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The Nameless Fear of Sexual Assault

The Nameless Fear of Sexual Assault

What follows is a detailed description of a sexual assault that happened to me when I was a young teenager. I include it here to show the ways in which assault can be complicated, especially for victim/survivors. The ways we blame ourselves and why. The ways we hide from what has been done to us, and tuck memories away into little rooms of our own until them come bursting out, turning our lives into a state of emergency.

If you don’t want to or can’t safely read this, please don’t. I don’t want to hurt anyone further. On the other hand, I do want to paint a picture of the complexity that sexual assault can be for victim/survivors.

Sex and sexuality are some of the most important pieces of our lives. Sexuality—the capacity to appreciate touch, sensuality, connection—comes with us as we are born into the world. Probably before.

Sex—alone and with others—comes into our lives later. At least if we’re lucky. If we aren’t in the path of perpetrators. I was in the path of a perpetrator. I’m going to tell you the complicated story of the first sexual assaults that happened to me.

spinning treesMy story involves alcohol, as so many do. And not being able to give consent. A scenario where consent wasn’t even on the table because I was so blasted. Being in and out of consciousness. And yet knowing in my bones that it was my fault:

I was a young teen spending time with older adolescents. Four years’ difference is a lot at that age. 13 or 14 to 17 or 18 is a lot. A lot.

I was smart, musical, occasionally mouthy, but more comfortable with adults than with my peers. I was distinctly round—what I might now call “smaller-bodied fat”—and the object of all kinds of bullying. I was pushed around, spit on, my books were thrown down, all those kinds of things.

And most of all, and perhaps most damaging, I was called all kinds of names. By my extended family. By people who knew me and people who didn’t. I got depressed. I ate. I got bigger. Eventually, a college student who didn’t know me would say to his girlfriend, laughing, “Beached whales like that shouldn’t be allowed to live.” Yeah.

I digress.

My point is that I was vulnerable.

Vulnerable because I had been made to think I wasn’t valuable. I came to believe, and believe strongly, that I was a mistake. That I was meant for something good, something powerful, but that I had blown it. I heard so many times, “You have so much potential.” All I heard in that statement was, “You could have been great, and now you’re nothing.”

I caught the eye of Rob. He was older than I. I was in eighth grade and he was a senior, I think, maybe a junior. He had “dated” two friends of mine, each part of a year or a year older than I.

We talked on the phone for hours at a time. He read me song lyrics from music of the time—the eighties. He talked about wanting to get together with me, but I was hesitant. And anyway, how would that happen? We were each still living in our parents’ houses. He said he could find a way, he was sure.

This went on for months. When people questioned him about why he was paying attention to me, a fat girl, he said, “Don’t you see, she can play the piano and sing like an angel. And she’s really smart.” And he made sure I heard what he said.

I blossomed. Or my mood did, in any case. I was getting attention from a boy. Practically a man. Lots and lots of attention.

And then my mother went to visit my father in Chicago.

I got into my parents’ bourbon, had a couple gin and tonics, and called Rob and asked him to come to my house.

I was a young teenager, and I was hammered drunk out of my mind.

boy-183306_1920By the time he came over, I was good and blasted. We went upstairs to my father’s study which was also the guest room. He did things to me and I froze. I froze in fear and regret. I barely remember the feeling of him on me and inside me, but I remember the look of the ceiling, the yellow wallpaper, the window sills. I was frozen. I was in and out of consciousness, and when I was with it, I was frozen.

I never said hey, let’s do this. I didn’t even know how to kiss him back when he kissed me, all tongue, plunging into my mouth. I wanted to recoil; it was gross, but I was drunk enough just to acquiesce, just to let it happen. I was afraid—of what, I wasn’t even sure. But I was afraid.

I had invited him over, and that made it my fault, right? That made it so I had to let him do whatever he’d wanted to. He wouldn’t fuck me, he said, unless I said, “Yes.” He was covering his bases. But I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move.

He left. He told me I’d regret it.

He told people I was a lush.

He told my friends I was a cold fish. I was unresponsive and not worth his time.

And yet, it happened another time. He was giving me “another chance.” And this time it was his apartment. He made drinks with schnapps and juice. He gave me—we smoked—some pot. He told me there was a mirror in his apartment, and if we just stepped through it we could live happily ever after.

“I don’t even know you that well,” I said.

“But you want to. You know you do.”

That classic phrase. “You know you want it.”

This time, he gave me a back rub. He sat on my ass and rubbed my shoulders. They were tight from fear.

And then he told me to turn over, and it was the same thing all over again. I was terrified, feeling every month of my too-young age. And I remember so little of what happened. Only that when I left I had felt his erection against me, his hands on me, his unwelcome kisses, if you could call them that.

Later, I learned that he raped—“really” raped—three other girls I know. One he pushed up against a bathroom sink and took from behind. One was as young as I was—we two were the youngest.

Of course, I blamed myself for years and years. For the flashbacks. For the recurring sense of terror. For being a “cold fish.” For my “poor judgment.” For giving into his grooming. For even thinking of calling what happened, sexual assault. Even now, you’ll notice I said, “really raped,” as though his violation of me doesn’t count.

But I know what he did. I know. I remember and I hate you for it. I do not forgive you. I look through the hands that covered my face for so long. I know what you did.

I’m telling this story as part of the ongoing transforming from victimization to survival to truly thriving. May you thrive. May you be blessed. May we all keep transforming into healthier, happier selves.

woman with "I know what you did" written above her head


2 Responses

  1. Catharine, thank you so much for this–for sharing your story, showing up in such an honest way, refusing to “play small,” and helping others move from victimization to survival to truly thriving.

    Huge bow in admiration, love, gratitude.

  2. I’m breathless friend. And so sorry. I’m in awe at your bravery. Thank you for being the voice of all those who can’t whisper about this.

    You are loved.



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