Aftermath 2

And the hits just keep on coming.  So many things I’m thinking about since posting on Saturday.  Oddly, one of the first things I thought about was the Hungarians I met at Madame Rosa’s.  I realized that I have no memory of them beyond walking into the movie theater with them the next day when Fox and I joined them to see Angel Heart.  I can’t remember the end of our time together, can’t remember if I made other plans with them.  Can’t remember a thing.

And that isn’t significant, but it kind of is, too.  I have the ability to remember ridiculous amounts of minutiae about things that are far less important than movie dates with cute Hungarians.  Yes, obviously my brain had other things to focus on.  It was busy suppressing all thought of Alain.  It’s a wonder I remember anything from that time.

And I find myself angry with Alain for that, too.  For the fact that I can’t remember now, but also for the fact that I know I didn’t speak to Sandor again after that movie.  I liked him.  A lot.  And he was a good dancer and funny and smart.  And, importantly, attracted to me.  And maybe nothing would have come of knowing him.  Maybe we would have gone on a few dates and found that we really didn’t suit each other.  Maybe we would have been together for years.  It’s another thing Alain took from me that morning.

The other thing I think about is the women who were supposed to be my friends.  I think about them and about my decision to remain friends with them.  It wasn’t even a decision.  It never occurred to me to break off ties with them.  They were so quick to damn me, and I didn’t fight back, didn’t tell them to fuck off.  It’s true that one of those women ended our friendship, but that was years later and was a choice she made.

So what does any of that mean?  What does it say about me that I would maintain friendships with people who thought so little of me, that I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to reconnect with Eva now that she has said she wants to hear from me? (And how interesting that the friend she chose t0 pass along that message just happens to be the woman who told me I must have “wanted it” all those years ago?)

Commenters on the last post were appropriately appalled by my friends.  I suspect that, if I reminded either woman of this story now, at least one would be appalled, too.  (Oh, that’s unnecessarily mean: they would both be appalled.)  But that doesn’t change who they were then, what they said then, doesn’t change how completely their responses shut me down.

I like what Raivenne said about telling our stories exactly when they need to be told.  I’ve been wondering why this moment was suddenly the time to tell this.  Am I finally far enough away from the barely-more-than-a-girl woman I was 25 years ago that I’m “safe” to tell?  Is it the last couple of years I’ve spent working with young women, hearing their stories and uncovering more of my own as I see myself through their eyes?  Is it the inspiration of the many brave women and men who have posted their stories on Violence UnSilenced

Whatever the catalyst, this was clearly the time.  I have a feeling my understanding of a lot of things is about to undergo a major revision.

___

I’m going to take this process off-blog.  At least for the most part.  There’s being open and sharing and then there’s why-doesn’t-she-just-buy-a-journal navel-gazing.  Wackily enough, this whole experience is reminding me of a too-funny Paul F. Tompkins stand-up bit I heard recently on The Sound of Young America, about the classic prank gift of canned peanut brittle.  HR3 has been like my own personal “snakes in a can” moment.  Silly, but the comparison works: when you open the can of peanut brittle, you are shocked that what’s inside isn’t at all what you expected.  When I got pissed off after reading about HR3, I had no idea I was opening this particular gag gift, no idea I’d be in this place today.

Aftermath

I spent a lot of time deciding whether or not to post my story about Alain.  I thought I’d put it up on the private blog I’ve been invited to join, the blog that offers me so much freedom it has shut me down almost entirely: what is so private that I can’t write it here, can’t share it in a forum where my family, my friends, my coworkers read?  Well, plenty of things, I guess, but I haven’t thought of any of them yet.  I thought Alain belonged there (or on Maggie’s amazing Violence UnSilenced), but I brought him here instead. 

First I had to email my family because none of them knew that story.  They know a lot of things about me, but never that one thing, and to learn it from reading here … well, that would just be too ugly.

When I teach essay writing and we work on using vignettes to introduce and frame an essay, I always tell students to think about the story they’re going to use, to make sure they only tell the part that is absolutely connected to the point they hope to make.  I should listen to my own advice.  I didn’t need to tell the entire story of my friendship with Alain, the entire story of that night out with Alain … but I did, too.  I needed to show how not charged our relationship was, how totally fine and normal  Alain was, how totally not dating we were.  I needed to convince you to be on my side at the end of the story.

Because I’m still struggling with that night, all these years later.  Writing that post pushed me to see that I’ve  been stuck there, trying to understand what I did wrong, how I’m responsible for what happened.  It wasn’t until I started posting comments about HR3 that I was able to get the word “rape” out of my mouth when telling that story.  All these years, and I’ve never actually said it: Alain raped me.  When I sent my family the “heads up” email about that last post, I assured them that I’m fine, that I didn’t want them to worry about me, to freak out.  But how fine am I if I haven’t been able to name what happened in 25 years?

