Empathy vs. Survival

TRIGGER WARNING: Relatively graphic depictions of assault/rape

Today I got into an argument with some fucking cab company owner about the prevalence of assault/rape cases with Uber & Lyft vs. Taxis. Like most disagreements on Twitter, it went really fucking poorly and neither one of us wanted to listen to the other. My point being that no matter what form of public transportation you use, it will never be totally safe. His point being that people should use taxis because they don’t have the amount of cases documented like Uber/Lyft do. Who knows whether or not the things he said were true – that there’s a FBI database and agencies have to report annually, etc etc. It still didn’t make what I said untrue: I KNOW people who have been assaulted in cabs. There is no magical, infallible system that prevents dangerous people from being in charge of others. But he didn’t care. And didn’t believe me.

Somehow, even though I wasn’t talking about me, I started to feel so incredibly defensive. Another case of some asshole on the internet not believing me. Not believing what people go through, despite the so-called stringent security measures in place. I ended up finally blocking them, then crawling into the shower to hug my knees to my chest as I sat in the tub and let the scalding hot water cascade over me. It took every ounce of willpower to not slice, slice, slice. Cut the indignant anger and irrational pain away so I could be calm again. I slinked out and laid in bed, listening to music. Trying to figure out what the fuck to do with these feelings of not being heard, of being invisible. So here I am.

Today, I’m going to tell you a few stories. These are all things that have happened to me. They are not black and white. I was never held down and I never screamed “stop”. You might think I deserved some of these things – for getting too drunk, for dressing too slutty, for not running away. Fuck you if you think this. I don’t care. I’m not writing these down for the fucking Soul Cabs of America who want to spout stupid fucking statistics like it somehow eradicates the very real, very fucking terrifying experiences assault and rape survivors have had. Maybe I’m stupid for repeatedly getting myself into these situations. Maybe I should have known better, been smarter, behaved better. But I didn’t deserve any of this. And if any of this sounds familiar, then you didn’t either. I believe you and I support you and I will never, ever blame you. Anyone who does needs to be removed from your life immediately. Because you don’t deserve to sit at the bottom of the emotional well, drowning, shivering, praying someone will notice your pain.

When I was maybe seventeen or so, my friend’s boyfriend had us over for some drinks. It was a really strange night, to be honest. An ex-boyfriend of mine was there, as well as a mutual friend. Five of us in all. We played Apples to Apples and took shots. The host egged my friend and I on, saying we couldn’t drink as much as him. Being young, naive, unaware of how women process alcohol differently and not willing to back down from a challenge, we matched him shot for shot. It didn’t take long until my head was swimming and I was laughing along with whatever was said.

His mother called down the stairs. He ushered my friend and I into the bathroom and we tried not to giggle, giving away our underage inebriation. Somehow – the details are lost to me both due to the alcohol and the passage of time – he ended up persuading us to both go down on him at the same time. I remember two things very, very clearly. Him shoving my head down with his hand and me wanting nothing more in the entire world than to run far, far away.

But this is what cool people do – they have weird bathroom threesomes and they don’t make people uncomfortable by saying “no”. I was afraid my friend would be mad at me, afraid the guy would hurt me, afraid of making a scene, afraid of what the people outside the bathroom would think. If I was quiet and quick, it would be over with and no one would know. So I played along, choking back my disgust. He came in my mouth, even though my friend had asked him not to. Gagging, I choked it down and then we emerged from the bathroom, pretended nothing had happened. I remember the look on my ex’s face – realizing he knew, he heard everything – and wanted to die on the spot. But the actress in me was nonchalant. That’s just something a desirable, open minded woman like myself did. How dare he judge me.

The following morning, I woke up in the bed of my friend’s sister. It was barely dawn. When it came back to me what had happened, I needed to go home. I had to go home and brush my teeth immediately. Still drunk, I left silently and rode my bicycle home, crying the entire way. I brushed and brushed and brushed and brushed until my gums bled. I told no one, not my boyfriend of the time (who I was afraid would leave me for cheating on him), not my mother, no one. I kept it to myself and buried it and prayed I would never have to think about it again.

Maybe five years later, I got a gym membership and saw him the very first time I went. He could tell I was uncomfortable there and offered to help me on the bench. I should have spat at him. I should have told him to go fuck himself. Instead I accepted his help. He seemed changed. He went through some shit, he told me. And he offered some encouragement. Maybe he’s not the same person anymore, who manipulates women into drinking so much they won’t dare say “no”. But what he did was still fucked up and I didn’t deserve to have that happen to me. If only sex ed had mentioned consent, had told me that rape was more than dark alleys and strangers. For years I didn’t even accept that I was assaulted. But I was. And it wasn’t the last time this kind of thing would happen.

