. I have always had to process and handle everything myself. I’m not even sure I have the capacity for the alternative. I can go into the Crisis Center and tell my modified story without shedding a tear and sit on my therapist’s couch for almost two years with only the occasional voice quiver, but the concept of connection and vulnerability are incomprehensible to me. I like the idea. I desperately ache to be able to have someone sit beside me and hold my hand while with every tear I give voice to quarter-century-old memories that still vividly haunt the present. I am wistful at the idea of comfort given in a hug at the end of the tears instead of the silence echoed in my car. But, that’s not a luxury I’ve ever had.
My life is great. I haven’t had a major depressive episode since 2003. My medication works. My husband is amazing and my children bring me great joy. I have many hobbies I enjoy. I started sewing. I’ve gotten into fish — I have several tanks. When I have clients I love my work as a real estate agent. I have some really good friends that love me (but even they don’t get past the wall). I keep my fishing equipment in my car and on beautiful days I stop everything and fish. We love our cabin and spending family time there. And, I love to go there alone and retreat. In October, we are planning a three week trip to Europe to visit friends and explore. My life is good and beautiful. And it is shadowed.
I would find it hard to imagine that you have given those years much thought over the past 20 since. I live with it every day. And, now, I still have the hard work to do. Hours of therapy trying to talk out loud using the words tampon, orgasm, and — rape. Support groups at the Rape Crisis center trying to find healing in the experiences of others. Journaling, reading, trying to be brave. Trying to create a better self for myself, my children and my husband. Trying to fight the shadows with new light.
I know you will say that you never meant it and had no idea. And, I actually believe that. And there was a time that I would have let you off the hook for that. But, it doesn’t excuse or change what happened or what you did to me. You will have to work out your own conscience for yourself. I am no longer responsible for protecting your feelings or making you feel better.
It’s been 25 years, but it’s like yesterday to me. Ever present, ever painful. In that one moment on our first anniversary, I spoke my first truth. It would take 24 more years to really find it again. But, I needed to speak it again. You raped me. You took away something precious to me, something I should have had the choice to give. And you took it over and over and over until I could simply gave up and relinquished what little there was left of me. You were selfish, disrespectful and only thought of yourself. You scared me both emotionally and at times physically. I tried to trust you and you failed me. You changed who I was that morning, December 6, 1992. You raped me. And I’m really sad and really sorry that happened to me. I didn’t deserve to be treated like that. I didn’t deserve to be ignored and not heard. And, I never, ever deserved to be raped.
I also do not deserve to live in the shadows, and I’m working really hard to overcome them. But, it has been a really long, long time. It’s hard for me to believe that the future will be much different from the past. I have little confidence that sex will ever be anything but emotionally excruciating for me. You took away from me — and my husband — any hope of something I am told is supposed to be special and beautiful and emotionally and well as physically intimate between two people. I don’t even understand what any of that means.
I will keep working and trying, but my fear is I will always be just a shadowed reflection of what I could have been as a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and person. But I have no choice except to keep trying. And for all of them — and especially for myself — I can only hope that in the end, it will be enough. I can only hope that, I, will be — enough.