When I reported my rape at age 21, two weeks after–in a cold, sterile, eerily quiet room; with the smell of him still, forever, in my nose; after my concerned sorority sister called my mom to tell her; and after all the viable evidence had been scrubbed away repeatedly, obsessively in scalding showers–the male police officer required me to take a polygraph test to prove my story was true.
As if my nightmares weren’t enough. And the shaking that wouldn’t stop. And the tiny, little death behind my eyes. The one that has yet to be resurrected 28 years later. Nearly three decades since he held that knife to my throat in the elevator that took me home, to my college apartment.
When I disclosed my childhood sexual abuse in my 40s, I thought it was solely for me. For my healing. For my heart. I knew no one would ever be prosecuted for the things I was made to do at age 10, 11, 12. I also knew I could not go through the questions and the polygraphs and the vivid, detailed recalls again. The sketches. The eyes that suggested a hint of disbelief. The scribbled notes. The remembered smells and sounds that woke me in a breathless panic at night, year after year after year.
But this truth I could not hold any longer. Not in my hands, not in my heart, not in my words. It was toxic within, eating away at me bit by bit.
Silence so often is.
I had to let it go.
What I now know is that the telling wasn’t just for me. It was for all of us who have first been harmed, then silenced.
It was my cry of solidarity.
At 48, I still sleep behind a locked bedroom door, and Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” makes my palms sweaty. The just-right blend of body odor and the perfect, thick heat of a summer night makes my stomach churn, the bile rise. If someone playfully pulls on my ponytail, I am paralyzed.
I am not “fight or flight.” I am “play dead.”
It’s easy because a tiny piece of me already is. I have been well-conditioned by men who greedily took what was never theirs to have. At age 10, 11, 12. At age 20.
One man, I trusted. One, a stranger.
There are reasons why we don’t come forward until we can no longer be held back.
Or be held down.