I Didn’t Say No
[trigger warning: rape]
I do not think of myself as a victim. Nor do I think of myself as a survivor. On the whole, I don’t think of ‘the incident’ (as I call it) as part of my identity. In a lot of ways it feels like it happened to someone else entirely, someone I don’t entirely like. Someone I resent having to carry around with me. I push her away; I try not to think of her, if I can. I hate her for the choices she made. And I feel sorry for her. Which makes me hate her more. I do not want her touching my life. I do not want people to mistake her for me.
Sometimes the words come easily to me. I can say them out loud, with no hesitation. But sometimes, in a twisted way, I feel like I haven’t really ‘earned’ them. Like I shouldn’t make such a big deal about it. Like I’m just looking for attention. Like I dreamed it. Like it could have been so much worse.
It’s not always the way you imagine it will be. It’s not the monster in your closet or the boogeyman you’re taught to fear. More often, it’s not. And it wasn’t for me.
It wasn’t in a dark alley. It was in a house, in the suburbs. There was no knife, no gun. No hand over my mouth. No whispered threat in my ear. I didn’t struggle. I didn’t scream.
I didn’t even say no.
I didn’t say no.
But I didn’t say yes.
And I still don’t know where that leaves me.
For years I didn’t say the word. One, because I didn’t think I deserved it. I’d heard such worse stories than mine. But also because I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to write that word on the pages of my life. I didn’t want his name carved into my flesh.
For years I didn’t say it. But I am not broken, and this moment I lived through does not define me. This is a story. And it’s mine to tell. So, with a deep breath, here goes:
When I was 18, I was raped.
Forgive me. I’ve said it out loud before but I’ve never written it down. Suddenly it seems…solid. I guess it really did happen. I guess I can’t stop now.
It was someone I knew. Very well actually. And trusted. And looked up to. It was one of my high school teachers. My favourite high school teacher.
I was a year out of high school when it happened. We ran into each other on the street. Suddenly I was an adult where only a year and a half ago I had been a child. I had just recently lost my virginity (to someone else) and so, like any new initiate, thought I understood everything about men, with all the confidence of one who understands nothing at all.
He invited me to come over to his house. With all the bravado of youth, I accepted. We talked. We drank. We drank a lot. Too much.
I don’t remember much after that. What I do remember I have tried to forget. I can’t think of it for too long or I feel sick. I remember that he had sex with my body, but not with me. I don’t think I was in the room at the time.
I wasn’t angry at first. It can take me a long time to process things. For a few months, I thought that he was right. That I’d seduced him. After all, I’d gone to his house. I drank with him. I’d even flirted with him. What did I expect?
What did I expect?
At first I even bragged about it, like it was a conquest, like I was so irresistible.“You think that’s crazy? Well, one time I…”
But something was wrong. When I thought about that night it made my skin crawl. If I tried to sift through my hazy memories of what happened, I’d be struck by a wave of nausea.
My body remembered what I had forgotten and it knew, long before I could say the words, exactly what had happened to it.
Something had been stolen from me and I think it was this: it was my innocence. Now I don’t associate innocence with the body. I think you can have all the sex ever and still remain at heart an innocent person. This has nothing to do with outdated notions of female virtue. When I lost my virginity, I was still the same person afterwards.
But I wasn’t the same after this.
This was something that was never supposed to happen. This was someone I went to for advice for all my confusing adolescent problems. This was my mentor, my guide. For four years, I was a child in his care, under his protection. And maybe I did flirt. Maybe I did play with boundaries, the way all children do, seeing how close I could put my hand to the fire before it burned me. And maybe I was now an adult in the eyes of the law, but in my eyes he was still my teacher and I was still his student. Of the two of us, I was still the child. Of the two of us, one of us should have known better.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Our friendship should have lasted for decades but instead it lies abandoned in a shallow grave.
I want to hate him. And I want to forgive him. I can’t do either. As much as I’ve tried.
The thing is, he’s not a monster. I tried to make him into one. It didn’t work, and it certainly didn’t make me feel better. It would be so much easier if he were a monster and I were a victim. I would have reported it. I would have made him pay. If only he were a catastrophe that I could say I survived.
But he’s just a man. He was someone I loved. When I cut him, he bleeds. When I attack him, he weeps. I don’t know what to do with him.
Why didn’t I just say no? I still feel such guilt over that one word. Maybe if I’d said it, he would have stopped. Maybe we could have repaired the damage. Maybe things would be different. Maybe, maybe, maybe…
Yeah, I don’t really know what to do with myself either.
Sometimes it’s not as simple as you want it to be. Consent is a thorny issue and although it seems cut and dry, it can get very muddled very easily. According to the law, I was raped. You cannot legally give consent to sexual activity while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (quoted from my Planned Parenthood handbook). The night it happened I was so drunk, the room was spinning. Even if I had said yes, it would not have counted. Also, as this person was my former teacher, a lawyer could have made the case that I was a ‘vulnerable’ person, easy to influence due to the prior relationship.
So I guess it’s clear. Right? But there have been plenty of times when I have had sex with other people, people I’ve wanted to have sex with, while drunk out of my skull. Were those rapes too? No. Not to me. Because I wanted those people, whether drunk or sober. So where is the line? Where does yes end and no begin? I don’t know. This is why I didn’t say the word rape for so long. What happened to me was a violation, of my trust above all things. I can associate the word rape with that. And yet, I still don’t associate it with me.
I didn’t say yes and I didn’t say no. I’m stuck somewhere in between.
Human relationships are complicated. This person betrayed me and hurt me in a way that no one else ever has. And yet I still miss him. I cut off all contact with him, but sometimes I dial his number into my phone. I never hit the call button, but sometimes I want to so badly. I want to call him and ask:
“Can you please take it back? Can you make it so it never happened? I need your advice. I need your wisdom. I need my friend. Can we please just take it back?”
What am I supposed to do? Hate or forgive? I can’t hate him. Because to hate him is to hate myself. And I can’t forgive him. Because to forgive him is to forgive myself. I can’t do either. I’m stuck somewhere in between.
We have both lost. In one selfish act a friendship died. He has lost me forever. Maybe that’s enough.
By the end of seven years, every cell in your body dies and is replaced. Therefore, every seven years, you have different body than you did seven years ago. By that token, in another year and a half, there will be no part of my body that he was ever touched. Maybe then, finally, I will be ready to forgive us both.
[Contributed by: Sarah Carr]