I forgot I was raped

In telling my story, I remembered this detail: My lover raped me!

By Cary Tennis
Published October 4, 2011 12:00AM (EDT)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I tend to believe in karma, which is why I am writing you. For the most part, I try to do well by people. I know I've failed a few times and I have tried to make up for those failures. However, I have done something I know I can't repair, nor do I really want to go back and fix. Recently you received a letter from a woman who was unceremoniously dumped. A couple weeks ago, I unceremoniously dumped someone, without warning, and with little explanation. I feel bad about it, but I have no desire to maintain contact with this person or rekindle our relationship. Part of me feels as though he is owed an explanation, but I am not sure if I can give him a proper one or even if he would understand what I mean.

About eight months ago I moved to another country for work. My first week here, I met someone and quickly (as in, within hours) fell into bed with him. I was in a new place, after suffering from depression and joblessness for months, so this was all very exciting and refreshing. We had a nice time together, he was generally kind to me, if sometimes distant -- I never met his friends or his brother, and he ended up having to work at a job site eight hours from the city we lived in, so his visits became infrequent. He comes from a Muslim culture (though he was raised in a country that is Christian), which explained his not wanting me to interact much with his family/friends (I guess). I couldn't expect him to find a job closer to the city just for me, so I tolerated his being away.

Thinking back about the beginning, I am reminded that a week or so after I met him, I took a trip to see a friend and ended up making out with someone else. I suppose that didn't bode well for the rest of the relationship, even though I excused myself at the time by saying we had only been dating a very short time.

He quickly told me he loved me (I didn't quite feel the same, but replied "I guess I love you too"). Even though I grew a bit tired of only seeing him once a week or every 10 days, and just for a few hours, I cared for him and was content to maintain the outline of the relationship.

Did I like that he just called me and announced he was coming over whenever he was in town, without warning? Not really -- but I liked seeing him. I savored the food he sometimes brought for dinner. I liked having sex with someone. I enjoyed a warm body next to me.

A few months into the relation-shell (not -hell, but -shell as in, it was just a shell of a relationship), he explained to me that because my future in the country I was working in was uncertain (I needed to get a work permit or citizenship) and because there was a possibility of his having to have an arranged marriage (I guess at any time), he wanted to give me fair warning that perhaps one day we would just be friends. I was sad, and mad. It felt like he didn't want to work at our relationshell. I cried -- he wanted me to just get over it. He threatened to leave if I didn't stop crying, so I did. I pushed my feelings aside and let numbness overtake me. All I wanted was for him to hold me and reassure me, but instead he pretty much forced himself on me, and essentially tried to anally rape me. OK, maybe not essentially. He really did -- I didn't want to and he surprised me with it against my will. I curled up in much physical and emotional pain. When he saw I wasn't actually bleeding, we finished having sex.

I had forgotten this part of the story too until just now. It's amazing what writing a story out forces you to recall.

A few weeks later, I returned to my homeland and managed to get citizenship that permitted me to go back to the country I was working in (complicated, I know). I was gone a month. He and I spoke a few times, about once a week. I missed him, but I was also happy to be with friends and family. I think I mostly missed being with someone -- anyone. When I got back, I saw him once before he went on a trip to his country to see family and start saying goodbye to his cousin who was dying of cancer. I missed him less when I saw him again. He wouldn't let me come to the airport to say goodbye, and that made me mad. I work close to the airport, it wouldn't have been inconvenient. But I think he was traveling with people who wouldn't have approved of me. We spoke a couple of times, I missed him less and less, and then ... nothing. I didn't hear from him for almost a month. I tried to contact him a couple of times when I expected him to be back, but I didn't get a reply. I stopped missing him.

I met someone at work. We fell in love, he asked me to marry him. That's another abbreviated story that happened in a very abbreviated amount of time. It seems irrelevant to the story at hand.

Suddenly the original boyfriend came back. I didn't expect to hear from him. I assumed he had gotten married, or was staying in his country to take care of his cousin's family. This is what I told myself so I could move on and feel less bad about falling in love with someone else. I didn't want to tell the first boyfriend about the new fiancé. I ended up ducking his calls (though he called me four times while I was legitimately at work and unable to respond). I told him I was busy and I would call him when I had time. I kept blowing him off. He had no idea what was wrong.

He came to my house unannounced while I was out and apparently wouldn't leave until my neighbors called the police. I texted him to say I thought we should be apart, I didn't feel the same way for him anymore. He sent me text messages saying he'll do something I'll regret for the rest of my life. He said he would hit himself if I didn't talk to him. He said I would never forget him.

