“He killed someone. Those three words kept circling in my brain. He killed someone. He could kill me.”
May 11th. Today is my birthday.
It was a hot, sunny, glorious, early July day. It was, in fact, two days before the heavily celebrated, heavily anticipated, 4th of July. My family has a beach house on the eastern shore of Maryland where we have an annual 4th of July party. My beach house is my haven. It is my favorite place on earth. I could not have been more excited. I had planned to drive to the beach the next morning.
Except I never made it.
As a teacher, each summer day is a treasure. Days to unwind, have fun, recover, and reward ourselves for surviving the stress of the school year. That evening a friend and I made plans to grab a couple of drinks at a local watering hole in Baltimore City. I had just purchased my first home downtown and I was thrilled to be able to simply walk down the street to meet my friend.
While conversing and laughing over our chilled drinks, my friend remembered that one of his friends from high school bartends not far from where we were. For those of you who know a bartender, you know this is a sure way to get free drinks. “Oh my god! You should text him!” I exclaimed. My teacher’s salary appreciates free drinks. My friend replied, “I haven’t seen him in years. He’s probably not working but I’ll shoot him a text.”
We were the last two customers sitting at the dimly lit bar. It was 2 AM and we were preparing to kick back another round of shots – on the house – from the bartender. Him.
Soaking wet, I weigh about 110 pounds. And there I was, typical me, keeping up with the boys. Shot for shot, drink for drink. I was drunk. I was really drunk.
I remember Him inviting me and my friend to his house. Coincidentally, he lived on the other side of my block. He was bragging about his rooftop deck, how it overlooks the skyline. Hell yes. Let’s go. At that point in my life, I was not one to turn down an adventure.
I remember the smell of the air that night. I remember the twinkle of the lights adorning the city surrounding us. I remember the soft, summer breeze as it caressed pieces of hair across my face.
I remember how confused he was by my proclamations of being gay.
“You’ve never had sex with any men?” he asked loudly with a perplexed expression.
“I have. Twice. And I didn’t enjoy either of those experiences.” I said, very matter of fact.
“But you’re so hot!” he refuted. Then boldly commented something to the effect of: If I ever slept with him he’d change my mind.
Which as a gay woman – this is something I hear constantly. The fact that I do not desire men is something many of them cannot handle. It ignites a fire deep within. A burning fury of confusion and defensiveness. Upon acquiring that knowledge it’s as if the essence of their being is challenged. Is threatened. It illuminates the sick entitlement of an ego-driven man. How could an attractive woman not want me? I’ll show her. She just hasn’t been with a real man yet.
I repeated numerous times: I’m gay. I’m gay. I’m gay.
He had just been released from prison for an attempted murder charge. Attempted murder. I remember the feeling that knowledge gave to my stomach. Pins, needles, running down my spine. Attempted murder? I’ve never met anyone with such a history. I was intimidated yet intrigued. I wanted to know more.
Unfortunately, I cannot recall the exact details of his story. My last vivid, coherent memory of that night was a verbal exchange between the two of us. The inner teacher in me sees the good in all people. Such an honorable yet frankly stupid view of the world. I’m not a fan of the word “stupid” but – now looking back – there are no other words to accurately describe how I feel about that thought. I did not believe – at that point in my life – that evil people existed.
Oh, how I was wrong.
I said to him, “You’re not a bad person. There’s no such thing as a bad person. You’re just a human being who made a bad choice. But that doesn’t make you a bad person.”
What he said to me next is the last thing I remember. What he said to me will haunt me for the rest of my life. He said, “But I am a bad person. I’m a really bad person.”
The few fixed-frame snapshots I have of the events that occurred next are all that remains to my memory before the sun came up. What occurred may have been minutes or hours after his statement to me. I do not know.
I remember stairs. I remember darkness. I remember his penis inside of my mouth. I remember loss of control.
I opened my eyes to bright morning light. I was in his bed, naked. And I was very much still drunk. Wasted even. Everything next has moments of blurriness and moments of blinding clarity.
I remember he woke up and got on top of me. I was still processing where I was and how I got there. Did I consent to this?
He inserted himself into me. It hurt and I didn’t know what to do.
No, I was thinking in my head. “No. Stop. Get off. NO! STOP!” – The words exploded from my mouth in a crescendo of assertion.
He paused, released himself from inside of me, and sat up. He was angry.
“Come on, you know you want it. Come on.”
“No,” I repeated. No. No. NO.
“You can’t let me start and not finish,” as he raised his arms and put his hands behind his head, “That’s not fair.”
Attempted murder. I was terrified. This man had tried to kill someone and he served jail time for it. His muscular, thick, intimidating body loomed over me. Is he going to kill me? I froze.
There were two or three more rounds to this fight: me firmly telling him no – and him, firmly choosing to ignore me. Pushing. Insisting.
