Thursday, April 04, 2013

What They Say


The big topic around the Internet a few weeks ago was the Steubenville rape case. I actually started writing this then, but then I got sick and then time went on, the media focused on other things, and it sat unfinished. But it still has to go somewhere, so here it is. Back to the case, I was not following it closely. I wasn't reading tweets or looking at videos or paying a whole lot of attention to the details of the case. But it was there, just outside my vision - something to pay attention to without diving too far in. Diving in meant memories, you see, and they're hard enough to get out of my head on a good day.

But still, I was interested in the verdict as much as any woman, as much as any crime victim, should have been. "Delinquent," which means guilty on the juvenile side of court, and a year or more in detention. Good. Very good.

And then the country reacted, and it shocked me. News agencies talked about the case, but not about the victim and how she would hopefully get a sense of justice, or maybe find it easier to heal and move on. No, about the criminals, boys but still convicted criminals. Before I go into that, I feel I should point out that I have a fair amount of empathy for people who do wrong - Monty's plight should be evidence enough of that. At the same time, Monty never physically hurt anyone, least of all me. For whatever he is, even his own kind of monster, he is not a rapist.

That puts me in an interesting place, because someone somewhere must love these children and love them still even though they are monsters. That means that somehow on some level I must understand why someone would still love these boys, would speak on their behalf, would mourn their bright futures now gone. I don't. I don't understand it. They're rapists. And that makes me feel like a hypocrite.

But it's not without cause, without reason. I'm going to share something here that I've shared with few. Even best friends who know me well may not know this, and some acquaintances who know me barely know this already. Funny how that works sometimes, but I digress. This is coming out now because, the raw truth is, I'm not as healed as I thought I was.

I was raped. By two different men in two very different times of my life and two very different ways. There was no scary man in a dark alley. I wasn't wearing short skirts or high heels or drunk. And neither of them was just one incident, but a period of time, over and over.

The first, I was a child and he was a teenager, not older than those boys from Steubenville. My conscious brain blocks a lot of it out, I was so very young, but memories I thought long buried have ways of showing up when least expected and certainly not desired. It went on for a period of years. He was my best friend's oldest brother. Any time spent with her meant possible time with him. And it wasn't just me. He molested his sister too.

What I remember most about that time of my life is what happened after my best friend and I were convinced by another friend to tell our parents. I don't even remember how she got us to that point, or why we told her at all. My friend went first, and when she came back out, it was my turn. She was in there a long time. I told my mother while she was washing the car. I don't remember her reaction. I do remember my embarrassment.

What followed was doctors, a whole slew of them. Months upon months with medical doctors, years with mental doctors. I remember the very first appointment after. The doctor was some old balding man, he wasn't our regular doctor, I guess he was someone that maybe the police told my parents to take me to, but I don't remember any police. He treated me like an object and talked to my parents like I wasn't even there. Sure, there is very little I would have understood at that age, but why couldn't he even address me like a person instead of treating me as a thing on his examination table? I mean, to go through what I went through and then they bring me to a scary man doctor who couldn't even tell me what he was going to do before he touched my body? And every subsequent evaluation was like that, even when I saw other doctors at that facility - get on the table, doc does his thing, and then talks to my parents like he was discussing a new couch he bought for his living room that he couldn't get through the door. What was burned into my brain was a whole bunch of adults standing around looking at me and looking very angry. I thought I had done something really terrible and I wished that I never told anyone it happened at all. I wished I never told anyone. And if that boy was ever punished in any way for what he did, I never knew, and I still don't know to this day. In a lot of ways, that hurt more than anything. Our paths still crossed fairly frequently, our families were still neighbors after all. There was never a time when he just wasn't there (i.e. serving a sentence somewhere). And I still had to go to those joint family functions. My parents never let me just stay home.

Through a series of events that are largely irrelevant here, I stopped going to therapy. I knew I still needed help. I grew into a depressed teenager and wanted to take my own life. No one would want me, you see. I was damaged, and when I told people, boyfriends or regular friends, a lot of them left me. I was too messed up to deal with. Not worth the trouble. I entered my adult life mistrusting everyone, never to be sure who was going to stay with me or who was going to try to help me or who was going to decide I was too much trouble and give up. Everyone in the boyfriend capacity gave up. Some I never told at all, so when those relationships finally ended, they had no idea why I was broken. And I was always the reason why we didn't work.

Sometimes, I denied how much the scars of my past affected my present, but the truth is they never really stopped, and affect me still. Some days are worse than others, naturally. I've come a long way, mostly on my own, though. I've forgiven myself for the thing that was never my fault to begin with. I accept that the guilt and shame I felt and the responsibility I felt I had were all because he put those thoughts there. That boy knew what to say, what to threaten, exactly how to put the blame on me - blame that I carried in my heart for years and years and years. I know that now, I see what he did. I know it wasn't me. I forgive myself for those feelings, they weren't mine.

