It is the same every year. Every year the leaves turn, and there is that slight twinge in my leg, a hesitant reminder of times past.
Every year as the winds change, there is that slight catch when you take a deep breath. A catch not from the cold but from a memory. A memory of sobs choked back. Of times much darker than this. A memory of a time survived and not forgotten.
I am glad though, I would rather have the twinges. The shudders of sobs never to be forgotten. I would rather remember those times, the dark life altering times that I have survived. I would rather live the life of a proud and ferocious survivor.
Because that is what I have done, that is what I do, and that is what I will do. I will survive today like I survived yesterday, and like I will survive tomorrow, I will survive because I know that it really can’t get worse that that time long ago. The shuddering darkness of past that I have conquered. No matter what life cannot get that bad again.
Because I am resilient, because I am a survivor, because I am strong, and stubborn. And I. I will not let that happen again.
I will remember though. Especially as the leaves turn. As the wind changes, and the cold blows in. As you are whipped by the arctic blast as you walk to your car, I will always remember that time. The time many years ago, when I was alone. Afraid, naive, in the darkness.
I had been in dark places before then, I had been alone, and I had survived many horrors of life before that day,
The day they left me.
The day they left me alone in that house, in the house that was surreptitiously taken away from me, right from under my own feet. I had experienced loss, and confusion, and despair. I knew as I watched them load their bags into the car that I would spend that night, and the following night in a ball. I knew that my sobs would rack my body. I knew I would shake, and that I wouldn’t be able to breathe.
I knew they wouldn’t hear me. And that the sobs wouldn’t help. I knew they would come anyway. I knew that the tears were inevitable, but that I had to hold them back until they had left.
I felt them wrap their arms around me, I felt them squeeze me tighter than usual. I saw the glint of tears in their eyes. But I was calm.
We all knew the unspeakable. We all knew the distance and the danger. We all knew, and we all silently agreed not to say anything anyway. We all knew that we may never see each other again. We said we would, but we knew in our innermost selves that we may not.
I stayed strong. I didn’t want them to know how upset I was, I didn’t want them to get upset because I was upset. I was ALWAYS strong for them, I wasn’t going to stop being strong now.
None of us knew that them leaving would be nothing compared to the horrors to come.
None of them knew within a month I would be even more alone. I would be shunned. I would be cut off. I would question not seeing them again, not because of international terrors but because of mis-informed choices.
But that was what was about to happen.
I couldn’t go back to the house that night, or the next night, or the night after that. I couldn’t go back to place where they were supposed to be but weren’t. Where the places and sounds and smells were supposed to belong to them but had been hostilely taken over by unwanted and unpleasant usurpers.
I sobbed that night. I cried in a ball. My body heaved and shook, I cried like I had only cried a few times before.
I cried with loss, and fear, and anger.
I cried so my cheeks were raw from tears, and my body ached from sobbing.
I cried so I couldn’t swallow and couldn’t eat.
But it became ok. I came through that dark spot, I was held by my friends, my tears were dried, I shuddered some when I breathed, but I knew it would be ok.
I was ok.
But I didn’t know how bad it was going to be.
Finally I recovered enough to go to my “home”. Or my house, the home part of that building was thousands of miles away.
I put my best foot forward and had a stiff upper lip.
I hated what was going on, but I was determined to push through. I was going to talk to them as often as I could, I was going to go to my classes and see my friends and live my life. I was going to be better than OK I was going to be good.
I was, but not before it got worse.
Looking back I know the signs were there long before the event itself happened. I know now that if I were to be in that situation today, I would not have spent the next day at the hospital waiting to be violated in a whole new way.
Looking back I should have known.
But I didn’t know. How could I have known? Why would anyone ever think that talking to someone in a speech class would leave you alone in an empty house? Naked, with the front door open and your car gone.
Why would becoming friends with someone cause that? Why would being nice, why would trusting some one end you in a closet of a room. Alone again. With two men interrogating you about the sexual assault that you just experienced. Why?
Because sometimes life sucks, that’s why.
But I lived through this too.
I still remember the first time he spoke to me. I remember him saying hi, and calling me pretty. I remember having fought with my boyfriend about being too sad about being a 19 year old that was parentless.
Again, looking back, I should have known, I would now.
But I only know now because of the living hell that I lived through.
