As I’ve followed the most recent large rape case in Steubenville, let alone the many others I’ve followed or been following throughout the years, I’m reminded of my own first voicings on the subject with my classmates back in 2009. Untouched over the years, I warn you now. These may be triggering.
Fall 2009: Monologue as Self-Portrait
This monologue uses a flogger and an inanimate object of your choosing to hit with the flogger. I chose a chair. Every time you see the following: (hit), the flogger is hit against the object.
“It can’t happen to me.” (hit) The phrase we reiterate to ourselves over, and over, when confronted with something we never really want to consider the possibility of. Whether it’s an unwanted pregnancy, your brother getting stabbed because he was mistaken for being a gang member, your mother getting beaten repeatedly, and verbally abused, by the man who pledged to love, honor, and care for her in sickness and in health, no one prepares you for … The panic attacks that happen on a daily basis, the flashbacks so intense you’re penetrated again, in that freakish circus-tent-like bedroom, staring up at the face of the man climbing on top of you, his friend moving around you, also touching you in ways you never consented to. No one prepares you for the time spent in an apartment your partner lives in with a roommate that looks uncannily like a younger version of your primary attacker, who uses many of the same products, and with a personality that does nothing to combat the resemblances. Change the scenery. I look out in front of me and don’t see the storefront behind my friend; instead I see the face of the man dominating my spirit, taking away every last shred of my humanity. Secret Agent Man Wannabe and his friend, the greasy grimy dirtball, took away my personhood, and entirely turned me into strictly an object, power-tripping while holding this power of intimidation above me, just out of reach, but in my face more than a bird pecking out my eyes.
They smile while they take everything from you, without even needing to mention that if you try to run, try to scream, you’ll just make them happier. You can read it rolling off of them, like waves of hot flame. Always a step ahead. Always making you wonder why no one is paying attention to your “No”s, whether stated, or physically made obvious. They made me doubt myself, to the point where I felt like the only thing holding my shell of personhood together was that I had the structures of being a student. Even if they knew to find me there, I could escape for a little while, inside a classroom. My program is really the main thing that saved my life from spiraling completely out of control, and putting me inside a psych ward somewhere, trying to find a way to make the pains physical and emotional just STOP. My program, and my drive to not fail as a student, were “the last chance I had” to make everything seem “okay.”
The day itself went as such: He walked me to my car. I went home, wondering what the hell had just happened. I started crying on the way up from Seattle, back home to Everett. As soon as I got in the door, away from the violent little assholes known as the children of the apartment complex that taunt… trying to get me to hit one of them with my car, on video… Or were they already shipped off to what should have been boot camp? I’m too tired to remember what order those happened in, at this point. Either way, I remember stepping inside, shaking, locking all the doors to make sure no one could get me. Immediately, I ran to the bathroom, stripping off everything I wore that previous night and throwing this pile, as forcefully as I could, into my laundry hamper, shutting the closet doors, and turning on the shower head. I know they all tell you not to wash, or pee, or anything of that nature, immediately after an assault, but at that point, it was completely out of my head to even think logically. I was operating on pure survival instinct. I scrubbed the life out of me, trying to scrub away all the death and destruction, and wash it down the drain too. All it did was get their stench off of me for a little while, and have me wind up with a bunch of broken blood vessels all over my body, the kind you get when you scratch too hard. I tried to make sense of it all, but nothing worked, and the only thing I could focus on was getting to school. I had French class that day, and I couldn’t miss it for the world. I did wind up missing it, but my French professor, all of 3 hours away at that time of day, was the first person to sit with me, a crying wreck, and help me figure out what I might be able to do to feel better and get help. I wasn’t even thinking about reporting it to the cops, at this point. If you ever wonder if there are professors who can save your life, I guarantee you, this campus has a few of them… angels in disguise, really.
