I bet you thought you’d never hear from me again, didn’t you? A good few years have passed now, and while I’m still obviously on daily medication, while I still think about that night every single day, I guess it’s right to say that time heals all wounds. Not that it’s entirely healed (I’ll come back to that in a moment).
I want you to know that I never reported my rape. I thought about it, long and hard, but then I got to reasearching. The number of successful convictions in cases of male (or any) rape is sickeningly low. And even if you did get convicted, even if you did serve time, you’d be out sooner than I’d like. The cruel irony of what you did to me is that in the end, it’s me that ended up with a life sentence. You got away scot-free. I guess you won, in the end.
Or maybe you didn’t win. Maybe I won instead. See, when I initially told my partner I’d got HIV, the very first thing he said was ‘How have you managed that?’ Then he hugged me for a long time and told me he wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe that’s when I won.
Maybe I won when we got married two years ago in San Francisco City Hall, married by a gay celebrant who wasn’t even supposed to be on shift until after we’d got married but our ceremony was later than scheduled so it was him that performed the ceremony and he was so excited to be officiating at a gay wedding.
How things have changed in just a few short years. Time heals most wounds.
I’ve put off writing this letter because what I’m about to describe directly involves you and you didn’t even know it happened. I’ve put off writing this letter because I’m worried that how it comes out on paper won’t do justice to how terrifying it was. Remember that letter I wrote you about how I’d seen you in the Rembrandt but I was with a friend and he made sure I was safe and that you didn’t approach me? I saw you one time after that, too.
I saw you one Saturday afternoon when I was wandering through the Arndale on my own. I’d just come out of Topman and there you were, about twelve feet away, walking through the throng with another man (partner? I don’t know). You didn’t see me, you weren’t even headed in my direction but he said something that made you laugh and when I heard that laughter (even over the sound of hundreds of other shoppers and browsers), it brought that night crashing back into my head. The box was open again. The blindfold. The cuffs. The awful threat of gang rape and your delight at my helplessness. The rawness in my voice box as I screamed through the gag.
I came to outside Primark. Primark is a good few minutes’ walk from where I was in the Arndale and to this day I have no idea how I got there. It’s like I swam up out of a nightmare, it was the most intense, lights-out, all-systems-shut-down, fight-or-flight panic attack I’ve ever experienced. I was shaking, I was sticky with cold sweat and my jeans and shoes were covered in what looked like coffee. I hadn’t even been holding a coffee, I don’t know where that came from. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears like a bass drum and people were walking past and staring at me and I realised I was crying loudly.
I managed to find some tissues in my bag and cleaned myself up as best I could. I took deep, shuddering breaths. Eventually my heart rate and breathing returned to normal and I slowly, carefully walked home to my husband (and promptly cried all over again when I got there – he just held me until I stopped, stroking my hair).
I haven’t seen you since. I know Manchester’s a big city and we don’t move in the same circles any more, but whenever I go into the Arndale (or the Village, or basically anywhere in town) I’m on the lookout for you. I won’t let you surprise me like that again. I wanted to think that if I ever saw you and I was on my own, I’d be able to coolly style it out and just give you a withering look – or perhaps not acknowledge you at all. I know now that that probably won’t happen, ever. But I am surviving. I have a strong network of friends and people around me who know about what you did (even if they don’t know who you are) and who support me in the never-ending process of self-care. I know I am safe, and you can never physically hurt me again, and while I’m not exactly happy with how things turned out (long-term illnesses are definitely not for me), I am content that you and what you did to me cannot spoil my life. I won’t allow it.
I guess this is an ending, of sorts. There won’t be any more letters.
At least, not until the next time we cross paths.