Lights Out (An Ending, Of Sorts)

Dear Ian,

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.



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Broken Toys / Screaming

Dear Ian,

I’ve only got one session left of my therapy. In a way, I’m quite glad about that. My first session, I remember just crying. I’d never met this woman who was counselling me before and there I was just crying in her office, stuffing tissues against my eyes and my mouth to catch the sobs and basically unable to speak for a large part of the session. I kept my promise to you. I told her absolutely everything. It burst forth in fits and starts from my lips and sometimes I choked on the words.

She made me think about what I would say to you now (if I ever let you get close enough to me to speak to you), now that I know my status and I’ve pretty much accepted that I’ll have this thing for life. The truth is, I don’t know what I’d say. I still have bad days sometimes. Some of the things I say to myself in my head are pretty horrible and self-destructive. I’d like to share those with you, just so you have some insight into what I think about.

‘I wouldn’t blame my partner if he was cheating on me. I’m disgusting.’

‘It would be so easy to stop taking these pills. To just…stop. Go on. Do it. See how far you get.’

‘If I ever end up single again (God forbid), no one’s ever going to find me attractive once they find out I have HIV.’

‘My partner looks at me and it’s all he thinks about.’

These are thoughts I have rarely, on the darkest days. Generally I’m OK. But I do find myself exhibiting self-shaming behaviour. When I have to take my pills in public I do so incredibly discreetly and very quickly, I try and wait until my partner’s not in the room if we’re out together. I don’t want to push my sickness in his face, I don’t want him to think about it any more than he must do already. I’m still ashamed of it, I guess.

So, what would I say to you if I could? These letters kind of say it all. Let me try and be succinct, to sum up.

Fuck you. You have totally destroyed any chance I have at a life that isn’t chock-full of hospital appointments and daily pills. I am scared to tell my family about my condition in case it stops me from seeing my niece or breaks my relationship with any of my family members. I am so fucking sick of self-care it’s unbelievable. It’s a fucked up ambition to want to go to your rapist’s funeral, but I do. Just to see you into the ground. Just to know you’re not coming back. I want to print out flyers with a big picture of your face and a massive ‘DO NOT APPROACH’ on them, and hand them out at every university campus in Manchester during freshers’ week. It scares the shit out of me, knowing the kind of men you prey on, young, skinny impressionable guys, young students with their whole lives ahead of them, knowing how callous you are. I know your type. The younger, the better.

I guess us toys were made to be broken, right?

I’m glad I haven’t seen you since the last time, nearly a year ago. If I started, I don’t think I could stop screaming at you. Screaming your lies back in your face, screaming your veiled, whispered threats while you had me tied to that dirty bed. Screaming. Because that’s what I did when I learned of my condition, and it’s what I did on that horrible night, my mouth breathing in the stench of the musty gag while you chuckled and pinned me down. I screamed until my throat was raw and my voice box gave out.

With every word I write in these letters, with every pill I force down my throat, with every blood test, every urine sample, every injection, every shamed thought that flies unbidden through my head –

I am still screaming.

