A marriage certificate means a lot of things, but it's NOT an excuse for rape.
I was sick the day of my wedding and had struggled to make it through the ceremony and the reception. Once in our room, I was struggling to keep from collapsing in a feverish heap under my dress. I always imagined losing my virginity on my wedding night and I wanted the moment to be everything I'd always dreamt it would be. I loved my new husband and I wanted to give him something special, not some half-assed feverish attempt, so I told him I wanted to wait until morning.
That didn’t stop him from peeling off my white dress.
I started crying and said that I was scared, but he told me that everyone was scared on their first time.
I tried to get up, but he held me down, saying that as my husband, I needed to trust that he knew what he was doing.
I told him I wanted to wait until I felt better, but he told me that he had waited long enough.
I don't even remember much of what happened after the initial struggle, all I know was that one minute I was a virgin, and the next ... I wasn't. I remember sobbing. "That was awful," he spewed at me. "I can’t believe I waited all this time for that." As he wrapped his arms around me with a trap-like grip that I couldn’t escape from, his voice went from angry to stern as he said, "I'll show you what you need to do from now on, and you'll learn. You're my wife now; we're supposed to be having sex." His words came across as more of a fact than a reassurance.
So there we were, my virginity gone and my heart broken. I felt like I had let him down.
I felt like I had let myself down.
So many thoughts went through my head: Why couldn’t I have been one of those wives? Why did I have to ruin our first time? Why had I failed at giving him something I had planned my whole life? Why did it hurt so badly? Why was I so terrified? Why did I feel so dirty?
But I never got any better at it. "You resist too much, you cry too hard, and you aren’t any good," he would tell me every time we had sex. "I can’t even come because you are crying so effing hard, I can’t even stand to look at you," he would hiss in my face as the weight of his body crushed the air right out of my chest. "You'll need to try harder next time."
I was his wife. Sex is supposed to happen in marriage. Why couldn’t I be like all the other wives? Why was I failing him so miserably? Why did the thought of him make my stomach churn and the feeling of his skin upon mine make me wish I were a million miles away?
Somewhere along the way I stopped saying no. 'No' didn’t mean anything anyways. Fighting back was fruitless and crying just made him berate me. I began to believe that I was a terrible wife and that terrible wives need their husbands to put them in their place.
It wasn’t long before I just started to fade away. Anywhere was better than where I was, and anything was better than living in my own failure. Each night, when he would climb on top of me, my body would be there but my mind drifted away to a world where he didn't exist, where I didn't exist.
Years went by and children were born. The sex never got any better and he never got any gentler. I never learned how to please him the way he needed.
Eventually he found other women who could.
Now that he's gone, I realize that although we stood together at the altar and vowed to give each other love, respect, honor, and commitment—he's the one who didn't live up to our vows. I gave him my love, respect, honor, and commitment and he took everything.
Sometimes I wonder why it took me such a long time to realize such a fundamental concept: that no means no and rape is rape. I think it's because rape, sadly, is still a very fluid claim. "She was drunk," they say. "She teased him," say others. There are so many reasons and excuses and gray areas that pull the victim into the blame category and it all creates an awful place where facts go to die.
"I’m married," I assured myself.
I said "I do," but I never said yes. And as soon as I said no, it became rape.