The Effect of Rape in Novels: As told by an English Major Rape Victim

I got an email from one of my professors today asking me how I was dealing with the past two class discussions.

You see, in my Novel class, we have just finished discussing the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. In this novel (SPOILER ALERT), the main character, Tess, gets drugged and raped by a man named Alec; as a result, she becomes pregnant (the baby dies after a few months). A few months after her baby dies, Tess decides to start a new life: she goes to a dairy farm where she falls in love and eventually marries. When she tells her husband what happens to her, he throws it in her face, implies she’s impure, and that she was asking for it. Tess and Angel, her husband, then separate. Some time passes, and Tess runs into Alec (you know the guy who raped her), and she decides to become his mistress.

You know, because we accept the love we think we deserve. Anyway, after more time passes, Angel returns. Tess then kills Alec, which in turn causes Tess to be hanged.

Needless to say, this book upset me. Granted, I know it was written in the late 19th century, a time when women had very few rights and had even less protection against such acts. But that didn’t stop the novel from hurting me any less.

Tess tries to be honest and ends up getting hurt. Tess is raped, and society dpesn’t try to help her. She is raped; it is her fault; and she has to deal with the consequences all on her own.

And it’s upsetting, because her mother never tells her of the dangers in the world: “How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me?”

As an English Major, this is not the first time I’ve had to discuss books about rape. Last semester, I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak, which is also a book about sexual assualt. This book hit a little closer to home for me (as evidenced by the following blog post I wrote back in December):

“IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding.”

“I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?” – Speak, by Laurie Halse Andserson

In my Adolescent Lit class on Tuesday, we discussed the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. At the beginning of the Semester, my Professor introduced the book by saying, “It’s a book about Sexual Assault.”

And immediately, right there, my mind stopped. I thought to myself, “Wait, what?” So, after class I went up to my Professor and said, ” Prof Q, I don’t know if I can read this book.” And I told her my story, just like I’ve told it so many times before. And she understood, and she told me I didn’t have to come to class the day we discussed Speak.

I didn’t have to go to class.

Half a semester later, my mind was telling me “Don’t go to class,” but my feet weren’t listening. So, I showed up to class, and was immediately told to write a 10 minute response to the following question, “How accurate is Melinda’s (the main character) portrayal of High School in this book? Use examples from your own life or from somebody else’s.”

I am Melinda. Melinda is me. As I read this book, I was in tears from laughing at Melinda’s scathing wit and biting sarcasm. As I read this book, I was in tears from crying because of the experience we share. High School is exactly as it was portrayed in this book, at least for me. I remember thinking these things. I remember doing what she did. I remember doing it all. This is the most believable book I’ve read thus far to date.

As we discussed the book in class, I felt awkward, compressed, as though there were 4000 pounds of weight on my chest. I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest, unless of course the pressure surrounding my lungs didn’t kill me first. I sat there in silence, doodling in my notebook, checking my phone, analyzing Beauty and the Beast in my head, and doing pretty much anything that distracted me from the conversation at hand.

I didn’t say anything until Prof Q asked the last question, “How did you like the ending?”

I immediately got angry. I hated the ending.

(SPOILER ALERT: The book ends with Melinda confronting her assaulter in her hide-away closet at school. She threatens him with a shard of glass to his neck.

And then some other stuff goes down, but those details aren’t important).

I spoke up, “I hated the ending. It makes for a better story, but it doesn’t actually happen that way. I don’t know, I mean, I do know. But, ya.”

As much as Melinda and I have in common, our stories are just as different. We were both Sexually Assaulted at the end of 8th grade. But it took me two years to admit anything was wrong.

Melinda had one IT. I had 5 ITs, which means I had THEM.

THEM.

And while IT happened at a party for Melinda, THEM happened in a school bathroom for me.

I didn’t have a place to run and hide in school. I didn’t have a place I belonged. I haven’t told anyone their names even though I saw their faces everyday until they either dropped out, moved away, or until we graduated together.

But, like Melinda I know the fear of THEM. I know the not wanting to get out of bed. I know the wanting to tell someone but not knowing how. I know the self-hatred and the self-blaming. I know the grimacing when I hear their names or their voices. I know the thought “what if I said ‘no’ one more time?” I know it all.

I struggled with self-injury for years before I stopped. I struggled with Anorexia all the way through High School and into college. And I’m lucky if I don’t have a mental breakdown anytime I run into someone who even remotely looks like one of THEM.

So, no. I don’t think my story will ever end like Melinda’s. And that’s ok. Because they took a lot from me, and I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to reclaim it as my own.

