I was raped once. The fact that, at the time, I couldn't bring myself to acknowledge the assault as such, does not change what occurred. A man I knew well had sex with me against my will. There's no other definition for that violation but rape.
Because I'd had a prior sexual relationship and mutual friends with the person who raped me, as well as a long, known sexual history of my own, I thought the best way to handle the rape would be on my own, in silence. Four years later, I woke up in tears at 1:44 a.m. and realized I hadn't handled it at all.
The night of the rape came weeks after I had decided that the sexual relationship I'd had with him was over. I'd never considered what the relationship would then be. Still, that night, at my apartment, he laid across my couch wearing jeans and a button down collared shirt and I laid across his chest, sleeping in a ball, until he stretched me out across his chest. It should be irrelevant what I was wearing but since we all know it really isn’t: a tank top and yoga pants.
He began to exaggerate his movements in order to wake me up. Every time he laughed at the TV show that was on, it was extra loud and his chuckle created big movements in his chest and arms. Multiple times he adjusted his legs and pillow. Finally annoyed that I had not acquiesced and opened my eyes during one of his giant movements, he took my face in his hands and turned it up toward him and asked, “Are you really sleeping?”
“I’m tired,” I answered. Now, I think, “I’m tired,” to him, was akin to “I have a headache”; for some guys, both translate into, “She just needs some motivation.” But, I was tired. I was a full-time law student and mother: tired was the essence of my existence. Most important, I was not interested in having sex with him. Still, society will suggest that I should have said: “You should go home now,” or “I’m not interested in having sex with you anymore,” at that moment. What I did tell him was, "No, I don’t want to." And “No” is something that he had never heard from me before. But the contrast in my prior excitement about sex with him in the past and my refusal to have sex with him at that moment created no dilemma for him.
“C’mon, wake up. I want you,” he persisted, tugging my pants below my waist.
“No. I’m tired. I don’t want to,” I said, pulling my pants back up.
“But I want you.”
No kisses, no hugs, no waiting…just tugging at my pants…which were so easy for him to get off. And I was not strong enough to stop him. At maybe 120 pounds soaking wet to his 6’3, 230, I couldn’t win.
“I.am.tired.I do.not.want.to.have.sex!” I enunciated. I emphasized. I pulled my pants back up and used my sharp, serious voice. It didn’t work.
“C’mon, but I want you so bad!” He got my pants all the way off this time, and my underwear too. He pulled me on top of him. I’m almost always wet, and this time was no different, and I still wonder whether that gave him the impression that I wanted what he did to me, because my words and actions clearly said otherwise.
I protested again. I tried to get off of him. He responded by picking me up and laying me on the floor, very fast. I said "No," once…maybe twice more. And then I did the only thing I could even think to do: I laid on the floor as limp as possible. I turned my face away from his and buried it under a pillow. I did not make any noise at all. I was barely breathing. I did not contract any vaginal muscles. I did not touch his back or face. I waited. Eventually, he finished. I laid there until he completely removed himself from me, his penis, his legs, his arms. And then, I took a shower.
I do not recall whether he left while I was in the shower or shortly after. I do not recall if he said goodbye or whether I answered. I do not recall any details of that night other than lying in my bed wrapped in a towel.
A few days later we had an argument. During the argument he admitted that the thought had crossed his mind that I was not interested in sex with him that night. The exact terminology he used to describe my body was a “dead fish.” But just as quickly as the thought had come to him, he dismissed my protests in favor of what he must have considered to be his greater need for sex. He did not use the word "rape" to shape the event either. We went our separate ways and I worked very hard to forget these things, in vain.
When I used to think of rapists, I tended to picture strangers in masks, hiding behind bushes, not someone I shared mutual friends with, who I would have to keep seeing several times a year at birthday parties, baby showers and weddings. Not someone who would continue to reach out to me through mutual friends with inquiries about my well-being and attempts to build a “friendship.” Not someone who my friends could tell caused pure hatred to well up within me at just the mention of his name, but who could never understand why. I gave no answer for my friends when they asked me this or why I refused to even acknowledge his presence when he was around.
Three years after the rape, he confronted me directly, after a friend’s birthday party. I was sitting in my car in the parking garage of Atlanta hotspot, Shout, feeling an absolutely horrible, liquored-up mess. Knowing I was too drunk to drive, I was calling a friend to come pick me up when, seemingly out of thin air, he appeared at my car, tapping on the window. I hung up the phone.
He asked me why I had avoided him all night and why we couldn’t be friends. I did not allow the memories to surface. I did not explain. I just said, “We were never friends, we aren’t friends now, and we’ll never be friends.” I’m sure he said more and I’m sure I didn’t listen to much else that he said. I just know after a short while, he left. The next day, he messaged me on Facebook and I blocked him after that, with hopes that I could block it all forever. But he wouldn’t go away. So, I just stopped going to those annual events, altogether.
Still, I kept it all to myself and it haunted me. Some nights I would wake up gasping for air with a tear soaked pillow and sweat soaked pits. I tossed and turned and tried to put the memories out of my head and get back to sleep, but it took so much energy, until the point I figured that I might as well get up and write about it.
Only after writing down everything that has happened did I start to feel some peace about it. I have since decided to give this hurt over to God. I give God so much of my good and so much praise for my blessings, but I’ve struggled with giving Him that broken part of me that needs to be dealt with the most. I struggle with admitting the amount of healing that needs to take place. I want to be rid of this fear and shame for good. I want so badly to never have to deal with this anger anymore. I want to sleep!
So, now I’m praying:
Jesus, give me peace where I have held on too long to things that threaten to consume me. Give me peace in knowing that no brokenness can define me or ever be too much for your healing power. Give me peace in knowing that You did not design me to be treated this way. Not even by myself. Give me peace in knowing that despite everything I’ve been through and everything the world might have taught me, I am worthy of love and capable of loving, Give me peace Lord God. Touch me and make me whole once again. Amen.
April Holloway is an attorney at an employment law firm in Georgia.