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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Be the Change You Wish to See

Friday, December 14, 2012, 27 people were killed in a shooting at an Elementary School. 20 of the people killed were children. It breaks my heart to hear about any loss of life, especially when the loss of life is the life of a child. These children had futures as bright as the stars, and now are not given the chance to grow up; they are not given the chance to change the world. These children had all of life to live, all of life to experience, and in an instant, it was all gone.

It is not just about the children that died either; it is also about the children who survived. Those poor kids, who are still babies, should have had years of innocence left before they realized that life can be cruel. These are children who still believed in Santa Claus, magic, and wishing on a star, whose biggest hurts could be fixed with a Band-Aid and a hug. These babies are too young to be experiencing this kind of grief, pain, and heartache.

It is not just about the children either; it is also about the parents. Parents should not have to bury a child because of life lost at the hands of another. Parents should not have to remember Christmas as a time of grief and mourning. Parents should not have to bury a part of their soul. Parents should not have to have these conversations with their children when they ask why their sibling is not coming home.

It is not just about what happened; it is also about how we move on. It is about how we change. This is not the first time this has happened, and it probably will not be the last. Violence has always been a reoccurring theme throughout history, not just in our society but also around the world. Wars and Genocide, Shootings, Murders and Violent Revolts have rocked the world while trying to solve problems.

I do not know enough about society to start making policy. But I do know about right and wrong. I do know about pain and suffering. I do know that the past can influence the future, and I know that the best way to learn is to look at our mistakes and ask ourselves “what can we do better next time?”

As children we are taught that violence is not the answer, but as soon as we reach adulthood it seems to become the answer. We say to other countries, “don’t mess with us because our weapons are better than yours.” We go to war to prevent future violence. The reoccurring theme is that violence leads to violence.

How many more innocent lives are we going to let be lost before we actually do something? Change starts with us. It starts with you and me deciding that enough is enough. Violence is not the answer; it is the problem.

It starts with you and me putting down our hate, weapons, and fists, and picking up our forgiveness, pen, and microphone. It starts with you and me deciding that our words are powerful enough to change the world. Words combined with actions are more powerful than wars will ever be.

Learn a lesson from this.

Learn a lesson from the first thing my parents ever taught me: “Use your words, Kaleigh. People will understand you much better.”

Dear Daddy

Life is fear. And lots of it.

When I was little, I was scared of the monsters under the bed, Santa getting lost and missing my house, and spiders. Now that I’m older, I’m scared of the future and spiders.

I have a rose from my Grandfather’s funeral to remind me that death and sorrow are real. This was the first time I cried at a funeral, which was the same day that I realized that there would be one less hand to hold mine when I needed someone there.

The most painful thing I’ve learned so far is that no matter how much love I wrap my family members in, no matter how many ropes I weave from their hearts to mine, they cannot stay with me forever. The ones that I hold most dear to me are growing older as I am. And it terrifies me. Because one day, the wind will carry them home, and they won’t be here with me to dry my tears, to hug me and tell me it will be ok. Even though a heart can be the home of memories, a home can’t be a heart.

And I’m scared of growing up and moving on.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Daddy, I miss you. And I know break just ended, and I saw you a lot; but I miss you. I miss our talks, your hugs, cuddle sessions on the couch. And even though I’m in college and still live under the same roof, I never see you. And it’s hard, and it’s painful.

I’ve given this whole “growing up” thing a shot, and I’ve decided that it isn’t for me. I want to go back to when I was five. I want to go back to the days of playing airplanes, back scratch wars, sitting in your fort, curling up next to you and falling asleep. I want to go back to the times when putting a Band-Aid on a cut was enough, because now there’s pain that you can’t fix even though you try so hard to do so. I want to go back to the days when you held my hand to cross the street, and to teach me to walk. I want you to hold my hand forever, because I’m scared of tripping and falling. These shoes of adulthood are too big for me.

And I can’t help but think if this is how I feel now, how am I going to feel when I don’t live with you? How am I going to feel when you’re not there every day for a hug?

