Writing by Sophie Rose // Illustration by Lauren Cohen
Forty three nights ago there was a rapist in my bed and now it no longer feels like my bed. It is somewhere I fall into at night, drifting into a fitful, sweaty, nightmarish incarnation of sleep.
Sometimes I don’t sleep at all. It is a focal point in my room and in my life, a large object taking up space. It ought to be “mine,” an intimate, cozy, comforting place, and it’s not. It’s just a surface. It constantly reminds me of the night it failed to keep me safe.
I can’t decide if it’s easier to feel helpless, knowing I couldn’t have done anything differently. If it’s simpler to come to the realization that some people are simply bad, that humans can turn out rotten, and that there’s nothing any of us can do to avoid that. Or maybe it’s easier to feel devastated, wondering if there was something else you could have done or said. Maybe it’s simpler to regret that single action or word you believe might have changed things, to replay it over and over in your head, driving yourself crazy with alternative scenarios.
Is it easier to feel neither thing – to be numb – or to feel both things, helplessly devastated, because at least then you can be sure you’re still capable of feeling?
I don’t know.
I know very little. I’m a brand new adult, fresh out of school. Vulnerable, lost, existential, and trying to make my way in this crazy world of ours. Paving a way for myself in a new city, with a new job, away from family, doing my best to grow, to adapt, to be confident on my own.
I’m told I need to discuss my assault so that I can start moving past it, stop letting it haunt me. Ironically, it was Halloween weekend, the spookiest of happy holidays, when I was raped by someone I knew, someone I trusted, someone I was sure – positive – would keep me safe.
We met four years ago in our first year residence at university. We were friends, and traveled in the same kinds of circles, before losing touch for a while. He came to parties at my house, was study pals with a few of my best friends.
No one could ever stop talking about how good a guy he was. He was like the underdog in the romcom, who was sometimes misunderstood, who was respectful and low key and funny and deserved to get the girl in the end. People – those I surrounded myself with – couldn’t understand why he’d never found himself in a romantic relationship.
This past October, we’d gotten back in touch. We’d been texting, flirting. In retrospect, it had mostly been a tactic to distract myself from the heartache I was feeling after a breakup. I’d lost the human that felt like my other half, my friend, my family, and my partner all at once. So when this new guy showed interest in me, it was exciting, it was something to distract me from the emptiness for a little while.
He’s from out of town, but he came into my city that weekend to visit a friend of ours from university. Most of the weekend we had a good time; we were all hanging out with friends. On his last night in town, after telling me he really liked me, and wanted to see where things went with me, he told me that he’d like to stay the night at my house.
I was hesitant for several reasons and gave him three or four (admittedly, not entirely committal) “no’s”. He continued to spew sweet mushy nothings into my ear, told me he needed it, pressuring me into saying yes.
The assaulter was staying with a mutual friend of ours that weekend. This mutual friend warned me that he had an exam the next morning and was going to bed shortly. The friend said that it was cool if the assaulter went back to my place, but that he couldn’t later decide to come back to sleep. Of course the friend didn’t refer to him as ‘the assaulter’ at the time.
I felt nervous about the guy’s insistence and about the fact that he’d be leaving town the next day. I was wondering what it might be like to spend some time alone with him. But I was uncomfortable. I’ve never been someone who likes sleeping next to a person I don’t already know very well.
There was no alcohol involved that night. When we got to my place I was originally on board with the idea of fooling around. Maybe that’s why he thought it was okay. Because at the very beginning, it was. But almost immediately, I changed my mind.
I remembered weeks later that he had been angry earlier in the weekend about things that didn’t involve me. I wondered whether he took that anger out on me; whether since he couldn’t control other parts of his life he decided to try and control me instead. That’s not me trying to excuse what he did, but trying so hard to understand why he did it.
I wasn’t ready to be intimate with anyone, I quickly realized. I didn’t like the way this guy acted, the way he smelled, the way his hungry eyes looked at me like a piece of meat. It didn’t feel good. Everything felt wrong. Everything was wrong.
I don’t mind a little roughness when it comes to intimacy, but he was too aggressive; throwing me around, slamming me into things, biting and chewing my lip so hard it bled. He undressed, and forced himself down my throat. He slapped me, choked me, bruised me. My face, different parts of my body. I was hurting. He was loving it, baring his teeth, trash-talking me, grabbing me, sticking parts of himself where he didn’t belong.
I was telling him to settle down, to be more gentle, that I didn’t like it – but that became part of the game. “Oh, yeah? You like this? You don’t? You don’t want it?” And then he’d ramp up the abuse. Some kind of sick role-playing.
