You make it sound like you were raped - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

You make it sound like you were raped

Depression Expression #14

Previous entry: The Myth of a Good Southern Man

Today may be a tough read even to those prepared for this writing to be an open expression of my depression. This is especially true if you have a history of abuse of any kind, are particularly sensitive to stories involving abuse, or care about me and aren't aware of what I went through. The reason I'm writing about it now is because I'm in a unique flux between rock-bottom and steadily improving. If I get any worse thinking about it will send me into the abyss, and if I get any better I'm not going to want to think about it at all.

I'm going to be purposefully vague about locations and names from this point on.

I was about to turn 11 and finish out the fifth grade. We had moved in the middle of the year, not the first or last time this happened, and I adjusted to the new elementary school about as well as I had in previous moves. Next year I was starting middle school and excited about the prospect in my quietly inquisitive way. It meant a new world, walking between classes, having multiple teachers, wondering about the kinds of friends I'd make and the videogames we'd play. I went in almost proud of my gawky self wearing huge glasses, socks with sandals, liking to read and draw pictures of my favorite videogame characters, and building what I could with K'Nex sets.

For some of us, middle school is the first time you start experimenting with who you are what with the explosion of hormones mixing in with the new surroundings. I was content staying who I was. Others saw it as an opportunity to flex their power. I turned out to be a convenient canvas to test on.

My tempered excitement at being in the 6th grade quickly turned to typical bullying, though everyone's experience with bullying is traumatically specific while often hand-waved away as just a typical part of growing up. I was shoved into lockers, punched, my drawings forcibly confiscated and ripped apart, and constantly taunted about my looks.

When did it start? I don't know. But I know it escalated when he joined our class.

He kicked my shin as I walked by him. This wasn't a "typical" teasing or bullying attempt like trying to trip me up. The first time I paid him any mind was with pain shooting up my leg and I looked into the eyes of someone who just found his new favorite toy to tear apart. So it escalated.

My drawings that used to be torn up post-confiscation were instead taped up along the path I'd take through school. I'd see my art with "fag", "homo", "queer", (my first experience with homophobic slurs) "die", "I'll kill you", and other threats scrawled on my rendition of Garfield or Mega Man X hung up on the classroom walls, in my cubby, on the lockers I walked by, and in the bathroom. Once he was involved it wasn't only about humiliating or hurting me anymore. It was about how far he could push the boundaries while getting others to join in.

Days went by and the beatings got longer. I'd feel an extra set of fists or feet on my body while the drawings that were supposed to be my release watched. When I walked through the halls there was the chance someone would stab my side with a pencil or pen. The worst was when they used the sharp end of a compass. While I was desperate to be alone before he escalated it became my most vulnerable time. I became something to seek out when I was alone instead of a bit of violent fun to have should the opportunity arise. It all followed me onto the bus, where an entirely new set of boys waited to continue what started at school and my blood got smeared on the windows and seats. I tried to defend myself but it, somehow, got interpreted by them as trying to hold their hands.

I slowly learned how to hide. Not from him, but the results of his escalation on my body. I started rushing into my room when I got home, taking early morning or afternoon baths to clean the blood off of me, and retreated further into the small black and white television I had in my room. Those early morning baths were often preceded by a 4AM viewing of Clifford, the bizarre film starring Martin Short as a 10-year old child and Charles Grodin as a tormented adult, which was always followed by a behind-the-scenes documentary. After the bath I'd make sure my jacket was ready to cover up anything on my shoulders or arms. Even if it was hot, I'd wear the jacket, which didn't help my attempts at remaining unnoticed as heat plus hormones plus a jacket only made me a sweatier target with the eventual chance to smell.Then came the worst day of my life.

I tried timing trips to the bathroom with boys I thought were safe. Not to go together, but so that there would be someone else around to lessen whatever plans he had for me. This was the day I went into the bathroom with someone who wasn't safe. He was waiting for me with two other boys. The third I walked in with joined quickly. They kept shoving me into the wall and lockers, punching me until I finally fell over, and kicked me until I stopped struggling. This school had an awful drain system so my face was in a small pool of urine as I lost the little will to struggle I had left. They taunted me, but I don't remember the specifics, all I remember is the laughing.

So he mounted me and I felt his erection on my back through his pants. Then I felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder as he cut me deeply with a knife.