I remember him walking me to class. I remember him being nice to me, and caring about how I was family-less. I remember him being my friend before he wasn’t.
I remember not being afraid of him. Not living in terror that I might see him.
I remember that day, I remember how I was house sitting and how excited I was to be able to go back to a place that was quiet and calm and not full of unwelcome people saying unwelcome things. I remember being excited that I would have my own space, and that I would be able to have a person come to my house. I remember feeling relief that my group project could be done at “home” and not in the library.
I remember that I was happy, I remember my greatest discomfort being an over stretched hamstring that day.
I remember that it was the first reasonably good day that I had had since they had left. Until it wasn’t.
I remember him coming over, and me not having to explain in great detail the addition of another body in the house. (Which growing up was never something I’d had to do)
I remember starting our assignment, and drinking part of a beer.
I remember finishing the HW and starting a movie.
I remember telling him he could stay for a while because my boyfriend was coming over after he got off of work.
I remember laughter.
Then I don’t remember for a while.
It was dark and I was colder than I should be, there was disconcerting pressure on top of me. I wasn’t where I remember falling asleep, then suddenly something wet and unwelcome pushed its way into my mouth. And I was the most awake I have ever been.
I had fallen asleep, and I had been moved very very carefully.
My clothes had been partly removed and there was an unwanted person on top of me, he was kissing my and I didn’t want it. I was struggling against him and pushing so he grabbed my upper arms with his and squeezing them pushed me into the bed.
He spread my legs with his now naked legs. Violently pushing them apart. He held my thighs apart with his knees. His patellas digging into my inner thighs. He was using all of his strength to reduce me to a fuckable puddle. All the while telling me “I can tell you want this, I’ve known all semester you’ve wanted this.”
He thrust himself inside of me using his not insubstantial weight to attempt to subdue my struggling. I could feel him getting ready to move. He lifted his mouth and I screamed, he didn’t seem to notice. I could tell he was going to thrust again, I wanted to vomit, I could feel his body rise slightly, I pushed my hands between us and pushed as hard as I could.
I screamed again. His only response was to say “stop fucking fighting bitch.”
Finally my arms made enough room to slide my now free leg up. I lifted my knee to my chest and using all of my terrified strength pushed the mother fucker off of me. He tried to mount me again but I fought. I fought with everything I had.
And then the memory stops. I think I fell. Or fainted. Or collapsed. I will never know.
I only know that when I woke up cold and naked and terrified on the floor an hour later he was gone and the only thing I could do was crawl to the shower and sit there.
I sat there for what seems like forever. I scrubbed my whole body over and over again. I know you aren’t supposed to shower after a rape, but there is nothing else you can do. You have to clean it off.
It wasn’t until after that that I called the police. That I reported the loss of my car, and the loss of myself. It wasn’t until I’d called them, and my Godmother and that I was being taken to the hospital that I began to understand what was happening. It wasn’t until this point that they true and actual violation of my person began, it wasn’t until that that I truly realized that I am not my own person at all, but an object. (Or at least I felt like I was at the time)
When you report a sexual assault where I was living at the time you have to go through certain channels. First of all your body becomes the crime scene. Not only the place where it happened, or the person who violated you, but your actual physical person.
They literally examine every inch of you inside and out to make sure that what you are telling them matches what they find on your body. They go over every inch, they take swabs. They take pictures of places where you look like you might have encountered an injury. They take pictures inside of you, they shine lights on you to find proteins.
They go over your entire body with a fine toothed comb (literally is there is hair).
The only part of this that is any better than the part where you are being assaulted is that you can have a support system there as well as you are told what is happening while it happening.
I remember this part. I remember being taken to a room, and being told to wait. I remember not being allowed to go to the bathroom or eat or drink or wash my hands in an attempt to preserve any evidence that might be left over. I remember not feeling anything.
I remember waiting for four hours in incredible discomfort. I remember being terrified that I would turn around and he would be there again. I remember having blood taken and being fed a pile of pills after they finished the physical interrogation of my body.
Fortunately I remember other things too. Things that forced me to push through the horror that was this interrogation and the new horror that was the next battery of questioning that I had to endure.
I remember my Godmother. I remember her taking care of everything, her finding a safe place for me to stay. I remember being enveloped in her love and kindness, I remember her mother and her friends coming and sitting with me and holding my hands.