I didn't forget about him while he was gone. I was legitimately concerned, but there wasn't much I could do to get in contact. He said his village had bad cell service, so apparently the last few texts I sent him wondering where he was hadn't gotten to him. He said that was the reason he hadn't spoken to me in a month. When I finally spoke to him (mostly under pressure from friends) he said he had told his closed-minded Muslim family about me, that they had gifts for me, that if I had any respect for him I would see him. He said he would wait outside my building for me; if I didn't want to see him, I could just come to my balcony and send him away. I was terrified.

I realize my actions were very confusing for him -- he kept telling me I've changed and asking me if I had met someone else (I thought it was better not to mention that I had). He insisted that he loved me and respected me, but it seems like those are just words, and words are not actions. I was confused -- we had gone from a relationship that I thought was fizzling out to one that he was fiercely trying to ignite.

I don't like someone pressuring me into doing something I don't want to do (call when I don't want to call, see someone when I don't want to see someone, have anal sex when I don't want to have anal sex). I also don't like being an asshole to someone by not calling them back and being vague about why I don't want to see them again. Will my actions come back to haunt me? He tried a few more times to call and contact me on Facebook, but I have not responded. Do I owe him a letter, something to explain why I did what I did? Or is he just going to (correctly) assume I met someone else, and I'm a lying, cheating slut?

Don't Want to Be on the Bad Side of Karma

Dear Karma,

This man raped you. In the process of writing to me it became clear to you that he raped you, that he really did rape you, that it really was rape. That is the central fact in this story.

I am very glad that the act of writing your letter allowed this to happen. That is the kind of moment that leaves me in awe. There is something sacred in such a moment. You start telling what happened and what you had forgotten takes center stage. He raped you. Oh yes, he raped you.

By writing to me, you have done other rape victims a service. You have demonstrated, through your own honesty, precisely how a rape victim will shove aside that central, devastating fact until she is given the chance to recount her experience. You have demonstrated the usefulness of writing letters.

I was going to edit your letter somewhat because I wanted to be sure that the part where he rapes you occurs early enough in the story that people will read it. But then I left it the way it was, with your long meditation on karma, because that is how our minds really work, isn't it? We draw little circles in the dirt; we hem and haw and talk about karma while this deadly thing hovers.

I suggest you contact a rape counseling center. That is the best thing you can do right now. I don't want to write too much because I really want you to take action. I don't want you to just read my words and think, gee, how interesting, how memories come back. I want you to contact a rape counseling center and tell them what happened and begin the process of unraveling this.

You need that. You need more. You need someone to talk to. I want you to understand that you are not seeing things clearly right now. That is probably the effect of the things that have happened to you, combined with your own natural responses, your desire to be kind and fair. When we are under great strain, when there is some inner knowledge pushing on us, this happens. We don't see everything.

This man raped you and then he stalked you. He intimidated you. He made unwanted visits and he caused a disturbance so that the police had to be called. Yet you are concerned about  returning his phone calls.

You don't have to return your rapist's phone calls.

It's possible that you have a dry sense of humor, how you lump together not liking to be raped with not liking to have to return phone calls. So at the risk of sounding too literal I will just point out that dislike of being raped is not like disliking to have to return phone calls, or disliking people who are a little pushy. It is more like not liking to be burned with cigarettes or not liking to be stomped on.

You are not required to be polite to your rapist.

As your own reactions come to the surface, you will probably feel some liberating anger toward this man.

I also want to mention the role of culture. This man raped you. But he did not rape you in some random psychotic way that would brand him a lunatic or cultural outcast. He did it in a precise  context. The context was control. Your emotional reaction to his pronouncement, to his laying down the law, threatened his control. We could say that your crying was a kind of resistance. Your very being was a kind of resistance. It was a resistance he had to stomp out. So he raped you. Rape is in this sense a tool of annihilation.

Not to denigrate his culture, I merely make the point that culture speaks through us -- all of us. There was this Tom McGuane story in a recent New Yorker magazine -- not a great Tom McGuane story, just a Tom McGuane story with a good line in it. A character, not an American, says of a character, an American: "Ah, make no mistake: That was not Bob speaking and bringing his symbolic gifts. That was America speaking through Bob."

America speaks through guys named Bob. And your boyfriend's culture spoke through him. It said: Submit. Obey. Or be punished.

Our cultures speak through us. This was a rape, and this was a crime, and this was also his culture speaking through him. It was his privilege speaking through him. It was his practice and his heritage, a world into which you stepped unknowingly.

Our cultures speak through us. That does not absolve us. It's just a fact.

Call a rape counseling center and begin talking about what happened. Your problem is not karma. Your problem is rape.

Creative Getaway

Citizens of the Dream

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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