And it’s taken me a long time to get where I am today, and it’s been a lot of baby steps along the way. I’ve stopped cutting. I’ve started eating. I’ve started believing myself to be beautiful. I’ve stopped wanting to jump every time I’m up high.

Yesterday, I saw a picture of one of THEM on Facebook because of a mutual friend, and I didn’t slam my laptop shut, want to throw up, or take 5 showers. So, ya. That happened, and it was big.

And 5.5 years later, I’ve gotten to the point where I can finally identify THEM by name (but I won’t list them here, because this is the internet, and this is not the place for naming names). And one day, I may even say “Hi” to them if I see them in Walmart, that is if I don’t go cry in the bathroom first.

No, but really though. One day I will say Hi, because I want them to know they don’t have a hold of me anymore. I’ve reclaimed what was mine. And yes, I still have flashbacks from time to time, but I’ve learned that when I speak, people will listen. They told me I would never amount to anything in my life. Clearly, I’ve proved them wrong.

Books like these hurt to read, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they are not worthy of being read, because I do.

These books help educate society on a topic that is still somewhat taboo.

I’m open and honest with what’s happened to me, because I don’t want my past to be used against me. I’m open and honest with my story because I was told that getting raped was my fault (which it totally wasn’t, by the way).

Unlike Tess, I have a great support system, and I hope other rape victims do, too.

Unlike Tess, women nowadays are told from a young age are taught how to avoid getting raped: don’t walk along at night; don’t put yourself in situations when you could potentially get raped, etc.

I think society is doing better when it comes to rape, but I still think we can do better. We can start teaching our boys how not to rape; we can stop blaming the victims: stop asking what clothes they were wearing, how much skin was showing.

Books like Tess and Speak help illustrate the devestating effects of rape without having to experience it firsthand. And I value that: you shouldn’t have to experience something in order to become aware of the consequences.

Books like Tess and Speak remind me that I cannot change my past, but I can accept it, learn from it, and grow from it.

But why would I want to change the past, anyway? It’s made me who I am. It’s made me stronger.

And like Tess and Melinda, I’ve faced my demons: Tess murders hers. Melinda tells hers off. I forgave mine.

So, yes. I am ok with talking about books like these, because these topics are a real part of society, and sometimes, books have taught me the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned: hope exists. You are not alone.

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People Watching

I sit at my table in the library, the same spot everyday (give or take). I think I have OCD. No, wait. I know I have at least a mild case of OCD.

I tried studying in a study room, once. The library’s always so loud, which is ironic because libraries scream quiet, and sometimes silence is the loudest scream of all.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. The room in which I studied once. Just once. Because, apparently, my mind needs distractions in order to be productive, which seems contrary to function. I’ve never been normal; it’s boring, anway.

So I sit at my table in the library, and I’m not so maladjusted that I can’t be flexible. Just as long as it’s a table, and I can sit facing the door. I people watch to think. Sometimes too much I think. But people are fascinating creatures, and sometimes I wonder if people notice the same things I do.

For instance,

1. Everyone has their own unique walk.

2. The way the computers get filled up is an interesting study on human behavior. No one likes making eye contact with someone they don’t know, which is why of the 4 computers in the campus library that you can stand at to use, people use the two where their backs are to the door first. And at the computers where you sit down, four to a table, people never sit directly next to or across from someone. They always sit diagonal. Unless the other user is a friend, in which case, all rules go out the window.

3. You can tell a lot about a person from their eyes. Eyes are the windows to the soul, which is why nobody sits directly across from someone they don’t know. Nobody wants to admit the truth: we’re all hurting.

4. The way the same person acts around different people is fascinating. And terrifying. Which is real? Can the person be trusted?

5. Every person has their own unique walk.

My friend has a purposeful gait, not like a horse’s. She walks deliberately: long strides, with confidence, as if she owns the place. Head up. Shoulders tall.

I do not. My posture is meager at best, as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and sometimes I don’t know if I can do it all.

But then I see the people working around me: I realize we’re all the same.

There’s the girl over there who is clearly hungry trying to convince herself she is not.

There’s the guy over there trying to put on a macho face when he’s clearly falling apart inside.

I wonder if she knows she’s beautiful, if she’s heard it today?

I wonder if he knows he’ll be ok, if he believes that today?

The hardest thing about being a poet is that I see all these things about people. And I haven’t figured out how to say, “Hey. I don’t know if you know this, but there’s something about the way your eyes light up and meet your dimples when you solve a tough problem that reminds me there’s hope” without sounding like a creeper.

So, I people watch, and I wonder what people would say about me if it were socially acceptable to say such things.

So, I people watch.