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Panic Attack // A Dream

Dear Ian,

The last time I wrote to you was very painful for me. I had known about my condition for less than 48 hours and so many questions about it presented themselves. Was it my fault for not asking you if you were positive? What if I’ve given HIV to someone else that I slept with after you raped me? What if I’ve given it to my partner?
It’s been about four months since my diagnosis and I’ve been wanting to write something to you once my mind had settled down a little. Unfortunately, just as I thought I was coming to terms with my condition, a major mental setback happened and now I once again feel vulnerable, scared and depressed.
Yesterday I got up and walked to work, dropping my partner off at the gym on the way and getting a Starbucks. I walked into my work building and flashed my pass to the security guard. I ascended the first flight of stairs to my office (I work on the second floor). I began ascending the second flight.
I froze.
I could not move. I could not force my right leg to lift itself onto the step above me and continue climbing. I had to put my coffee down because I was starting to shake and I remembered earlier this year when a similar thing happened in the street when I saw a picture of you (I wrote you a letter after that, too, remember?) and I prayed the same thing wouldn’t happen. But it did happen. I mean, eventually I managed to climb the rest of the stairs and opened the outer door to go into the corridor outside my office when a friend walked past me and said good morning. I barely responded and she looked at my face and instantly said ‘We’re going outside. Let’s get out of this place’.
We went outside the office and my friend lit up a cigarette. ‘Want to talk about it?’ she asked.
I nodded my head yes but I couldn’t get the words out. I didn’t want to tell her the whole fucked up mess outside in the street on a Sunday morning, what with traffic and kids everywhere, so I just said I’d been down the last few days and I was dreading work because I didn’t think I could handle it anymore.
She said we’d go back upstairs and talk to the duty manager that morning. She knew there was something I wasn’t telling her, but she didn’t push. All she said was, ‘You’re having a panic attack. You need to go home, get your partner and see him, anything. You can’t be here like this.’
So we did. We saw the duty manager and went into a meeting room where I promptly broke down and, clutching my (now cooling) coffee, blurted out the whole, awful shitty mess. (Minus telling them I was raped, of course.) After I’d finished, the manager gave me the number for a counselling service used by people at my job. I’d heard about it before and read up a little bit, but I’d been confident that I didn’t need to use it. Now I am not so sure. Living with HIV is terrifying, and hard. My partner’s so supportive, I can’t thank him enough for the way he’s been with me throughout this whole diagnosis process, the way that he’s held me when I cry and just let me be silent and reflective when I need to be. But while he’s been amazingly pro-active, I’ve not really spoken to him about how I’m feeling about having HIV. I’ve not sat him down and spoken about all my fears and worries and stuff, I haven’t let him talk to me about it, about how he feels. I’ve been kind of selfish, I guess. This is MY disease, so I have to deal with it myself, you know? It’s such a petulant, childish reaction to have. ‘No one understands me, I’m the only person that’s ever been affected by this thing.’ It’s bullshit. With so many fantastic organisations locally and nationally to support people living with HIV, it’s been foolish of me to think that I didn’t need them. And yet, this is exactly the reason that these organisations exist in the first place – because this illness can take months or even years to come to terms with, and whether a sufferer deals with it self-destructively or calmly, with weeping and gnashing of teeth or with quiet reflection, is totally up to them, but there are processes in place to deal with diagnoses and talk to trained professionals about the next steps to take when we are ready to take them.
So, I felt a little better last night. I went to see my partner and cried all over again, and then sat with him and we talked about things for a while. Mostly though, we just lay on the sofa and he stroked my hair and told me everything would be all right.
Then I dreamed about you. Last night, I dreamed that you were sat outside The Rembrandt with a pint of beer and a cigarette, and you beckoned me over to you (and in typical dream logic, I walked over without thinking about it) and started talking. At first I couldn’t hear what you were saying, until I leaned closer and realised you were talking about a gastric bypass operation you had once. In real life, the operation went really well and was a great success, but in the dream you said they needed you back in the hospital because something had gone wrong, that somehow the operation had reacted with your HIV medication and you were likely dying, and there were other people on the street drinking in the sun, and I wanted to shout ‘He raped me! Him, right here, it’s all his fault that I’ve got this thing’, but my mouth wouldn’t open in the dream and you licked your lips and I saw your tongue glisten with saliva and cool beer and I thought of a poem I read called ‘(I Am) Mute (With Love)’. In that poem, a young man describes his relationship with a much older man, and there’s a line in it that goes ‘On the eighth day of each week / I sucked my master’s tongue for knowledge’, and I kept looking at your tongue slipping over your grey lips and I heard a laugh escape your mouth and I woke up.
I rang the counselling service this morning. I have an appointment soon and I will tell my counsellor everything. Everything. I rang George House Trust as well. I have an appointment with them next week to discuss my condition. I don’t feel any better at the moment, but life must go on and I have to go to work in the morning. I can’t take any more time off.
I don’t know why I wrote this letter, really. I just wanted a release. I needed you to know. It’s weird – you’re probably not even thinking about me and what you did to me that night. I wonder if you feel guilty, knowing that my having this condition is your fault. You know, it’s kind of funny, in a fucked up way: I have a friend who you entered into a threesome with a couple of years ago. You slept with him and his boyfriend (both of whom are positive, though not because of you), and he told me he didn’t trust you from the moment you stepped into his house to the moment you left. He said the way you acted around his boyfriend just creeped him out. (His boyfriend, you may recall, is stunningly good-looking, slim, amazing cheekbones and wide, deep brown eyes – exactly your type, the poor man.) I was so glad to hear it wasn’t just me that felt uneasy and nervous around you. This is the effect you have on people.
I’m signing off now. I just wanted to leave you with that assessment of your character.
I hope at least part of my dream comes true. I think you know which part I mean.

