I was raped a week before my thirteenth birthday. After the men left I got up, cleaned up, then waited for morning. I begged off going with the family to run errands, dug around the medicine cabinet and took every pill I could find. I didn’t attempt suicide solely because of the rape, it was just a ‘cherry on top’ moment to a childhood of pain. I came close enough to a successful suicide that I saw what comes next. There were a lot of mitigating factors but the rape itself is what haunted me for years.
I won’t go into the gory details of the rape, most women don’t need them, they’ve had their own experiences. I went through, what I now know, are the normal stages of post-rape PTSD. I stopped eating. I stopped sleeping because sleeping meant nightmares. I became hypervigilant and distrustful of men, etc. Classic PTSD, textbook, really.
For years I never told what happened that night because the adults around me were all focused on the attempted suicide. Oddly, no one asked me the simplest question “Why?” Instead, it was a chorus of “do you hate me that much?” from my parents and “you are so selfish!” from siblings. Even the therapists they took me to all tried to tell me why I did it, instead of just asking. All the signs of PTSD were there if anyone had really bothered to look or listen. No one really did, so I never bothered to fill them in.
I went on with life because life doesn’t wait for you to “get over it”. Those nightmares, though, they haunted me for a very long time. I became entrenched in habits, triple locks on the doors, holding my keys between my fingers, not visiting bars, avoiding any situation where I had to be alone with a man. I sat with my back to the wall in restaurants. If I went on a date, I met the guy where we were going. I didn’t give out my address, I didn’t let them pick me up. I slept in short bursts only when I felt totally secure. I learned to not sleep deeply, hypervigilant even then.
Eventually, I did meet a man that worked his way through my defenses and into my heart. When I realized it was getting serious, I told him what happened. Not the details, just enough to explain some of the behavior he found odd. Why I can’t stand being snuggled, for example. He accepted it, went with it, and helped me heal in a way that had never been possible. He is a rare and marvelous man. We married, raised kids, and are grandparents now.
Which is strange enough on its own.
But there it is, life marching on.
Because of my wonderful husband, I stopped having the nightmare gradually. From nightly to weekly, weekly to monthly, monthly to randomly, to eventually rarely. I still have regular nightmares, they just aren’t about that specific incident. I can’t honestly tell you when the last time I had that dream was.
Until last night.
We had a get together with some very old friends yesterday. Friends that I made shortly after the rape. I suppose the memories of them woke the dream where it had been buried deep in the recesses of my mind. The dream thought it would come out to play, to torment me, taunt me, terrorize me the way it used to. It had only been waiting, lurking, longing for the right moment to lunge out of the darkness and bring it all back with a crash of raw emotion.
This time, it was different.
This time, instead of being the tiny twelve year old, helpless against powerful adult males, I was furious.
I was Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. I was Zoe Saldana’s Gamora.
I kicked that dreams ass.
I woke up covered in sweat, heart pounding, panting but not from fear.
From anger and a certain sense of satisfaction.
Because I kicked ass.
I pummeled that rapist in a very violent, satisfying way. I sent the dream packing, whimpering and confused, not back into the recesses of my mind but gone for good.
Over coffee this morning, I told my husband that I’d had that dream for the first time in ages. Immediately he jumped into a comforting mode, all of his old instincts about how to deal with the traumatized me reactivating like it was decades ago. I stopped him. I told him that I didn’t need comfort this time. This time I owned it, took control of it, changed the narrative, and changed the outcome. This time, I was not a victim.
I don’t think you are ever really ‘over it’ but last night I came as close as I’ve ever been. Probably as close as I’ll ever be.
Which made me wonder, why now?
The way I see myself has changed drastically in the last few years. I’ve been using a wheelchair for over a decade but never in my dreams. Last month, for the first time ever, in a dream I was in my chair.
Is it acceptance? Is it a letting go of old things?
I don’t know.
I stood there, yesterday, watching my group of old friends together. It struck me that we all have gray hair now. We are all old. Well, oldish. I recall at twenty thinking that forty was ancient, now I’m eyeing sixty and wondering what’s next.
I thought it was a fitting way to start 2019, to take charge of old and new.