Because sometimes I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, and in order to distract myself from this feeling in my chest of impending doom, I make up stories about the people around me.

I’m not crazy. I have problems to solve and things to figure out, and I find the best of me in other people, and also the worst. And sometimes I need a little perspective.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, which is the best way to sum up life.

I’m really bad with small talk. The “How are you?”s and the “How about the weather?”s make me really uncomfortable. Is this a rhetorical question?

I’m better with intellectually stimulating conversations about what you think death is like, what is the meaning of all this? I think our answers to questions like these say more about us then “I’m good” ever could.

The mind is a funny place.

I think about death a lot and life. I’ve faced my own mortality by my own hand. The future terrifies me. I don’t even know what I’m doing this summer, let alone forever.

I need to take it one day at a time right now. That’s all I can handle. The world’s a big place, and I’m a small part of it.

And so I people watch. Because people fascinate me, but also terrify me, which is one of life’s great ironies.

Just like the Hulk’s secret is that he’s angry all the time, I’m afraid all the time. That’s how I survive.

I want to do big things, write a book, change the world, but I feel insignificant. The world’s a dangerous place: there’s war, violence, murder, hate, and sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.

But there’s always hope. Sunrises, sunsets, summer and winter. Life goes on.

And so will I.

And so I people watch, because everybody has a story. Stories fascinate me, and they should fascinate you, too.

Empathy goes a long way.

I write to figure things out, and I don’t know what this poem is trying to say, but I think it has to do with the confusion that’s inside me, because how do you know if you’re in love, because I think he’s kind of great.

He makes me want to eat pancakes with him, but I don’t even like pancakes. I don’t even know who ‘him’ is.

This is what goes on in my mind 24/7, and I promise I’m not crazy. I’ve just been hurt a lot, and I’m trying to heal and deal.

Because life is confusion and chaos and order and beauty and a paradox wrapped in a conundrum shrouded in mystery.

And I love every minute of it.

Use Your Words. Here are my Words

I’ve forgiven. He’s apologized. (and, yes, it happened in that order.) But I can’t stop writing about it, and maybe reading about it all the time is getting annoying, but that’s your choice. I don’t force you to read what I write. This is not North Korea, nor is it Mao’s Little Red Book. This is not a required text for any of your classes, and I won’t quiz you on what you’ve read (unless you’re planning to date me, in which case, that last statement goes out the window, and any question is game).

So, basically, you can stop reading any time you want.

But I can’t stop writing, because I don’t write for writing’s sake. I write because I’m trying to figure something out, I’m trying to work through something, and I don’t know any other way to do it. (sure, once upon a time I did, but that just left me with too many scars, and it really did more harm than good.) When I was little, I didn’t talk: I knew how, but I had no reason to. I was the first grand-child on my mother’s side, and I was the first grand-daughter on my father’s. So, basically, my family knew I needed things before I did, all I had to do was point and go, “uhhh. Uhh.” Continually, I was told to use my words. “Use your words, Kaleigh. Use your words.”

Here are my words written last night when my nose was so congested I couldn’t breathe to sleep. Here are my words written last night when my head was so full that I wouldn’t have been able to sleep even if I could breathe.

The thing that hurts the most about this whole thing is that he told me that I should enjoy it, like it was a gift. A one-size fits all t-shirt. A gift that keeps on giving. A non-returnable, non-refundable, no one wants it anyway, type of gift. It’s the elephant in the room, or rather, the white-elephant gift that nobody is eager to trade. Warning: not permitted for resale. 

He asked me out. I said no. And then he got four of his friends and sexually assaulted me. And then he told me I should enjoy it, because it’s what I wanted when I turned him down, because I’m a bitch and a slut (his words, not mine). And it’s always easier to call the victim something else, to give them a non-human identity. They couldn’t call me by name even though they knew me for years. We were on a first name basis until that day. And then that tie was metaphorically severed. 

It’s easy to call someone else those words until you know how it feels to be on the receiving end: to catch the football thrown by the quarterback, and then immediately be tackled by a huge middlelinebacker when you are defenseless. *throws flag* Hit on a defenseless receiver. Defense. 15 yard penalty. Automatic first-down. 

There are no replays in real-life.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. I am an expert at bs-ing most of the papers I write, but this has got to be the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever heard. It’s as though his words can’t affect me if I say it long enough. My words can’t hurt you if I play this song over and over and over again. But, words do hurt. 

I’ve forgiven. He’s apologized. We’ve moved on. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over what happened to me. It’s not a hurdle to jump, nor a mountain to climb. I’ll heal, most definitely. But there’s a difference between healing (letting go) and getting over. I don’t freak out when I see any of them anymore. Or at least I didn’t the last time I saw one, anyway. But that’s a start.

