Revolution #280, September 16, 2012
“I Still Don’t Call It Rape and the Weight of It Gets Heavier All the Time”
Originally published by End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women as part of their growing collection, “Stories from the War Zone.”
The piece on this page, and the response to it by Andrea Strong, RAPE is NEVER the Victim’s Fault, originally appeared online at stoppatriarchy.tumblr.com. Responses to either or both of these pieces, as well as letters telling further “Stories from the War Zone,” are strongly encouraged and can be sent to StopPatriarchy@gmail.com or submitted through the website StopPatriarchy.org.
I was 42 before it really, seriously dawned on me that my first sexual experience was an assault. Even now, in my late 50s, I cannot say that it was rape. Rape is what happens to others; this wasn’t “as bad.” Even as I write about it now I have to soften it, distinguish it from real pain, by calling it an assault.
It was 1970; I had just turned 15. Much of my life seemed out of control (parents, peer pressure, poverty, etc.) but it was all better when I was babysitting. I had my regular job, every day after school and usually Friday and Saturday nights. They were a great hippie couple (both 31) with four wonderful boys. She was beautiful, earthy, smart, and funny. He had long dark hair pulled into a ponytail, stoner blue eyes, and wore tie-dyed t-shirts and love beads. They knew all the local bands, went to all the trippy parties, and stayed out all night long. They introduced me to Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, and weed. She worked all day at an office to pay the bills; he flaked from job to job without much real success. He graduated from seminary school and was a minister for a few years. That is how I met them: he worked at a neighborhood church running all kinds of cool programs for kids. By the time I babysat for them he was already into a different line of non-work.
I wanted to grow up and be in that same kind of situation. I could imagine myself as that mom with some great hippie guy. He was good looking, I had a crush on him, and I wanted to be like his wife so I brought it on myself. For years I blamed myself for what happened.
He called me up and asked me to babysit. It was a Wednesday night so it was a little strange but I said yes. I got to the house but he was the only one there; even the kids were gone. He said he was working on a surprise for his wife and wanted my help. We needed to go into the bedroom. Somehow it involved her closet or her stuff in that room. The rest happened pretty fast. He didn’t use real force or bully me. Maybe I was a little flattered but then I was scared and wayyyyy out of my league. But I tried to be cool and seem in control. I didn’t want him to think I was scared. I don’t remember much about the next 5 minutes. All that lying and betrayal took a whole 5 minutes. But I remember what happened next. He looked at the sheets and was disappointed that there wasn’t more blood. He even commented on it. Again I wanted to be cool so I said I wasn’t a virgin, I did it all the time. I was just having my period. He said I was the 7th virgin he’d taken to bed since his marriage but now he was disappointed in me; I wasn’t really a virgin.
I don’t remember how it all became public. Somehow she found out, my parents found out, maybe they would call the police. There were phone calls and threats made. My parents, who could barely help themselves, did try to help me. They tried to hold him accountable legally, as if that was going to reassure and comfort me. They were hurt and I hated to see them hurt. I made that happen, I made them hurt and I couldn’t stand the pain I caused them. I hurt that woman. She never let me back in her house. I lost her, I lost her boys, I hurt everybody, and I couldn’t stand to see the damage I had done and the pain in everyone’s eyes. I broke everybody and made everything bad.
Over the years I aged but didn’t really grow up. I found myself a hippie guy and had kids of my own. I screwed up so many things and damaged and hurt so many people along the way but that is the material for a different essay. If I ever thought about being 15 and losing my virginity it was always in the context of “serves you right” and “you brought it on yourself.”
When I was 42, I was driving through town with my best friend. I said “You’re not going to believe what happened this week.” I took my kids to the library. What a shock—I saw that hippie mom working the counter. Even though I had moved 100 miles away and over 20 years had passed, there we were again. They had moved to my town and she worked at my library. I broke into a cold sweat when we were checking out books but she didn’t recognize me. She was nice, pleasant even. As we drove around town I told my friend about my experience at age 15; I told her that I could never take my kids back to that library. I found out where in town they lived and I could never go to that part of town. I was still embarrassed and guilty and shameful. Somehow they had managed to stay together and they had moved to my town. It was now my job to stay out of their way and never make them remember the pain I had caused.
There is a reason that we have best friends. They tell us stuff we are supposed to know about ourselves but don’t. She got mad for me. She felt the pain for me that I could never feel. She felt the rage for me that I could never express. In the next 5 minutes she showed me a different way to interpret those 5 minutes so many years earlier. It never, ever dawned on me that I was only 15 and he was 31. It never occurred to me that I was a child, that I didn’t know everything, I wasn’t really cool, I didn’t ask for it, it did hurt, I was lost, I did run away from home, I didn’t want anyone else to hurt but I never let myself hurt. It never dawned on me that it wasn’t just all my fault.
I know it in my head now but I still don’t really feel it. I still qualify it. I know women who have had it so much worse. My story is nothing. I didn’t suffer as much as others so it isn’t really the same. I don’t take on all the blame anymore but I still can’t let it go. I recently found some pictures of that hippie minister from back in the day. I found a few of another neighbor man for whom I babysat. He tried the same thing but I was wiser that time. I found a few other pictures of old family friends who tried the same kind of thing but I was better at fighting off old men. Where are these men now? How many lives have they damaged? How did they ever think it was acceptable?? What kind of father looks for ways to stain his sheets with the blood of young girls? What kind of sons did he raise? Where are those men today? Where are their daughters? Did they ever learn anything different?
Now I am almost 60. I tell the story and share my “aha” moment from the past—my best friend’s outrage and my realization. But I still don’t feel it. I mostly still feel the guilt and shame. I will burn the pictures of those men because they don’t deserve any more recognition in my life. I can cry the tears, I can say that the good in my life outweighs the bad, and I can say that I have now processed the experiences. But it doesn’t really change anything. I still don’t know what to do with the anger and the weight of it just gets heavier all the time.
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