His frustration and persistence created tension in the air. Increasing with each utterance of the word “no” from me. What I wanted didn’t matter.
He killed someone.
Those three words kept circling in my brain. He killed someone.
He could kill me.
I’ve since learned that there are three physiological reactions of survival. Fight. Flight. Freeze. When your brain perceives a true possibility of death, it chooses one of those three pathways. Instinctively. Without thought. Without choice. It chooses a pathway – of which your consciousness has no decision making in the matter. Your brain is in do-or-die mode and you are along for the ride.
As someone who has always been a fighter, someone who has always been tough, it has taken me years to forgive myself for not fighting harder. I was in survival mode. My brain chose the pathway it perceived would give me the highest chance of survival. It took extensive therapy to unlearn the thought – I didn’t do enough. That somehow I was at fault too. To stop asking myself the questions: Why didn’t you punch him in the face? Why didn’t you pick something up and stab him with it? Why didn’t you run?
My brain chose: freeze.
He was back inside of me.
He was so into what he was doing, so distracted, so oblivious, so consumed, he didn’t hear nor see any of what I did next. By some miracle my cell phone was right next to me. I picked it up with my right hand. I hung my right hand and arm over the side of the bed and began calling. I called my Mom. I called my girlfriend at the time. No answer. I found out later that it was very early in the morning.
Then I called my friend. He picked up.
I started talking gibberish. Sentences that didn’t make sense. My friend was beyond confused. I could hear his distant voice from my phone, “What? You’re not making any sense Kelly.” I kept repeating sentences, words, that didn’t make sense. I can’t remember the exact words that were coming out of my mouth, I was panicking. I was trying to choose words to say out loud that wouldn’t alert Him to the fact that I was making phone calls with my outstretched arm hanging over the side of his bed. What I do remember, however, was the feeling of relief and astonishment the moment my friend got it – the moment it clicked. His tone of voice changed. I heard him say, “I think I know what is going on. If you need me to come there right now say yes.”
“I’m coming right now.”
I remember Him being thrown against the wall. I remember the two of them fighting. I remember yelling. I remember threats.
Everything was a blur of terror.
I remember finding my clothes and running out of the door. I remember running the 300 or so feet to my house – as, remember, he terrifyingly lived on the other side of my block. I remember getting in my car which was parked along the curb outside of my townhome. I remember calling my mom. She answered.
I was screaming and what I was saying wasn’t making sense again. I was hysterically crying. I couldn’t talk. I was hyperventilating. I was in shock.
“Mom. I need to call 911. I need to have a rape kit done.”
Words I never imagined would leave my lips. Words no one imagines will ever leave their lips.
The events that occurred next – the paramedics, the police, the emotionally scarring experience on the exam table, the detectives, the doctor visits, the medications, the reactions and impact on my loved ones – will be outlined in my next entry. For now, I am hitting pause on this story to discuss the reason I am sharing my life’s most intensely intimate, explicit secret.
I hesitated writing this story and sharing it. I hesitated for a sizable, substantial list of reasons. One being – a thought that never stops circulating in my brain, “This isn’t bad enough.”
How terrible is that?
I wasn’t grabbed and thrown into a dark alley at knife point. I wasn’t brutally beaten and left to die. I wasn’t tortured. How would sharing this story help anyone? It’s not bad enough.
I expressed the above fear to my brother the other night. He stopped me dead in my tracks – mid thought – mid sentence. He said, “Kelly, it doesn’t have to be violent for it to be terrible.” And on so many levels of that sentence – he was right.
But, what is violence?
What happened to me was violent. It was violence. He violated me.
Maybe we need to take a step back and question the validity of our definition of violence. If I am questioning whether or not my story is bad enough to share – what hidden mentality is ingrained beneath the surface and woven into the inner workings of our society that young girls are developing this mindset? A mindset so deep that it continues even into adulthood. Why is it that all victims share an astonishingly similar process of emotions? Shame. Embarrassment. Guilt. I didn’t do enough.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, these are questions we still don’t talk about. Questions we still don’t ask. We need to keep working. We need to keep fighting.
I was raped. I was taken advantage of. My refusal did not matter – my voice did not matter. This is a burden I will have to carry for the rest of my life. It is a deep, festering wound that will never fully heal. It is something that affects everything in my life. My friendships, my family, my romantic relationships, my self-esteem, my confidence, my worth.
No unwarranted sexual advance, no crossing of a boundary, no sexual assault, no rape – is ever anything less than bad enough. Every story sharing this common plot is tragic. Horrifically tragic.
And what is even more horrifically tragic is the amount of women this happens to. After posting “Me too. Part one.” what would you guess was the common theme of feedback I received? Take one guess.
That. That is why I am writing. That is why I am opening my deepest, darkest trauma to the world. This is so much bigger than me.
Our collective pain needs a voice. It has been swept under the thick societal rug for far too long.