After my series of posts on rape, which you can read here and here, a woman contacted me. She had her own story, but felt too exposed writing in the comments. I asked her if she would send it to me. I am so glad she did.
She had tried, in a way, to tell people many times that she was raped, but it wasn’t until years after that she was finally heard. Following is E’s story, in her words, written down for the first time. Let’s hear her.
Rob* was the first boy I ever thought I loved. I was 14, and he was 17. He had the kind of dark brown eyes that sucked you into his soul. He had long hair, a feather earring, and a leather jacket. He told me I was beautiful every day in art class, even before I got my contacts and started wearing tight clothes, and one rainy afternoon he convinced me to take a walk with him. I’d only ever kissed before, but he scooped me in his arms and touched me in places I didn’t know I could be touched. I thought it was magical, and I went home sure that he was the one. And two days later, when I told him I wanted to be with him, he told me he had a girlfriend.
For the next year I pined after him while dating other boys. I lost my virginity to someone I dated for a while, a boy who told me he loved me, and who I can honestly say I loved back. Still, always, I watched Rob as he passed, with his dark eyes and rebel hair, whispering to me behind his girlfriend’s back about how much he missed me.
At a party one New Year’s Eve, he approached me.
“What about your girlfriend?”
“We’re done,” he said, his breath all warm and gooey with alcohol.
I had tried a few glasses of boxed wine myself—not enough to fall over, but enough to open up. Enough to be too much for any 15-year-old.
“That makes me happy,” I said. “I’ve always cared so much for you.”
“I know, me too,” he said. He spent the next hour telling me how screwed up his life had been, how I was nothing like his ex-girlfriend, and how he wondered what would have happened had he chosen me—and at midnight, he kissed me.
“Come on. I’ll drive you home,” he said, and like we’d never separated on that rainy day, we ended up in the back of his car in an Abbey Carpet parking lot.
He was aggressive, impatient, and cold. I ached to feel what we’d had—but I was also tipsy. So as he yanked off my clothes, I think I wanted it, at first.
“Turn over,” he said. He pushed my head against the door and tried again, but I wasn’t ready. “We just need to try something else,” he said. He flipped me over and I pushed back on his shoulders, uncomfortable. When I looked into his eyes, I couldn’t see anything, and I realized Rob wasn’t really there with me.
I’d already had sex. I’d already felt love. Our moment together wasn’t supposed to be like this.
“Rob, I don’t think I want to,” I said. “I think we should stop.”
He buried his face in my neck, panting and pushing ahead.
“Wait,” I said. My voice was calm. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “This doesn’t feel right. I want to stop.”
He kept going, kissing me to quiet me, but I turned my head.
“I want to stop,” I said. I pushed at his waist, pushed at his shoulders, all the while still not sure how to stop him without upsetting him—because this was supposed to mean something. I whimpered a few times, but he still didn’t hear me. “Rob, no, please stop.” He didn’t.
I remember staring at the ceiling. I remember thinking that the boy that day in the woods would never have done this. He would never have ignored me when I said I didn’t want to. He would never have shushed me as I said stop, and I don’t want to, and no, interchangeably, exactly twenty-three more times, only coming to when I punched him in the shoulder.
“Rob,” I said. I wiped at the tears in my eyes and he looked at me, like he finally realized who I was and what I was doing beneath him. “I want to stop. Please stop!”
So he climbed off of me and put on his clothes, and stared at me as I hunched in the backseat and put mine back on too. We didn’t speak as he drove me home, and when I got out of the car, he said, “I’m glad we got to spend some time together.”
I shut the door and walked into the house, numbly brushing my teeth and washing my face. Then I curled under the covers in the middle of my bed and called my best friend.
“Honey,” she said. “How many times did you say ‘no’?”
“Over twenty,” I whispered. “But I don’t think it was rape. I don’t think he meant it. I think he was confused.”
And I believed that. I’m not sure why I did, but I convinced myself it was true.
The next day, I told some friends. I also told them I didn’t think it was rape because he didn’t know any better. The word spread around campus, and his sister cornered me after school.
“Don’t you dare tell anyone he raped you,” she said. “He would go to jail. He’s 18.”
“I know,” I said, terrified. She held up her fist.
“Besides, it’s not like you’re a virgin. You started it.”
And that’s what I heard for several days.
“You’re not a virgin. And you started it.”
So that’s what I believed.
“I’m not a virgin. And I started it.”
A few weeks later, he started calling me all the time. He told me how much he cared about me. We even talked about being friends. He said, “I didn’t know that you felt I took advantage of you.”
“Rob, I said no. I said no so many times.”
“But you started it,” he said, “and you wanted it. I didn’t realize you were telling me to stop.”
Somehow I kept talking to him for several more weeks, until something in my gut told me it wasn’t right. Then I stopped answering his calls.
When I was eighteen, I finally shared the story with my boyfriend. I remember he rubbed my back as I told it, but when I got to the end he sighed and wrinkled up his face.
“Honey,” he said, “I’m really sorry, but you started it. I just don’t understand how you can blame him. You wanted to, at first, and then you changed your mind? That wasn’t his fault.”
So I convinced myself that maybe it really was my fault. Maybe, because I wasn’t a virgin, and I started it, I was supposed to just lie there and let it happen.
One night in college, I told a friend. She clutched a pillow to her chest as I told her in the most monotone of voices, and then I laughed off what had happened with one little sentence: “It wasn’t rape, because I started it.” That’s when she grabbed me by both shoulders and shook me.
“Listen to me,” she said. “Don’t you ever, ever say that again. It was rape. It was rape the first time you said no. And then it was rape twenty something more times. Don’t you ever tell yourself you weren’t raped again.”
“But I wasn’t—“
“You were raped,” she said. And I remember crying in her arms.
It’s been fourteen years since my friend shook me and forced me to say the words. To repeat out loud that what happened was indeed rape. To repeat out loud that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t a virgin, and it didn’t matter that I started it. Even writing this I have to repeat it again and again to myself, because I was 15 and impressionable, and all I heard then was that it was my fault, so it stuck.
I work with teenagers now, and sometimes, when I overhear them talking about their love lives and their boyfriends, all I can hope is that they know how to say no, and that they know how to hear no. And then comes the heaviest thought of all: that, should something this awful ever happen to them, they never doubt and hurt themselves as badly as I did when I listened to the people around me and took the blame, convincing myself that all twenty-seven times I said no didn’t matter, and that because I wasn’t a virgin and I started it, I wasn’t raped.
Because I was.