Sometimes, it’s the littlest things that hurt the worst. I hope one day I’ll stop dreaming about what happened. I hope one day I won’t hear their voices in my head on my bad days. I hope one day shirt collars around my neck won’t terrify me as much.

I’ve never liked turtle-neck shirts, but I like them even less now. And I don’t always mean to wear low-cut shirts, but sometimes the thought of a t-shirt around my neck freaks me out. And until you’ve had hands around your neck, choking you as you try to fight off 5 pairs of unwanting hands, I don’t think you can understand. You should try, though, for my sake. And if not for mine, then someone elses. Because I’m not the only one.

T-shirts sometimes freak me out. But it happens less and less nowadays. 

Big steps, like not freaking out when you see someone in the store, are great. But sometimes, the little steps, like wearing t-shirts, are the greatest.

I live for the little steps. 

Expect the Unexpected (Apology)

“Learn to forgive without expecting an apology.”- Kaleigh Distaffen, me.

In February, I wrote a blog post about forgiveness:

“Always forgive your enemies-nothing annoys them so much.”- Oscar Wilde

Forgiveness sucks. (By sucks I don’t mean it sucks in the figurative sense. I mean forgiveness is hard. It’s difficult, unpleasant, easier said than done, troublesome. But it’s absolutely necessary if you ever want to get anywhere with your life.)

I’ve grown up learning the importance of forgiveness. I’ve learned Bible verses and parables and all sorts of biblical knowledge about what forgiveness is and how to forgive. And to be honest, I’m still learning what it means to forgive.

I’ve always associated forgiveness with an apology. I’m sorry. I forgive you. But realistically, that’s not the way the world works. Apologies and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive.

APOLOGIES AND FORGIVENESS ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. Often times in life, you won’t get an apology (at least not a sincere one).

This is a concept I haven’t understood until recently. I’m extremely stubborn and maybe sometimes a bit prideful, so I never understood how I could be expected to forgive someone if they didn’t admit they were wrong.

I understand now.

You see, after I was sexually assaulted, I was extremely bitter. And then one day I wrote a blog post in which I “forgave them.” I thought that was it. I could finally let go of my past. I could finally be free. That tells you how much I know (which when compared to everything there is to know, is approximately nothing). And then I started to feel less bitter. I was still depressed, I still had random mental breakdowns, still freaked out anytime I was reminded or saw any of my attackers.

That is until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I saw one of them in Target. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t go into the bathroom and cry. I just kept walking. And that’s when I realized I never actually forgave them.

I said that I forgave them, but it was arbitrary and meaningless. I did it out of obligation and not necessitation. I didn’t need to forgive them, just like  I thought I didn’t need God.

Forgiveness is an active thing. There’s no such thing as passively forgiving somebody. Until you actually forgive with your heart, it’s void, empty.

So yesterday, I facebook messagd the guy I saw in Target two weeks ago, who by the way, was the one that caused my sexual assault. I sent only three words, I forgive you.

I doubt I’ll ever get an apology. An apology isn’t needed. I just need him to know he’s forgiven, because I don’t know where he is in his life, but maybe being forgiven will impact him in a way that hasn’t happened before.

And if it doesn’t, that’s ok. Because truly forgiven has impacted my life. Being truly forgiven by somebody who is truly perfect has impacted my life.

I don’t always deserve forgiveness. I’ve sinned. I’ve messed up. I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. God loves me anyway. God forgives me anyway.

So, yes, I forgave this guy, because I want to be more like Jesus. I also forgave myself. Because one time I tried to kill myself. I forgive myself for the scars I purposefully put on my skin. I forgive myself for all the hurt I caused myself. God tells us to love our enemies, and sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

I know I am.

I’ve forgiven. I’m finding healing. And I’ll always be living with Depression, but that’s ok. God loves me anyway. I’m forgiven anyway.

Our Father which art in Heaven.

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done

on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, bur deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

Yesterday, the unexpected happened. I received a response from the attacker I sent a message of forgiveness when the above was written. It contained 3 words: “Thanks. I’m sorry.”

And I just… I have no words.

God continues to amaze me. He continues to remind me that his timing his perfect. You see, I’ve been having a hard time dealing with life lately, and then the most unexpected thing happens, and I am reminded that God is in control (Which I am truly thankful for, because if I was left to be in control of everything, the world would fall apart).

God knows what He is doing, which is more than I can say for myself 99% of the time.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of forgiveness. And yesterday, I learned that forgiveness can yield unexpected results.