The scar is faint now, but still there.

Do you call that rape? I don't. Maybe it is. Or maybe I should just leave it as is so that the memory doesn't take a new shape. I'm lingering on this distinction because of a conversation I had last week with someone I love who knows some of, but not all, of the details and told me that every time I talked about it I sounded like the girls in their self-defense class who had been raped. Even here I'm not able to detail everything that happened. Only most of the worst.

He took things as far as he could that day because the next time he tried to get more boys involved we were dressing for gym class. I snapped, kicked him as hard as I could in the balls, and continued uncontrollably while he squirmed on the ground until some of the boys pulled me back. He was afforded protection no one saw fit to grant me. The biggest exception were the moments I could be around my best friend, and on the days our bus made an extra stop to a school where we picked up an extra passenger whose name I never learned but sat down next to and told me, "I'm not going to let them hurt you."

Those were my only two support systems that succeeded, and neither of them were available to me for long. All other avenues for support did not work. Even when I started vomiting out of fear of going to school or screaming while tearing up the walls with a pencil. It's not that they didn't try. I remember a glimpse of my favorite teacher, who encouraged my aptitude in math, after I had a terrible spell of screaming with snot pouring out of my nose at the start of the day, who I got a glimpse of smoking behind the classroom trailer while she tried not to cry. But that moment of glimpsing her helplessness didn't change how each and every support system I had been led to believe would protect me completely failed to do so.

Years afterward I was terrified of my body, the changes I couldn't control, my inability to consciously stop what happened, and how everyone failed me. I was scared of my eventual erections because I remembered how his felt against my back. I hated that it took my total loss of mental control to unleash a minuscule percentage of the same pain he inflicted on me to begin the process of stopping his abuse (repression helped me reconcile this fear with the idea getting into fights was fine - another trait of a good southern man). I also became fanatically dependent on myself, going beyond what I should have to give everyone the place of safety I never had, and slipping back into helpless fury whenever they disappointed me. The night terrors were a simple step away from that, waking up to the sound of my own screaming, and rarely able to explain to loved ones just what I was seeing when I lost even more control during an already vulnerable state.

I'm still scared of people who could use my trauma against me. The most recent example was last year, when I was writing vague details to a woman who was defending Brett Kavanaugh, and my attempt to get her to understand the shame of assault was immediately turned around. I didn't keep a strict record of the conversation, but I remember her first response was along the lines of, "Your experience means nothing."Now I've gone through round three of severe kidney stones, with almost totally depleted funds, useless insurance, no job, and a nagging fear that the few things I've managed to keep close will be taken away from me. I need therapy but I'm still physically too tired for the trips, financially barely holding on, and emotionally spent. I have plans to return but even with those plans it's hard to find reasons to roll out of bed in the morning. I feel useless, hopeless, and am often paralyzed by the experience that no amount of exposing my fears or what I went through will lead to the kind of support I need.

But I'm not on that bathroom floor. I don't have to hide the scars. In fact, the reason I got my first tattoo was as a reminder to not be silent about my trauma. I'm not great at remembering that but I try. As I type I find myself at just the right side of what I'm currently going through and what I was scarred by then. That's why I'm writing this now, even when I feel so weak and helpless, because my face isn't pressed into urine and this is a safe place I can let most of this out. I can learn to live with it all over again.

I told myself that if I was able to pass the stone without surgery that, what the heck, I'd give God another shot. That turned out to be a bitter turn as I'm still feeling pain from passing the stone but my bluff has been successfully called. So consider this my prayer. This is me telling you, through the medium I feel most comfortable in, with whatever power is working within or through me at this time, that it can get better, and I need help. I'll never fully heal, but I will get better again. After all, I got out of that bathroom.

It will take a while and I pray you all understand why. If not, I made it through alone once, and this time I know I'm not alone. He couldn't take that last bit of strength from me. I won't let this do the same.

Images are from Mysterious Skin, Gregg Araki's phenomenal film from 2005 about the different journeys teenagers take to deal with the abuse they suffered as children.

Next entry: When Criticism Sticks to Critics (and what we criticize)

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Posted by Andrew

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  1. Putting these words out there for the web to hear is courageous and its something that’s taken me years to do with my own experiences, and even still I have so much to still say. Keeping you in my thoughts man.

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