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Statistics (The Sickness)

Dear Ian,

I’ve had some bad news this week, news that will inevitably shape my life and all its component parts, news that I was so worried would threaten my relationship and shatter all that I hold dear in my life that I creased at the knees when I heard it and wept in a cold stairwell at my work, with colleagues rushing past me and no one stopping to see if I was OK.

I am not OK. I can barely even see what I’m writing because of the migraine currently eking its way into my system, pressing at my head. I dread to think what my partner is thinking as he wakes up this morning in light of my revelation to him yesterday afternoon. He’s tough, and he puts on this protective exterior for me but he must be worried, even if only for me. Even if not for himself.

I lay awake last night thinking about you. Thinking about you in a dock, in a suit and tie or maybe you’d just turn up in jogging pants and a t-shirt. If you turned up at all. It sounds mental that I’m thinking this way, but I have finally found a way that I can get you done, sent down, put away for what you did to me. You could serve time, but I feel it wouldn’t be enough. You’ve served time before. You could serve time, but I’d still be taking the pills long after your eighteen months inside came to an end. And honestly, can I put myself through this? Can I cope with describing to a room full of strangers exactly what you did to me, to my body, that night in excruciatingly minute detail, so that twelve people who never met me before can decide whether what you’ve done is serious enough to send you to prison? And what if they decide that it’s not? Also, there’s nearly no proof that you would have known about anything at the time that you raped me. Or maybe you were just wilfully ignorant.

I feel like we have this common bond now, but really, the after-effects of one shared experience do not a common bond make. I know I have a responsibility now, and I want to fully embrace that and practise self-care, self-love and self-medication, to keep on top of things. I wonder how you’re coping. Were you sick? Was there diarrhoea? Did your guts twist inside you and try to reject what you were putting in your body? I wonder how you can going on living your life knowing what you know and still living it like you live it. I don’t want to spew conjecture here, Ian, but the fact you have a partner means fuck all. People cheat on their partners daily. I should know, because you were cheating on yours when you raped me. And I know I was neither the first nor the last.

I am Manchester’s one in eight. I am London’s one in six. I am Brighton’s one in five. But I refuse to be a statistic. I refuse to suffer. I am still healthy, and active, and I intend to remain so for many years to come.

I intend to attend your funeral. I intend to throw a handful of dirt down on the wood of your coffin and smile. I intend to leave copies of these letters at your headstone.

I don’t know what else to say to you. I could describe the drugs I’m taking, the way my stomach forcibly ejected its contents through my mouth last night. I could describe how I literally shit in my jeans at work in front of colleagues because I could not control my bowels. The thing is, if you’re looking after yourself (and you always do), you already know these things because they’ve happened to you as well.

So, what happens now? Both my partner and my housemate have suggested prosecution against you. I don’t know if I can go ahead with that yet, I think I might need a little more time. I am not, however, ruling it out. I don’t know how this will further affect my life. Can I get tattoos if I want to? Can I donate organs when I die? I’m still reading Tales of the City (I refuse to let you spoil that book for me, even after the photograph incident), and I was thinking about re-reading the whole series again, but I’ve just got to the bit where Michael meets his partner for the first time, at a roller rink, and I know what’s going to happen and I don’t want to read the fourth novel. Maybe I’ll get over that. Maybe I’ll get over a lot of trivialities in the months and years to come. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

I know that life is fleeting. According to Carl Sagan, this planet is merely ‘a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam’. I know all this, but I have the right to live it as fully and freely as I can. Thanks to the right combination of pills this is still, largely, possible, but I don’t know what the future holds. Like it or not, you have taken something from me that is impossible to return. I will never forgive you for that.