And while I’m sitting here trying to figure it out, the world keeps spinning. People keep breathing, and while my mind is stuck in a corner, refusing to let go, I’m getting older and closer to moving on.

I know I’m only 18, and I have my whole life ahead of me to ‘figure it out,’ but that’s what scares me the most: not figuring it out.

Because life is a mystery. Life is pain, fear, and love. And when you love someone, pain is involved.

And Daddy, I know I’m growing older, but I’ll always be your little girl.

Right now I’m just confused about why life must hurt so much. Right now I’m just scared about what the future holds.

And I don’t know if I’m ready for it, any of it.

I want to be five again. Then I can say “tay me bit more,” and it might actually work.

 

Continue Reading: A Father’s Response

Fall in Love

When you fall in love, don’t fall in love with just a person; because sometimes hearts get broken.

Instead, fall in love with life around you.

Fall in love with the way hope creeps up on you when you least expect it but need it the most.

Fall in love with the way the seasons change and how the world keeps going on.

Fall in love with the autumn causes trees to shed their leaves, sending leaves and petals fluttering in its breath.

Fall in love with the way winter turns everything around you to ice; how it holds misplaced leaves captive in their frozen, glass tomb.

Fall in love with the breath of spring as it melts the world around you, ushering in new colors in its wake.

Fall in love with the way summer sings its song to the tune of crickets and laughter, crackling fires and the boom of thunder.

Fall in love with music that makes you believe in magic.

Listen to it over and over again as it weaves its way into your soul, becoming a part of you with every note.

Fall in love with old couples who have been together forever. Their wrinkles a road map of their journey together.

Fall in love with the way the moon and the stars turn the dark sky into a beautiful masterpiece.

Even the darkest things are capable of being beautiful.

Fall in love with the lone candle sitting patiently in the window of your far away home, like a beacon it will guide you back always.

Fall in love with the way your bruised kneecaps cushion your fall, with the space between your rib cage that will be full one day, with the way your pulse echoes at the hollow of your wrist—reminding you that you are alive.

Fall in love with the way that your heart quickens its stride at the sight of a boy whose song harmonizes with yours, of a little girl who refuses to give up on dreams that are bigger than she is, of a person who has been knocked down over and over again, but somehow always finds the strength to stand.

Fall in love with the way oceans talk to you through seashells, with the way the sky and the land don’t meet, there is always a horizon.

Fall in love with the way light streams in through your window, because today is a new beginning.

Fall in love with the way baby birds learn to fly; shaking off bad dreams like downy feathers.

Fall in love with gravity as it holds us together, but fall in love with the idea of flying.

No dream is too high.

Fall in love with the way broken hallelujahs sing out from all around you, marvel at how they are transformed into beautiful melodies.

Fall in love with hellos and goodbyes, with the way eyes can ask so much.

Fall in love with the way the train track never ends. It’s on a journey to find itself and somehow manages to always miss itself.

Fall in love with the way a tombstone can say so much with so few words.

Fall in love with a book; make it your favorite, read its story over and over again.

That new book smell of paper and ink will never go away, but will always be there, dancing at the end of your fingertips.

You can tell a lot from fingertips and hands if you pay careful attention.

Fall in love with the rain and the tears. Fall in love with you, because you are beautiful.

Fall in love with stories and write your own on your journeys.

Fall in love with things that don’t make sense, dream in colors that don’t exist, create a world that will one day be.

Fall in love with your shadow, with your reflection; because it will always find you again.

 Fall in love with the wispy clouds on a clear summer day.

Fall in love with something new every day.

Fall in love with the eye his eyes light up when he smiles.

Fall in love with the way she captures the beauty of life with words.

Fall in love with the way her eyes fill with wonder.

Fall in love with the way she is clumsy but graceful at the same time.

Fall in love with everything.

Transform “I love you” into “I love your everything.”

I Accept the Terms and Conditions

The three biggest lies in America are: ‘That was my last piece of gum,’ ‘I’m fine,’ and ‘I have read and accept the terms and conditions.’ These are, of course, in no particular order.

