One day several years ago, I opened up my hometown newspaper and found a picture of my rapist on the Engagements page.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I knew he stayed in the area. But it still shocked me to see his photo. He was marrying a younger woman, one with a child, according to the article.
Before the rape, I didn’t really know him. He was in his 20’s, and he often sat drinking at the bar of the restaurant where I waited on tables when I was 16. One night, rather than ignoring him when he flirted with me, I said yes, I’d go out with him. I willingly got into his truck. But instead of taking me on a date, he drove to the lake outside of town and raped me until my skin tore. I don’t mean I was a virgin until that night. I mean that’s how violent it was.
When I saw his smiling face in the paper, I found it unbelievable that he had gone on to live what appeared to be a normal life, or that he could have won anyone’s heart. But he did. And he was going to be a stepfather. That’s what really got me: He was going to live in a house where a young girl would turn 16 one day. I wondered if, when that happened, he’d think of me.
I doubted it. I, on the other hand, have thought of him nearly every day since. He has certainly been important to me over the years. A tarot-card reader once told me that the rape enabled me to break away from my family. I thought it was a ridiculous thing to say, but I suppose it’s true.
When I was raped, I didn’t feel I could tell my parents what happened, so I washed out my bloody panties and kept quiet. A few days later, I was ironing a shirt when my mother asked me what was wrong, because it was apparent something was wrong — but even then I didn’t say anything. Four months later I left for college, having told no one but a teacher and a guidance counselor. (Actually, I didn’t even really tell the counselor. When I came to the part I couldn’t bring myself to say, the counselor supplied the words: “And then he got a little rough.” Even in my confusion, that seemed like an understatement. And that’s as far as it went.)
After I left at 17, I never lived in my hometown again. When I returned for short visits, I rarely left my parents’ house. I felt as uncomfortable and vulnerable as I did when I was 16. But that was another gift my rapist bestowed — agelessness. Because I think so frequently of that night in April 1980, my teenaged self is still strong inside me. Because of my rapist, I’m forever young.
I’ve always called him “my rapist,” mostly because I don’t know what else to call him. Whenever I use the phrase, I think I should find another one. I don’t want to say his name, though, and no word I can come up with conveys what I think or feel, so I just go on calling him “my rapist.”
Seeing my rapist’s engagement photo that day triggered a fantasy in my mind, one I’d never had before. I told myself that if I ever actually saw my rapist, I would have no trouble killing him, especially if all the legal and karmic rules were somehow suspended. (It was a fantasy, so I got to make that bargain.)
I told myself that even all these years later, I was still entitled to hurt my rapist. I’d never held a gun for longer than a few terrifying seconds, but in my fantasies I had a rifle.
And then I had another fantasy. I imagined calling him up and telling him what an effect he’d had on my life. I imagined the right combination of strength and bullying in my voice.
For months after I saw the photo, I kept thinking something might be gained by calling him. But as time went by, the idea seemed so filled with drama and tension. In the end, I think I chose not to call my rapist for the simplest of reasons: I didn’t want to talk to him.
In the years since, I’ve gone on dealing with my rape as before — sorting through it with friends, burying it under new experiences. The way I think about my rape will probably go on changing. I don’t know if I’ll ever be “done” with it. It’s always incredible to me when I hear people talk how forgiveness enables a person to move on. Over the years I’ve actually felt the memories of my rape dulling, and for that I am grateful. But forgive? Please.
What I can say is that I stopped reading my hometown newspaper. And the only time I think about guns now is when deer season opens and my neighbors fill the woods and meadows with their shooting.
But sometimes I still think about how I would have begun that call: I would have used the phrase all old acquaintances use: “Remember me?”
Hmmmmmm…. This is the sad rape story of Maureen Gibbon.
Maureen Gibbon is the author of “Swimming Sweet Arrow,” a novel, and “Magdalena,” a forthcoming book of poetry.
By MAUREEN GIBBON
Published: October 29, 2006
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