Week 0: Beginning
“I was raped in the early hours of the first of March 2015. I didn’t really understand. I still don’t really understand. Because rape happens to other people in dark alleyways, it doesn’t happen to you. Rape doesn’t happen to me. But it did.
“I knew him. I’d met him once before. I thought he was a really nice guy. The first time we were together he accepted my limits. He- he knew that I didn’t want to go any further and he respected that. The second time- the second time he just didn’t seem to care.
“I pushed him off. I told him ‘no’. But he didn’t listen. He just kept saying to me that he wanted to make me feel good – he kept asking me ‘doesn’t this make you feel good?’ … I never told him that it felt disgusting.
“I didn’t move.
“I didn’t know what to do. No one tells you what to do. They say ‘just say no. Just scream.’ I didn’t want to scream. I was- I didn’t know what to do. No one really tells you what to do.
“He walked me out of the building and hugged me. And as soon as I was outside I cried, I sobbed and I ran all the way back to my room. I slept for three hours and then, at seven o’clock in the morning, I woke up and couldn’t sleep anymore.
“I don’t know what I did to deserve this. I have no idea what I did to deserve this.”
Extracts from an audio recording of myself. 02/03/2015. 1 day after.
Week 1: Greetings
“Public attitudes will be changed, first by educating and empowering students, who in turn will educate and empower others. And who knows? The creation of this critical mass of knowledgeable people just might reduce or even eliminate sexual violence altogether.”
Susan C. Turell, ‘Rape Crisis Intervention: Activism in Academia’, 1999. 5599 days before.
We were real. We were sat in a circle. I was Zero. We were watched over by Virginia and Sylvia. We would sit in silence for ninety minutes if not for them. Beginning at my left are Three, Two, Five, One, Four and Six. Whether I liked it or not, they were now my sisters with fewer degrees of separation than any of us would have liked. It was like sitting in the waiting room at the doctors’ surgery. You know everyone is sick but you have limited idea of quite how. We were all patients making an illusionist attempt to heal each other.
The room was comforting in that it was colourfully decorated. Someone had gone to the effort of painting inch-wide strands of twine all the way around the walls, balling them together in a tangled mess and then straightening them out again to continue the perpetual loop. There was a red strand, an orange strand, a gold strand and a yellow strand. The walls were magnolia. The carpet was burgundy and in the corner was a craft table on a rectangle of laminate flooring. One of the walls was lined with low bookcases that were filled with plastic toys and funny sunglasses and wigs and shells. There was a dolls house on top of a coffee table which had a plastic velociraptor hidden in the lounge. To the other side was a desk that had a basket with things like gemstones and stress toys, and there was a cheap orange sofa from IKEA. The beanbags on which we sat were purple and red. Two of the red beanbags were firmer than the others and the girls with bad backs would claim them. I always sat in the same place.
Sylvia did most of the talking. ‘Why are you here?’ is a very loaded question. But that is what we were asked on that first day. In all honesty, I was there because my girlfriend would have left me otherwise. I can more accurately tell you why I was not there. I did not go to that basement room in Coventry to heal. I did not go there to lose the guilt that had been following me like an ominous balloon. I did not go because I cared about what would happen to me. ‘Why are you here?’ is a very loaded question, indeed.
Two spoke first; at least to tell us that she did not want to say why she was present. Four went next. “Something bad happened.” Someone spilled the milk? The dinner got burnt? Five. “It was Uncle. I don’t want to talk about it.” The room was frequently locked in silence but that is often what told us the most about each other. It was our silence that bound us so closely. Six shook her head. Just said her name was Six and she wasn’t originally from the area. Three referred to her ex-boyfriend as “him” and never anything else. One. “Something bad happened.”
Zero. “I was raped.”
I had blasphemed in the worst imaginable manner. There was some rush about it though. This room was like a sandpit in which I could draw whatever I wanted or build all of the castles I could have wished for. Soon it would be swept over. Soon I wouldn’t be the only one telling dirty secrets. Why stop there? “I knew him. He was a mutual friend, actually. Goes to my university. Still a student, actually.” What did I actually have to lose? I wondered what he would say if he knew. He’d deny it, no doubt.
“Thank you.” Sylvia purred. For what, I was not sure.
We stood and threw a ball to each other, saying the name of the person to whom we were throwing, drilling those names into our minds like times tables or Latin noun endings. One, Four and Five had been there before but most were new. I was certainly new. We picked postcards to show how we felt. I chose a book cover postcard; The BFG by Roald Dahl, complete with illustration by Quentin Blake. I had read it as a child back when I hadn’t been raped. A lot happened before I was raped but it all seemed fogged and faint, like it no longer mattered.
Trauma is odd like that, I suppose. It becomes your North star; the point from which everything else occurs or did occur. I went to my sixth form prom one year before I was raped. I went to the doctor five days after I was raped. I travelled around Morocco three months after I was raped. I was born nineteen years before I was raped.