I am a psychologist, my specialties for the last thirty three years have been working with adult children of addicts, addiction and relational trauma/PTSD. I have worked with countless cases of sexual abuse.I have discussed these subjects in several of the twelve books that I have published and in numerous articles. I have given support to hundreds and hundreds of clients, both women and men, in working through sexual abuse in various forms. I have never, until today, written a word about being raped myself at 19 years old. I have talked about it in therapy, with my husband and a few, select people. But I have never gone public with it.It feels too dark. And I suppose I wonder, was this somehow my fault?
In 1969/70 1 was a student in Hondurus studying the social institutions of Central America as well as Spanish. I was naive. I hired an Honduran tour guide to show me a few churches in the area, I was traveling at that time with my sister who had a boyfriend with her and I wanted to give them some space and this seemed both constructive and interesting. The guide had been showing us around for a couple of days so I wasn’t worried. He was also an older man with gray hair, I offer this detail because it was a reason I would never have suspected that I needed to be on guard. Quite the opposite, I felt that it made him a protective presence.
What I Remember:
We were driving and dusk was falling, I wanted to return to the hotel and he seemed to be driving in the opposite direction, into the country away from the town.
He pulled into what he called a restaurant saying that he wanted to get a bit to eat before returning.
I had an increasingly uneasy feeling. Maybe this man wasn’t a nice older tour guide. Oh My God, where am I? I saw men who looked like they were drunk. I saw a long row that looked like a motel. Was this a motel? I heard high pitched screaming from women, laughter, drunkenness.
I refused to get out and insisted we return to town.He pulled the car out of that driveway but turned the other direction from town. Suddenly I knew, I saw it, I knew. I told him to turn around.He refused. I unrolled the window and began to climb out because the door was somehow locked. He grabbed me and became aggressive. I pulled the keys out of his ignition and the car stopped. I then made it out the window and began to run down the side of the road. He came after me. He became violent. He tried to pull me down on the ground. Here my head spins and what I see in my memory are swaths of tall green grass, sounds, nature sounds I think, I see the long road, he is swinging me around by my arm, I am swinging in circles. I feel the inevitable closing in on me. This man might kill me I think as I am swinging around and he is getting stronger. He pushes me down. I make a split second bargain with God, be here with me God, be here in this moment and let it happen fast, let me love this man for a moment so I will not be raped. God save me now.
I remember the feeling of grass poking into my back. I remember with such disgust his lips trying to find mine, trying to pretend this was somehow love, that I had said yes, that ….OMG. It happened, he for a few seconds/minutes I cannot say. I cannot say he entered me. But he did. More disgust. Such disgust. It is over, is he saying he loves me. You disgusting old man, you perverted monster. I get up, I pull my dress back in place. I hail a car in the road hoping to find help.
A car filled with men stops. I try to tell them in my broken Spanish that I am being attacked. They look nice, they are sympathetic. They will help me.
The man comes up behind me and says some things in Spanish. They all laugh and drive away. I watch the car going away into the night. No help is coming.
I don’t know where I am, I think I am near some sort of place of ill repute and men stick with men, they laughed. Worse could have happened.
The man who raped me becomes nice and protective acting again, like he was a tour guide.
I make a split second decision to go back to the hotel as he is saying he has to get home.
It feels like my only choice now, I get in.
He is docile. He is trying to tell me he loves me or something like that. I do not know this man, what is he saying. I am quiet but do nothing to aggravate him. He wants to give me money.
I say no.
He tries to put it in my lap.
I give it back.
He begins to get angry again, aggressive, forceful. I get scared, I cannot risk more.
I let it fall on my lap.
Four dollars in Honduran money.
What does this mean. Was I just paid for sex? NO.
I get to the hotel where my sister is with her boyfriend. I tell them what happened.
This is very strange to write…I have to list the facts as though it is an account about someone else. It feel like it is sometimes. But I know it is me, I remember it the way I remember the last words my Father said to me before he died, my first kiss, my favorite dog as a kid. It is branded into my psyche.
The laughter of the men.
The high pitched screams of the women.
The wetness of the tall grass.
The man’s glasses.
The dirt road.
