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** Trigger warning **
One of my friends sent me a link this morning to this article: Why Don’t Cops Believe Rape Victims?
It talks about a phenomenon that’s really well known if you’ve received training in rape counselling, but perhaps is much less understood in the wider world: women who have been raped can very rarely recall their attacks in neat, linear narratives, and frequently they have intense sensory memories that interfere with any ‘story arc’ that we might expect to hear. The above article, and many others beside, can tell you far more about the biological basis for those things than I can. But even if you understand the research, I think it’s still tough to grasp what that non-linear narrative means.
So I thought I’d tell you about mine. I remember pretty well how the situation developed – I remember chatting at the front desk, being invited to the back office. After that, I mostly have short flashes of memory, like those sepia flashbacks that action movies are so fond of using. I remember him coming towards me for the first time, grabbing my neck. I can picture his chest above my head and the precise colour of the mahogony desk in that room. I can describe what the booking system on the computer looked like. Those are the sorts of visual memories I have.
Then there are the sensory ones. I can feel being pushed to my knees, the pain when he reached the back of my throat and, later, his hot breath dampening my scalp. I can hear being called a “sick bitch”, the sound of his trousers against the cheap carpet, the hum of the air-conditioning unit, quiet sobs. I can’t really recall any smells – I suppose there weren’t many, in that office.
But those are the sorts of memories I have. They’re disparate, not in any natural order. And it’s why, when a person has ever asked me to tell them “exactly what happened”, I have refused. Because what could I tell them that would satisfy them?
I don’t know if that’s helped understand what it’s like. But it’s the best representation of what my memories are – a jumbled and incomplete mess. And frankly, I don’t really want to sort through them. I suppose that might seem confusing – why wouldn’t you want to really know what happened to you? But one of the reasons I have steered clear of any counselling that might seek to ‘restore’ my memories is that I’m scared. Those things that I remember are unpleasant enough – I don’t feel the need to add to them. And whilst I can hardly claim to speak for every survivor of rape, I think that’s a fairly common thought.
Anyway, I thought this might be helpful 🙂
Today I stand in front of the mirror of the ladies’ toilet at work, and I stare at the face I see. This week, this month, I don’t recognise it as my own. The hair is the same blonde mess it always is; my face is still carefully painted on. But that hair and face and smile is who I am for eleven months of each year. Now it is the first day of October, and I am the girl I was 6 years ago.
I’m sitting on the toilet having a wee. As I feel the liquid trickle out, I am picturing the fading scars inside me, those pock marks and lines and swells that must linger on my flesh. They will be less obvious than they were last October. But they’re still there.
I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the supermarket. Last week I pushed a trolley down the table sauces aisle, gripping the handle tightly, pleading with myself not to lose it. I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, counted to ten. Rushing past the broccoli and the toothpaste and the liquid detergent, I smiled blandly at the checkout girl and made it to my car, breath ragged. My hands were shaking so much I knew I couldn’t drive home. So I sat outside and tried to calm down by appealing to nicotine. I sat and smoked a rare cigarette, and miraculously it worked. The anxiety attack I had expected to arrive full tilt was held back, and I was pleased about that.
And yet, the panic is still there, threatening me. Six years have gone by and, these days, the trauma of the past is lying just slightly out of reach. I know I should be proud that it does not dominate me any more. But instead I feel it hovering out of sight, threatening this life I have painstakingly built, and I know I have only a slender white and gold cylinder, leaving a foul taste in my mouth, to help keep it at bay.
This is the confirmation I dread every year. It is the first of October, and I’m still not fine.
I know I haven’t written a post in a while. To be honest it’s been quite a nice reprieve, because writing about rape makes you think about rape, and people talk to you about what you’ve written, and suddenly my life featured rape really heavily, which I hadn’t intended at all.
But now I’m sitting in the library preparing for an exam tomorrow and it strikes me that now might be the perfect time to write a quick post…!
It will be quick. I just wanted to give you links to some TED talks. If you haven’t discovered TED yet, they put online twenty minute long talks by people talking about all manner of things – be it the latest genetic discovery, or how to live a life. These talks fall more into the second category. The first I want to recommend links in very nicely with my last, ashram-based post, Strength. Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability, about letting ourselves be open. The second looks at whether violence towards women is rooted in how we teach boys to be ‘Men’ when they’re young. I’d genuinely be really interested in seeing some debate on this, particularly from male readers – is he right? Do you think he applies brush strokes that are a bit too broad, or do you have similar experiences?
Either way, enjoy discovering TED 🙂