I remember that as soon as she came I was safe, that the unpleasantness and horror that I had to endure as a product of reporting the heinous act that was committed against me was made ok and remotely bearable because she cared for me. Because she held my hand and cried with me while they inspected every inch of my body for bruises and cuts and leavings of my attacker. I remember her and her mother holding me and keeping me safe and talking to the people for me so that I wouldn’t have to.
I remember surviving that because of them.
Then things got slightly worse again. Then came the interrogation. I had to go down to the courthouse to make an official statement of what had happened to me now almost twelve hours previously. I was taken by my god-grandmother to courthouse. Where I was only allowed to be accompanied to the waiting room.
I was then escorted by a policeman and two detectives (all male) through a terrifying labyrinth of rooms and hallways and doors. There was no sense to it. Had I had any more sense of what was happening I might have found the building comical, like something out of a Lemony Snickett novel. But instead it was as though I was being led through a labyrinth and down into the depths of hell.
They took me into a dark windowless room. There was a strange assortment of cast off furniture, too much of it for the size of the room. There were no windows in the room, just flickering fluorescent lights blearing down from a stained tiled ceiling.
I was instructed by the glaring gentlemen to sit at the round table that filled the majority of the room. I was nudged into the corner and they sit on either side of me, making any thought of escape impossible. All I could do was stare past them at the door that led to another door and somewhere there was an exit. There was an old fashioned tape recorder sitting on the table, it had been used so much that the marks on the buttons had been worn off.
They sat there for what seemed like years, staring me. None of us wanted to start the conversation, we all knew it was going to be unpleasant. We all knew somehow that the terrible conversation ahead of us would lead to nothing. That no matter what I said the fucker who had raped me would walk. They always walk. We all knew this, and yet we all also knew that it had to be said. My story had to be told that day, just like it has to be told today.
One of them asked if I was ok, if I needed a drink, If I needed to go home and recover and come back another day, I told them in no uncertain terms that I was going to do this now, that I was not going to go home and that I was not going to come back,
Then it started, they first asked if they could record the conversation, they asked, but I knew that it was not realty a question. The question was a nicety, it was an invitation to keep the conversation as nice as possible or to be difficult and make it even more unpleasant than it already was.
They asked me to walk them through every moment of the previous night, they asked me where he had touched me. They asked me if I was afraid of him, and if there might have been any reason why he might have thought that I wanted to have sex. That there might have been some miscommunication and he had had some sort of legitimacy in attacking me.
It wasn’t until after I had gone through every moment of the night before. It wasn’t until they had forced me with threats of finger-printing the entire house and screening my blood to tell them that I had drunk a beer that he had given me. Instead of asking if I thought that I had been drugged they informed me that I had broken the law by drinking at the age of 19.
It wasn’t until I had been forced to relive every moment of the night before, until I had been made to question whether or not I’d been raped. Until I had been made to question my very self while packed into the corner of a room just off of the main entrance to hell that they told me the only thing I remember not hating about that day.
They told me that my rapist was in Jail. That they had found him, that he had driven my car to class and acted like it was just any other day. They told me that he had denied all of my claims of assault, and that he had said that I was a crazy bitch. But they also said that he was in custody and that he wouldn’t be able to find me or touch me.
Then it was over. For that day. Then they let me go, go to the arms of my god-grandmother and her family. Into the arms of people who loved me and who were there for me. Who were not thousands of miles away.
I remember that night, I remember being all out of tears, I remember not being able to smile or laugh. I remember sitting in the hot tub and not feeling the heat of the bubbles. But I also remember having the knowledge that I was safe, that I was far away from the person that had hurt me. Far away from the people that had infiltrated my home and turned it simply to a residence where I was unwelcome. Instead I was in the arms of people who loved and cared about me. And who were there to protect me. I remember thinking that I would never sleep again, but finally falling asleep in the safe warm bed far away from the things that could hurt me. I remember my body being sore from trauma and the sobs that had wracked it nightly for the past few weeks.
Every fall I remember. Every time the leaves begin their change from living to death while their trees remain dormant and waiting in anticipation I remember. I remember that I am strong, that I like the trees will withstand the winters of this life and emerge every spring stronger, more beautiful and more amazing than ever before.
— Audrey Brown, age 27