Finding my Voice, even though I am afraid.
Content warning: description of rape
As I continue exploring the depths of my Voice, my current Word of the Year, I think it’s time to tell a story. Voice is finding the courage to speak my truth, to be vulnerable, to contribute to the collective experience of being human, in all its painful richness. To whisper into the void, “this happened to me” with hopes of a hand reaching back “that happened to me, too.” We’re not alone, after all.
When I was seventeen years old, I was raped by two men. I will tell you what happened, to say it all out loud, but in some sense, the real story is the silence. Why was I silent about the rape? Why has it taken me twenty-four years to find my voice? Why do so few rape victims tell their stories? It is a privilege, after all, to have a Voice without risking everything for it.
I was seeing a boy in secret for several years. We met because he and his friends were calling random local numbers and asking whoever answered, “may I speak to your daughter?” as a prank. I answered my phone and said “oh, I am the daughter” as if that one silly sentence wouldn’t change the entire course of my life. I was maybe thirteen at the time, on my see-through, light-up, landline. He lived one town over, and so no one I knew knew him. We started chatting that day and continued doing so for years. Once we were old enough to drive, we started sneaking out and sneaking in together. Eventually, I lost my virginity to him. Ironically, that decision felt safe precisely because no one I knew knew him. Reputation was everything, I was taught.
One night, he picked me up as usual—he found a ladder by the neighborhood pool, leaned it up against my house, and I climbed down from my second story window. I got in his car “where to?”
“I have this great place we can go for some privacy.”
He must’ve made 15 turns between my house and this place of privacy. I had no idea where we were. It was about 2:30 in the morning when we pulled into a generic house, in a generic neighborhood.
There were two men—clearly older than high school—maybe 25?—sitting on the couch playing video games. On the coffee table was a pile of white powder (cocaine? meth?) and a black handgun. Here I was. I had no idea where I was. I had no idea who those men were. I had no idea what drugs they were on. I had no idea what that gun was for. I gotta keep my wits about me, I thought.
The boy took my hand and led me to a bedroom. I knew we’d come here to have sex, so we did.
After he was done, he got up to throw the condom away and pee, I suppose. I remember lying there feeling free; I felt like a badass. I could do whatever I wanted to do, anytime I wanted to do it. No one could stop me. And no one knew what I was doing or who I was doing it with or where I was doing it. And that felt liberating. Is this what it feels like to be empowered? To be in control of one’s own sexuality? To be a feminist goddess, I thought, confidently. It was the nineties, after all.
Occasional apprehension seeped into those thoughts, too. Hmmm—no one knows where I am. Not even me. And soon, no one would know who I was doing it with. Not even me.
The door opens again, light streaming from the hallway. The boy ushers in the two men from the couch, and I sit up. “Wait—what’s going on?”
“It’s okay, I told my friends it’s their turn,” says the boy.
“Wait, what? I—I don’t want to do that.”
“Lindsey, it’s their turn. I promised them they’d have a turn.”
One man approaches the bed. He begins to pull his pants off.
“Hold on a second. I don’t want to do this. I only came here to hang out with him tonight,” I tell them, pleading. I fully expected he’d pull his pants back up, with maybe a breathy, high “whatever man” and walk away. And then I’d put my clothes back on and make the boy drive me home. End of story.
“Lay down” the man said. The boy left the room, closing the door, and the light, behind him. My heart began to race; my eyes darted all over the dark room. The second man stepped closer to the bed. There I was, naked, my clothes across the room. There they both were, naked from the waist down, erect, leering at me, chuckling.
The first man crawled on top of me, put in his penis—no condom—and began thrusting. He came inside of me, quickly. Second man, same as the first.
I remember turning my head to avoid looking into their eyes, staring at the wall, repeating silently “Drugs and guns. Drugs and guns. Drugs and guns.” I didn’t drive here on my own. If I ran out right now and stole the boy’s car, I wouldn’t even know how to get home (this was before we had GPS in our pockets). I didn’t know where his keys were, and I was sure they’d get to me before I found them. If I fought back—dug in my nails, kicked them in the balls, gouged their eyes out, pulled and squeezed their penis, bit them in the neck—then it would be three against one. And there was a gun I’d lost track of. The odds were not in my favor. I made a decision, the only rational decision I could make: I took it.
The First Silence
I decided to keep quiet and take it because being raped was better than being murdered.
When they were finished and comfortably seated in front of their video games and drugs and guns again, I crawled out of bed and put my clothes on. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t let myself break down. I had to focus—”get out of here alive” I told myself. I sucked it up. I pretended like everything was fine as I walked into the living the room. I quietly asked the boy if we could leave “because I was tired.”
We drove home without saying a word. I knew I couldn’t talk without losing it. Once home safe, I practically leapt from the car. I never spoke to or saw the boy again.
The Second Silence
I decided not to tell anyone because being blamed for being raped is worse than being raped.
I didn’t tell anyone for years. During that time, the boy who I met randomly on my see-through light-up landline, who I lost my virginity to, who facilitated my rape—this boy decided to PUNISH me for kicking him out of my life and not returning his phone calls. (I don’t know that he knows he facilitated my rape.) He proceeded to terrorize my mother, my brother (pre-school aged at the time), and myself by breaking into our home and cars multiple times, stealing thousands of dollars, pilfering medications, and taking away any sense of security we pretended to have. He was finally arrested with my mother’s checkbook in a Walmart parking lot. I’m not sure if he ever went to jail. I still didn’t tell anyone.
I became so depressed, I stopped going to school. I was attending a local college for my senior year of high school, and I failed all my classes. My mother pulled some strings to get me into a six-week English class at the local alternative school (I only needed the one English credit to graduate from high school). I walked into the classroom on the first day, and there was the boy, sitting in the back of the room, as though he was placed there by the Devil himself, destined to ruin my entire fucking life. I never went back, and I still didn’t tell anyone.
I did eventually graduate from high school (in August) after completing eight long weeks of humiliating summer school. I had been at the top of my class with an exceedingly bright future, which crumbled. I eventually got some version of that future; I couldn’t let the boy and his two men ruin me completely. But they still haunt me, occasionally. The experience itself was traumatic, of course. How could it not be? And it took something from me that I’ll never get back. But I’m not really haunted by that anymore (thankfully). Instead, the piece that continues to stick in my craw is this: why didn’t I tell anyone?
Finding My Voice
I don’t want to be silent anymore. I won’t take responsibility for being raped anymore. For vulnerable people all over the world, to use our voices is to risk death, and death is worse than silence. We make the calculated decision to survive instead of speaking. It is not a decision made lightly, but it is still fighting.
So much has been buried in this hallowed flesh for fear of death. For hope of survival.
I’m not saying I won’t be afraid anymore. There are real dangers for a woman with a voice, and fear is an appropriate response to those dangers—one I would never judge anyone else for feeling or acting on in keeping quiet. Very often, it’s the only thing that keeps us alive to fight another day.
I want to find my voice even though I am afraid.
I was raped by two men when I was seventeen. I am not ashamed of that anymore. I will speak of it now. My silence will no longer haunt me, as my Voice continues to take shape.