“This is where My friend told me she had been raped.”
This sticker is on the Northwest side of the Broadway bridge over the 5, connecting the East Village to Golden Hill. I was standing here when I found out.
I wish I could say that this story is singular or surprising. But it isn’t the first time someone has revealed to me that they were raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. And I’m not a therapist.
In the last two weeks, 3 different friends have shared their stories with me. They are just the latest in the steady stream of dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who confided in me their horrifying secret.
I do not find it shocking, except maybe in that raw empathetic way, because I know this story so well. Each person’s trauma is unique, yes… but like an overused movie plot, I know how it ends. Sometimes, I let myself hope that the script will take a left turn and this story won’t fall into the same tropes of crushing self-blame, years of denial, and paralyzing self-doubt. But optimism in this case is an exercise in futility. Mostly I look around for a quiet place to sit when someone brings me the wreckage of their soul, offering me the pieces of themselves to witness. We both know I can’t knit them back together. My job is to hold their story safe.
Sometimes when people tell me, I can hear the clotting of tears in their throat. The scars haven’t formed completely yet and I know that as they are telling me, they are right back there again – in that moment when their sense of self was being ripped away.
Frequently when people tell me, I can hear the blankness of dissociation. This is the amazing and frightening way that our brains cope with horror – the distancing of mind from body. It’s a flattening of emotion; someone speaking from the far reaches of their internal universe across a void so massive that I wonder how long it took for the sound of their voice to travel to me.
I wish I could say this story is singular, the way it is portrayed in our culture as an aberration. But I have been raped 3 times, starting at age 8. The first was a family friend, the others, people I was dating.
I didn’t tell anyone until I was 20, mostly because I couldn’t even call it rape. I thought I was complicit and therefore responsible for what happened to me. I finally found the courage to tell my mother. A month later, when I mentioned it again, she acted like it was the first time she was finding out. I think it was so painful for her that she couldn’t allow herself to remember and blocked it out. I get that. But her forgetting was more painful to me than the actual trauma I endured.
These stories are important. Listen. Don’t forget.