I couldn’t speak up then, but I have to now.
In my imagination, the first question the police ask me is, what was I was doing at a party where I didn’t know anyone? My answer sounds like an indictment: I was there because cute guys invited me, and because I was lonely.
I was walking home after seeing a movie with my dad and my brother, feeling kind of pathetic because it was a Saturday, and I had no plans for the rest of the night. Two guys I’d never seen before were sitting on their stoop at the end of my block, laughing and drinking out of paper-bagged bottles. I don’t remember how we started talking; I just know it didn’t seem strange or dangerous at the time. It was a neighborhood full of young people—college students, like me. People were always having parties. I was usually alone in my apartment.
My doctor had started me on antidepressants a few months earlier; I don’t really remember the circumstances. I guess I must have been depressed. That’s the thing about depression—your brain goes dark and fuzzy. It’s hard to remember the details. I just remember coming out of it; the way the world suddenly felt so friendly. I’d gone from walking around in a fog, all wrapped up in my own angst, to being the kind of person who chats up strangers on the bus. At the end of the day, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
So it didn’t seem that weird to stop and talk to these guys, and hang out with them on their stoop. When they invited me to come up to their apartment where they were having a party, I figured, why not?
Did I have some sort of romantic movie scenario in my head, in which one of these cute boys ended up being my soulmate? Maybe. Did I hope one of them would kiss me, and we’d exchange numbers, and I’d float home feeling that the world was a magical and exciting place? Probably.
I know I never imagined being pinned down, the room spinning around me so fast, wondering if I was going to die because I couldn’t breathe.
After that night, I stopped taking the antidepressants.
“I don’t feel like myself,” I told my doctor.
I didn’t tell him the real reason. If I hadn’t been so feeling so cheerful, so open, so sunny and unsuspecting, I never would have started talking to those boys. I never would have walked into a party full of strangers.
I didn’t tell anyone for months. The bruises had faded, the scratches and bite marks healed, by the time I sat across from a counselor at the rape crisis center. The center was in a comfortable old house, and I was sitting on a cozy sofa with a cup of tea, but my teeth chattered and I struggled to get the words out. Even then, in a place where I was supposed to be safe, with a person who was ready to believe me, I was terrified.
If I could hardly manage to report what had happened in those surroundings, how could I have possibly told a police officer? I’d never even been to a police station in my life. And then what? Would I have been taken to a hospital? Told to change into a paper gown under bright lights? Would people have come at me with gloved hands and cold instruments?
No. Even now, I can’t imagine it. The truth was, I didn’t even realize I’d been raped until long after the evidence had been washed away. The first thing I did when I got home was sink into a long, hot bath. I wonder if he knew that’s what I’d do. I wonder if that’s what most of us do.
I can still hear him whispering in my ear that night, after he was finished. “What’s the matter? Didn’t you like that? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Physical evidence or not, it would have been my word against his.
He seemed to think I wanted it—maybe I had. Maybe the part of me that wanted it was the same part that used to take the clip out of my hair and dig its teeth into the inside of my arm, stopping short just before I drew blood, holding it there until the pain blotted out everything else.
Is that the sort of thing you say in a police report?
I couldn’t speak up about my rape then, but I have to now. If someone asks me to write about it or talk about it, I always will. It’s not easy. I keep reminding myself to breathe, as I write this. I imagine people looking at me and thinking about it. Do they picture it? Do they wonder if I’m telling the truth? Do they wish I would just shut up about it already?
I can’t let myself care. I’m not writing this for them. I’m writing it for anyone else who is still wondering if it was her fault. If she somehow asked for it. If she wanted it; deserved it. If it really happened at all. If one person reads this and realizes it’s not her fault and she’s not alone, it’s worth it.
Elizabeth Laura Nelson lives in Brooklyn with her two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to get up and sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.
This originally appeared on SHESAID. Republished here with permission.