“I don’t feel safe anywhere Jack, and I haven’t for over 12 years. Christ, it took me over six months to trust that you weren’t just some guy trying to take something from me.” She said.
“Look, I’m not going to say anything even close to ‘I understand’ – because I don’t, yet. I really want you to help me understand it though, if it’s not too hard to go into.” Jack said, carefully.
She sensed the absolute sincerity in his voice as he said it.
“No, I guess you wouldn’t really understand it, would you? Not in the same way a woman does anyway.” She says, voice trailing off into thought.
“I’m sure a few men might, but I’m not one of them. I really want to though, I want to know what you went through, and are still going through now too.” Jack Says.
“Something was taken away from me twelve years ago.” Janet begins. “Something that feels like I’ll never get back, ever. Even just a decade ago, there were people who would say things like ‘he didn’t take away the important part of you’ or ‘don’t let this change who you are inside’ – and those were people who knew me, and were trying to comfort me. People who cared about me didn’t even know what it was like Jack, and I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t in the mood to try and tell them either. Not then anyway, not so soon after. Shit, it probably took me two years to really come to terms with all of the changes brought on by that one single night. Two years of therapy, of self-analysis and internal inventorying before I could admit to all of the changes. Can you imagine that?” She asked him.
“Well, imagine it is about all I can do. That’s why I want to hear it from you, I don’t want to have to keep guessing at it. I don’t really like feeling wrong all the time, and that’s how this feels.” He says.
“Yeah, that’s my fault to a degree. I want to stay up in my protected fort and hurl snowballs down at you for not being able to get in. It’s so automatic to me now, I’m not always aware of when I’m doing that. But that’s just part of it Jack, just part of what gets changed in you after being raped – there’s so much more to it. Trust, the loss if it, is just the most obvious one, and maybe the longest lasting too.”
“Let me start back then, just before everything happened. I was like any other nineteen-year-old college student, away at a new school, in a new town. I got involved in campus activities, I worked at the bookstore, and had a new group of friends who were totally cool. I was exploring my new adult life like it was an attraction at an amusement park. Everything was fun, or cool, or sophisticated, and I wanted to be part of it all. I was so happy, so filled with enthusiasm, and so painfully naïve too. I quite literally trusted everyone around me, and why wouldn’t I? It wasn’t like the school published a list of creepy predators in the campus paper. They wanted us to all believe that we were in a special and highly insulated environment there, and I bought into it.”
Jack could see this was getting painful for her, so he chose to remain quiet, foregoing even the usual noises of acknowledgement one uses in a conversation.
“My roommates had told me about the part that night, not far off campus at a frat-house. The guys there were cool, they said. Other parties they’d been to were supposedly great, so ‘why not?’ I thought, let’s go. In all honesty the three of us had a couple of drinks while we got ready, so I was about half-buzzed by the time we headed over there. I’d guess there were about 75 to 100 people there, but it wasn’t over crowded because it was kind of a huge place. We found some other girls we knew by the kitchen area, and I knew I needed to eat something before I drank anymore. But, just like most parties thrown by guys, their idea of food was chips and gross dips. By the time I decided which chips were the least disgusting, someone had already put a drink in my hand. We were talking, snacking and bouncing to the music that was way too loud. Pretty much a normal party, at least to me anyway.”
“After a couple of hours, the guys there had figured out that all the women were inside, and they started picking us off one by one to go out and dance. One guy had come up and asked me to dance a couple of times, but I was happy where I was and declined politely. By the time it was just Circe and me, he was back for a third try and I gave in. I hadn’t realized how buzzed I was until I had to walk out back to where everyone was dancing. He had to catch me twice before we even got to an open spot to dance. I thought that the physical activity of dancing would clear away the buzz I had, but it really didn’t. After two songs, he suggested we go back in and get some water, and I thought that was kind of sweet. We circled around the other dancers, and went into a different door of the house, then down some stairs. He told me this was just a different way in, and it’d be more quiet there. It was his room, and once inside he spun me around a couple of times, and flung me onto his bed. I was doing my best not to barf on his bed, wishing I was a lot closer to a bathroom, when I realized that he was pulling off my skirt and underwear. I told him to stop, I didn’t even know him and I wasn’t in the habit of sleeping with a guy I didn’t know. I remember him telling me that he couldn’t understand a thing I was saying. I have no idea if that was true, or just a clever disclaimer he used to keep doing what he wanted to. I know I passed out for some amount of time, because when I woke up, I was upstairs on the couch. I could hear Circe’s voice near me, and I tried to call out to her, but I was still in bad shape. When I woke up again, I was still on that couch, but I was a lot more sober, and a lot more aware of what had happened. I sat up and instantly felt the soreness in my crotch, I yelped and that woke Circe who asked what was up. When I told her that I thought that guy raped me, she asked me if I was sure! Then she told me about how drunk I was, and asked me again if I was ‘really sure it was rape?’. I know she didn’t really deserve it, but I started screaming at the top of my lungs at her. I know I woke up everyone in the place because they mostly all started to appear in doorways or stairwells. I got embarrassed when I saw them all, and just grabbed my things and ran back to my dorm room. I had no idea what to do, and I was pissed off at myself for having felt embarrassed and running away from where it had happened. I needed time to think, and because I felt gross, I decided that I could clear my head in the shower. Mistake number one.” She said.