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The Bar / Urges

Dear Ian,

I had to really think about writing this letter. I needed to weigh up the pros and cons of it in my mind and decide what was the best decision for me. If there’s one thing I know more about than I would like after that night, it’s the notion and practice of self-care.

So, this last weekend was the Great British Bear Bash in Manchester. I’m sure you know all about it: thousands of bear guys descend on the city for four days to drink, smoke, fuck, regret and wake up hungover to the cold reality of work on Tuesday. I wasn’t really bothered about it this year; I met up with some friends for lunch and a couple of beers on Saturday afternoon and we chatted and appreciated the blokes wandering up and down the village, then on Sunday night I went out with my friend from that time I had a meltdown after seeing you in a bar, remember him?

I don’t know if I’m proud of myself or not: we went down to the bar where I saw you just before Christmas and got a drink, standing in the exact same spot we were in last time, and we wandered around outside the bar as well. I’m proud of myself because I was able to revisit a place I’d seen you post-rape without having any kind of panic attack. I’m not proud of myself because (is this bad?) I desperately, desperately wanted to see you.

It sounds weird, right? I wanted to see the man who callously raped me like I was nothing. I don’t know if it was some kind of weird desire to psychologically damage myself even further by seeing you out, but I wanted to. Perhaps I just wanted to look you in the eye, to have you try to acknowledge my presence so I could totally ignore you in the street. Or did I want you to see me, having a good time, talking to friends and completely, to an outside perspective, anyway, beyond you?

I’m glad I didn’t see you out at the weekend, because I’m fairly sure that my finely-honed, four-year strong mask would have crumbled in an instant, like it did before Christmas when I saw you in that place. Revisiting the bar, and therefore that previous night there, and by extension my ordeal all those years ago, did offer me some catharsis, but I still feel like it was a stupid thing to do, to tempt fate by going into that bar and ordering that same drink, almost willing you to reveal yourself.

I wonder if other survivors have felt that same urge, to see their rapists after the fact and gain something from the experience. I don’t know. Maybe I’m weird. I mean, let’s face it, you terrify me. You had me in tears, shaking and struggling to breathe only last week, just by clicking a button on a social networking site. You have turned up in two dreams I’ve had in the last four days and both times I startled myself awake and sat bolt upright and made sure you weren’t in the room with me. What possible positive impact could my seeing you have on my life?

Maybe if I saw you in the street one last time, I could stop writing these letters. Maybe I could finally square up to you and say everything I want to say to you, stabbing you deeply and indelibly with the sharp daggers of my words. Every time I write one of these things I hope it’ll be the last one, after all. I hope I won’t see anything else that will bring that night crashing back into the forefront of my brain. Most of all, though, I hope that one day soon, I can just go through one day without thinking your name, without seeing your face in the blackness of my subconscious, without hearing those words you whispered so cruelly in my ear that night or feeling your hot breath on the back of my neck.

Just one day. Is that too much to ask?

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Privacy (The Photograph)

Dear Ian,

I don’t even know where to begin. I was feeling better. I was getting on with my life. I was finally beginning to put the horror of my ordeal behind me. How quickly years of work can be undone.

This year I’m participating in World Book Night and reading one of the most formative, vital and socially relevant books ever written, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. I’m very excited about this, it’s a favourite novel of mine and I posted a picture of the book to a group on a social networking site explaining what the book means to me and how I first discovered it.

I forgot, in a moment of stupidity, that the group I posted the picture to is entirely public. You’re not on my friends list (I think you can understand why), but my housemate commented on the photo, a friend of hers also commented on it and you, it would seem, are friends with her friend. This means that if he comments on something it may, of course, show up in your news feed. This means that you can also comment on, like or share things on which he has commented.

I have to give you some points for self-restraint here. You could have commented on the picture, sent me a private message and even tried to add me to your friends on the site. You did none of these things. Instead, you discreetly liked the picture, ensuring that you receive any and all updates about comments or other likes associated with it, ensuring that you are, however discreetly, kept informed.

