At 27, I wrote out the story of my rape in pencil on two pages of foolscap paper. I keep it in a bundle of old poems and letters that have never been important enough to file. I stumble on them every few years, and the words always make my heart leap into my throat. They remind me of aspects of my rape that I’ve long forgotten.
My assault has always been like those old home movies you patch together out of cuttings: flashes of imagery, hours of video-perfect memory, and hole upon hole of nothingness. When it first happened, I thought I remembered less than I ever would—that the gaps would close themselves, and I would get a full picture one day.
I thought a complete memory was a sign of true recovery, so I used to push at the holes and the images that preceded them in an effort to make it all real enough to recover from.
The truth? I knew more about my rape then than I do today. Those two handwritten pages tell me things I no longer know. No matter how many times I read them, I can’t make the new memories stick. It’s as though there is an automatic “delete” button attached to them that throws them into a recycle bin as soon as they reappear.
10 years ago, I decided that the dark magic of my forgetfulness didn’t need to be understood. If my mind didn’t want to hold onto those hours, then it must have had a reason, so I relegated those papers to their pile with the bad poems, the love letters that never solved anything, the writings I never appreciated enough to publish.
The pencil is fading, so I know that a single year can mean the difference between legible and utterly destroyed. I leave those pages as they are anyway. I’ve never transposed them into ink. Time will either take them or not take them. I’ve learned to stop punishing myself with this dogged insistence on knowing all there is to know about my trauma because I’ve learned that my rape had nothing to do with me. I was just in the room. It didn’t change me. Surviving it did. It didn’t speak to my worth. It spoke to that of my rapist.
There’s something in a rape victim that wants to know all that happened to her body as though being touched or penetrated or maimed says something important about who she has become.
I did not become anything as the result of those hours.
I became the hero of my own story afterwards, and still, the rape itself matters less than that old letter from a man I once loved who left.
Rape wants to be bigger. It wants to be important. It is neither. Only recovery is big. Only surviving is important, so my rape papers go on fading.