“Forgot” is not quite the right word. “Blocked.” “Rationalized.” “Deluded.” Nothing quite gets to the heart of it. These words come close. They point to something that wants to contain the phenomenon. But they cannot truly contain it.
This is very hard to have to write. But I do feel like I have to. Even though it’s making me physically ill to do so. Even though you already know how the story ends.
It’s difficult to know where to start. Let me take you back to before, and then to before before.
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with my then-boyfriend. I was telling him about the time I went to a predominantly Muslim country to rescue one of my dearest friends. This is the story I told him:
I grew up in a small town, a really small town, filled with narrow-minded people who had limited exposure to cultural diversity. I was some of that cultural diversity. Just for being Jewish. That’s how narrow-minded and small this town was.
My dear friend—the one who I would ultimately go around the world to rescue—grew up steeped in this narrow-minded culture, and was completely inculcated. We used to hate each other. She was one of the pretty, blonde popular girls, and I was Jewish and goth. Then, in my junior year, we shared a transcendent experience and the veil between us dropped.
She had a large awakening in high school, right around when our sisterhood formed.
She even ended up going to school for international relations, and then moved to the aforementioned Muslim country for a year to work in the humanitarian realm. I was so proud of her, so amazed and impressed by her. I still am, though we have grown apart. I have never stopped loving her.
While there, she got seriously involved in a romantic relationship with a guy who happened to be Muslim, and happened to be abusive: physically, mentally and emotionally. I am not drawing any connection between these facts, simply stating the reality. But because I am a Jew speaking about this, I am deeply concerned about anyone making assumptions about my perspective. I will gladly go out of my way to state in no uncertain terms that there are both angels and demons from every religious, cultural, and socioeconomic background.
This guy was a dangerous jerk.
We were all concerned from halfway around the planet, and did what we could from afar via email, which wasn’t much.
But then she converted to Islam, so that she could get engaged to him…just in case they decided to.
And then she did get engaged to him.
And in this particular predominantly Muslim country, once a woman who is a U.S. citizen converts to Islam and marries a citizen of this country, she forfeits her rights as a U.S. citizen to any protection. Again, allow me to state that the problem was that he was dangerous and abusive. Not that he was Muslim.
The writing was on the wall. Her mother asked me to go get her and bring her back to California. I said yes.
My plane landed, and we got some time alone and had a long talk. She agreed that things had gotten out of control and she was ready to come home. She was scared, confused, and needed support to do so. And that is what I was there for.
We came up with a plan. We would act like everything was normal, and I was just visiting for a holiday. We would spend a few days staying at her apartment, where her fiancé was essentially living with her. Then, we would travel around the country, as if we were on a touristy adventure, quickly moving from one location to the next, spending only a few days in any one place, so as to be hard to pin down. After a few weeks, we would fly back to the U.S. from a different city than the one she had been living in, leaving most of her belongings and her life there behind.
Crucial to this plan was making sure that nobody—especially not her fiancé or his family and friends—caught on to any of this. We had to act supremely normal. Like everything was cool. It was scary. I didn’t speak the language, but got by as best I could on the minimal words I had.
During those first few days, we spent most of our time chilling and partying with her fiancé and his best friend. To give the appearance of everything being fine and dandy. One night, the four of us were hanging out in her apartment. Hashish was being passed around.
Her apartment was a giant floor-through. One big sort of industrial space. There were two beds on the far wall, about 15 feet apart from each other. At the end of the night, my friend and her fiancé got in bed together, and I got in the other bed. Her fiancé’s best friend took the sofa. But he didn’t stay there.
The next thing I know, I am awakened by him climbing in bed with me. And he climbs on top of me. And we get into this surreal sort of silent wrestling match. I am totally mute, as is he. No sound is uttered. We don’t want to wake the other people in the room, for very different reasons.
He is silent because he doesn’t want to wake my friend. I surmise it is because that would end his attempt to enter my body.
I am silent because I don’t want to wake his friend. I have no doubt that if I make any noise, or any kind of scene at all, it will seriously hamper the chances of getting my dear friend out of this relationship, out of this situation, out of this country.
I resist him. Silently. I wrestle him. Silently. It is a long fight. I put up a good fight. And I am strong, but he is stronger. And I am big, but he is bigger. And he ultimately overcomes me. And he pins me down. And enters my body. And I am silent. And he finishes. And I am silent. And he rolls off of me and passes out on the sofa. And I remain silent.
Back To Before
So. I am telling this whole story to my then-boyfriend. He stops and stares at me. “Babe,” he says. “Babe, you were raped. That’s not sex. You get that, right?”
And I just kind of sit there, stunned. Me, Rachel, the super-empowered feminist. The warrior woman. Reasonably intelligent. I was an adult when this occurred. Really young, but still…an adult.
My mind was simply unable to process what had happened. I’d absorbed the situation into my core. I had told myself that I chose to have sex with him. That my body, my soul, my right to not be violated, were all some sort of collateral damage. That I was making a sacrifice for the greater good. That I hadn’t traveled all this way just to ruin our chances of getting out of the country over…sex. Some stupid sex.
But then that wasn’t really true. I didn’t choose to do it as a calculated risk. I had not been complicit. In truth, I had fought him off to the best of my ability, for as long as I could. What had happened? What had actually happened?
I was raped.
And we had to act normal, right? I had to be cool. To act like everything was cool. The next morning, while we drank coffee together, the four of us. Just be cool. When we went to lunch on the plaza the next day, be cool. At the club with bottle service the following night, be cool, Rachel, act like everything’s fine. Don’t screw this up now, otherwise it was all for nothing.
I never even told my dear friend, the one that I had gone to rescue, about it. Not even once we were miles away. Not even on the plane back to the U.S.
Didn’t she have enough to worry about?
I still have never told her. Hell, I couldn’t even tell myself what happened, until my ex-boyfriend pointed it out to me.
She is back living in California, I think. She married a guy from that same exact country who emigrated to the U.S.
He didn’t like her being friends with me. Shortly after their wedding, he asked her not to speak to me anymore.
They have some adorable kids together. I know this because a few winters ago, I got an email from her. The email address contained both her and her husband’s name. She included pictures of her family. I wrote her back, but I never heard from her again. I don’t know if she ever received my email.
This memory, this violation, this rape, has stayed a slippery fish swimming in and out—mostly out—of my conscious awareness.
I work really hard on myself. In my spiritual searching, I have called forth that which has been hiding within me. And it comes. It all rises to the surface.
This incident has swum back into my conscious awareness. And I am not letting it disappear back into the depths within me this time. Not ever again.
This is my body, my spirit, my soul, and no one and no thing may take up residence within me without my permission.
I am gripping this slippery fish, this incident, this rape in both hands, so I can take a good look at it. To see it honestly and unflinchingly.
And now I can throw it far away, into the eternal, powerful ocean, which will rinse me clean and make me new again.
Photo Credit: “not all hidden” by Ophelia Photos
Many thanks to SF. During the “Readers take over Hevria” conversation, SF said, “…love to hear a story from Rachel Kann, some experience, something.”
To which I replied, “What kind of story? A true story from real life? Or fiction? Thank you!”
SF said, “Yeah a true story, like some experience you had that moved you. I would just love to hear more from you in general. Your poetry is so rich and deep and I would love to hear something from you in narrative form, something you experienced 🙂 if you’re comfortable, of course.”
Thank you for the suggestion, SF.