And, too, I haven’t told the whole story.

I remember getting home that Sunday night and having the full weight of what Alain did settle on me.  I remember sitting in a corner of my mom’s bedroom, hunched on the floor between her bed and the closet, on the phone with a friend.  I remember whispering the story to her, nervous to say aloud what had happened.

And she listened … and then she said, “Well, on some level, don’t you think you wanted that to happen?  I mean, you haven’t had a boyfriend in a long time, maybe that’s why you kept going out with him.”

There was more to the conversation, but I can’t pull it back to the front of my brain.  I just remember sitting there thinking something was very wrong.  I wasn’t able to call what had happened “rape,” but I knew I hadn’t wanted it to happen, knew that it shouldn’t have happened, knew that my friend should have supported me rather than damned me for being single and obviously “wanting it.”

Shortly after that, my best friend returned from France.  She and Alain’s best friend were still together, but not smoothly.  My friend was angry and sad and very much caught up in her own drama.  I chose not to say anything about Alain, but my other “friend” took it upon herself to share my story.  I got a call from my best friend.  She was angry with me for “making a fuss over nothing.”  She said she couldn’t believe I could have the nerve to say Alain had raped me, that I should think very carefully about what I was doing, that I could ruin Alain’s life making an accusation like that.

That I could ruin Alain’s life.  Yes.

I had no response for her, but she didn’t seem to need one, seemed to have called only to rail at me for being so cruel as to accuse Alain.  “You can’t call it rape because you didn’t like it,” she said at the end. “Besides, I heard his penis is huge, you must have enjoyed it.”

Which was when I knew I’d never tell.  If a woman who was supposed to be my closest friend could respond in that way, how could I ever talk to anyone else?

And I didn’t.  I’ve never told anyone.  Until now.

And now?  I’m glad I’ve finally told my family.  They are reacting in all the ways I would expect them to: completely loving and supportive of me, fiercely angry at what happened to me.  Fox is being careful investigative girl, trying to ferret out online details that will uncover Alain all these years later.  My mother, in full lionness mode, isn’t telling me any of the things she’s wishing she could do to Alain but is being, instead, very protective of me.  My brother is ready to hand out a beat down like the world has never seen.  (Fortunately, Alain has disappeared into history because I’m not sure I could talk any of them out of the graphic plans they have for him.)

Fox’s first question when she called me Saturday was about whether or not I’d seen someone, talked to someone trained to help rape victims.  I didn’t.  I really never told anyone other than the two women I thought were my friends.  So that seems like a good place to start, the right place to start.

A thorn by any other name …

Content warning: this is LONG and unpleasant. (So don’t say I didn’t tell you.)

Alain was the best friend of my best friend’s boyfriend.  It wasn’t exactly a connection that guaranteed that we’d get along with one another.  But it was enough of a reason for us to meet.  My friend and her boyfriend were living in France, Alain and I were in New York.  Of course we should meet. 

And that was fine.  It was a cold night, the first of December, the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree.  He met me at my job and we walked over to watch the lighting and then went downtown for … I don’t know, coffee? Something small and quick.

An easy evening.  Just to meet and see if we might want to meet again.  I knew my friend was hoping a romance would start.  I wasn’t closed to that, but not looking for it, either.  It was a chance to practice my rusting French, maybe start a new friendship.  We started meeting up for dinner every week or two.  Not dates, just more getting-to-know-you time.  Sometimes a woman named Odile joined us.  She was older, maybe 40, and I thought she might be his girlfriend, his lover.  She was vaguely condescending to me and would speed up her French when she didn’t want me to understand the conversation.

I wasn’t attracted to him.  I tried to convince myself that I could be — it would have been fun to have a rich, French boyfriend.  But there was no spark, and it seemed clear that Alain wasn’t the least bit attracted to me, so I let it go. That was where we stood for six months, for seven, for eight.  I had fun with Alain.  We went to museum shows, even a party or two.  Odile continued to join us from time to time.

Alain got tickets to see Tito Puente.  I can’t remember, but Celia Cruz might have been there, too.  The show was at a big performance space somewhere in the way west 20s, practically at the water.  I was just at the beginning of my love of Latin music and was excited to go.  And, too, I was going to be living in the city for a few days, house-sitting for a friend.   My sister was coming in on Saturday for a movie date.  The concert was a great way to start my hanging-in-the-city weekend.

We had dinner somewhere.  We walked to the show and it was fabulous.  Almost as soon as it ended, the hall filled up with kids and a band called Third Rail came out. They weren’t great, but they were.  They had so much energy and passion, they had such love from the audience.  (They also had a very adorably young Eagle-Eye Cherry, maybe one of his first bands?) Alain and I stayed for their show then headed east toward my friend’s place.