I get it, OK? Nothing is private on the Internet. I was silly to post pictures to a publicly accessible forum when you exist. I should have changed my name on the site, made tracing me all but impossible. The reason I didn’t do this is because I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to worry about things I post on a social network on which you are not associated with me in any way, shape or form. I shouldn’t have to look over my virtual shoulder every time I post a picture or a comment to a forum on which I deliberately have not added you as a contact precisely because of what you did to me and how this affects my life. The reason I hadn’t blocked you before now is because I honestly didn’t think I would have to. I honestly thought you would have the decency and common sense not to, however subtly, remind me of your existence when I’m just getting over what you did to me.

I was wrong, clearly.

What exactly were you trying to achieve? The only thing I can think is that you either really believed I might have added you as a contact on the site (which I find implausible, even for you), or that you wanted to vindictively remind me that it doesn’t matter where I go or what I do, you are still out there and still able to find me.

I guess I want to congratulate you, in a way. I mean, you have kind of won. You do still hold some form of control over my life even all these years later. There are certain bars I don’t go to, certain places I avoid, even certain phrases I can’t hear without feeling sick. This, though, this was beyond cruel.

Looking through your profile and seeing how you’re just living your life like nothing’s happened was the worst part. That you could just casually stick your oar in on something that has nothing to do with you just to get a rise out of me is the lowest form of human behaviour I have ever witnessed first hand. But guess what? It worked. You’ve actually done me a favour by coming out of the woodwork like this. You are now officially blocked from my online life, totally unable to access my profile or comment on my activities. As much as it feels weird to admit this under these circumstances, I actually feel lighter, more free. The tenuous connection between us has been cleanly severed.

I actually asked my housemate to search for your name on the site. It’s quite telling to report that she had difficulty finding you because you appear to have made yourself virtually invisible, unable to be searched or found by people you haven’t already befriended on the site. My guess is that you have done so precisely so you can make it more difficult for your victims to block or report you for the crimes you commit, so you can continue to play your little mind games.

Was this your final act of cruelty, I wonder, or will there be more to come? It certainly provoked the biggest reaction in me yet – I was standing in the middle of the street outside a busy supermarket when I saw your picture come up, and I was trying to text my housemate to tell her you’d found me and I was scared and your picture had brought back some difficult memories. A work colleague saw me by the supermarket and came up to talk to me. I registered her coming towards me on the street and tried to be nonchalant. I tried to hide my phone. I tried to stuff my hands in my pockets and smile but it was too late and the tears streamed down my face and I sobbed, loudly and horribly, keening like a wounded animal and my hands shook and shook and I couldn’t breathe and my colleague asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t reply and she took my phone off me and read the message I was trying to send.

I was shaking and in floods of tears outside a busy supermarket in a city centre at lunchtime on a weekday, unable to speak, breathe or send a fucking text message, and it was all your fault. People were watching. Staring, in fact. I have never in my life felt more humiliated than I did at that moment.

I cannot adequately express my absolute, profound and total abject hatred of you. You, who told me all the words I wanted to hear so you could get me alone in a room and take advantage of me in the most invasive way possible and then brush it off the next morning like it was nothing, like I was nothing. You, who still after just over four years have the power to reduce me to a shaking wreck in public places just from seeing a picture of your face on an Internet site.

There are days when I feel like you’re the only person in the world, and those are dark, dreadful days. You are everything on those days, on days like today, but I have to keep reminding myself that you are nothing every day.

You are nothing. You are no one. You are beneath me. I am a survivor, I will continue to own my experience, not just for myself but for the myriad voiceless victims out there who are too shamed by their ordeals to speak out, to shout back. I hope that each of these letters serves as a slap in your face. You are still out there, but be warned. I am still out here too, and I will not be silenced.

I will not be silenced.

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Distractions (The Box)

Dear Ian,

I think I’m finally getting better. Isn’t that great? I mean, it took me four years to even admit that you raped me, but in just a few short months after admitting it, I’m beginning to conquer my experience. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

  Or is it? Look at it this way: it’s taken me four and a half years to get over something that lasted about four and a half minutes. It’s taken carrying a massive burden around on my back for years before even telling a soul about it, it’s taken waking up sweating and scared, being ashamed of normal bodily processes, all but rocking myself to sleep at night and bursting into uncontrollable tears in public. It’s taken white noise in my head and almost complete bodily paralysis, and feeling dizzy and nauseous with fear from being in the same room as you, not to mention how much it has affected every sexual experience I had after that night, right up to and including my current relationship. 