Rain is a Metaphor for Life

Are you ever having a good hair day and the rain ruins it? Yeah, me neither. With the way my curls are sometimes there but never fair, I’m never having a good hair day, but that’s why I love the rain. I can start over. Rain symbolizes rebirth, which means renewal, and we could all use a clean slate. Because I think sometimes we forget that the rain can wash everything away if we just let it. And I don’t know about you, but there are things in my life I wish I could forget, I wish I could erase, I wish I could go back and prevent. But I can’t. So I write instead.

Because there was once a time when the tears and the pain would draw blood, but now the tears and the rain draw ink instead. Blood is thicker than water, and my sins have been wiped clean by the washing of His blood. And my house is built on a firm foundation.

So, yes, I love the rain. The way it drips down my face, the way it straightens my curls (unless I’m in Seattle, where the rain just makes my curls more defined), the way it soaks through my hoodie to my bones, and causes my jeans to stick to my legs like an extra layer of skin. Some days I could use an extra layer of skin to protect me from this world.

When I was little, I thought rain was the tears of God. It was a comforting thought to believe that God can cry, too. People told me I was ridiculous. “God can’t cry. He’s the embodiment of perfection, and perfection doesn’t cry.”

John 11:35 says that Jesus wept. And I guess I like to believe that perhaps this fully human part of this fully perfect God can cry with me. Sometimes I like to find comfort in the belief that the Creator of this vast and endless universe feels the same emotions I do. This thought wraps me up like a blanket and keeps me warm on the coldest of nights. And on days when it feels like this winter will never end, I take comfort in the fact that the seasons are ever-changing, and just as they change, I do too.

I’m not the same as I was 5 years ago, a month ago, or even yesterday. And I thank God for that. Because I’ve learned to love myself, I’ve learned to love people as well. And sometimes knowing where to look to find the best in people is the only way to get along.

We all need those people to walk along beside us, to carry our crosses when it gets heavy and we’re tired. I’m so glad I’ve found mine.

Because sometimes I need to be reminded that the ocean I think I’m drowning in is only a puddle. We all need to be reminded of that once in a while.

And sometimes we all need that person to be our Rihanna, who lets us stand under their umbrella, because, no, the rain may not be your favorite. But, it’s certainly mine. I sing in the shower and dance in the rain. Because you can’t see the rainbow with any rain, and when the rain stops, everything is so green.

We all need that renewal once in a while.

And the melodies dancing on the roof and the fingers tapping on my keyboard in time with the drops remind me that even God is sad sometimes, too. And that is enough to remind me I’m not alone in this world.

I am Weak All Week

Truth time: I am not as strong as I pretend to be.

I’ve been through a lot in my life: I’ve been sexually assaulted. I’ve battled Depression. I was Anorexic for a long time. But I’m not as strong and put together as I wish I was.

Many days, I don’t trust the ground to stand strong under my feet.

Many days, the weight of the burdens I carry is enough to crack my ribs and puncture my lungs.

Many days, I use up all my faith getting out of bed in the morning.

But then there’s God. In my weakness, He is strong.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, ” No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Every day we are tempted. My temptations are different than your temptations. My sin is different than your sin. But we are not that different, you and I.

We are both made of atoms and cells and organs. We are both living and breathing. We both inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.

Every day we are tempted. I am tempted to stay in bed all day, and cut myself off from the world. But everyday I am able to stand up under my temptations, because God has provided a way out.

I sin everyday. I have sinned against myself, and probably at some point, I’ve sinned against you. But I have been forgiven by the perfect forgiveness found in Christ. I have been washed clean by the shedding of his blood.

I am not as strong as I pretend to be.

In fact, if I was chosen to be the modern-day Atlas, you know the guy who has to hold the world up all by himself (talk about the weight of the world being on his shoulders), we’d all be dead. Thankfully, I’m not the chosen one, and thankfully, I don’t have to hold the world up by myself.

I’m not the chosen one. But I am chosen.

You see, I have a God who has chosen me to be a part of His glorious Kingdom. I have  God who knew me before I was born, who knew me before I was even a blip on anybody’s radar. I have  God who has called me to do great things. I have a God who has comforted me in the storm. I have a God who has carried me through the hard times. I have a God who has placed the stars in the sky and knows them by name. I have a God who has seen the inner thoughts of my heart and loves me anyway.

Talk about the unconditional love of a Father.

When I was little, my dad would ask me: “Kaleigh, how many fathers do you have?”

“Two!” I would reply, “I have a Heavenly Father and a Down-here Daddy.”

I am thankful for the both of them.

But I am especialy thankful for my Heavenly Father who is strong enough for the both of us.