The feeling of trying to climb out of the window.
I remember it.
I also remember the dress I was wearing with the orange, gross grain straps. But this part you will understand only if you have been through it. I could paint it even today I remember it so vividly. My stomach tenses as I write this, my throat is going dry. I actually remember the scene from above, of the man getting violent and swinging me around. My mind left my body and I could see myself and this man and the decision I made to allow this to happen I made from up there. Simply because I didn’t want to die that night.
This happened 49 years ago and I have never written it down. Until today. Until feeling pulled by Christine Blassey Ford’s testimony and my burning awareness because of my years as a psychologist of how little people really understand traumatic memory. I am relaxing now and sailing back into that part of my mind that can think clearly and write easily and in descriptive, long sentences. I am out of yesterday and back to the here and now. And I don’t want to go back there. None of us do, those of us who have experienced sexual assault. I saw in Christine Blassey Ford a woman who doesn’t want to go back there, who like me would rather not talk about it. But who like me is a trained professional who knows that she should so that she can heal and move on.
Back to the details which are easier to say now that I am in the present again.
When I got back to the hotel I told my sister and her boyfriend. They were pretty horrified. I told them that they had to take the 4 dollars, they felt radioactive in my hand. They didn’t want them either so I got them to promise that they’d go with me the the next day and we’d buy hot fudge Sundays, familiar comfort in a strange land.
I went to the shower, it was a dingy hotel and a dingy shower. I stood below a stream of water for I don’t know how long, I wanted to wash away the grime, the fear, the torridness. I prayed for God to wash it off, to rid me of this and I let the water be cleansing, holy water.
The next day I wrote my mom about this.
When I got back to the states I told my other sister.
My mom never asked me one question about it, not one. I took this to mean I should never bring it up again. There was other sexual abuse in my family that my mother never talked about. But it’s not my story to tell, not today anyway. It didn’t directly involve me.
But I knew Mom’s rules. I knew her ways.
My other sister did not seem to understand what I had been through and brought it up twice in social situations, like it was an adventure.
It was not an adventure.
It was awful.
But I knew the rules. Don’t talk. Drop this.Unless you want to be ridiculed or doubted or blamed.
Truthfully both times my sister brought it up I felt very supported by the other people in the room. It felt good and it came from men and women alike, they seemed concerned about me. I took it in. I had learned to take in support where I could find it.
Hard to write again, my fingers are shaking. Breathe, it isn’t now. It was then. Breathe. Coming back now, back into the present.
Thank you Christine Blasey Ford for making it safe enough for me to come out with this in writing. If you could do what you did, I can do this in the privacy of my own living room with my husband’s full support. If you can do what you did, maybe some of this can change.
Wanting to cry now. That’s good. Tears are good. Oh they are gone again, just a flash of sadness, it’s gone again.
That’s OK. That’s OK.
I am a psychologist and I understand the nature of traumatic memory.
It comes and goes. Sometimes I feel a lot, sometimes so little. I remember some things with a kind of crystal clarity that is spellbinding, other details elude me.
It happened so long ago.
About 20 or more years after this occurred, once I was married with two children leading a very wonderful life on all levels I was chatting on the phone with my mother. Out of the blue she said , “hey, I owe you an amends, I think.” I said, “what for, Mom?”.
“Well when you were raped as a kid you sent me a postcard and I never said anything about it.”
I felt as if she had taken a knife and driven it through my heart.
“Mom, you got that card? You got my card? You never said a thing? Oh Mom.”
But I didn’t say this.
Instead I asked, “what were you thinking that you didn’t ask me about it?” I so couldn’t imagine doing that myself.
Mom’s voice came back, “I guess I just thought what’s she gotten herself into now?”.
The knife went further in and I wanted to say, “why tell me this now Mom, why crack open my heart like this? I had forgotten, convinced myself that …I don’t know….I had successfully “forgotten” that you said nothing to me.”
It took days from me to get past that feeling, weeks maybe I don’t remember. But it was clarifying. Why would I feel safe talking about this when I knew what might be in store for me?
But today I feel what we call in the trade safe enough. Thank you Christine Blasey Ford for opening this door so wide that I can walk through it, too.