But before that, I shelled myself up pretty well. Never sure who to trust, doing my best to protect myself from further hurt. That slowly turned into doing what I thought my partners wanted. I had been left, abandoned so much, maybe I needed to change and then I wouldn't be alone and then I'd have those things - that family - that I convinced myself I would never have because I didn't deserve it.

The next one; he was what I thought I wanted. He was gorgeous, he paid attention to me, he made me feel special. He was also narcissistic, manipulative, controlling. I didn't see that then, it didn't come out until later.

One of the arguments I heard out of the Steubenville case was that she was drunk. That must make it ok. She was drunk, she couldn't give consent, and lack of yes means yes.

It doesn't. I shouldn't have to say that. Lack of yes means no. Only yes means yes. If there is no yes, the answer is no. And having said yes before, to anyone for any reason, does not automatically mean yes now.

So, this guy, who was so wonderful at the beginning, eventually turned into something very different. He thought that dating meant yes all the time. No meant I needed convincing, and he eventually learned exactly what he could do to drive me to give in and get it over with rather than hold my ground. Then he convinced me that I needed him, that I would never do any better than him, that I should be happy with him because I'd be alone forever without him. He told me what our future would be like together, with him running everything and me doing what he said. And I stayed because he was the best I could ever hope to get. He told me so.

Being in control made him feel manly. Leaving bruises on my skin made him feel manly. And when they were in places I could not hide, I made up stories of how they got there so no one would know. Good, convincing stories, because I am an actor and that comes easily. Even people who knew the stories were made up didn't know what was really happening. I hid that part too. And I stayed because he was the best someone like me could ever hope to get. He could do better than me, even, so I was lucky I had him to take care of me and tell me what to do at all. As long as I gave him what he wanted, whenever he wanted it. And if I didn't, he'd remind me of just how much I needed him, of all he did for me, of how sad and alone I was without him.

Eventually, I got tired of fighting and gave up even trying to say no most of the time. Sometimes I still said no, but it didn't last. It was exhausting trying to fight him off- you know, in a playful way that wouldn't hurt him because he was my boyfriend and had a claim to my body simply by being my boyfriend. A few times, I even told him how his behavior made me feel and things would change for a little while, but they always went back. I was miserable, but I stayed. Because I knew I was broken and I couldn't get any better, I didn't deserve it.

You see stories all the time about battered women who keep going back to their abusers, who don't press charges, who eventually end up in very bad places -or dead- because they kept going back. Every time one of those stories comes up, almost everyone asks "why doesn't she just leave? She's not happy, he's abusing her, just get out. Why didn't she do that?" I keep my mouth shut. She doesn't just leave because she can't. She is not mentally capable of leaving. He told her she has to stay, that she's worthless without him, that she's got nothing if he's not there to provide it. She stays because he is clever and knows just what to tell her to get it permanently in her brain that she must stay. I know this because I was one of them. I know this because I stayed. And I knew better, I knew I was miserable, and still I stayed.

And he was one of the ones that I never told while we were dating. I can't say he had that to hang over me or use against me. He didn't need the ammunition because I was already broken. I did eventually get out. The unbelievable possibility of something better came up and I got out. I told him after that, while he begged me to come back. He, of course, did not see things the way I saw them. I told him why the way he treated me particularly hurt me the way it did, and he said he would have done things differently if he knew from the beginning. I don't believe it. That basically says everything he did was ok if there was no past trauma, but in the face of past trauma, it was not. Wrong. It was all not ok no matter who you are or what's happened in your life.

I seem pretty together now and for the most part I am. Except when I'm not. It was something that I won't go into in recent weeks, in addition to the news, that made me realize I'm not really ok. I wasn't as healed as I thought I was. The relationship I had after that guy suffered for it, in part anyway, and I didn't realize that until long after it was over. I'm still broken. Maybe I was re-broken and just didn't realize how much. It's not really fair to the important people in my life, but I know it's there and I won't deny it to myself and that's a start.

That's not the only thing I know. I know I am beautiful, I am smart, I am clever, I am creative. I know how to take care of myself and how to be happy with my own company. I also know it's ok to depend on others from time to time and that some of them want me to. I know that love exists, that I can love and that I can be loved. I know that broken is not wasted or useless or out of chances. I know that hurt is not incapable of healing.

1 comment :

Susan Sorto said...

I'm sorry for your hurt.
I totally understand. I've gone through some of it myself. I went to counseling and it helped. From time to time things do make you remember. I choose to stand my ground and fight it off for life. It took along time to get there.
I hope you remember ALWAYS U R SPECIAL and deserve the very best in life (what ever it is). Listen to your inner self. Fight anyone that treats you wrong. Stop the abuse. Fiendship LOVE, Susan Sorto