  I have stiffened with fear when being cuddled, I have seen your face in dreams, I have broken down in my best friend’s arms and cried while writing these letters to you. 

  I have been so shamed by my experience that I still take a defensive step back whenever anyone asks me about it, because people always want to know your business. People always want to make it theirs. People believe they have a right to your pain and suffering, they like to dress it up as entertainment, as ‘you’ll never guess what’ gossip stories for their safe little suburban dinner parties, never guessing that what, to them, is a throwaway tidbit, is something that shaped, informed and ultimately destroyed everything you believed in. 

  Of course, I say ‘you’ and ‘your’ here. I’m actually talking about myself. 

  I guess I should look on the bright side, though. At least I haven’t had to endure countless therapy and PTSD sessions. Instead I just stuffed what happened to me in a little box in my head and buried it under a whole heap of distractions, parties and jobs and sex and relationships, but eventually, when it’s quiet, the box is always revealed, the lid slightly open and the ghost of my rape ordeal slips out to haunt my head – and you have no idea how much effort it can take to put it back in, to seal the lid and pile on even more distractions.

  I don’t know if that’s a decent analogy or not. I certainly don’t know if it’s a healthy way to deal with what happened to me. 

  As a society, we’re told not to make too much of things, we’re encouraged to deal with situations on our own. I think the proper phrase is something about washing your dirty laundry in public. As survivors, though, we are told so many different things, brainwashed and lulled into so many false beliefs that it’s a wonder any rape gets reported. We’re told it didn’t happen, or that we wanted it, or that we shouldn’t have been wearing/drinking whatever we were, or dancing in a particular way. We’re compared to wallets left visibly unattended on car seats and bikes left unchained in public places. We’re told to make allowances for the disgusting, dehumanising behaviour of our cat-callers and abusers because it means they like us. It’s a compliment. We should be flattered. We should be grateful for the attention.

  I’d like to know exactly what is flattering about being called a useless faggot and threatened with gang rape while blindfolded, gagged and painfully tied to a cast iron bed frame. Should I have thanked you for wanting to share me around your friends while I couldn’t do anything about it? How about the fact that I made you so horny by being tied up, that you couldn’t contain yourself for ten seconds to put on a condom to fuck me? That, had I not twisted myself around, writhing and screaming myself hoarse until you loosened the cuffs, you would have come inside me without a second’s thought, regardless of what I wanted? Was that a compliment? 

  Four years and counting, Ian. And you got over it with a hot shower and a cup of coffee. I guess that shows how little I really meant to you. I suppose I should be grateful for the attention, though. I mean, it’s just because you liked me, right?

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The Blame Game

Dear Ian,

Sorry I haven’t written for a few days (though quite why I’m apologising or explaining myself to you is beyond me), I’ve been busy. Contrary to the tone of my last few letters, my life does not revolve around that night. I’ve not been sleeping well of late either. Not that these things really have any connection with you, even though I do find myself thinking of you and what happened that night a lot lately. 

Sometimes, if I’m sleeping alone, I will still hug my pillow hard against me and softly reassure myself that I am safe in my house at night. It’s probably not a coincidence that I only remember doing this after that night with you. Sometimes, even when falling asleep in my boyfriend’s arms, I will still hug him so hard that he occasionally asks me to loosen my grip slightly. This, also, I suspect, is happening as a result of my lasting memories of my experience. It’s that need to feel safe. I never craved protection before that night like I do now. Somehow that makes me feel weak. 

I often wonder what scares you. That night I watched you sleep, feet away while I remained wide awake; I heard you speak in your sleep about someone trying to fuck you without protection. I wonder, if our dreams are a manifestation of our greatest fears, and if rape (or being fucked without protection) is yours, how you can possibly have visited that horror on me. 

