Sometimes, you say nothing.
You know you should speak. You know that it’s better to say something, anything, even if it isn’t “no.” But you don’t. Why bother? You can’t talk with your mouth full.
You know you should push away — you want to push away — and you could, maybe. But you’re struggling to breathe, to not vomit, to do whatever it is that will get this over with quickly. You vomit a little anyway. You swallow it, and keep going. Maybe it’ll be over soon.
You know he’s choking you. But honestly, he’s always choking you — with or without his hands. He never asks if it’s okay; he just does it.
You know he has a loose grasp of consent at best. You’ve always known it. You tell yourself it’s just you, so it’s fine. Because all sex is like this, probably. And even if it isn’t, you don’t deserve any better. Not probably; definitely.
You know you should react, but you don’t. You’re just numb. You think: “Oh, I guess this is happening.” Why else would you come here? Why else would you stay with his couch-surfing ass in his friend’s apartment, full of trash and cat piss and a bathroom cup of mysterious syringe needles? What did you expect?
You know this isn’t okay. But you say nothing.
Sometimes, you pretend it’s a funny story.
You make up a cute title for it and everything. Laughing with a friend, you say: “Hey, did I ever tell you about…?” And they laugh too. Who wouldn’t laugh about an unexpected sexual encounter in the middle of watching a sci-fi movie?
You try to transmute the pain into comedy. What else is comedy for? You tell yourself that it’s a funny story, really, when you think about it.
You don’t think about it.
You do anything and everything not to think about it.
You know thinking means feeling. And it’s a funny story. Really.
Sometimes, you find out it wasn’t just you.
You must have known this. He was having sex with so many other people at the time. Well aware of this, you got tested every time he talked you out of using a condom. He talked you out of condoms more often than not.
You gain self-respect and stop sleeping with him. That’s when your friend comes forward on social media and says he raped them, and another person says the same. Then another. And another.
You hear what happened to them and cram your pain down further. It seems so insignificant compared to what they say. If what happened to you happened to anyone else, you wouldn’t hesitate to call it rape. But it was you, so it wasn’t rape. Not really.
You think of the time you met someone else he’d slept with. How you laughed together while swapping stories about the cruel shit he did. Neither of you called it cruel; it’s just how he was. You think of how you joked that there should be a support group for people who’d had sex with him.
You think of that every goddamn day.
You don’t need the support group now. Because it wasn’t rape. Not really.
Sometimes, it hits you years later.
You think about it while driving or cleaning or working or whatever-the-hell you were doing and realize it was rape.
You know you should react. It’s a big deal. But instead you’re just annoyed. You think: “Oh great, guess I can throw that on top of the layer cake of trauma I’m already dealing with.” It’s so much easier to be annoyed and file it away with the rest of the trauma.
You mention it in therapy. But when your therapist asks how you feel, you sort of shrug it off. Sure it messed a lot of stuff up, but what hasn’t? Anyway it’s not as bad as what happened to the other survivors. And it’s too late to do anything about it. So why bother getting upset?
You need to get upset. You don’t get upset.
Sometimes, you realize the extent of the damage.
You notice how you can’t watch the movie you were watching with him when it happened.
You realize your gag reflex has been in overdrive ever since. That you can barely swallow your daily antidepressants without coughing the water back up.
You notice how anxious you always feel, how you’re waiting for your friends and lovers to betray you.
You mention it to your new partners, more as an explanation than for sympathy. They’re angry. They want to teach your rapist a lesson.
You know your rapist isn’t capable of learning anything. But maybe you are.
Sometimes, you say something.
You don’t really know why, but you do. Even though you’ve waited several years. You know that’s too long for anyone to believe you. Besides, your friends already cut ties with your rapist. There’s no point. Right?
You see a friend chatting with him on social media. Friendly. Cheerful. Laughing. As if this friend hadn’t just made a big deal about how they support sexual assault survivors. As if several people hadn’t made it clear what your rapist had done to them.
You know it’s hopeless, because you’ve seen this before. Everyone supports survivors right up until it’s their friend who’s accused. Then suddenly it’s different — no proof, no witnesses, no problem. Or it’s enough that their friend “feels bad” about it, even if they haven’t even tried to apologize or make amends. Other people have done slightly less than rape to you, and that’s how mutual friends always react. You wonder how many people have been hurt by those excuses.
You wonder if talking about it will make any difference, if it will help anybody else. Maybe it won’t. But maybe it will.
You decide you can’t keep quiet anymore.
You don’t know what will happen.
You say something anyway.