It’s not that you want to lie when we encounter The Terms and Conditions, but nobody wants to sit there and read hundreds of pages of writing either.

So, when it comes to downloading the latest iTunes version, you can be divided into one of the following groups.

1)      You just click the little box without even reading a page. This could be because you are too lazy, too busy, or you just don’t care. If you are in this group, you are pretty safe; I have yet to see a Terms and Conditions that obligates you to participate in criminal activity.

OR

2)      You attempt to read the Terms and Conditions; but, somewhere between the beginning and the

end you either fall asleep, or the words become a group of undecipherable mumbo-jumbo that

literally fries your brain. If you are in this group, I applaud your effort.

 

OR

 

3)      You read the hundreds of pages of words and are able to decipher the legal jargon into an understandable language. If you are in this group, you deserve a medal; you are most likely one of the following: a superhuman, a robot, a super-intelligent ET type thing, or you have a Masters and three Doctorates.

Life doesn’t have one of this Terms and Conditions; but if it did, I imagine that it would something like this:

Contract with Life:

By signing below, you agree to the following Terms and Conditions.

1)      Life has the ability to make your time with us as easy or as hard as it would like.

2)      Life has the ability to end your contract with us whenever it wishes. At that moment, your contract will be null and void and you will no longer have a place with us. *

*this may occur with or without warning (ßwritten in fine print, as all important things are)

This document is not permissible in a court of law.

I have read and accept the Terms and Conditions

X________________________________

Unfortunately, life does not have such a thing. There is no Caution sign as you enter the world blinking “Warning: Bumpy Road Ahead.” If there was, I’m sure we would be at least a little prepared for the difficult journey that is life. In my short 18 years of life, I have learned a few valuable lessons.

1)      Don’t compare yourself to others. Yes, sometimes it is difficult. Life continually shows us people who are more successful than we are. These are the people who are out winning Olympic Medals, saving lives, changing the world. While parades and accolades are being given to them, you are standing in the background, waving your arms, trying to get noticed; you are left to eat their dust. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others. Trust me, I’ve been there. But over time you learn that everybody is good at something—just at varying levels.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish byits ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

2)      We all have a purpose; we all were put here for a reason. Sometimes the reason is slow in showing itself, but eventually, it will. If you ever doubt that, put your hand over your heart; that beating you feel is purpose.

3)      The sooner that everyone realizes that we are all beautiful, interesting and unique, the sooner we will all love ourselves and stop spending our lives trying to change everything to fit in. We are made and altered exactly how we are supposed to be. Everything happens for a reason. But don’t change yourself just to fit into a society that has no idea what it’s going on about. You. Are. Gorgeous. Whether you are fat, thin, tall, short, mainstream, different, you are beautiful. Please, please, remember that. Confidence will always be your most attractive feature.

4)      People aren’t mirrors; they don’t see you the way you see yourself. So go easy on yourself.

5)      Failure is the key to success.

6)      You are harder on yourself than anybody else is.

7)       Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Don’t be afraid to call people out. The people that matter will respect you for it.

8)       When people hate you, you must be doing something right. Those who aren’t living don’t have enemies.

9)       Live the life you want to live. Be the person you want to be. People don’t define you.

10)    People you talk about you. They will point fingers, whisper, and laugh. Don’t let it get to you. You are worth much more than what they give you.

11)    Always hold your head up high. It’s easier to see the beauty in things when you are looking at the sky.

12)    It doesn’t matter what people in High School see you as. Most of them won’t remember you 10 years from now.

13)    The only people that really matter are those that are there for you when you need them.

14)    You can’t trust everyone. And even when you think you can, sometimes they end up hurting you.

15)    Popularity is overrated. Being “cool” does not have any merit in the real world.

16)   . Everybody has a story. We all have hurt we are carrying. Be mindful of it.

17)   Always be willing to go out of your way to help someone, even if it’s just holding the door open. It could brighten someone’s day.