There have been many times, really too numerous to count, where I’ve wanted to flay the both of them alive, Secret Agent Man Wannabe, and his sidekick Greasy, Grimy Dirtball, starting with what physically hurt me the most… I find that castration, or even just taking a cheese grater to their dicks and pouring lemon juice and salt on after that, to be acceptable as a starter punishment. It won’t give them the full experiences of my life, and what has happened because of what they did to me, to fully impact their lives in the same way… But it is a start. As I see it, there are two options when in a place where I can’t deal with any more added to my emotional plate… One is screaming. The other, which has been more likely, is getting depressed, and filling my head with all the thoughts that never helped:
“It was my fault this happened to me!” (hit)
“I can’t trust anyone ever again, because the same thing will happen to me! Or worse!” (hit)
“No one listens to me. What’s the point in trying?” (hit)
“If they did this to me, maybe I deserved it.” (hit)
“All males are perpetrators.” (hit)
“DeeJays (hit); people that use Axe (hit); people with black, greasy hair (hit); people that hang out on Capitol Hill (hit); people that live in Downtown Seattle (hit); people into the occult (hit); are ALL out to get me.”
“I have nothing left to live for.” (hit)
I guess I’m going to stop there, and continue with other parts of this damned monologue. Or try to get back to the point I thought I was making bereishit… in the beginning.
I know the aftermath is always different for everyone that goes through something even vaguely similar, but many of us wind up with the same issues. I’ve already spoken a little about some of the symptoms of my own Rape Trauma Syndrome, a version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But I want to make one thing clear, if even one story shows just how brave, or curiously ignorant, someone can be… Mom likes to tell me the story of when I was about a year old, and some friends invited us over, they were going to leave a door unlocked because they would be out when we got there. Someone forgot, and mom had to use a ladder to get in through a window on the second story. She tells baby me to stay there, and she’ll be right back. She runs back down the stairs, unlocks the front door, and steps out to see me, somehow, putting my little foot out to step onto the roof. We won’t even mention that it was sloped. I strive to find a way to get back to being that girl, as difficult as it is just surviving day to day. I won’t tell you about the fights I’ve had to go through since this, but I will mention how ridiculous life can get when you’re trying to take care of yourself, but unable to really do so.
I deal with my emotions by making my life so busy that I am constantly running from one appointment to another. No one prepares you for life after the shattered glass window of “It can’t happen to me.” (hit) Who knew being able to sleep alone would become under-rated? Or that ordinary life would be halted by the panic attacks preventing grocery store runs or walking to your car in the parking lot in the middle of the night… in a gated apartment community? The only way I can go home at night is by letting two people know what’s happening, one on each end. I deal with my grief, and discomfort, by stacking one life on top of another, making my schedule as busy as I can possibly stand, in and around the too many appointments that are demanded due to life circumstances that are entirely beyond my control.
“If you can’t understand my silence, how can you understand my words?”
When I was younger, I thought I could disappear into the world, and become whatever I wanted to be. I thought that becoming ‘Nina’ from Point of No Return would be becoming the ultimate woman who could do anything, and take care of herself. Re-watching the movie, I realize now that she had a lot more going on, and will likely be forever watching her back after her escape.
“Continuation”: A Monologue
(Performance Note: Play something soft while reading, e.g. “Bed of Flames” by Hungry Lucy)
Explosions come when you least expect, from some star in the galaxy going supernova much closer to home than you had originally estimated. The ring of a phone sets into motion a chain of events no one expects. Occasionally, daydreams of shooting someone in the face slither in. The distractions come. The distractions go. But every once in a while, they move to the side enough to allow for the possibility of great energy exchanges. Exchanges that begin by trying to check up on someone (who did not answer the phone), and end in crying fits. The crying fit is soon followed by a return to the general apathy and avoidance of topics of greater import. “Issues” if you will.
There is an untitled silence that comes immediately after meeting with a prosecutor. The silence may stay for a day, a week, a month, perhaps even longer. At times, it feels like the weight of the world on your shoulders, never able to hand it off to someone unless you deny it ever happened. The sign hangs above your head. It is taped to your back. It follows you wherever you go, yet you are a source of power unknown to yourself. The sign hangs high above your head, it is taped between your breasts, forever there with you. Yet somehow, you are supposed to step beyond the sign, or alter it in some way.