“In the shower I had decided to call the campus police and report what had happened. About thirty minutes after I called, an officer was at my door to take a report. She was kind of cool at first, just listening and making short notes as I talked. Yes, I had been drinking; No, I didn’t know his full name; Yes, I knew where he lived; and then ‘You haven’t bathed since the incident have you?’ Fuck. I guess I hadn’t watched enough cop shows as a kid to know any better. I washed away just about all the proof I had that I was raped. The cop just shook her head and told me that we should go to the hospital anyway for a rape kit. That was humiliation number one.”
“To bring this part to a close, I’ll just say that the only saving grace was that he must have been drunk too, and forgot to wear a condom – they were able to get DNA from what he left in me. He was arrested, a magistrate listened to both sides, and offered him a plea deal of simple assault. He served no time, and didn’t even have to register as a sex offender. That’s the end of the story if it were one you were watching on TV, but since this is real life, it was only chapter one in an ever evolving novel.”
“That one night, I lost so much of what had been my normal life, I couldn’t have even imagined it then. I lost my trust Jack, that simple human quality we have to just trust other people initially. That was all gone, poof! Janet would never just up-front trust anyone ever again, not even other women. How fucked up is that huh? Something that most people take for granted, I bet most barely even think about it. But I do, every single day. You’ve probably imagined meeting a women, maybe in a bar, having a couple of drinks with her, hopping she likes you enough for it to turn into something. Well, that’s never going to be me, ever. Now, every man that shows interest in me, is an instant suspect. Having your trust taken away from you is like being on-guard all the time, and it’s exhausting Jack. My mind is on alert 24/7 and sometimes I forget to relax for days at a time. I’m like a tensed muscle just waiting to spring into action, and 99% of the time it’s all for naught.”
“Well, definitely in the couple of years just after it happened, I was absolutely sure that I needed to be hyper-vigilant just to protect myself from harm. Everyone was a potential attacker, either physically or mentally, but all were suspects. Even with an excellent therapist it was going to take me about five years to own, accept and forgive all of the things I was blaming myself for. See, Jack, that’s another thing that happens when a person has all of their sense of control stripped away – we blame ourselves for it. We bludgeon ourselves with ‘whys’ – why did I go there? Why did I drink so much? Why did I agree to dance with the fucker? So many demanding questions put to myself over and over, hell a hardline prosecutor couldn’t have done any better. All because my own personal control was ripped away from me, violently.”
“You were blaming yourself for being raped?” Jack asked cautiously.
“Absolutely. Think about it, don’t you have an internal sense of being able to control things in your life? Don’t you have a plan in your mind if someone were to try and rob you, or steal your wallet? We all have that Jack, I don’t think a person could function in daily life if they didn’t have some feeling of control. But it’s an illusion for the most part, because so many things can happen to us that we have zero control over. Zero. That’s a pretty tough thing to try and come to terms with, a scary thing if you think about it too much. Even after all of that therapy, I still couldn’t give up on it. I needed, hell, I still need – to believe that I have some control over a few things in my life. Sadly, one of the ways I exercise that control is by keeping people out of my inner space. My mind, my heart, my emotional space were all things I could control without a doubt. It wasn’t until I met you Jack, that I started to realize just how isolated I was.” She said.
“Well, I’m not sure what I did, but I’m glad I did it.” Jack said with a gentle smile.
“You were, well, you are just being you. You’re one of those rare people who’s just comfortable in their own skin. You don’t analyze people, or judge them for superficial crap either. You just seem to let each person you know write their own biography in your mind. To you, everyone is just who they appear to be until they show you something different. That’s a pretty great quality Jack, I hope you never lose it. But, even when we first met, I was guarded and distrusting. I can’t promise you that I’ll ever get past being like that Jack.” She says, tears coming now.
“Do you mean overall, with everyone? Then, no, you probably won’t. But, with selected people that you’ve come to know pretty well, I think you already have. Don’t sell yourself short like that, you’ve come a long way. Sure, it took me a long time to get to know you, but I sensed that you were worth it. If you were 100% guarded, I don’t think I could have sensed anything, except hostility maybe. All I’m saying is that you’ve found a way to reveal little glimpses of yourself to people that you want to trust, and we see it. I saw it, and I liked it, and I knew I was going to be in it for the long run. Even if we just ended up being friends, I knew it’d be worth it.”