A year or two later, I have an ex over at my house. I’m still in love with him even though I’m dating someone else. At the beginning of the night, I think I might want to have sex with him, so I wear cute panties and a short skirt. Over the course of the evening, I decide that I don’t want to cheat on my current partner and that we should just hang out, try to be friends. Suddenly my disinterest is a challenge and he begins to ask me repeatedly to have sex. My most vivid memory of this night is me backed up against the wall of my dining room as he demands that I show him my panties. It’s been two hours maybe of his unrelenting persistence that we have sex. His touch makes me weak and I’m so, so tired of saying “no”. I’m afraid that he’s going to lose his temper and force me, afraid that I won’t be able to fight back. Afraid of ruining our friendship. My fear and my exhaustion wins and I let him have what he wants.

He didn’t drag me into the bed. He didn’t shove my head on his cock. He didn’t pound me through screams of “stop, please”. I was a passenger in my body, watching without emotion as I did what he wanted so he would leave me alone. I don’t even remember the sex, so detached was my presence. I do remember him telling me to slow down when sucking him off at one point and my thought, “just let me get this over with.”

I told him, years later, that he raped me. I felt guilty about the words. I shouldn’t have dressed so slutty, shouldn’t have “led him on”, shouldn’t have just given in. I should have thrown him out, should have called my boyfriend, should have kicked him in the nuts. But I didn’t. I let him have his way even though I was an unwilling shell. I buckled under his insistence, dead inside. He shouldn’t have kept pushing. Again, for years, I didn’t accept that what happened was wrong. But it was. And again, it wasn’t the last time this kind of thing would happen. 

I’m 20, now. My boyfriend, now husband, is in Oklahoma and my depression is out of control. My perceived abandonment makes me crazy, realizing I’ve loved someone who decided I wasn’t worth sticking around for yet again, just like my father. This isn’t really true but it’s how I perceive it at the time. So I drink. Do drugs. Party. Constantly. Anything to distract me from the empty loneliness inside of me. In this three month span that he is gone, I am raped twice.

The first time is Halloween night. I go to a party with my friend and drink much too much. We end up walking back to my friend’s place with some of his buddies, including a guy I met that night. The guy and I decide that we need more alcohol (we did not), so we leave my friend’s house to go to my place so I can grab my wallet to buy more booze. My last conscious thought of the night – the irony has never been lost on me – is “I’m so glad this guy isn’t hitting on me.”

I wake up the next morning in my mother’s bed, naked, blood up and down my arms and thighs. I have no recollection of what happened, how I got here, where my costume went. Walking into my bedroom is like investigating a crime scene. Pictures and decorations are on the floor, fallen off the wall. My costume is strewn about. There’s open condom wrappers with discarded condoms (I’m assuming that the Magnums I had on hand were too large for him). I’m fucking horrified as my back slides down my bedroom wall and I start to sob. I’m in shock and I know, I know, I KNOW that I couldn’t have wanted this. I was talking about Nicholas all night! This guy and I were talking about Dungeons & Dragons for fuck’s sake. There’s no way I consented to this.

So I go to my mother and ask her about it. She said some guy was here and that I “seemed in good spirits”. My voice trembling, I confide that I think I was raped. Her response is that it looked like I wanted it and I shouldn’t have drank so much. Mortified, I remember Googling, “was I raped last night”.

I found some resource on the internet. I told them my story. They asked questions and gave me suggestions. I gathered all my clothes, all the condoms into a box of evidence. Maybe I would press charges. But then I got further into searching and read case after case of women being slut shamed, told just what my mother told me, cases thrown out after having their character destroyed in court. The box is disassembled. I donate all the clothes, I shower the blood away, I throw out the condoms. The guy texts me – I left my wallet in his truck. Fuck.

I meet him at my friend’s house. As I walk up to his truck, he says, “I was sad when I woke up and you weren’t there.”

Disgusted, I spit back, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Sounds like you had a good dream.”

He’s surprised. I take my wallet and walk away wordlessly. Into my friend’s house, I sit on the couch, shaking. My husband’s brother is there for some inconvenient reason. He has heard about what happened last night and I deny it all. I tell them I have no idea what he’s talking about. Inside, I’m screaming, “he fucking raped me!” Outside, I’m silent.

A few days later I discover the tampon I had been wearing that night, shoved into tiny pulp against my cervix. It smells like a dead thing – I gag as I pull it out in the shower. The smell is how I noticed it. The blood all over me must have been from my period, which ended the day I woke up. It’s a horrible reminder and I flush it, praying I never see him again.

Interesting side note to this story is that a few years later this guy killed himself. I can’t say I was sad about it. Although I accepted what happened to me a bit sooner, I told very few. Not being able to remember whether or not I consented – though adamant I was that I would not have – made me afraid to tell anyone. What if it was like the other times? He initiated and I just went along with it in order to be done with it? What if I DID consent? Alcohol just makes everything worse and I couldn’t deal with people not believing me, shaming me, discrediting me, so I kept it to myself. I wrote about it in 2014, afraid but ready to share my story. My hope was that in doing so, I would make someone else who went through something similar feel less alone – a lot like my hope now. Now that he’s dead, I will never know what happened that night. Maybe he was just as trashed as me and we didn’t really do much of anything. But I was traumatized either way and can’t shake this gut-wrenching feeling that what happened in my room that night wasn’t anything that I wanted. Yet, despite having gone through this experience, it wasn’t the last time this kind of thing would happen.

