By Valerie Rice November 7, 2020
There is nothing quite as difficult as understanding the experiences of another person. One of the greatest gifts a person can have is empathy, and that seems to be diminishing in our society. I recently spoke to a survivor of sexual assault who was willing to share a bit of her story. I will warn you that the following is a bit graphic.
FLASHES OF TERROR
I could hear it then; the heavy, wheezing, grunt of his lungs as he thrust himself inside me through the haze. Over and over he penetrated me. I struggled against the weights pulling against my wrists, trying to break free whatever invisible force kept them immoble. With each defiant pull the unseen grip tightened. I cried out in protest only to feel the calloused palm wrap itself around my throat once more, robbing me of oxygen, and bringing back the darkness. Each flash, like a horror movie without a plot, brought new agonies. This one was full of burning pain across my abdomen as what I can only imagine were emaciated slugs with jaws as steel traps tearing hungrily into my flesh. Like instruments of torture the imaginary beasts attacked my thighs, breasts, stomach, and arms. They pulled and ripped at my body, hungry for destruction.. My face was stiff with dried tears and my throat sore from strangulation and protest. A fresh wave of useless tears burst forth when I realized that the more I moved the more vicious they became. One had my head pinned while the other ravaged my near naked body against my will. I could recognize their stench but not their faces before submitting to darkness again. A flash again of burning agony; my insides pulled out by a demon faced man. Sadistic glee lit his eyes with each thrust of his arm I wondered, oddly, what he thought he was going to find inside me. His partner filled my mouth with his monstrous snake, choking off my screams while my lower half felt lit on fire. This time I was lucky. This time the darkness lasted long enough for them to stop.
I have no idea how I got home but did. I know this because I recognized my bathtub. I watched it fill with scorching hot water, slowly, despairing in the persistent taste and stench of them. It was too much. The flavor of the night persisted through the mint of the toothpaste I could barely detect. I pulled hydrogen peroxide from the medicine cabinet and frantically rinsed my mouth. Once. Twice. Thrice. Brush again. No good. Gargle, spit, should I swallow the rest of the bottle? No. Into the tub and scrub them away, inflamed and delicate skin, already injured from the events, cringed and cried in protest as I scrubbed the patina of their sweat off my body. Oh, how I wanted to peel the skin off too. It was too much, they were everywhere, and the eyes. The EYES. They stayed behind my eyelids and watched me, laughing, with a drooling mouth floating nearby and somewhere a wheezing grunt. There’s nowhere to run. The bruises were enormous. I had to hide them from the children. Nobody can see. Don’t let anyone, especially the children, see the marks of shame. They showed my idiocy, my neglect of safety, my fault, my fault, my fault. But how? What did I do? I sat on the toilet and searched my brain. The bruises darkened the longer I looked at them, a purplish red and black, mocking me. Telling me I was wrong, so wrong, but what was I missing? Panic and confusion mingled with the flashes of pain and smell, so strong, but not there. Not really. No awareness. I should have listened. I should have heeded the lessons of childhood. Never go out alone. Never go out at night. Never talk to men. Never look up, never exist to close to them, never speak, watch your walk, watch your back, stay home…stupid stupid girl. Did you learn your lesson?
And there it was again, the dawn, creeping through the window to steal away all hope of rest. Day two of no sleep. How long could this go on? I scanned the internet for clues. Call this hotline, chat here, get help. Help. I need help. I will chat. I can’t talk, they will steal my voice again. Keep it secret, shut your mouth, stupid girl. Just find an answer. To The hospital, phone a friend. A friend? I confide in nobody, I have no friends. That’s why I left in the first place. That’s what started this whole thing. The hospital then. Later. It hurts right now, to wear clothes, to sit, to stand, to walk, my pelvis is breaking in half. I can feel it. Coffee then? Everything still tastes like them. They are haunting me, stalking my days and hiding in my shadows. Especially in my mind. I can see them like shreds of confetti, raining down in my personal hell. Sound and stench, a gagging taste and a twisting pain. They are here. They are not. They are watching. They live in the corner of my mind. Don’t sleep, don’t eat, don’t move, or the pieces may come together and give them form. They live there, you know. I can feel them. To the hospital then? Down the street, everything throbbing. On the bus, pulses of pain. Walk slowly, panic rising. What do I say again? Help me, they’re watching. I can feel their hands wriggling up from my stomach and choking me from the inside. Their arms are forcing their way through my mouth to silence me again. Don’t look up. “Can I help you?” “Help me.” peel the skin off my fingers so many faces my breath is catching, it’s going to stop. “I need. I need a sexual assault nurse. Is that the right thing? That’s what the internet says. I need help…” stop. Take the skin off of me, please, I don’t want it anymore. It hurts. Shake my head. Follow. To the back, they take me to the back. I don’t like going to the back. The back…Shake the head and peel the skin. Keep walking.
Still alone. Sick. The medicine made me sick. To prevent STI’s they said. To prevent pregnancy. To make sure I am ok. I am not ok. I am alone with them. I am sick. I am injured. I am home. Phone a friend, they said. Phone a friend. I have no friends. I am alone and they have me. Stupid girl. Stupid stupid girl. So sick, so shameful, so alone.
WHY WOULD I DO THAT?
Seriously, why would I share that story? And I want you to absorb it. Because I want you to see things from another’s perspective. I want you to understand that it is not always what we see on the outside or on television. Tomorrow I am going to share how to help someone who has experienced something like this, or if you are suffering from a similar experience where to turn. Closing our eyes to the horrors of the world do not make them go away. Se you tomorrow.