Heartbreak, Sex

I Was Raped When I Was Homeless

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I Was Raped When I Was Homeless

Strength is one of my more formidable and most often praised attributes. My life hasn’t been the easiest, in part due to my own bad decisions, in part due to things out of my control. But all things considered, I remain strong beyond most understanding.

Likewise, I bear strong opinions. I am not a person with much tolerance for gray area and I’ve always held the belief that women who did not report rape or sexual assault of any kind were — not to put too fine a point on it — idiots. How could you not report it and attempt to put a stop to the monster who would likely hurt another person?

Obviously, these women were weak and, to some degree, a little selfish. My opinion on this issue was completely logical and infallible to all rational arguments. I remained resolute in this judgment until, of course, it happened to me.

RELATED: How The #MeToo Movement Is Teaching Survivors To Find Their Voice And Self-Worth

Since learning about the viral “Me Too” movement taking place across various social media platforms, I was immediately drawn to this concept and thought it was a safe and easy enough way to show solidarity with other sexual assault survivors. But sharing my photo with this simple hashtag gave me a surprising sense of power. Something shifted on the inside of me. Healing may be too strong a word but perhaps it was the beginning of purging this darkness I held inside of me for years.

To every person brave enough to share your story in a public forum and, even more so, to report the violation of your body and spirit, I cannot commend you enough. You are so brave. You are surely braver than I. I am still not ready to tell the specifics of what took place that night. Save for a few close friends who know varying levels of details, I have never revealed this part of me.

Whenever the space comes about where I feel the necessity to blurt this bit of my history into the universe, the flabbergasted recipient often looks pained and shocked on my behalf. I’ll roll my eyes and say, “Don’t be so dramatic” to diminish the event which, in turn, diminishes the pain I am consciously and subconsciously always cramming down. We’ll chit chat and discuss if I think the rape (writing those words... just writing it... whew) still affects me.

I may then recall going to the bathroom at a fast food restaurant, being caught unaware by the man following too closely behind me, and the overwhelming panic that engulfed me. But all in all, I don’t think it affects me in any blatant way, though I question if it may present itself in any of my behaviors I simply don't recognize.

Have I dealt with my rape? No. How would I feel if I rounded the corner and bumped into this guy? I’d like to think I’d look away and keep walking. But you never really know how you’d react to any given situation until you actually stare it in the face.

My rape occurred during a time where I was most vulnerable. In 2013, I found myself homeless for a period of 4 months. In a life full of some pretty low points, this was one of the absolute lowest for me. To be without a home is to be unstable and without any sense of security.

I was so fragile emotionally, the thought of recounting this horrific violation to strangers — strangers who often lack sympathy, strangers who would probe me literally and figuratively, and would question my truthfulness — was completely out of the question. We all have our limits, and I knew that this would break me.

Victims almost always blame themselves. No matter the circumstance. Old victims. Young victims. Male. Female. No matter your race. You will find a way to say, “If only I hadn’t” or “Maybe I should’ve.” Trust me, I know.

My particular assault would be classified as date rape. The very nature of date rape lends itself perfectly down this line of self-blame. You know your attacker, and you chose to spend time with them. Maybe you even chose to put yourself in a compromising situation. All that being said, this internal guilt-led dialogue is one of several reasons why I have never reported it.

This voice is what says, “Come on, you knew what this man did for a living, and, believe me, he was no boy scout. You’ve already shared a certain level of intimacy with him in the past. You chose to go over to his house that late. You chose to drink. You knew what he would likely end up wanting... you know what all guys really want. You had an uneasy feeling in your gut, and you should have left.”

And this is all true. But this still does not make what happened my fault. And I type these words not at all for the reader’s benefit, but entirely for mine because sometimes I still need help believing them: It was not my fault.

RELATED: Understanding The Challenges Of #MeToo And Consent (& Why Communication Is Key)

What I did not know that evening is that he would disregard my repeatedly telling him no — unequivocally and with no room for interpretation. NO. I begged him to stop over and over. I did not know he would force himself on top of me despite my pleas. I did not know that he would ignore my tears. I did not know that the weight of his body would eventually rob me of my voice and leave me struggling to breathe.

I cried as it happened. I cried as I drove myself home. That night, I wrote over 3,000 words detailing what transpired. Maybe one day I’ll share it, and maybe it’ll go with me to my grave. The morning after, I left my children inside of my mom’s house, who we were bumming a bed and a roof from for the weekend.

Even though I hadn’t ridden in years, I jumped on a borrowed bicycle and rode it around and around the circled road of her neighborhood. Tears continued to spill down. When physically I could no longer push those peddles, I wiped my face, dried my eyes, and I haven’t cried since.

I went to work the next day, business as usual. Not because it didn’t bother me. Not because I didn’t want to grieve and allow myself an appropriate healing process. Those options simply weren’t available to me.

There wasn’t — and still isn’t — a lot of room in my life to allow emotions of any sort to overtake me. I’ve become a master of sucking it up and pressing on, and that’s what I did. I woke up each day and went to work. I met my deadlines. I smiled at people. I ensured my kids went to school and got their flu shots. I made sure they had everything they needed and some of what they wanted.

Life. Kept. Going. And I stuffed this thing down so far on the inside of me, trying to forget it ever happened.

As I opened my journal to begin this essay, unexpected anxiety filled my chest. All the words I planned to let flow through my fingertips lay stuck somewhere between the lump in my throat and the knot in my stomach. Taking measured breaths, my legs shook my entire body without rhythm, and I forced myself to write.

There's such a disturbing trend with reports of sexual violence where the dialogue shifts almost instantly to victim-blaming. This, compounded with the unfortunate fact that victims tend to already blame themselves, is a contributing force to the call of many on the internet who so readily jump on the disbelief bandwagon and shout, “Yeah right, 25 years later and now she’s crying rape?”

It’s just the nature of the anonymous internet beast and the very nature of rape culture itself. This is why I haven’t — and likely won’t ever — report my rape. I can’t be doubted on this. Maybe I can handle it virtually, but not to my face. I can’t say out loud what transpired that night and be met with suspicious eyes. I just can’t.

Like I said, maybe one day I will find the courage to share my story, the entire story. Maybe I won’t. But #MeToo was the start of allowing myself to deal with what happened to me, and that’s what I needed: just a start to allow myself permission to acknowledge it.

RELATED: 7 Ways Men Can Join The #MeToo Movement (Without Drowning Out Women's Voices)

MD Marcus is a freelance writer and poet who loves keys, the color blue, and a good nude illusion. Her work has appeared on Salon as well as in Rat’s Ass Review, Communicators League, Subterranean Blue Poetry, “Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness,” among others. Visit her on Instagram or at mdmarcus.com.