At some point, with no preamble, he got on top of me and began trying to have sex with me. I was stunned. He’d just assumed that it was fine. I pressed my hand against his chest, pushing him away. I asked if he had a condom, to stall him, I guess. He didn’t move away from me and looked down incredulously.
“Aren’t you on the pill?” “Not anymore,” I said. “Well, it’s fine.”
“No, it’s not,” I said.
“I mean, I don’t have an STD, do you?” he scoffed.
No, I said, I didn’t. But I told him that I didn’t want to have sex because I didn’t want to have to worry about getting pregnant. That was my excuse for what was, honestly, just a feeling; I knew in my gut that even if everything had gone according to plan, even if he’d been a gentlemen, I didn’t want it. I wasn’t ready, and it didn’t feel right. And somehow I felt like that reason wouldn’t be enough to stop him – that somehow the excuse I gave would be more effective.
“It’s not happening,” I said. “It’s not going to happen. Sorry.”
So then he pulled me back onto my knees. He grasped my head firmly, digging his nails into my scalp, and thrust into my throat. Over and over and over. I wasn’t physically able to move. I felt bile rising from my stomach. Somewhere in the back of my head I wondered if my roommates could hear, if they’d understand what was going on.
After what felt like hours he pushed me back onto the bed. I was exhausted, terrified. I couldn’t budge. I got a few moments of quiet, eyes shut, fists clenched, trying not to cry, trying to figure out what to do, and suddenly something was pushing into me. It felt like it was tearing me open.
I opened my eyes and looked down to the foot of the bed. He was over me, trying to shove himself inside me again. He needed sex so badly he’d decided to override my objections. He needed it so badly he started to act while my eyes were closed, before I could say no for the second time. He needed it so badly it was worth taking advantage of an unwilling girl with her eyes closed, with tears streaming down her face, after she’d already denied him consent.
When I found my voice I told him we couldn’t. I told him to stop. He didn’t listen to me, didn’t look at me.
I tried pushing him off. He wouldn’t let me. He was pinning me down in such a way that I couldn’t move.
“What are you doing? Stop!”
He ignored me, muttering, still trying to push in further.
“Hm. I think maybe we need some lube.”
I don’t know exactly at which point the remaining shreds of my innocence withered away, but I think it might have been right then.
He wasn’t stopping.
A few more thrusts (his) and one more sobbed “stop” (mine) later he finally did.
He huffed in frustration – and then composed himself, looking at my face and leaning over my crushed soul to smile kindly at me. “It’s okay,” he said gently, stroking my face, holding me. “It’s okay.”
I remember – through all the misery and pain – feeling immense confusion at that. It was some fucked up form of condescension – some way for him to maintain control, as though I was the one who’d messed up. As though I was crying because I felt bad for denying him sex. As though denying him sex was something I should feel crappy about, and he was kindly willing to forgive me for denying him his god-given right. As though he was a sexual martyr, mature enough to be okay with me not getting him off the way he wanted.
I threw on clothes. He was lying facedown on my bed now, naked. I told him to move. He didn’t move. I told him again to move. It was the only word I could think to use.
He stayed where he was; looking up at me with a shit-eating grin, flat against my bed, chin on the covers, and wiggled his butt, grinding his pelvis into my sheets. I think maybe he thought he was being cute. I was disgusted.
I managed to get myself to the bathroom where I stood for four minutes staring at my face in the mirror. Did I look different? Would anyone be able to recognize what had happened to me? By the time I got back to my room he was in my bed, falling asleep.
I wanted him gone more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. But I knew I couldn’t send him back to our friend’s. That wouldn’t have been fair on our friend. I don’t know why I didn’t wonder about what was fair on me.
I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I was raw and exhausted. I huddled on the very edge of my bed, as far away from him as I could be. He was sprawling across my sheets.
He stole all the covers. I tried to sleep. I shut my eyes but could still see his face leering over me. Why was his breathing so slow? How could he be so calm? I have never felt so hollow, so violated, so alone. This awful, unfamiliar, predatory stranger I thought I knew making himself at home in my home.
I laid awake for hours on the sharp edge of the mattress. Freezing, shaking, and crying. There was a rapist in my bed, snoring softly, and I couldn’t breathe.
I know very little about what it means to be a sexual assault survivor. I found out only later that it had qualified as rape. I was referring to it as assault before I stumbled across the FBI’s definition of rape and realized that was what had happened.
