I never went into town when I visited my dad in the years after I fled from my abusive boyfriend. I didn’t even drive through it. I was terrified of coming face-to-face with the man who nearly ended my life, and I didn’t dare risk running into anyone who may have asked where I’d gone. It was as if I had vanished, and I intended to keep it that way. But that particular weekend, my grandaddy needed vodka, and because his was a dry county and I was a good granddaughter, I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the Beverage Barn at the edge of town. Like a poorly played game of chess, the move seemed safe enough when I made it, but it was a mistake; the beginning of a chain of events that would go horribly wrong for me before the game ended.
He spoke to me while I stood at the register holding two half gallons of cheap vodka in my arms—the most popular guy in town ever. He was three years older than me and I’d hardly known him in high school, but he sat at the very top of the social food chain, and I admit I was flattered he’d remembered me. I’d heard that a football injury had taken him out of the game and he’d come home to run his family’s business after college. He was heavier than I’d remembered and not particularly the type of man I was drawn to, but he was a charmer.
His eyes never left mine when he asked how I’d been and where life had taken me. Then unexpectedly, he invited me to a party later that night.
Memories of cruel games he and his friends played while in high school flashed before my eyes; faces of girls I knew whose reputations they’d purposely destroyed. They became punchlines at their parties and the reason for many fights. I’d studied them—their hunting tactics—and could smell their bullshit from a mile away. I wasn’t seduced by their attention, their popularity, or the dream of wearing one of their class rings. I was smarter than they were, or so I thought.
“You should come with me. It’ll be fun,” he said.
Every fiber in my being screamed at me to turn him down, that nothing good would come from subjecting myself to the same crowd who had once looked down their noses at me, but because I was a little starstruck, I went against my instinct and agreed to meet him there. Besides, we weren’t in high school anymore—we were adults.
I’ll never know if it was an orchestrated plan or a moment of opportunity in their eyes, but before the night was through, a number of men—all of whom I’d probably known since childhood—had non-consensual sex with me. I didn’t know how many were between my legs, or even WHO had been between them. The only thing I was certain of in my drunken haze was that they’d surrounded the bed, watching as turn after turn was taken with me while I lay there, drunk and powerless. And I wasn’t restrained forcefully, I didn’t need to be. I was distracted by my date as he kissed me from the side of the bed. Hell, I have no idea how long it was before I realized he was not the one on top of me, and when I finally did, I was already drifting in and out of consciousness.
When I woke the next morning, I was hungover, sore, and terribly ashamed as the night before tumbled back to me in fuzzy pieces. I blamed the copious amounts of bourbon I drank, and I blamed myself for letting down my guard; for thinking high school mentality had been left behind, when clearly, it hadn’t. They still played their games; people still got hurt.
The thing is, I was a woman who enjoyed sex immensely. I didn’t always understand my desires as I do now, but even then, I thrived on them, even if it was only for a brief time. That morning, though, I didn’t feel the glimmer of power I normally felt after a night of sex. There was no feeling of satisfaction either as I climbed out of bed and over the carnage of sleeping bodies on the floor. I felt dirty; used. I gathered what was left of my pride, my blouse with missing buttons, and again, I fled town. And like I had done with so many of the traumatic moments of my life thus far, I buried the painful memory of that night where I prayed it wouldn’t be found.
Twenty-something years later, Heather and I talked about her gangbang fantasy and how that was a big ol’ ball of NOPE for me. It was then that I shared with her a glimpse into that night so long ago, into what I thought was a gangbang gone bad. She listened quietly, as if she were digesting the details bit by bit. Then she spoke:
“Sweetie, that wasn’t a gangbang. That was rape.”
The realization I had been raped slammed into me like a freight train, blowing the hinges off the door that held my emotions safely in place. How many times over the years had I come face to face with the men who raped me? How many of my rapists was I friends with on Facebook? How many of the men who sexually assaulted me sat in the same church on Sundays as my father? How could I hate the men who raped me if I didn’t know who they were? The biggest question, though, was how did I not see that night for what it was?
Part of the reason it wasn’t obvious to me that I was raped, I think, was because it wasn’t violent. And other than the bruises on the inside of my thighs, which I’d had many times before and after, there were no visible injuries. But even though it wasn’t violent, it was still rape. I was also an openly promiscuous woman who rarely uttered the word NO in a sexual situation, even when I wanted to. And believe me, there were times when I really wanted to say no but wasn’t quite sure how to do so. The word felt unnatural on my tongue, and in my mixed-up mind, I thought wasn’t supposed to say no, so I never did.
I still haven’t dealt with what happened to me; the emotional fallout. At this point, though, I don’t feel riddled with anxiety or full-blown pissed off. Should I be? Maybe, but I’ve already blown my life apart to piece it back together where my promiscuity and desire for rough sex finally made sense. I understand the reasons my abusive boyfriend was able to use them both to control me; hurt me in horrible ways. And I refuse to be crushed again. Have I come to terms, in a healthy way, with the realization that I was sexually assaulted? Of course I haven’t, and according to Heather, I only share a fraction of the pain I’m actually feeling. I always have. It’s how I deal with life. I know I give the impression that I’m an open book by sharing the most intimate details of my life, but I’m surprisingly private and guarded. Will I open the wounds and take a long hard look into them? Eventually, when I’m ready.
I’m sharing my story now, because I know there are others out there like me. Women who didn’t report sexual assault because they didn’t realize what happened to them was indeed, sexual assault. Women who at some point in their lives chalked up a bad sexual encounter as simply circumstance or bad luck, whether verbal consent was given or not. Let’s be honest, though, most of us have found ourselves in sexual situations we’ve regretted. But if you ever have, or have had the need to ask yourself whether or not it was rape, look closer at the source of that feeling. And if the answer is not clear, please, ask for help.