On St. Mark’s we were met by some lightly and congenially drunk men who congratulated Alain on his good fortune in finding himself with me.  They invited us for ice cream, and we accepted.  As we stood on the street with our cones, I said I didn’t feel like going home yet, and Alain suggested we go dancing.

We went to Madame Rosa’s a tiny, funky, back-alley kind of place off Canal.  I danced with Alain for a while but then started dancing with a guy I was attracted to.   He asked if Alain was my boyfriend, and I laughed and said no.  I danced with him, his friend and Alain at the same time, making a little circle in one corner of the club.  They turned out to be Hungarian, which pleased me enormously and immediately endeared them to me.  When they invited us to their place, I accepted without a moment’s hesitation.  Alain asked if I knew them.  I said something like, “No, they’re Hungarian,” as if that could have made any kind of sense.

At their apartment we listened to Nick Cave, drank wine and talked about Budapest.  It turned out that the friend didn’t speak much English.  He was a drummer in a band and was in New York for a drumming festival or conference of some kind.

We stayed a ridiculously long time.  We exchanged numbers and talked about seeing a movie.  Alain and I left and headed back east toward the apartment.  I asked about his trip home, about whether it was safe for him to ride the train so late — it was maybe four or four-thirty in the morning by then, and he didn’t live in Manhattan.  He was on Long Island or way out in Queens.  He said it probably wasn’t safe for him to be on the train, so I said he could come hang out with me until a more normal time like six.  We’d already been up so long, what was another hour or two?

At the apartment — a studio in the East Village — we sat at the tiny table and talked.  I was fading, but it wasn’t time to send him to the train, so I said nothing.

Then he said, “You know, I probably could have taken the train,” and smiled.

I remember being annoyed by that because I really wanted to be asleep already.  “Why didn’t you?”

“Well, don’t you think it’s time we became lovers?”

To say I was stunned to silence sounds melodramatic but is entirely accurate.  I just stared at him, then asked where that had come from.

“We’ve been dating for months.”

Again I just stared at him.  “We have not been dating.”

“What did you think? I was one of your girlfriends or something?”

I was surprised by how nasty he sounded, as if I was a child he’d been scolding all day and now wanted to shake. Or slap.

“Why do you think I came here?”

“It was too late for you to ride the subway,” I said.  I don’t remember what I was feeling then.  Confused, probably.  And angry, too. I do remember thinking the unpleasantness of our misunderstanding would mess up our friendship.  One thing I know I didn’t feel was fear.

Have you figured out where this is headed?  I hadn’t.  In fact, the next thing I felt was relief because he stood and said he’d go.  He stood and said, “At least give me a hug,” and I smiled and thought maybe things would be ok with us after all.  And I stood to hug him.

___

I’m not going to describe it, not willing to paint that picture.  I will say that the hug was a ruse, a way to bind my arms before he pushed me back and back and onto the bed.  I will say that when he was done he zipped up and looked at me with disgust before turning to leave.  “You might want to get up and lock this door behind me,” he said.  I will say that I didn’t get up, that I curled into myself and started rocking, trying to understand what had just happened.

I slept for a couple of hours then got up and made myself cheerful.  My sister was coming, I had tentative plans with the Hungarians.  Couldn’t let something like Alain forcing himself on me spoil my plans, right?

So I put it aside, hung out with my sister.  She and I met up with the Hungarians and went to see Angel Heart.  I don’t remember the rest of the weekend.  Did the four of us get dinner?  What happened Sunday?

More importantly, why am I thinking of Alain now?  It’s not that I haven’t thought of him at all in the last 25 years.  I have.  Plenty.  But there’s always been a clear trigger, something I’ve seen or heard or remembered that has pushed me back to that morning on First Avenue.  I can’t see the trigger now.

I’m meeting a lot of men right now, and a fair number of them have very clearly wanted to have sex with me.  But none of them has frightened me, none has forced himself on me in any way.  It’s hard to see any of them bringing Alain up from the back storage room in my brain.

Maybe it’s that my memory is psychic, throwing Alain in front of me just before the new Republican Tea House chose to redefine rape in HR3.  Have you missed the firestorm that is HR3?  It’s the latest move to criminalize abortion, to control women’s bodies and the lives we are able to lead.

And outlined in section 309 is the casual revision of terms, the tiny detail that means what Alain did doesn’t “count” as rape:

`SEC. 309. TREATMENT OF ABORTIONS RELATED TO RAPE, INCEST, OR PRESERVING THE LIFE OF THE MOTHER.

    `The limitations established in sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 shall not apply to an abortion–
  •  `(1) if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest; or
  •  `(2) in the case where the pregnant female suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the pregnant female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.
  •  The emphasis is mine.  So, because Alain didn’t beat the crap out of me or use a weapon to coerce me … which seem to be the only things the House Republicans think “forcible” means, he didn’t rape me.  And in the conveniently-not-having-to-deal-with-the-ramifications-of-their-acts minds of some, there would have been nothing wrong with forcing me to carry to term the pregnancy that could have resulted from that rape time I spent with Alain.