“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
As soon as it became light outside I told him to go. He wouldn’t leave. I didn’t want to look at him. Kept my eyes closed, until I remembered what he might do while they were shut. Said I really needed him to go. He wanted me to cuddle with him. I shook him off of me. He grabbed me and pulled me to him.
“You’re not very good at cuddling,” he joked.
I shut my eyes again. He straddled me and forced my eyes to stay open with his fingers, laughing.
“Why won’t you look at me?!” he joked, again.
Still, somehow, thinking it was some kind of game. That my body was still his to control. Only when his friend texted him to get breakfast before leaving town did he finally get out of my house. He literally pushed me to the front door so that he could say goodbye to me on his own terms.
I washed my sheets twice that day. I had three showers. I still felt dirty. I went out and spent $42 on Plan B, just in case.
I still feel unclean. I still have trouble breathing.
I know very little about how to manage the aftermath of a trauma. I didn’t report him to the police. It didn’t occur to me as a viable option, and once it did, the idea drained me. I didn’t feel like dragging it out. I wanted to move on. And some piece of me didn’t want to mess up this guy’s life forever. Later I realized that maybe messing up his life would just have helped begin to even the playing field.
I sent him a text message two days afterwards and let him know how unacceptable and horrifying his behavior had been. I remember feeling badly that I couldn’t have done it over the phone, feeling ashamed that thinking of hearing his voice made me sick. Feeling badly because in some twisted way I wanted to be an “adult” when I called him out on his raping me. A friend ultimately gently told me that I didn’t owe him a phone call. I sent off the text and a full day later, I got a generally apologetic message in response (“If at any moment I thought I was causing this kind of harm I would have stopped”), and that was the end of it.
I’ve had a really hard time reaching out to friends. I don’t know how to broach the subject, and I don’t want pity from them – just a degree of support. So I’ve mostly kept it to myself. Part of that is because many of my friends also happen to know my assaulter. So, naturally, for the ones I have decided to tell, he is not “my assaulter,” he is their friend.
“We’ve known him for forever,” they say. “This just doesn’t match up.”
It’s nearly impossible for them to corroborate my “side of the story” with their vision of him (a nice, upstanding guy). And I don’t know how to ask them to.
To them it’s a “story” instead of reality. Just recently someone asked me tentatively how I was feeling towards the guy now. “It’s been some time since then,” the person said. “At this point, how do you see him? Is he a good person who made a bad mistake?”
The friend brought up his apology too. “The fact that he apologized…that he knew he’d done something wrong…that’s got to change something for you, right?”
As though the apology might redeem him.
Of course he knew he’d done something wrong. He is a grown man who didn’t listen to ‘no’, who didn’t listen to ‘stop’, who didn’t respect my body.
I’m grateful to this friend for asking questions, for letting me know that my answers matter. But I don’t know how to make anyone understand how inhuman this guy is to me now, how inhuman he has made me feel.
Less than two weeks later, a sexual assaulter was elected our president, and somehow, that made what had happened to me more acceptable. Made it more right. I won’t believe anyone who tries to tell me that Trump’s election isn’t catastrophic, or isn’t personal to me. Are little boys going to grow up thinking our society validates rapists?
My soul, my mind, my body, my heart – they shattered together as one on Halloween. Some of the broken pieces of me fell straight down, and are patiently waiting at my feet as I take my time picking them up. Other pieces of me flew away, flew backwards, back to times I felt the safest and happiest, times that are no longer a part of my reality.
I’m longing for those times now, times before this happened, times that I felt strong. I’m longing for those people who know me like the back of their hand. They made me feel like I could be anything, made me feel as though I would never be unhappy or scared a day in my life. Being with them was like coming home.
Longing for them, although they’re not currently able to take part in my life, makes me immeasurably sad. Believing, however foolishly, that everything would be okay if I could curl up next to that one person who loves me, buoys me with a hope I am able to recognize is false and misguided, and it’s a hope I hold onto regardless. I cling onto any stale, residual happiness I can find as I search the sky and the sea for those ones who slipped away.
I recognize that I have to keep moving forward, moving on, but I’m not sure how to yet – every path forward still means I’m hurting. It still means that this happened. Spending time with my memories is helping to remind me what kind of love and support I deserve.
To everyone in my life: I don’t need you to feel this as strongly as I do. I don’t need you to have the answers, or to try to feel empathy. I don’t need you to choose sides. What I need is your willingness to be a positive presence. What I need is an open mind. I need you to recognize that pain and anger and PTSD-born anguish and hollowness are things I cope with daily. I need you to understand that I am jittery, unsettled, sensitive, and easily alarmed when I wasn’t before, and that right now that I’m unable to go near a club or house party or anyplace else wherein the notion of consent is blurry.