18)   Laughing until tears stream down your face and you can’t breathe is one of the best feelings in the world.

19)   Smile

(I will admit that I stole part of that list from a previous post about Graduation…).

20)   Life is short. So make the most of it while you are here. Life your life the way you want to—within the legal constraints of the law, of course; because I am going to assume that you enjoy not being in jail (unless you do enjoy being in jail, in which case you have a whole different set of issues entirely). Life your life to the fullest. Don’t be afraid to take risks; because nobody gets out alive anyway.

So, life, throw whatever you wish my way. I can take it; I’ve learned the tricks of the trade. I accept your Terms and Conditions. Bring it on!

An Adult

Today, I became an adult. Yep, I turned 18 at 5:53 pm, Monday, July 2, 2012. Now, being a legal person in the state of New York has its benefits. I can:

  1. Get married without parental consent
  2. Get a tattoo
  3. Get a piercing without parental consent
  4. I can now drive after 9 pm.
  5. Similarly, I can drive with more than 1 non-family member in the car.
  6. I can vote.
  7. I can enlist in the military.
  8. I can order things from those infomercials that say, “You must be 18 or older to call!”
  9. etc

However, despite being an “adult,” I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday. I suppose, that like Graduating, this too takes time. Time, I’ve noticed, is something that I tend to lose track of. For instance, last week, I was in Seattle; and I noticed that I don’t remember Saturday at all (actually, I do; but between leaving Saturday night, and flying all night, it’s all rather distorted. It seems as those I lost a day, which makes it seem as though it’s not really my Birthday at all). But, I digress. Despite the fact that I just recently got the ‘go-ahead’ to enter adulthood, I fear that I’m not ready. You see, there’s an old adage that goes, “With adulthood, comes great responsibility.” (Actually, that’s not how it goes, but for the purposes of this blog post, I edited it, which, I’m allowed to do, because I am a writer. It’s called “artistic license”).

As a result of the circumstances that have been thrown my way in life, I have grown up faster than I would have liked to. I would have liked to remain innocent and naive about things for as long as possible. Alas, twas not to be. That is not to say that I have let go of my childhood entirely. Rather, I have discovered recently that parts of my inner child still have a firm grasp on who I am. For instance:

  1. I love to color, especially with coloring books.
  2. I laugh at the most inappropriate times.
  3. I hate shoes, and I would much rather go barefoot (I seemed to have done that a lot this past week, because, despite all my scrubbing, my feet are still black).
  4. I still find joy in Stuffed Animals.
  5. Play-doh is still the best stuff ever.

For whatever reason these parts of me refuse to go away, whether it be because I am terrified of growing up or because I never really left my childhood behind, I have grown and accomplished a lot this year.

  1. I pushed myself by taking 7 AP classes (I highly advise against this).
  2. I went on a canoe trip, which allowed me to become refreshed and strengthened in my relationship with Christ.
  3. I fell in love with Seattle.
  4. I fell in love with a person who will remain anonymous, because, I fear, he will never like me in the way that I like him.
  5. I Graduated.
  6. I’ve been to new places (Algonquin, Canada and Seattle, Washington).
  7. I have experienced jet lag.
  8. I have literally been “Sleepless in Seattle.”
  9. I have had my appendix out.
  10. I learned that sometimes it’s best to just walk away.
  11. I discovered the magic that is Spoken word.
  12. I discovered that I have the gift of communicating through my writing, and that what I have to say is important, and it does matter.
  13. Consequently, I have begun to write a book.
  14. I learned that “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see,” and that God “will never leave me, nor forsake me.”
  15. I learned that God was always there for me, even when I doubted him, even when I was angry with him; I just had to reach out my hand, like Adam did in this painting.

Even though I am terrified of growing up, of leaving the old and entering the new, I know that whatever lies ahead of me is no match for him who guides me. So, I can say this confidently: “You better be prepared, world. Because I am a force to be reckoned with; and now that the whole world is at my fingertips, I can follow my dreams, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Because, I am still young.”