    Still trying to understand how keeping a woman from having the last word on what happens to her body equals job creation and deficit reduction?  (Oh, you know, the things the Tea House members got elected on a few months ago.)  I’m still trying to figure it out, too.  But that’s where our new legislators took their first fight: 

    Forget jobs.  Forget the deficit.  We need to handle the women, remind them of their place and how their main value in our world is as chattel to produce our gifted progeny.  We need to get them in a Clayton Williams frame of mind.  Honey, that wasn’t a rape, that was a little bad weather.  Just relax and enjoy it!

    Fortunately, I didn’t get pregnant.  Even more fortunately, if I had gotten pregnant, I’d have been able to get an abortion without worrying about breaking laws.  What I did get was raped.  I recently posted the comment: “Rape never needs an adjective. Brutal, heinous, cruel: all are a given when you say ‘rape.’ No modifiers necessary.”  Worse than the extra-especially-bad adjectives are the diminishing qualifiers like “date” or “friend.”.  Rape is rape.  We can call it bad weather or any other thing our lack of understanding/ sensitivity/sense/humanity tells us to call it, but it is still rape.  I don’t know what Representative Smith thinks “forcible” means, but all rapes use force. Period.

    HR3 is in committee now.  I’ve let my congress people know how I feel about it.  Have you?

    I got by …

    … with much more than a little help from my friends!

    I made it.  I finished the dreaded artist’s resume, wrote a proposal I think might actually sound good to the selection committee, and made to 34th Street before 10pm and got my parcel in the post!¹ 

    It’s done, it’s done, it’s done.  I’d never have gotten through it without some serious hand-holding from my sister and without some very well-timed and uncannily on- the-money suggestions from my friend DR.  Ladies, you are my angels tonight!

    And, of course, I’d never even have heard about this opportunity if not for The Harpist … and it was great to come home to a voice mail from her, saying she hoped I’d gotten everything together in time.

    I wrote a tanka earlier in the week with today in mind … but it’s on my desk at work, so that will have to wait.  Instead I have three I wrote on the bus downtown on my way to catch the A train up to the post office:

    that soft, milky smell
    voices always a question
    or sometimes a plaint
    how does she manage all four
    again I wish for just one

    rain on my window
    do those drops wish they were snow
    long to be other
    want mountains not worn concrete
    or am I the only one

    soft wave of your hair
    my hand resting on your neck
    this quiet moment
    the space and time between us
    all the reasons I am here

    Yeah.  Guess I was feeling a mite creative tonight.  I’m so happy I pulled this off.  Yes, I want very much to be accepted, but at the same time, just getting this application in the mail was a huge step for me.  The closest I’ve ever gotten to applying for something like this was downloading the application, putting it in a folder … and then thinking how hard it would be to find someone to write a recommendation … or how none of my writing really seemed ‘right’ for what ‘they’ would want to see … you know, basically talking myself out of applying.  And I didn’t do that this time.  And that feels better than wonderful.

    __________

    ¹Thank goodness for the all-night post office … but only for a little while longer.  On May 9th, all that late-night fun comes to an end.  They’ll be closing their doors at 10.  Very sad story.

    Clearing My Head

    Ok, not really, but kind of.

    I’ve had a hard-working April.  So much so that I’m not sorry to see it draw to a close.  I had four big grant proposals to get in, a family health scare, a niece’s birthday, a nephew’s confirmation, the start of the new term.  And mostly I’ve just been painfully tired, unable to do little more than pick a poem to share for National Poetry Month.  And then the Bell verdict came down.

    As may have become obvious, I’ve been a bit derailed by that one.

    But I’m feeling a little freer tonight.  Maybe that’s because the last of the big proposals has gone in.  (Yes, a small one just landed on my desk … but, after the last batch, it’s not looking too scary.)  Maybe it’s because tonight I had my first ‘oh, we’ve totally become our own little group’ night with my new class.  Of course, maybe it’s because I’ve hit such a level of exhaustion I can’t maintain the depth of sadness tonight and I’ll get right back into it tomorrow.

    I’ve got work to do.  And I’ve got work to do.  This week has actually pushed me back to my paper journal, and I think that may be the place where a lot of my ‘figuring’ is going to happen.  Not that I’m plotting a revolution and want to be all hush-hush about it.  Hardly.  But when I get deep into the ugly, I think that’s something I want to keep to myself.

    So thank you, everyone, for your kind, supportive words.  Knowing you heard me, that you were (and are) willing to read through my sorrow and anger day after day absolutely helped keep my head from exploding.  I haven’t stopped posting about this, but the tightness in my chest has eased just a bit.