I hate that I am still allowing my experience to affect me. The most sickening part of that is that I am confident that that night did not affect you in the slightest (apart from me having ‘scared’ you with my protests); you probably went ahead the next week and lured some innocent young man back to your lair to use him. And the next week. And the week after that. That’s the problem with rapists – it’s all a game to you. It doesn’t matter. All I can hope, having never reported my rape, is that what happened that night, how I screamed and thrashed and cried, is imprinted on your memory so that you might think about your actions before you commit them, so that you might hear a young man’s pleas for mercy, or him screaming ‘no’ again and again, and actually stop. I hope I can do that, I hope I can make you think and possibly regret, and adjust your actions accordingly. I hope that, for the sake of all the other men you raped before and probably raped again. 

I can’t say I will never forgive you for your actions that night, but it will be hard. I am only just accepting what happened to me, and it is creeping unbidden into unrelated aspects of my life. I burst into tears after having been reminded of that night in a pub a couple of weeks ago in front of my housemate and my partner, in what is probably the most uncomfortable, embarrassing moment of my adult life. I thought I saw you getting off the tram at my stop earlier today, and hastened towards my house, the keys already in my hand and glancing behind me to see if it was you (it wasn’t). I should not be having to do this. I should not feel unsafe walking down a main road, surrounded by people. This is how you fucked me up.

But again, I sometimes blame myself. Quite some time before you raped me, I remember having a conversation with you about one time when you were arrested for sexual assault. I recall you saying you were released later that same day without charge because the young man who initially reported the assault retracted his statement. You said something like ‘I got a bit rough with him, but he’d asked for it first, he wanted it’. I often think about that anonymous young man, and the parallels his experience has with my own. The asking, the wanting, the consensual beginnings of everything. I think that’s the difficulty people have with rape – if it begins consensually, it’s hard for people to define why it’s later labelled as rape. I’ll tell you why. Because I said no. Because he said no. At that point, it doesn’t matter what comes next. The second that word ‘no’ is uttered, the sex stops. I don’t care if you’re close. I don’t care if you label me a tease. No. Means. No. 

If I had asked you to stop seeing me the second you told me that story, my rape would probably never have happened. In that respect, I still feel that it is my fault. Did I goad you? Did I tease? And if it hadn’t been me that night, would you have raped someone else in the same way? Is it better that it was me, in that case? Did I, albeit unwittingly, save someone else that torment? I guess I’ll never know. But I want you to know that I think of these things, now and again. More often, though, I think of those other, countless, young men you no doubt preyed on after me. I remember you gloating to me once that you’d had three boys (you always called them ‘boys’, never ‘young men’ or anything – funny, the terminology we use and how it mirrors our thought patterns) all texting you on the same day, begging you to use them. I remember the gleeful chuckle you let out as you tried to decide who you’d pick. 

I remember, after that night you raped me, feeling relief for the two you didn’t pick. I hoped they’d never show up on your radar again. But I know that, if not them, then two other ‘boys’ did. I wonder what you did to them. I’m not sure I want to know. 

So, I never reported what you did to me, and sometimes I feel guilty about that, like I should have had the guts to at least try and report you, like that poor man did who retracted his statement. My biggest shame is just that, that I never reported it. That I let you back loose onto the streets to offend again. And I am sorry to any other young men who went through what I went through at your hands, who maybe could have been saved that horror if I’d just opened my mouth, if I’d just spoken some simple words. 

The thing is, truth is rarely simple to speak. 


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The Next Morning

Dear Ian,

That next morning was incredibly difficult for me. I had to go to work for a long shift and I remember when you woke up (I had barely slept a wink) you joking that I should call in sick but that when my boss answered I should be screaming and begging you not to rape me again so that that’s all she would hear down the phone. Then you’d put the phone to your ear and explain I wouldn’t be in work because I’d be too busy getting fucked, and then you’d hang up. These were your actual words.

I tried to laugh along convincingly, but a creeping, cold emptiness flooded my system and my fake smile became a real grimace. How could you joke about what happened like that? I feel like, as many men do, you conflate the word ‘rape’ and the word ‘sex’, and to you they mean the same thing. That’s terrifying to me, because you’ll never take the phenomenon of rape seriously. To you, it’ll just be particularly rough sex.

