19, first night in Paris, met a handsome guy my age. Kissed at a nightclub, he gave me his number as I was traveling around France for the rest of the summer but would be passing through Paris on the way back. Ring me, he said. I was flattered. Also delighted to have some sort of summer romance however remote.
I rang on my way back through Paris. Me and my friend met him and his friend. Ironically I wanted my friend to come along for security reasons, I was cautious at the time.
We were brought to an apartment in Momartre or nearby (Babes Rochfort?). They said it was their apartment but I had the feeling it was not theirs or it was borrowed. They had made food. There was no bedroom but there was a mezzanine space with a bed, quite close to the ceiling. Loud music was put on. My friend and her guy sat downstairs. Myself and the guy I was with were up in the mezzanine, chatting and getting on okay. He had chocolate there and was feeding me the chocolate. He wanted to have sex and I said no, I said no because I was not ready. I had only had sex once before, and felt it was something that needed time. Next thing I was on my back. I have no idea or memory how I got on my back, but it was a sort of practiced move I think, very skilled. Through my panic and constant repeating of no and some sounds that I have never heard come out of me before or since I could hear my friend and the other guy downstairs and wondered was this going on with my friend too? I wondered if this was the plan then could we be killed. I was so scared I couldn’t ‘open’ up down below, he got really agitated and slapped me and cursed in French and kept trying. My body would not do it, but eventually he forced in and it hurt a lot. the ceiling was very close to my face and all through it I could hear my friend talking and the guy and I was dreading the next thing, what would happen to both of us.
Suddenly the rape stopped, I don’t remember the details of how, if he even finished, I remember simply that his manner abruptly changed, it was the oddest thing, he transformed to the nice guy he had been before, he even took the chocolate and put a piece in my mouth.
I played along to get out of there, get my friend an myself out. Shaken I managed to get down from the mezzanine stairs and act ‘normal’ with my friend. She was my best friend since we were 8, but she looked different now, or I was different and I knew that if we made it out of there I would never tell her what happened. I don’t know why. I think it was shame, I think it was because I didn’t want her to panic or draw attention to us at a time when I needed to just get home.
We needed their help to get the correct metro to the place we were staying on the other side of Paris. We just made the last train to make that connection. All the time I felt like I was living in a strange high frequency, it was like something exploded leaving silence alongside a high pitch. My ears were ringing. The metro was very intimidating then, I still dream about that journey home.
The guys insisted on getting the train all the way back with us, I wondered if they were serious. If we were going to where they said we were, I was not sure yet if we were really prisoner’s of theirs (or his) and worse was to come.
One weird thing happened. He wore a ring and tried to give it to me on the metro. I refused it, politely, I couldn’t believe this behavior, he was overtly loved-up and docile on one hand but he did look and me and say in a very direct and chilling way when I refused the ring that he ‘wanted me to have something to remember him by’ I did have the ability to say that I did not need a ring, that I would remember him for the rest of my life. And I wondered, strange as it sound, did HE know I knew that he raped me? This is how confusing the whole thing was. At one point I asked myself did it happen? Sometimes I still do. I think, ‘did I over-react?’ but I can’t somehow square this with the degradation, the predatory move he made to get me on my back, the angry way he forced into my shut body, and the bruises on my wrists that appeared days later. I don’t think the body lies, the mind can deny all it likes but the body knows and as I learnt through PSD and anxiety later it will eventually start to tell you to heed your trauma.
We got back to our temporary place in Paris and only when the door was shut did I feel the shaking. I couldn’t stop. This was superseded by a catatonic state that was superseded by a fifteen hour sleep devoid of dreams or any awareness. It was a dead sleep, like I had knocked myself out. I shut down physically, mentally. I was like some animal that just freezes. I think looking back that was like an emergency hibernation that gave me the subsequent energy to get home. But it was after the event, I though of camouflage, of playing dead, of survival, it was the kindest thing my body could do for me at the time.
I got back to Ireland where I’m from, I never told anyone except subsequent boyfriends as I had a difficulty making love for many years after. My behavior was odd for a long time after that event. Sometimes I blamed myself, sometimes I thanked my luck that I ‘only’ got raped. I thought reporting it, but he was in France and I was in Ireland, how did that work? Also I would have to tell my friend and I couldn’t bear to break the myth of our perfect French summer. Upholding myths is a big obstacles to survival and healing. In a weird twist I realized about six months later that I still had this guy’s number. One day I rang it and waited till it answered. I don’t know what I was doing, what my motivation was, but I heard him say hello? hello? over and over, and soon all you could hear was my breathing and his breathing, like some bizarre and remote stand-off.
Years later I realized that nearly every woman (and many men) I know have experienced sexual violation, some stories are more terrifying than others, some like mine are insidious date rapes, some are blatant attacks, or family abuse, or clerical abuse. Something is very off with the world, this is not new, but what is new is transparency and better education and knowledge. No DOES mean no. Somewhere in Paris he could be doing that again, and yet still I question, was it me? Was it language barrier? What part of ‘Non’ did this man not understand?