By Dylan DeBarr.WWH/CJE – I had just been told that my daughter was raped. I glance toward the door. I feel drunk, as if my legs can’t hold my weight. I grasp the window sill and push my forehead against the window. I need air. I gasp, choking on the silent scream that sticks in my throat. Thick, like molasses, I can’t swallow it or vomit it up.
She can’t shower in the daylight anymore. She can’t look at her own body. She feels her body has betrayed her. So, I sit on the floor in the bathroom as she showers in the dark. Sprays of water hit my face as I squint in the darkness watching her. She can’t close the shower curtain, so we leave it open. Her athletic body has shriveled. She has lost 30 pounds. No hips, no breasts, no more monthly period.
I watch as she soaps her body, moving the soap up and down her belly. I catch glimpses of her as the candle flickers. Something catches my eyes and move closer to see what it is. They are jagged lines across her stomach and legs. The red jagged lines almost glisten like ruby threads stitched into her body. They seem deliberate. And then it finally hits me. Self-inflicted wounds. Bright red X’s marking her stomach. A sharp blade of self hatred. I stand there frozen to the very marrow of my own bones. Our eyes meet and my mother hand automatically reaches to touch the rough edges of her wounds. I pull several squares of toilet paper from the roll and moisten it with my lips. I dab at them, wanting them to disappear. The blood seeps onto the paper and it frightens me. I am on my knees rubbing at her stomach, watching the diluted redness rush toward the bathtub drain. She starts to cry. I start to cry. I am on my feet running toward her bedroom. I am gathering objects in my hands. Scissors, tacks, pens, pencils, anything I think she can hurt herself with. I am frantic, searching under the bed, emptying drawers, pulling things out of the closet. I am out of control. Everything is out of control and I feel desperate.
She runs to the safety of inside her closet. A place I find her hiding more often than not. I pull her sixth grade picture off of the wall. I am in the closet beside her. “Look at her! Look at this little girl! This is you! This is the little you! Look at her and tell her that she doesn’t deserve this! Tell her that together we are going to protect her and she is going to survive all of this!” She slaps the picture from my hand, “I don’t know who that is. I don’t remember her! Oh My God Mom, don’t you get it? I can’t find her anymore!”
I crawl into the closet next to her. I want to touch her, but I am afraid. I can only touch her now with her permission. Rape takes away permission. I want to reach out and touch her baby skin. I want to smell her and touch her hair. I want to hold her and tell her it is going to be okay, but I am not sure it will be.
“I tried everything to stop it. I tried to fight, hit, beg, plead and even bargain with him!” she says, choking on her sobs, “But,he wasn’t listening! There were three of them and only one of me. One was holding my legs and one was holding my hands. One was pulling off my pants and trying to penetrate me. I was still fighting and they kept hitting me. I started bleeding from my nose and mouth. I could feel the blood between my legs. When I bled they got even madder. I tried to squeeze my legs together to prevent my blood from getting on the couch. When he was done with my vagina, he started forcing his penis in my mouth. At that point, I couldn’t even cry or begin to reason with them, because every time I opened my mouth, he succeeded in pushing his penis in. All I could do was whimper. Whimper like a wounded animal. I felt as if was suffocating. When it was over, everyone went on watching television like it never happened. For a few minutes I questioned myself and wondered if I had imagined the whole thing. If maybe I had gone crazy. But then the bleeding between my legs told me that I didn’t. I was afraid of the bleeding. It wouldn’t stop. I wadded up as much toilet paper as I could and put it between my legs.”
I’ve gone over it in my mind. Over and over. Thought about what I would like to do to the person who raped my daughter. I thought about how I would strip him down. Force him to be naked and vulnerable. I thought about him pleading, begging me and how I would ignore him. How I wanted to press a gun against his skin, make him fear for his life. I thought about what I would say as I pushed the gun against his lips, “Suck this, mother fucker.”
Yet, I realized in my fantasy of revenge, I could scare him. I could make him beg, but I could never physically or sexually assault him. It wasn’t in my makeup. I wasn’t capable of those things and I could never understand anyone who could do things like that.
But, then it happens on a warm spring day. I’m driving down a country road and it doesn’t take long to notice the car in front of me belongs to one of the boys who raped my daughter. I can see him looking at me in his rear view mirror. He knows that it is me. He stops at the stop sign. It seems as though he is lingering there, taunting me. My fists are balled-up and I am aware of the tightness in my jaw as I grind my teeth together. I want to get out of the car. It’s only him and me on this deserted country road. I want to open my car door and run toward him. I want to put my hands around his neck and squeeze. I want him to beg me to stop and delight in showing him no mercy. The same amount of mercy he showed for her. The anger inside me is intense, as my hand cramps around the steering wheel. I imagine myself running toward him with a tire iron, smashing his windows, jabbing at him, emptying this anger.
Then in an instant I pull my car around him and start to speed past him. I slow down when my car is even with his. I raise my middle finger in his direction, “Fuck you! You are a fucking animal!”
I feel stupid and victorious at the same time. I needed that moment of power over him.
My friends no longer know what to say to me. They begin to avoid me. Rape is a topic that scares people. It’s an assault on your sexual organs and that makes people uncomfortable. My friends are afraid if they talk to me I might talk about “it”. They are afraid I might need to talk about it. My daughter is now that girl according to them. That girl that was raped.
My tears ooze out fast and greasy, sliding into my mouth. Pure and pathetic. I sob loudly. I want the sobbing to drown out the loudness of the pain I feel inside. I want to shake uncontrollably and finally collapse. How does one let out the hidden pain and then suddenly uncap it and demand that those emotions fall out like a bottle of pills on the counter?