Anyway, that’s not even what disturbed me the most about that morning. You made us coffee and you drove me into town, and on the way you put on a Doors album and sang along (every time I hear a Doors track now it reminds me of you, and that morning) and as we were coming into town, you turned to face me, sitting in the passenger seat silently, and you said something that was so nonsensical I bit back bitter laughter.

You said, ‘You really scared me last night’.

Allow me to apologise. I’m sorry you got freaked out by my crying, by my writhing on the bed completely helpless and convinced you were going to invite your friends over to take turns raping me. I’m sorry if my screaming until my voice box gave out offended your sensibilities. I’m sorry if you got scared when I curled into the foetal position and trembled in tears on the bedspread as far away from you as possible.

I’m sorry, okay?

But you know what, fuck you. If you’d been that scared, if my reactions had seriously, actually scared you, you would have stopped long before you did. You would have stopped after the first time I said no.

If you were a decent human being, there wouldn’t have even been the need for me to say no in the first place. That’s the real issue here, that’s the reason I’m writing this. It’s not just about exorcising my demons or coping with trauma or some misplaced sense of self-pity and wanting people to feel sorry for me. I mean, it is about those things as well (well, perhaps not the last one) but mostly it’s about writing this down so I can remember it at a remove, so I can look at it with a kind of clarity and own it and never allow it to happen to me again. It’s about letting you know that normal people don’t do things like what you did to me, that there’s something broken in you that I seriously think could be fixed if you’d just let someone talk to you about it, but it’s like you can’t see it or something, you don’t even know that there’s anything wrong with how you treat people, how you treated me.

I pity you, in a way. You think that making use of people for your sexual gratification is an acceptable way of living a life. You actually think that’s all right. You’ll never experience an equal, wholesome relationship because you need that power trip to get you off, you need to dominate, humiliate and then say things like ‘You really scared me last night’ to try and shift the blame for your actions. You can’t just rape someone and then say you were scared, like that excuses what you did. There is no excuse. You’re a rapist.

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The Streets of This Town

Dear Ian,

I still wake up sometimes, my mind twisted, my head fucked up by thoughts of you. Earlier this year I told my boyfriend what you did to me. I swear, you are only breathing right now because I couldn’t remember your address. And I hate that he knows that you exist, that you did that to me. I look at him sometimes and wonder if he thinks less of me now because of that night. I hate that he will have inevitably, unwillingly pictured the scene, me whom he so loves being used, painfully restrained and screaming. I hate that he has an image, however stylised, of that happening to me in his head. And I know how he feels, because if anyone ever hurt him I would fucking kill them. I know that feeling of helplessness, of impotence, well. But I can’t thank you for the lesson. You don’t deserve thanks.

I’m sick of reliving this. You need to know some things. I can’t begin to tell you how much what you did affects me, in my relationship, in my work life and friendships. That night is seared into my memory for the rest of my life and I can never erase it.

I am still scared of you. In a way, I always was, even before that night. Maybe I should have known it would end up like this, maybe I should have seen it coming.

Maybe I should stop blaming myself for your crime.

I am slowly owning what happened to me, and writing to you helps me put that night in order, extract some sense from the chaos in my head. I don’t know if writing it down will help me in the long run, in the days and weeks, months and years to come now I’ve admitted what you did, but for now it’s a comfort to know I can pour out my experience in print, so that the horror boils down until it’s just words on a page. Words aren’t scary. It’s what they mean that frightens me. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken me so long to admit this, because if I can see the words in print, read out loud what you did to me, unflinching and raw, if I can have those words echo from my voice in an empty room then they’ll linger in the air and it’ll be like experiencing that night all over again.

I want to stop fearing running into you on every street corner. I don’t want my heart leaping into my mouth with frightened anticipation when I walk past the places I know you frequent, so let me be clear: this is my city, and you are not welcome. I swear, if I ever see you talking to another young man, if I ever catch you giving a boy that predatory stare, that sly grin as you lick your lips, I will make it my business to loudly list your sins in the faces of strangers, to scream these words you’re reading in my loudest voice in the streets of this town, to point my fingers at your face and be present at the scene of your arrest.

I hope you die. I don’t give a fuck how that sounds.

I hope you die.

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