The last time? A few months later, maybe not even, the same friend from Halloween and I go to this guy from work’s house. We were on a bit of a bender together and had I not been so self involved in my own destruction, maybe I would have noticed his pain and stopped us. Neither of us had much desire to stop our 100 mph cruise into Hell however so here we were, drinking again. Just like the first time, I’m taunted for not drinking enough. I’m expected to match shots with this dude who is twice my size. Hoping I die of alcohol poisoning, not wanting to seem like a “pussy”, needing to keep up, I down shot after shot. Fuck rum. People want to know why I don’t want to drink rum? Because rapists drink rum. I’m sorry if you like rum and you’re in fact, not a rapist, but you share a favored drink with some pretty questionable people. But I digress.

He lures us into his bedroom – I can’t remember the pretense now. We’re told to strip. Resistant at first, he becomes aggressive and my fear wins every time. We comply. I assume that my friend is okay with this. Neither of us ever says “yes” or initiates anything. It’s only later when I’m attempting to give my friend head as the dude instructs me without him getting hard that I realize that maybe he also doesn’t want to do this. I’m so embarrassed, so confused, so scared. I think he was, too. We haven’t really talked about it since then, not in depth in any way. Being the one woman, I felt like I was at their mercy. I see now that we were both at his. The dude’s dick has a weird lump on it and I remember having to swallow my vomit. Not much else remains in terms of memory of that night. Trigun has been forever ruined for me and I never talk to that dude ever again. I start to think I must deserve this sort of thing, since it keeps happening. I don’t think that I was raped, I think that I’m weak. It’s only now in this moment of writing that I realize that this is not the last time this kind of thing has happened.

An old flame that was never properly ignited invites me onto his boat. I’m interested in him, so we get some wine and he steers us out to a deserted island. I toyed with the idea of hooking up but I’ve since changed my mind. His words slither into my ear and he coerces me, saying he could love me, that we’ll never know if we never try. I wonder if he’ll leave me on the island alone if I say “no”. I even try it this time but it doesn’t work. I’m underneath him and he’s having his way. At times, I enjoy his touch involuntarily, which must mean I want it. Inside, I’m revolted with myself. How do I keep getting into these fucking situations? He kisses me goodbye and for so long, I tried to persuade myself that it was consensual, that it wasn’t what it really was, that a childhood friend of mine would never do such a thing. But he did. And through no strength of my own, this is finally the last time that this kind of thing has happened to me. 

It’s no wonder I stopped going to parties, began to isolate myself in my house. The only parties I would attend for a long time are ones I threw myself, where I had control over the guest list. I go out and I start to make rules about my drinking. Self isolation seems the only sure answer to keep myself safe. My husband is my shield and I hide behind him whenever I go to shows or events. Even now, I’m still afraid to go to anything alone. I still blame myself for most of what I’ve described above. Emotion and logic fight over what’s real and what’s perceived. A small part of me wishes I’d been in a dark alley and some stranger had attacked me. It’d be so much easier, that part says. Cut and dry and with everyone on my side. No disbelief from my own mother, no shame from my peers, no guilt in my heart. But most of the time, when people step forward and tell the world they’re survivors, they were hurt by the people closest to them.

Now that I’m older and have more distance from these memories, I use my voice more. I reply to assholes on Twitter who are trying to pretend that people who use Lyft or Uber are knowingly endangering themselves, making it sound like it’s their fault for the things that happened to them. But I forget that while I’m trying to use my voice for those who haven’t found theirs yet, I’m still broken and fragile. I still buckle under the harsh words of strangers on the internet. It’s been years since I’ve burst into tears at random during sex but I still am wary of all men I encounter. I haven’t flinched from someone moving their hand too quickly near me but I still distrust anyone who would want to get me with them alone. I’ve begun to finally go places without my husband but never for long, never truly alone, never without checking in with him constantly. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever be whole again. I’ll probably carry this fear inside of me for the rest of my life. But I’ll never be silent again. I can’t set that kind of example, I can’t bear the thought of “what if I had said something”. I’ll tell my stories over and over again – as many times as it takes for me to feel like I’ve exorcised the demons those men put inside of me. This is the only way I will ever come to truly accept what happened to me. This is how I encourage others to be honest about what happened to them. This is my tiny attempt at changing the rape culture we’ve created and making the future less hospitable for those who would take advantage of someone like me.

For my fellow survivors: you are not alone. For those who hurt me: you will not win. For everyone else: welcome to carlykaxt.

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