TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or rape which may be triggering to survivors.
“I felt as if I were already redefining it, already dropping (ahead? behind?) into a state of retrospection. I was worried that my memory wouldn’t do me any favours; that it would only make things worse… A constant tug of war: wanting to remember, wanting to forget… How was this journey, this movement to be mapped?”
– Emily Rapp, The Still Point of the Turning World
Memory can be a tricky thing. Our genetic makeup is clever; if something happens to us and we aren’t strong enough to remember, our mind and body has mechanisms to make that memory go away or to minimize the damage of the memory’s daily impact.
I never forgot being raped. I had memories of it, but I pushed them away until they didn’t bother coming around anymore. But my secrets were impacting my insides deeply, and then the memories came back daily on their own, knocking, seeking acknowledgement.
I try not to let myself remember the details very often. That’s not a place I want my mind and body to go to. Sometimes that happens and it is beyond my control. More often than not, my mind latches on to other details… things that aren’t so painful.
I remember the tree.
There were so many trees. It was a forest, after all. I was surrounded by the beauty of nature. And I was surrounded by the horrors of it too.
I remember the feeling of the rough bark on my bareback as I was slammed backwards against the tree in the cold of the night. I remember feeling the twinge of pain in the back of my mind but realizing that that pain didn’t matter in this moment. I remember the tree was cold. I remember it scraped my skin. I remember it kept scraping my skin as everything went on. I remember being pulled away from the tree. And being pushed back. I remember resting the back of my head against it when I didn’t think I could hold it up anymore.
I remember being lost in the feeling of the tree and not thinking about anything else. I disappeared into the rough bark. I disappeared away. I disappeared.
When I could feel the tree, I knew where I was; I had run and walked by that tree thousands of times in my life. When I could feel the tree, I knew I wasn’t near the ravine. When I could feel the tree, I knew they weren’t trying to take me somewhere else then. When I could feel the tree, I knew I could disappear into it.
When I couldn’t feel the tree anymore, I wished I was back against the tree, so I could still have that knowledge. That ability to disappear. When I realized things could be worse away from the tree than they were at the tree, I wished for the tree again. When I realized being away from the tree didn’t mean it was over, it didn’t mean they were done with me; when I realized how bad things could get, I yearned to be back at the tree.
I remember curling up under the tree when they were done with me. I remember hiding against it. Hiding from the night. Hiding from the pain. I remember trying to be as small as I could be and as close to its shield and protection as I could. I remember it being the only thing that made me feel like I was still a part of this world.
I remember the tree. I remember it as a weapon. I remember it as a refuge.
I remember it as a haven.
Before the tree, I remember the dirt; the dirt path at the edge of the woods. My runs were always the same: first pavement, then gravel for a second, and then fine dirt. A trail path through the woods; dirt the consistency of cocoa. But with sharp stones sporadically spread throughout it; transfers from the patch of gravel.
I remember that I loved when I reached the dirt. The pavement was hard on my hips and knees and ankles and feet and joints. Once I reached the dirt, I had an extra cushion.
The dirt wasn’t something I could even see; it was actually felt-sense. It was dark once I reached the dirt too. Pitch-black. I could just feel it in my joints and bones and senses.
The dirt made it hard for me to get secure footing when they grabbed me. I couldn’t dig my feet in to take control of the situation. I couldn’t dig my feet in to shift my weight and balance. And the dirt made it easier for my feet to slip and slide and drag. The dirt betrayed me.
The tree scratched my skin but grounded me. The pebbles in the dirt dented my skin, digging in on my knees and legs, but didn’t really cause any pain. At least not pain that registered. Or there was pain, but it was welcomed because it wasn’t where all the other pain was.
I remember the dirt on my cheek. Cold and soft. I breathed it in. Sputtering.
And I remember the dirt in the mirror. Caked to my wet cheeks. Sticking to the tears and sweat.
And watching it slowly trickle down the drain. Brown and red. And then finally clear.
As if that clear water meant anything. As if that clear water means anything.
I remember the soccer game. We were many players short. That is frustrating, but no one wants to be playing soccer until that god-awful time of the night. And not on the Thursday night of a long weekend. We had five players – just enough to play without forfeiting.
Maybe if one of those five hadn’t shown up, the night would have gone incredibly differently.
I remember the game was a total crap-shoot.
I remember running into my own player twice. And then the two of us keeled over laughing hysterically because… how crazy is that? Yeah. Crap-shoot.
I remember sitting in my car in the deserted parking lot for several minutes after everyone else drove away… I was catching up on texts and emails that had come through while I was on the pitch… there was a crazy wedding happening that weekend. And I had to answer these emails.
And I had to drive home.
And I remember that hour of soccer just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough that night. It wasn’t an aggressive enough game. It wasn’t a hard enough game. I wasn’t tired enough.
But I also wasn’t scared enough.
I remember the stress-tears brewing and that feeling in the pit of my stomach when I pulled into the driveway.
I remember carrying my bag to the house door and tossing it down, tossing my cell phone and my keys on top and taking off running.
And I remember the quiet. It never was quiet once the warmth of spring arrived. But it was quiet then – in the dead of the cold night. There were no birds chirping or insects or frogs making noise – it was just quiet.
I don’t know if that silence was a good thing or a bad thing for me. I think that if there had been sounds, I could have disappeared into the sounds. I would remember those sounds instead of the sounds that I do remember.
Because I don’t want to remember the sounds that I do remember. Their words. Their sounds. I remember them. But I don’t want to.
But there were so many sounds. There were sounds that were just sounds. But there were sounds that weren’t just sounds too. There were sounds that were words.
Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was a jackass. Total. Jackass. Because here’s something I don’t remember: I don’t remember how many times those words have played back in my head.
And there are other things I remember.
Like the stop sign. In the haze of stumbling home, I remember the stop sign.
I remember the hole in the hydro post.
I remember that seven cars drove by.
I remember thinking that I should have had a cell phone.
Or anything. Or common sense. Or any sense. Or a plan. Or a reaction. Or something.
Something or anything different.
I got to my front door; my keys, cell phone, bag and wallet were still in the pile I’d left them in: untouched, unscathed.
I remember the shower. The safety of a locked house. The safety of a locked bathroom. The safety of the small space.
The white walls of the bathtub. The refuge of it.
White walls. Walls of salvation. Walls of uncertainty. Walls of lies and whispers.
I remember the hot water beating down on my head. On my skin as I peeled off my drenched clothing in layers. Piece by piece discarded outside the white walls until it was only me and the water.
Until it was only me and my head. My heart.
I remember the water running clear. Finally. And remaining in the shower, scrubbing until I thought I got everything off.
I remember the mirror then. I looked… normal. As if I’d just gotten out of the shower on any night, after any soccer game.
Not a trace.
I remember that was the first time I started spewing the “what ifs” and “what were you thinkings” at her… at that girl in the mirror. I remember her just looking back at me with unknowing, untainted, innocent eyes, as if she had no idea of the things she had done.
Then, I just remember the alone. The utter aloneness. I remember that part so well.
The silence and solitude of an empty house and a mind beyond confused. ~ Anonymous.
I remember, too. You are brave and beautiful, and you are not alone.
I remember,too. Thank you for being brave enough to speak your memories for those of us who can’t speak our own.
You are not alone. Thank you for your story and your courage.
I don’t really know the words to say right now but I did want you to know that I thought this writing was beautifully done. God bless.
I don’t have words. I did read this. I did take it in.
I run alone at night when it’s dark too; I think of what it would be like to have that taken from me. Because it’s my solace. Thanks for writing.