My Turn

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou

I was 19 – or maybe 18. I don’t remember. The rapist was not a stranger. I did not report to the police. I am 1 out of 5 American women.

The year was 1970 or ’71, ’72, I don’t remember. The place, Houston. Rape was not something anyone talked about openly. I don’t know if I was ever warned about sexual assault. I don’t think I had heard, read or knew anyone who had been raped.  Where and when I grew up, young girls and teens were not taught or warned about rape. We were barely told about sex. We learned about menstruation in 6th grade and that was pretty much it. The story ended at procreation.

After the rape the thought of going to the police never entered my mind. Who would believe me? I couldn’t imagine. I chose the path of forgetting. I shrink-wrapped the experience and put it away in a box on the highest shelf in the darkest corner of my mind and never looked back. Some might say I was in denial. Denial is not deep enough for what I buried.

And then one day, about 15 years later, I remembered, slowly. It took Oprah (of all people), to unlock the memory. I was watching the Oprah Show and the subject was “Date Rape”. A piece of a memory became dislodged in my brain and I remembered something. And then something else broke free.

I do not remember his name but I do have clear memories of place and other details. It was summer. I worked at my father’s swimming pool company in an office with a large open window that I could look out of while working at my desk.  There was a new salesman and every morning I watched him walk into the sales offices.He was new to the company, new to the Houston, from southern California. He was “older” – in his late 20s/early 30s. He was attractive in that 1970’s blow-dried-southern-California-way. He was a loner; he didn’t socialize with the other salesmen and didn’t seem to have friends. As he passed my window, he would bend down, smile and wink at me. I was flattered and eventually developed a little crush on him. And he knew it. What I didn’t know then was that he was grooming me, the shy, insecure boss’s daughter with a half-formed identity.

One afternoon we were getting coffee, just the two of us, and out of the blue he spoke to me. I don’t remember what we talked about before he asked me if I’d like to go to dinner. He was charming and I said yes.

He gave me his address and told me to come by his apartment around 7:00 and we’d go to dinner from there. When the day came, I left work early, went home and got ready for my date. When I arrived at his apartment, a woman with a squalling baby on her hip answered the door. He briefly explained that she was his sister and he was staying with her until he could get his own place. He mentioned he wasn’t ready to go out yet and motioned to me to follow him.

I followed. He closed his bedroom door and almost immediately started to undress like it was the most natural way start to a date. I was confused and totally blindsided. He started taking my clothes off. I began to protest and stammered that I thought we were going to dinner. He said, “we will afterwards”. I didn’t know what was happening. After my “NO’s” and protests were ignored, I gave up. He was tall, strong and completely over-powered me. Fear took over and I was paralyzed.

I remember kind of blanking out and going along because I was afraid to cry out for help. The fear was overwhelming. Subconsciously, I did what every woman since the beginning of time has done, shut up and hope to live. Survival instincts tell you to go along and then get the hell out. What I know now, but didn’t then, was that this man was an experienced rapist.

I remember feeling powerless in a way I’ve never felt before. He was rough, uncaring. He was hurting me and I told him. He didn’t listen. He didn’t look at me. I cried, but intuition told me not to scream. I knew if I did, he would shut me up. I was scared, terrorized and trapped. I remember feeling that if I could just get it over with, I would live and be free to go home.  After it was over, he told me I could leave. Or maybe he told me TO leave. I left. We never made it to dinner.

It was still light outside and I felt humiliated and ashamed as I stumbled to my car. I drove home numb, crying, feeling sick. When I arrived, I pulled myself together, quietly slipped in the house, grateful no one was there I would have to interact with. I immediately took a long, hot shower and afterward quietly closed my bedroom door and stayed there until the next day. I never told a soul. I don’t think the thought of telling someone (my mother) even entered my mind. I knew how upset my mom and dad would be and I didn’t want to be the cause of that. I also felt I would be blamed.

And yes, I felt ashamed. I was the one who went over to his house. I was the one who followed him into his bedroom. I let it happen. I didn’t scream loud enough. I was stupid. The thought of reporting him never even occurred to me. I somehow knew who would be blamed.

I never saw him again. He disappeared – quit his job and moved away. Where did he go? Why did he leave California to come to Texas in the first place? Did his sister hear me crying, saying “NO!”, “STOP!”? Did she know what he was doing in the next room? She must’ve known. Crap. Had he done this before and she knew it? She knew her brother was a rapist and said nothing?