So you poke it. It pokes back… the jab of a freshly sharpened knife. Get angry. Poke it again. The definition of insanity, right? But without poking at the blood-bringer, you never get past the initial blood-letting. The reason you wound up at the ER in the first place. The reason you still nearly wretch at the thought of SANE Nurses, particularly those bad at their jobs. I talk of the kind that lead you to thinking about possibilities of prosecution for criminal negligence in how and what they, and their colleagues did upon your arrival, and throughout the next 12 hours you spend with them. SANE Nurses, for those not “in the know”, are Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. They are the ones that collect evidence for a rape kit, in the possibility that your case will go to trial.
Not that what happened with the SANE Nurse had any impact whatsoever on the outcome of my own case. Then again, if you don’t get beaten, bruised, it’s much harder to prosecute. If you are not overtly threatened with physical violence, like having a gun shoved in your face, or you’re not snatched off the street, it is much harder to prosecute. If there was not an extremely clear line between “no” and “yes”, it is even more on the end of impossible cases. Don’t let me discourage you from reporting rape yourself. I’m happy I reported mine. Really, I’m just frustrated with the laws themselves. They are so flawed that the only way you can be considered unable to give consent happens under two circumstances. Circumstance 1, you are so inebriated/intoxicated you can barely see straight. Circumstance 2, you are so developmentally disabled that you essentially require assisted living from a nurse, just to get basic things of life taken care of.
What ever happened to circumstance #3? Fearing for your life, you think: Let’s just play along. If I say “No”, there’s no way to tell what they would do to me. If I don’t, at least they’ll let me walk away alive. In the eyes of our fine and knowledgeable state LAW, circumstance 3 warrants consent…because guess what!?! Being alone with 2 men larger then you apparently doesn’t at all qualify as threat of force.
Whatever happened to Circumstance #3? Having two men, both larger than you, pushing themselves upon you. Stripping you of your dignity as they strip your clothes from your body. Making fun of you with underhanded comments all the while, except for the occasional comment completely objectifying you. “Isn’t she beautiful?” Followed by other comments that further turn you into nothing more than a sex doll. Fearing for your life, you can’t say anything. You are overwhelmed, have already been forced into something you never wanted, and think to yourself: “Let’s just play along. If I say ‘no,’ there is no way to know what else could happen to me. At least they will allow me to walk away alive.” Follow up the initial undesired contact with some rather… impressive intestinal fireworks, and the further disability to “fight back” with your body wrenched in agony, your mind stunned in fear, and the only thing you can do is try to hide from it all laying right there in plain sight of your assailants.
In the eyes of our fine and knowledgeable current state law, Circumstance 3 warrants consent… Because being alone with two men larger than you in those circumstances I’ve just described doesn’t at all qualify as threat of force. Under current Washington state law, there is no need to ask for consent. Unless one person clearly says “NO” or fights back, as in throwing punches or kicking someone, or anything, it is considered consent.
Whoever voted to pass the rape laws as they are currently written, I salute you (with my fist in the air and a finger held high). If I could bury you, the way the laws have buried the way I feel in a decline meeting with a prosecutor, maybe you could begin to understand. Reach enlightenment, if you will.
It’s interesting, the people that come out of the woodwork and begin telling you their own horror stories. Maybe they aren’t first sexual experiences, but they are still shattering to the world that person lived in before. Maybe by working to get those laws changed, someone else won’t have to experience what I have. Maybe their assailants will have justice served upon them, and followed to their graves. If done right, maybe some of us who aren’t covered by the current statutes can retroactively find justice, or at least greater peace.
– – – – – –
(next page, read “Ego Trip (there may be a reason why)” by Nikki Giovanni. No background music unless you’re playing the version off Blackalicious’s album “Nia” instead of reading/performing.)
– – – – – –
Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why) by Nikki Giovanni
I was born in the Congo
I walked to the Fertile Crescent and built the Sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad
I sat on the throne
drinking nectar with Allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to Europe
to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is Nefertiti
the tears from my birth pains
created the Nile
I am a beautiful woman
I gazed on the forest and burned
out the Sahara Desert
with a packet of goat’s meat
and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
so swift you can’t catch me
For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son Hannibal an elephant
He gave me Rome for mother’s day
My strength flows ever on
My son Noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
men intone my loving name
All praises All praises
I am the one who would save
I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
the filings from my fingernails are
On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the Arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
the earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
across three continents
I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission
I mean…I…can fly
like a bird in the sky…