I first learned of the Stanford rape case when I read a column in Mercury News in which the “journalist” aligned himself with the rapist and agreed with the judge’s eventual lenient sentencing and the reasoning behind it. While I was reading the article, I felt defeated, sad and stressed. I had no idea how to respond and even if I did, hopeless that it would matter or deliver any kind of impact. Then I read the victim’s statement and was overwhelmed. Yes. This. Allll of this. Point by point, blow by blow. Heroic. Utterly heroic. Thank you for saying what I could not even conceive. Then I felt rage. Like, a lot of rage. A physical pain I’ve felt before resurfaced, underneath my right rib. I thought, okay—I need to do something. I’ll post the article and excerpt the section that bothered me most. I did. The pain did not go away. I went to hot yoga and barfed up a bunch of grief. Still there. I went to sleep and had a nightmare I murdered someone who was attacking me but I wasn’t exactly sure how and then felt really guilty about it. I woke up and a week later, the pain is still here. So I’m going to barf up my story now and let’s see if that does it. Here goes:
When I was 19, I was raped. I was unconscious. Rape is traumatic any way you slice it but there’s something specifically horrifying about suddenly no longer being the authority on what has happened to your body. Because you were unconscious. And the only one who can fill in the blanks is your rapist. We knew each other. We were at a party in his apartment. When I went with him to his bedroom, I remember thinking there was no way we could have sex because I had my period. So I would be safe. Halfway into making out and halfway undressed I remember feeling extremely tired. I closed my eyes and laid down on his bed. When I woke up, he asked me if I knew what was going on. That I had been moaning and incoherent. Then he said, “Are you just going to keep having sex like this?” He had raped me once before a couple months earlier. That time I was fully awake, sober and a virgin; I said very clearly I did not want to have sex at least 25 times. He pushed himself inside me anyway. Why didn’t I just get up and leave? Why did I go back a second time? These are the questions I still ask myself over a decade later on my commute to work, in the shower, when my mind wanders at dinner… I looked down and noticed that my pants were now off. I was confused, I had my period. He told me to look on the other side of the bed. I did and saw my bloody tampon on the floor. How long had I been unconscious? Was it five minutes? Was it twenty? An hour? Is it still rape if it only lasts a short time? Is it still rape if the only reason I know I was raped is because my rapist told me? The answer is yes.
I went to the emergency room. It was 3am. I asked for a rape kit. They put me in a holding room and brought me a telephone. On the line was a woman who apparently was the only one who could administer the rape kit. She told me because I had my period it was unlikely she would be able to collect any evidence. Did I still want her to come in? Yes, I said. Come in. Do the rape kit. She did. There was no evidence. They gave me a dozen pills to prevent pregnancy and boost my immune system in case I was exposed to any STDs. I spent the rest of the day vomiting.
I didn’t tell my parents.
I continued to “go out” and tried to behave like nothing had happened. Back then I was really big on not letting anyone think they had affected me.
A few weeks later the bill from the emergency room was sent to my dad. It was $1,000. My dad called and screamed at me for spending so much money. As if I had gone shopping at Neiman Marcus or something. (The last time I did that, he slapped the bill across my face. The same way he scolded our dog....) He told me I was at summer camp. He used to say that to me a lot. I guess to tell me that my life was different from his life. Not as hard. Or real. I yelled back, “You think I’m at summer camp? I went to the hospital because I was raped.” Long, long pause. He said, “I’m not mad at you for having sex.”
I hung up the phone and locked myself in the bathroom and took a bath. When I got out, there were a bunch of missed calls from my dad. I called back and he yelled at me for not answering the phone. Then we talked a little bit about what happened. He asked if I wanted to press charges. I said I didn’t have any evidence. Then he said something about maybe calling someone who knows someone in the mob, or maybe a friend in the Sheriff’s Department could drive up there and scare him. I said, thanks but no. Then he said, “I don’t think we should tell your mother.” She had cancer. It seemed reasonable to me that I shouldn’t upset her. I didn’t tell her. Six months later, she was dead.
I didn’t cry. A few weeks later, the planes hit the Twin Towers. I decided to leave UW-Madison and apply to the acting program at NYU Tisch. I was accepted. I studied “The Method” and spent the next six months releasing my emotions on stage.
That is why I act. To express myself in a way I cannot always access in life. That is why our stages and our sets and our theaters are so vital and must be safe places (for the audience as well as the actors, crew and staff) to render ourselves vulnerable. Here’s a link to the story about what’s been happening in Chicago:
To be in a position of power and use it to abuse those who are exposing themselves for the sake of storytelling is the most vile, base act of betrayal. After rape. Also, murder. This is a tough list.
I don’t know how to wrap this up. Probably because it can’t be.
I am not sure if this is necessarily related, it's certainly not on the same scale, but my stream of consciousness is taking me here so I am going to continue. When I was in high school, I confided in a teacher about some things that were happening at my house. At the time, I was co-choreographing a student-produced musical. The teacher was in charge of the production. After I told him, I got into a disagreement with a few of my student colleagues. I upset them. He responded by suspending me for a week. He said that I obviously wasn't able to separate what was happening at home with the production of the play. He said I was the problem. He explained my absence to the rest of the cast (my classmates) by telling them I was sick. Since I was still in school it was clear to everyone I was not physically ill. He told me that at the end of the week, I could come back if I admitted to him that he was right, that I could not separate what was happening at home with what was happening at school. I was completely despondent. Emotionally trashed. Since I couldn't go to rehearsal, I was now sentenced to spending more time at home; a place I was trying to avoid. I thought I would just quit. I couldn't imagine myself going back and saying what he wanted me to say. I mean, even now as an adult, I'm aware of how our emotions bleed from one thing to the next. Maybe I was the problem. But I still processed the whole experience as an immense betrayal and an attempt to control my feelings and my actions. At the end of the week, I decided to suck it up and do it. I walked into the auditorium and sat next to him in the seats. I said I wanted to come back. He said, then say what I told you to say. I said it. I finished choreographing the play.
In the words of the “famous El Arroyo sign” in Austin, Texas: “What if nobody was president and we all promised real hard to just be cool.”
That sounds good. Can we all JUST BE COOL, please. Also, honest and kind… Again, tough list.