Unfortunately, I will never know because I didn’t go to the police. And because I didn’t report, he likely continued his career as a serial rapist. My prayer has always been that a woman – braver than I – did report him and he spent a significant portion of his life in prison. I’ll never know. He’s probably dead by now. I hope so.

I know now, I was marked from the first time he saw me. I was a shy, insecure young woman who had no idea who she was. That I was the boss’s daughter probably made me a more attractive target for him. He was in total control from the first moment to the last. He took a chance that I wouldn’t be a whistle blower. His instincts were correct.

I felt it was my fault for following him into his bedroom. What I was left with was shame. Shame is what prevents women from reporting. Shame and regret. Shame that I followed him into his room, regret I didn’t have the courage to go to the police.

I’ve shed the shame and regret. I write my story, not to elicit sympathy, pity or admiration of strength, but to shine a light on what has long been buried. To tell my untold story. There are so many similar stories out there and all are unique and need to be told. I’m not special, but my story is. So is yours.

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10 Responses to My Turn

  1. Carol,

    I shouldn’t have drunk so much at the party. I went back to his place and smoked pot. My first semester at college…. which I went to a semester late after having and giving up my son eric. It was a frat party. He was a wrestler. He picked me up off the couch, took me into his bedroom where he held me down, tore off my pants and raped me.

    I shouldn’t have been drinking beer and smoking pot. I told no one. It was 1970 when women still asked for it and rape was unreportable and never prosecuted. Too many if us have these stories. I felt the pain of yours in your story and your bravery for telling it now.

    We are sisters in so many ways!

    Bless you,

    CJ

  2. dwyattwalker says:

    Wow, how very personal and very intense. I’m impressed that you are willing to share this experience so broadly. No question that reading this piece will help others understand pain caused and -more importantly- how serious and widespread unreported rape really is in this country.

    Yes, you told me the whole story several years ago but reading it here and now, especially in light of the current political atmosphere, the scenario takes on additional meaning. Good for you for coming out and letting people know!

    BTW -a short side-bar here- I had no idea that so many women have experienced such a terrible violation and I can’t imagine the long term pain it must cause psychologically and physically. I don’t believe I am naive but such an act of violence hasn’t ever been on my own radar; I’ve never forced myself on anyone and I couldn’t even conceive of ever doing so. For that matter I have never heard of ANY of my own male friends ever doing such thing or even talking about it. . . Not ever. Not a single male friend of mine has ever come forward with a story like that. Not one friend in all my 73 years as a male human being has ever spoken to me about such behavior, nor even has any passing male acquaintance. I’m frankly horrified that it happens at all and while I can’t speak personally for other men (my friends at least) I’m sure that they are horrified too.

    Best,

    -Don

    (Sent from Don’s iPhone)

    >

  3. Sharon says:

    You are special, and so is your story. Thanks for sharing, Carol!

  4. Jennifer Johnson says:

    I’m so sorry, Carol. And I’m glad that you have told this terrible story. It’s important that we all come to understand how common sexual assault is, from groping and “passes” to planned rapes like you experienced. And no doubt, as you said, the men who do such things have many victims.
    My hope is that girls and women today are much more aware of the danger and confident that they will be treated with respect if they report assaults.
    The part that remains mysterious to me is how seemingly automatic it is to forget/repress assaults, at least until something triggers the memory later. Perhaps a survival mechanism, because surely rape was even more common in places and times when women were (or are) property and spoils of war.
    God bless you my friend.

  5. Lois Harvey says:

    This was moving and important. Thank you. Always think my “stuff” is too complicated to convey in a way that would be helpful to anyone but you dealt w the complications beautifully and to good effect. Thanks for this Lois

    • goatwoman says:

      Thank you, Lois. I always have that same feeling- too complicated > brain gets fuzzy. It’s hard to distill down something that feels so big and complicated into essay form. Honestly, I’ve been writing this piece for years and it’s gone through many iterations and perspectives (some really bad drafts!). With what’s happening lately (“locker room talk” “just words”), with how women are ignored and silenced, I just said fuck it. Do it. It’s (comments from people on FB) been unexpectedly healing.

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