I ache inside. Find myself wishing my life away. It becomes like a disease that takes over my thoughts. I look at other people and wish I could be them. I walk past evening windows trying to peer inside from the street wondering how other people live. I want to pound on the glass, screaming and shouting. I want the whole world to acknowledge this pain. I want a hush to fall across the city, the county, the state and world and for every human being to stand up demand the protection of my gender. I truly want the world to stop, hear the gasp, and wait for the droves of people to come, rally next to rape survivors and claim they we aren’t going to take it anymore! But nobody ever comes.
Three months later we are back at the hospital. Flashbacks and panic attacks. The nurse is talking to me, “Oh I see, she, umm, was she, you know?” “Yes, I answer. She was raped. You can say the word, you know. If you have cancer, you say cancer. If you have a wart, you call it wart. She was forcefully, sexually assaulted and I believe we call that rape.”
The nurse isn’t sure how to respond to that. But, she tries. “Oh, I can relate. When my boyfriend and I broke up, he lit my couch on fire! I felt so violated,” she says. I stare at her. “It’s not the same. A couch and body are two different things. One is human and one is not.”
They settle us into a hospital room. A room with no sheets, no electrical outlets and a television encased behind a Plexi glass box. My daughter is curled up in a fetal position on the bed. I am standing next to her as there isn’t even a chair in the room.
“Mom,” she says, “Did you notice we are in the crazy room?”
“It isn’t a crazy room, ” I say, “It’s a room designed to protect a person from hurting themselves. And if women are crazy because of rape, then that makes one in six of us crazy.”
The doctor enters the room.
“Well, all of her blood tests have come back normal,” he says, rubbing his chin with perplexed look, “I mean, she looks okay to me. Does she look okay to you? I can’t find anything wrong with her,” he said..
Before I can answer I start laughing. Laughing loudly. I am amazed at the lack of knowledge involving rape. I am in shock and perplexed at how even the so called professionals still don’t know how to deal with it. I stopped laughing and looked at him.
“Here’s the deal, doc, this is how it goes. Once the physical evidence is gone, the inside stuff stays for a long time. And people can’t get a grip on what they can’t see. If you have a black eye, it’s evident. You look at the person and see they clearly have a black eye. It’s the same with broken arm, or an open wound. It’s obvious. But, do you have any idea how to heal something invisible to the naked eye? Can you cut open a heart and remove the sadness? Can you stab into a brain and control the fear, the humiliation, the devastation? I guess not, huh, doc…so why don’t you take out your little prescription pad and a pen and give her some meds to numb the shit of her for another couple months…because all we have is time. Time to let it pass and get over it. Isn’t that how it’s done? We medicate women? Put a band aide on all that ails them? Oh your husband beats you? Here’s a pill! Sexually molested? Raped? We’ve got a pill for that too!”
I’m not me anymore. I feel like a walking Rambo. I’m more aware of the hunters now. Men are the hunters and women are the prey. Because men are bigger and stronger than we are, we lose choices. Where is the equality? How can we not see that every time a person is raped, society as a whole lets down a valuable human asset in this world?
I’m engrossed in a deadline news story. I’ve tuned out all others clicking their keyboards. I don’t hear him coming up from behind me. I jump when I feel his hand on the back of my chair. He hesitates for a moment when I look at him. It’s Nolan. Head sports writer. Just one of the faces that share the east end corner of the newsroom. Just one of those loud, obnoxious sportswriters that live and breathe sports.
“Ah—we sort of have a bet going.” he says, as he glances back at the other sportswriters, “We kind of bet…well, on what kind of underwear you’re wearing. Thong or one of those french cuts?”
I stare at him for a moment. I want to say, “Seriously, fuck nut?”
Instead, I lean into him. He’s smiling. I smile back at him, cocking my head to one side.
“Well, Nolan, you see, sorry to burst your bubble, but I don’t think anyone has a chance at winning this bet and you know why?” I ask, whispering in his ear, “Because I’m not wearing any underwear.”
Of course, that isn’t true, but I’m not about to let him have the better of me. I’m not going to allow him to intimidate me or treat me that way. The look on his face tells me that my response was the right one. I watch him as he sheepishly walks back to the sports department, not even daring to look at his fellow playmates. I turn around and stare at them for a moment, almost daring them to smirk or say something. But, they don’t.
And time passes and they say time heals all wounds. But it doesn’t. Women merely learn coping skills. They learn to accept the sleepless nights and to control the panic. They attempt to fall in love and trust. They attempt to figure out boundaries in a normal, healthy sexual relationship. And some drink it away or take drugs in a hapless attempt to dull their senses. And some, like my daughter, move forward, like a robot, having good days and bad days, highs and lows, but are never the same. We call it BR and AR. “Before Rape” and “After Rape.”
We’ve become a society of women trying to keep ourselves safe. A society of women who count on Karma–Karma coming around and biting our assailants in the ass, because it’s all we’ve got. How are the laws designed to protect us when only six percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail?
Every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. In the time it has taken you to read this article at least ten others have been assaulted.
One in six women have had an attempted or completed rape imposed upon them.
College women are four times more likely to have it happen to them.
17.7 million American women can tell you their story. But only 6 percent are willing.
This is my daughter’s story and this is my story. Of the one in six women, we are two of them. In 1977 I was raped, beaten, and left for dead. But I lived because I believe we can’t walk around merely existing in our skeletal remains. We have to fight back. We have to change things. We have talk about it. We have to protect ourselves and protect the future generation of women.
We are worthy. We are human, flesh and bone. We are not to be discounted and tossed aside like old shoes. We matter. We are women. We are survivors.