ESSAY
Survivor

On November 9, 1994 I was sexually assaulted. I still cannot say “rape” and I really do not know why – it’s hard for me to even type the word, forget about saying it. The word “Rape” feels so victimizing – that life happened to me, that I was powerless to avoid it – that I was at the mercy of someone else’s desire – that I did not have a voice.

When I was 18 I was a freshman in college. Six hours from home, the first time I’d ever been away from home – I discovered all sorts of interesting new things – smoking, alcohol, men... It was 1994 and I was so naïve. I didn’t realize then that I didn’t know how to make friends, though all the signs are so clear now. I remember the bad things about college, and it wasn’t until I met up with some old friends to mourn a dear classmate’s suicide that I realized I did make friends.

But every time I think about my dear friend Michael, I remember something he said to me that makes me cringe. “She’s just like you, she got raped.” Granted, he was probably inebriated at the time, but that statement stays with me. “Just like you, she got raped.” Got raped. I got raped. This thing happened to me. No matter how many times I said no, I got raped.

I was 18 and interested in a guy, we’ll call him Jack. He was 6’5 and strong, muscular, a freshman like me, and lived in a dorm across campus. There were 1100 students at my college, a huge culture shock from the 2500-strong high school I attended. We went for walks and hung out in my dorm room watching TV on the black-and-white 10-inch in my room—just local channels. My roommate was bothering me, and I was supposed to head to band practice but he invited me over to his dorm so we could sit on the couch and watch his color TV. 

I remember most of the afternoon in snapshots—like I’m watching a slide show of boring vacation photos. We’re sitting on the couch watching Murphy Brown. We’re making out on the couch, he gets up to get a drink from the hall fountain. I sit there and realize we’re watching TV but also listening to twangy country music. He returns with a full cup of water and closes the door. He looks right in my eyes as he turns the deadbolt. I feel myself getting nervous. I want to shrink into this sofa and disappear. Maybe I’m overreacting, after all, I like him, he seems to like me, and we had a great walk across the railroad tracks last night.

Then he strolls to his desk and sits down. He pulls a pocketknife out of his back pocket and flicks it open. This is where things get scary, and every time I remember it I still feel my heart beating so fast, I’m in fight or flight mode. I want to get out of this room – but he’s so big and hulking and I’m so small. If I run to the door he’ll catch me. He has a blade. He’ll hurt me. I’d better just sit here. Maybe if I’m quiet I’ll disappear and he’ll forget I’m here and he’ll go out of the room to pee and I can escape. Maybe.

He opens his mail with the pocketknife and I’m sitting there, feeling silly for overreacting. He’s just opening his mail, now I feel stupid. My keys are on the table right next to the door so I can grab them quick if I need to leave. I hear the country twanging on the stereo and I’m still watching Murphy Brown on the tv. He sits next to me and puts his arm around me. 

Time passes. Band practice is over, and it’s time for dinner – I’m hungry. I sit with my friends and socialize, they’re talking about the latest Dungeons and Dragons event, we’re laughing about the upcoming weekend and next week’s exams and are you ready, no fuckin way just barely gonna pass this class, why the hell did I sign up for computer science this term? I have to get to studying for exams next week so I’ll see you all later. I’m thinking about the tests next week and I wonder if my roommate is busy tonight or will I be able to have some time to myself? I wonder if we’re going drinking tomorrow. 

I sit on the toilet and urine screams my memory into awareness. Holy shit I had sex? 

The slide show begins. His dorm. His knife. His loft. His weight holding me down. 

Flashback – Sofa. 
I think we’re making out on the sofa for a while, then sitting up, then laying down, then making out some more – and the next picture I see is me – on the ladder. 

Flashback – Loft.
Then my clothes are next to me. My bra is up to my throat, my pants aren’t on my legs. 

Flashback – Oprah. 
I turn my head and now I’m watching Oprah and still hearing that twanging pounding in my head. 

Flashback – Country Music.
I’ve said no I don’t know how many times. I don’t want to do this, but I can’t stop it. Why can’t I stop it? He’s so big and bulky and now I’m counting the tiles on the ceiling. Seven, Eight tiles across the east side of the room – ow! 

I gather strength and sit straight up. He jumps off the loft and zips up his jeans. I’m sitting there looking for my clothing – he opens the door and walks down the hall. I get dressed and leave. 

It is now that I actually go to dinner. It is now that I lose all memory of the event – until after dinner. Until I get back to my dorm. Until my urine burns my tender flesh. 

FLASHBACK
I have nightmares for weeks. Flashbacks during the day as I try to come to terms with what happened. The dorm’s Head RA told me I was raped when I told him what happened. He said, “Emily, you were raped.” I didn’t believe it because I did say yes to a few things – even though I said no to everything else. I went to the police and made a statement but I don’t think anything happened. My ‘neighbor’ across the hall had a similar incident the following week. So there were two of us complaining to the Dean of Students and Police Department. 

For weeks I self-medicated with booze. I was failing school, staying up all night and sleeping all day. Probably on the brink of self-destruction. I had to call my parents to come pick me up and take me home. On Thanksgiving break I told my mom what happened. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my dad. I felt ashamed that it happened, sad, upset, disappointed, destroyed. 

I went back to college after Christmas break and finished the school year but nothing was the same. I was the girl who got raped, and it seemed like everyone knew – I don’t know that anyone else knew – but I knew and I felt alone and public all at the same time. I went to class and tried to make friends again. I even went back for sophomore year but didn’t make it past October. It was too raw, too real, too publicly private.

I carry it with me every day. Every year when November rolls around I am reminded of what happened to me back when I was eighteen. The memories don’t hurt anymore, and they don’t frighten me anymore, but they’re there, they are a part of me. The pain surrounding that November 9th has since subsided, and I can remember without nausea. 

If I remember for too long my breath becomes shallow and I am back in that dorm room – stark white walls, country music twanging and Oprah on TV. Looking up I still see the ceiling tiles.
Across the room sits his pocket knife.
On the desk sits his mail.
And I’m on the loft, laying there, just waiting for him to finish.