I need you to know that there is a depressive knot that has made itself at home in my chest, a knot I am trying desperately to undo so that it doesn’t affect my interactions with you. I need you to respect that these will be things I am living with for as long as they decide to stay in me. Most importantly, I need you to have faith in my experience, faith that I am telling the truth, and to promise to support me in that truth.
My body was the only thing in my life that was fully mine. It was mine, and then it wasn’t. I don’t blame myself for what happened, but it’s fundamentally changed me as a human being.
I know very little. I’m still just a kid. I cry, I crave affection, I don’t always pay the bills on time, I mope, I whine, I sleep too much, I don’t exercise enough, I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. I am jealous, and anxious, and cynical, and sad, and unhealthy, and I miss my mom always.
But I also know that I give, I create, I play, I learn, I am awesome at birthdays and amazing at surprises, I work hard at my job, I bake delicious things, I take great care of my little brothers, and I love with my whole being. I am bright, and reliable, and thoughtful, and brave, and talented, and I miss my mom always. I know enough to know that I have a lot to learn. And I know the difference between right and wrong, and I expect those close to me to know the difference as well.
I wonder why society wants to make men feel so absurdly powerful. Why we tell them they can do “anything” they set their mind to. I wonder who made him feel like the world, my world, was his to conquer. Why is masculinity so toxically stagnant? When the concept and nuances of femininity change constantly, why does being masculine always have to mean being in control?
I know very little, but I know Halloween will always be scary for me, no matter how old I get. People tiptoe around the word “rape”. That’s why I decided to keep using it to describe this incident, which I could otherwise vaguely call an event or an assault. It makes people uncomfortable to hear it, or to say it, or to think it could happen to someone they know. But it did happen to me, and I owe it to myself to refer to it as such. Society doesn’t know yet how to talk about it. I think part of it is that no one wants to know that anyone else is scared, because no one knows how to make anyone else feel safe.
I’ve been grieving, and I’m still broken, but I want to own myself again. I got a new piercing, which makes me feel as though I am in control of my body. I got a haircut, so that I could feel pretty, worthy, again. I got a therapist, to get my head back in a good place. I got into aerial yoga, which in a very real way is helping me to build new trust.
I’m learning that I can’t compromise my own feelings in order to make other people feel more comfortable about my situation. I’m done letting others tell me how I should or shouldn’t feel about the violation of my body. Our bodies are precious and beautiful and personal and ours, and anyone who doesn’t respect that does not deserve my understanding or forgiveness.
I think we all struggled with 2016 for one reason or another. And I’m hoping we can come together in 2017 to promote education, honesty, and respect. I hope we can all start appreciating our bodies and our minds for all their quirks and “flaws.”
We have to recognize that we’re each doing the best we can, and that we each deserve the best. We have to take care of ourselves, but we also have to take care of each other. Moving forward in this political climate means protecting one another – providing help to those who need it and making sure every woman feels heard and understood.
I wrote this for all females who are trying to get by in this difficult world, for those whose experiences have ever been questioned and whose suffering has ever been invalidated.
I wrote this for everyone who would stereotype a rapist. You might not know one if you saw him on the street. It’s not something a person always wears on his face. He looks just like your friend, your teacher, your colleague. Do people have a hard time believing my reality because he doesn’t “look like” a rapist? Because he doesn’t “seem like” one? I didn’t think he did either.
All I knew of him was that he acted honest and good. But sometimes we are wrong about people, and most of the time we don’t recognize or accept that fact until we see they are capable of doing something terrible to us.
I wrote this for everyone who would stereotype a survivor. You might not know one if you saw her on the street. It’s not something a person always wears on her face. She looks just like your friend, your teacher, your colleague. She’s in pain, but she doesn’t always know how to express it, nor does she always think that she should. She doesn’t know if people will listen or if they will try to understand.
I wrote this for me, to find some degree of peace, to start healing.
I wrote this for my friends and family, because I know how unusual and complicated my attitude and my actions have seemed lately, and I want to explain. Writing is the best way I know how.
I wrote this for the amazing parents and educators doing what they can to raise morally-aligned kids in a society teeming with grey area and bad deeds unpunished.
I wrote this most of all for anyone who’s been through sexual assault. I believe you, and I’m with you.
No one on this earth can do everything alone. I hope all humans consider giving in a more abstract sense this season. Give trust, give attention, give kindness. Find immaterial ways to support those you care about, whether or not they’re struggling. If you don’t know how, ask them what will help them and what will make them happy.