“I’ve always thought that under rape in the dictionary it should tell the truth. It is not just forcible intercourse; rape means to inhabit and destroy everything.”
― Alice Sebold, Lucky
Why did I want to go to grad school? I don’t know. Lots of reasons. It seemed like a natural continuation from undergrad, which was the first place I really fit in and thrived. I was (am) an excellent student, so I did what excellent students do and kept going. I want to be a writer. I want to be a BETTER writer. I maybe want to teach (we shall see about that). But more than that, I have a story. And I think that the real reason that I came to grad school was because I wanted to learn better ways to tell it. I had this idea in my head that I wanted to write a book like “Lucky.” I wanted to give a message and pack a punch, and make sense of a senseless thing that happened to me.
Here’s the thing. There’s no sense to it. I can write on it until kingdom come, and I won’t find sense. Rape is senseless. And I’m not Alice Sebold. I’m me. And everything is different for me. This time of year, I’m not my best self. I’m not happy all the time. And while it might be frustrating, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m entitled to my bad moods along with the good, especially because the good moods are now much more plentiful. Right now? I’m struggling with my work. I’m struggling to write this book that I know needs to be written, because there is an underlying current within it that I don’t like and I don’t fully understand. I can see another survivor and say “It’s not your fault.” I mean it, wholeheartedly. I know it to be true. But it’s harder to say to myself. Two million percent harder.
I did some research on rape statistics for another piece of mine, as well as the origins of rape as a word:
“Every two minutes, someone in the United States is raped. Each year, there are about 207,754 victims. Forty-four percent of rape victims are under the age of eighteen. Eighty percent are under the age of thirty. Fifty-four percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Ninety-seven percent of rapists don’t even spend ONE day in jail. Two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone the victim has met previously. Thirty-eight percent are committed by a friend, acquaintance, or spouse. It’s this on one hand, this horrible indescribable act; it’s a yellow plant on the other. It’s grapes. It’s soap. It’s sex.”
Rape is an ugly ugly word. Sebold was right. It inhabits and destroys everything. It’s an herb, at the same time as it’s this horrible act of complete violence. An act that way too many people have been through. In short, there are a lot of survivors out there, male and female. A lot of people who need to know that it is not their fault. That, while rape may inhabit and destroy everything, we WILL survive it. We WILL regrow. We WILL be okay.
How can I write these chapters, this book, and do justice to the horrible act that is rape? It is so so important to me to make sure that the reader knows it is NOT shameful to be a survivor, but how can I deliver that message when I can’t always personally say it to myself? When I can’t even say the word rape? When I’m asked to read things out loud and I edit them in my head to avoid the word? When I generally don’t even incorporate it into my writing if I can get away with it? I feel like I should be able to very clearly say “This is not my fault” in order to convey to my reader “This is not your fault.” It’s easy to say. Harder sometimes to believe.
In the back of my mind, as I read that last paragraph, I wonder if every survivor feels this way. If the act of being hurt, being broken, being violated, is just so senseless that we can see how it is most definitely NOT everyone else’s fault—but that we can’t always say those words to ourselves. That we blame ourselves. We shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. And we know that. I know that. And yet, we do it.
In grad school writing workshops, we share our work. This semester, we share a LOT. We go through it sentence by sentence. We rip it apart, and we put it back together. It’s not just our work that’s getting ripped apart either, but also us as people. Our feelings. It’s so weird to hear my words come from other people’s mouths, to talk about how the choices I made both in life and in my writing. It’s weird that I’ve gotten to a point where I can do it, where this time even last year this would not have been the case. It is interesting to me to push my challenge line as a survivor, to see how far I can go. How much I can handle. The answer? I can handle a lot. And I am DAMN proud of that fact. I’m not so proud of the thoughts that linger in the back of my mind sometimes. I want to be this strong person, this one who can always concretely have the right answer. Who can say, “The man who did this is an asshat and it’s totally on him.” He is, and it is. And it pains me to say it, but some days I feel it on me too. Shouldn’t, but do.
As a survivor, as a writer, I suddenly find myself expected to speak. My words will reach other survivors. It’s what I wanted. But it scares me. I don’t always know what to say. I don’t know how to put my story down in a way that makes it say what I want it to say.
Maybe it makes me more relatable, more authentic, to admit that I’m not perfect. That I hate what happened to me, and sometimes I am ashamed. Maybe it makes me a hypocrite. I’m not sure. But it’s the god’s honest truth. Some days are not okay, and that’s okay. If that’s you as well, if you feel that way, well…It’s okay for you too. It’s okay to not be okay, just as much as it is okay to be okay. It is okay to feel however you want to feel.
It is not your fault.
It is never your fault.