A painful silence

By the

August 30, 2001

I was raped.

Those three words are a secret I kept to myself longer than any other, even longer than I kept quiet about being gay.

Rape is such a strange, almost surreal event. When I try and remember that day six years ago, all I get are snapshots. I can’t remember every detail, instead short clips replay through my mind like a movie trailer, only it’s a horror movie I would never go see. For a few years, I completely blocked out the memory. After that, I blamed myself for a few more years. Only recently have I truly believed that I had nothing to do with my rape.

Although the event seems remote, the consequences are present and real. I’m only beginning to understand how it affects me, how I have trouble letting people get close to me, how uncomfortable I am with casual affection, how much trouble I’ve caused the people closest to me because they didn’t know and I wasn’t ready to say why I would act so seeminly irrationally.

I was 15. I had just finished my first year in high school, a mediocre football player and varsity track runner. Like too many young, gay boys, I turned to AOL for support because my home and school provided very little. On AOL, I could do the same things that my friends could do. I could talk, flirt and be myself. I never imagined acting on any of my desires; the modem and computer were an outlet for emotions that had no other.

That summer, my knee was hurting. I had just joined cross country, and practices from three intense sports put me in enough pain to keep me on the couch or in bed after most workouts. Months earlier, I had started talking online to an athletic trainer at a high school near mine. I told him about the boys I liked, about my team practices and about my bad knee.

At one point, he offered to take a look at my knee. I declined. Everytime we talked, he offered to look at my knee again. Finally, I agreed.

Looking back, I can admit that I suspected he wanted sex. I don’t know if that bothered me. Most of the time, I wanted sex, too, although never from him. He was middle-aged, overweight and balding. I remember that.

He picked me up in the library parking lot, drove me to his house, checked out my knee. I can’t always remember what happened next. I remember he started kissing me. I remember how terrible that was, how I asked him to stop, how he didn’t. I remember thinking that maybe if I just let him kiss me, maybe he would take me home.

That wasn’t enough for him. I told him to stop; I told him I had to go. He got on top of me and told me he wouldn’t drive me home yet. I remember being terrified. I remember thinking that I could never explain to my parents that they would have to pick me up several towns over. I remember thinking I would never find my way home alone. I remember deciding not to struggle, just closing my eyes and trying to think of other things. When he finally drove me home, I got in the shower and stayed there until I had washed my skin raw.

Even now, every so often, when I lose a little too much weight , I look at myself in the mirror and see the scared, skinny teenager who lost control back in high school. Then I cry.

I have a hard time thinking about being raped, let alone talking about it. Whenever I try, I become detached and have a hard time holding onto thoughts. It’s as if I’m viewing myself from above; my body is separated somehow from my mind.

I don’t think I come across as an angry person, but my stomach holds a twisting, grinding anger. I’ve tried to end my discomfort by being there for other people in similar situations. I’ve worked hard at other things to redeem myself. I’ve become a women’s studies minor, with the idea that learning about oppression and dominance and power would help me overcome my own moment of powerlessness.

The ball of anger, however, is still there. Sometimes it grinds harder and it’s all I can think about; sometimes it sleeps quietly, but I always know it’s there.

I’m not mad at the athletic trainer. My junior year in high school, he was arrested for molesting a 16-year-old athlete at his school. When my track coach told us about his arrest, I wore the same blank, surprised look that everyone else wore and pretended not to know him.

He lost his job and went to jail. I don’t know if he got therapy, but I know he did get a long jail sentence. I’m not mad at him. I feel sorry for him. But the ball of anger still twists in my stomach, looking for someone to blame.

I tried blaming myself. I never should have gone to his house, should have walked home, shouldn’t have tempted him. I’m amazed at how long guilt can mask grief, how a need to find a reason for rape can result in self-hatred, guilt and fear. But blaming myself didn’t make the anger go away.

Just recently, I’ve begun to pinpoint the root of my anger. I’m mad at the world. I’m mad at a society that makes rape an event of shame. I’m mad that so many victims of rape fall into depression and despair because our culture tells them rape is not something we talk about. I’m enraged because rape is a personal matter, dealt with quietly by our courts, our schools and our friends.

This culture of shame kept me, and many like me, from dicussing my pain with anyone. The secrecy and shame of rape, compounded by the secrecy and shame of being gay, kept me quiet.

I’m angry because I’m ashamed. At one time, I was ashamed of being raped, but now I’m ashamed of being silent. I’m forced to ask myself a hard question: How does my silence contribute to the overall silence surrounding rape?

Until rape is something we can talk about easily and personally, it will always be a source of shame. Until rape is seen as something that can happen to anyone, not just the weak, the powerless, the foolish, it will always destroy lives.

So I’m writing this essay. I’m writing it because I hope it will open some eyes and minds. I’m writing because I’m trying to find out how my rape still affects my life and my relationships. But most of all, I’m writing because I’m tired of being angry. I’m desperately hoping this will be the event that makes that grinding, twisting ball of anger disappear.

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