How I live.
-Content Warning: Rape. Abuse.
To write this is to be raped again.
I’m bound. I watch as a strange man turns the corner from the hallway of our small apartment into the living room. His eyes are dilated, bloodshot. He slips off his red basketball shorts to reveal his hooked, erect penis. Without a word he shoves it down my throat and starts thrusting, pulling my hair, choking me. I fight but the stranger has my head in his rough hands. I feel the eyes of my boyfriend on me as he watches, working himself.
“Choke on it, bitch.”
But I’m not there. I’m in the shower, soap on my face, off-balance, stumbling. Trying to get a hold of the showerhead to rinse myself, trying to hold onto the wall to keep from falling, as one of my partners misinterprets my flailing as a part of our playful, weird dynamic. I’m falling. I don’t have control. Why is everybody watching me?
I’m on the couch, curled up in front of a Chromecast stream of Youtube and Netflix instant videos. I’m binging on Best of the Worst reviews and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries in an ongoing effort to keep from going outside. Snow is falling on Albany and I can hear the windows rattle in the wind. I was raped less than a block from my hiding place. Tomorrow I have work. Tomorrow I have to be on the lookout for his car.
Less than 100 feet away from the River Platte at a combination gas station, Dairy Queen, and unbranded fried chicken place. Scrawl-covered napkins reading “out of stock” are taped to most of the menu. While filling gas, a local shoots me a predatory look before climbing into the dumpster, reemerging with discarded chicken fingers. As I pull back onto the I-80, he throws the chicken to a waiting dog, still glaring at me. My foot pins the accelerator until the car reaches 80. I don’t stop until I reach Colorado to rest in a one-street, postage stamp-sized town. The moon is bright and full. No one stirs. No cars go by.
My rape follows me. It asserts itself when someone taps me on the shoulder. It comes when I find myself stuck in corners or against walls. It appears in sudden gestures, if people touch my hair. I look for it in the unreadable expressions on people’s faces, in fellow pedestrians, in my own, gay cohort, in friends, in lovers, in drivers on the freeway.
I fear my kinks. I fear my partners. Each time I drive out to see one of them, as I rumble over the Santa Cruz mountains or speed past poor, San-Francisco-benighted Stockton, I wonder: Will this be the time? Will they be monsters this time? Was I wrong to trust them? I fear nudity, and find myself hating what I see in the mirror. So vulnerable. So worthless. So ugly.
There’s a moment in Mad Max: Fury Road just after the chase sequence through the craggy canyons. Cheedo The Fragile, one of the wives, begs the other wives to return with her to Joe. They’ll be forgiven. They’ll be able to fix things. In the darkness of the theatre, next to rapt, grinning friends, I was nauseated. I was Cheedo. I was all the wives. Nausea gripped me and I watched the rest of the film tasting bile at the back of my throat.
I know none of this is rational. None of it. Not the survivor’s guilt that tells me that I should have stayed to try to fix things; that I could have made him better. Not the knee-jerk reactions to mundane gestures, to strangers making eye contact. Not the distrust, the instinct to burrow into bed, to never leave my room. They’re just aftershocks.
It wasn’t just the rape. The rape was just one of many incidents. Waking up to find my ex fellating a drug dealer in the living room. Discovering evidence of a meth-fueled sex party that had taken place in our co-leased apartment when I was out of town. Being locked out of the apartment until dawn. Being ignored until he was angry enough to scream. Hiding in a locked room from his mood swings. Making sure that the kitchen knives were in arms reach, in case he tried to hit me, in case he wanted them.
It wasn’t just the rape. It was pretending that nothing had happened. It was changing my walking route to school every day, after I escaped, to keep him from finding me. It was doubling back when I saw his car, taking different roads, cutting through parks, hiding in libraries and supermarkets. It was cutting off my social media, killing my apps, blocking, hiding.
Why didn’t I go for help? From who? There were no bruises from that night. After it was done, I hid in the shower, brushed my teeth. I wanted to feel clean again. Domestic violence help centers were straight and focused on battered women. When I reached out for legal advice I was told that I would need to present bruises, evidence of trauma. I was told I’d have to out myself to the police and to family court, multiple times. I’d have to expose the strangeness of our relationship, the age gap, the kink. More than likely nothing would happen. Not only was the case unprovable without his confession, The Legal Aid Society told me that “the law was not for me” that “I would ruin existing law for real cases” that “I’d just have to find some other way to get rid of my roommate”.
I would have to help myself.
I got jobs to get myself out of the house, to force me to interact with people. I slung steamed milk and espresso as a barista, with a fake smile or a real frown. I shuttled library books down winding country roads to rural towns before dawn broke. I went to open mics, drowned in one-too-many acoustic guitar solos. I stayed with friends, ate too many pot cookies, drank too many beers, watched too many awful movies.
I got a job across the country and drove three thousand miles.
I will never know who my rapist was. He was a stranger that my ex served me to like an entree, or a toy. He was white, young, high but otherwise faceless and anonymous. He could be almost anyone. I’m not sure he knew what he did. My ex knows, but does not want to admit it to himself. After the rape, he tried to arrange another, similar encounter. I broke down into a sobbing, wheezing fit. I chewed out his guest over social media. I screamed at him over the phone in echoing, public halls. I hoped people heard. I hoped they didn’t hear. We were still together; both of us in denial: me about what sort of man he was, and him denying that he had already sunk the ship, denying the rottenness of the facade.
“Choke on it, fag. You like that; don’t you, fag?”
On the Internet, I am a fetish object, starring in countless rape-fantasies, the bottom of infinite gay gif-sets on Tumblr, the faggot unworthy of love or respect. I see dialog from my rape repeated in masturbation material, in porn, in captions. There I am again being “shown my place”. There I am again being “used as a faggot should”. I wonder if being a fetish object is better than being unseen, uncounted, unaddressed. I don’t know if I have an answer.
Block. Unfollow. Do not show me this again.
This is not a recovery story; this is an after action report. This is what it is for me to live with my abuse and my rape at the hands of someone I thought I loved. I am healing, but not in a way that fits a narrative arc. There are backslides and regressions. I’m looking at my wounds now, checking for infection, hoping for scar tissue. There is still pain. There might always be pain. My rape is part of me now.
I’m not at the point where I can say that I’ve healed, that this is behind me. I’m not sure that such a point exists. This is the point where I’ve realized that I can’t run from this anymore. I’ve touched the Pacific,. Running, if it ever was plausible (and it wasn’t) is no longer practical. The only thing left is to face it. I’ve constructed an experimental protocol to interrogate my fears. I reach out. I play. I walk alone in unfamiliar spaces.
There’s a trail, the Marsh Trail, at the tail end of Big Basin State Park. It’s tiny, unremarkable. It winds under scrub trees, past reedy meadows, flanked by horsetail plants. It’s windy and calm. Unseen birds call from the tangle. The trail crosses Wendell Creek over a narrow footbridge. I’m standing there, watching the slow-moving water. I hear footfalls on the trail, voices. I freeze. Three tourists dressed in pastels emerge. “It’s SO QUAINT HERE.” They thunder over the bridge. When they round the bend I’m left alone. Movement catches my eye. A giant Pacific salamander, the color of ochre, swims in silence. It’s a movement out of time. Carboniferous. Placid. I watch.
I watch and I feel calm.