** Trigger warning **
I am a statistic. I represent the 1 out of 6 American women who are victims of attempted or completed rapes in their lifetimes. I am among those victims who never reported their rape(s) to the authorities. I am one of those victims who shouldered this secret in silence for years, feeling ashamed, humiliated and guilty. In fact, I didn’t speak a word about what happened to me until seven years after the fact.
But I am NOT angry anymore. I (finally) have closure after half a lifetime of identifying myself as a rape survivor. And it came about in the oddest, almost unthinkable, way.
I was a sophomore in high school when an acquaintance crossed that line of acceptable behavior, plunging me into the worst period of depression I have ever known. I couldn’t concentrate in school, I stopped eating, I had nightmare after nightmare. I eventually switched schools and the distraction of adjusting to new teachers, classmates and friends helped lift that omnipresent cloud from over my head. For a bit.
Then college came, and as do many college kids, I drank lots. And the memories I worked so hard to suppress boiled to the surface. My senior year, I cracked and spilled my secret to close friends, parents and siblings. Their outpouring of support was, well, unparalleled. I started attending group therapy for rape survivors on campus and found strength in sharing my story.
Since then, I’ve been more vocal and public about being a survivor. In fact, I credit my experience with propelling me towards a career in women’s rights. But there was always a piece missing: I never vocalized my story to my rapist.
Through the magic of social media, I located him. I sat and stared at his profile for three days, my stomach churning and heart racing. I broke out into a sweat every time I pulled up his page. But I had made a promise to myself long ago: that if I ever “found” him, I’d confront him about what he did. So I sent him a message, just saying hello. It was all I could manage. And I waited for a response. I waited a couple of days, but it felt like weeks. Finally, I got a response: he returned my hello and inquired as to how life was treating me these days.
I was floored, to say the least. And completely nauseous as I typed out my reply. I was still too much of a chicken to come right out with it, so we exchanged a few more messages, skirting the obvious, until I ripped off that proverbial band-aid. I had rehearsed in my head 10,000 times what I would say to him if ever given the opportunity. I nearly had my spiel memorized, so actually writing it wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined.
That’s not to say I didn’t struggle with typing that fateful message. Perhaps distance, both geographical and temporal, had made a difference — I actually considered his feelings. What must it be like to be on the receiving end of an email calling you a rapist? Did I want to be the person to turn someone else’s world upside down by clicking “send,” even if that someone had caused me suffering? After all, we had never discussed what happened in its immediate aftermath. What if he didn’t know what he did was rape? I didn’t see how that could be possible, but as my best friend who is a therapist always says, the mind’s ability to deny is very powerful.
I had no expectations of a response. As far as I was concerned, I made good on a promise to myself, and that’s all that mattered. So imagine my reaction when I not only got a response, but one requesting a dialogue about it. So we dialogued. And I got what I believe to be a heartfelt apology — an apology for what happened then and an apology for what I’ve gone through since.
Perhaps because I wasn’t expecting a reply, I wasn’t prepared for how GOOD those words made me feel. I don’t have the vocabulary to express how good exactly, so I won’t even try. But it was like a massive weight was lifted off my shoulders. And for the first time, I cried tears of joy over this aspect of my life. It was finally over.
This is not to say that my rapist has transformed into some sort of savior for me. I saved myself, not him. But ironically, the missing piece of my closure involved the piece that caused me pain in the first place.
I am a survivor. But I am not angry anymore.