The post where LB coughs up a big hairball

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Twenty-eight years ago today something very bad happened to me.  Some years the anniversary goes by completely unnoticed.  Other years, attention must be paid.  This seems to be one of those years.

I’ve told the story to others before.  It’s not a big secret.  But, I tell the story almost off-handedly, as if it weren’t important.  I tell myself I do that to make the other person feel more comfortable.  But, maybe I do it to make myself more comfortable.  Besides, a lot of bad things happened to me in my early 20’s, this was merely, as one psychiatrist understated, “one part of a cluster of trauma.”

So, here goes nothing.  Be warned, I’m about to cough up a big hairball.  If you dislike the sound of emotional gakking or the resulting psychological hair turds, you may want to turn to any of the fine blogs I have on my blogroll.

I was 21 at the time and back at UC Berkeley after taking a couple of quarters off to lay low while I suffered through one of my first major depressive episodes.  But, that was behind me.   I was back and taking a full class load.

That night I was at my boyfriend Garry’s apartment near the Oakland/Berkeley border.  I needed to type a paper for my Rhetoric class, and Garry’s roommate John had a nice electric typewriter with the self-correcting feature.  John was going to be out at a concert that night, so  he said I could use his typewriter.   Garry’s other roommate, Bob, was hanging out with us having a beer  even though he should have been reading Moby Dick for his English class.

It was getting late.  Bob took his book and went to bed.  Garry was reading the paper and I was typing away, feeling pretty pleased about the astuteness of some of my observations.  Suddenly, the front door flies open and in runs a guy I don’t know.  He’s a white guy about our age, so we figured he was a roommate’s friend. He stands there for a moment, gives a stoned laugh and says “I forgot what I was supposed to do.”  Before Garry and I could respond to him, his roommate John comes running in and tries to slam the front door behind him.  It was too late.

Two men force the door open and come in carrying guns.  They point the guns at the four of us and tell us to lay face first on the floor.  They tell us if we look at them they will shoot us.  John and his stoned friend are still in the living room, while Garry and I lay close to each other in the dining room.  I hear the intruders start rummaging through the house (oh geez, this is harder than I thought. It’s not cold, yet my teeth are chattering).  One of them went into the bedroom and found John’s neckties.

They tied all of our hands behind our backs. One of them found a black t-shirt and tossed it to the other, “put this over the bitch’s head.”   Someone was rummaging through the kitchen.  I heard the knife drawer open, as well as the sound of a beer being opened and chugged. They laughed when they found the household pot stash.

One of the intruders came over to me and put the black t-shirt over my head before turning me over.  I felt the gun against my temple as he told me I was going to enjoy what was about to happen.  I’ll spare you the rest of the details.  It was pointless to struggle.  My only act of defiance was to not respond when he told me to say I liked it.

While I was being raped (there, I said it), the other intruder was gathering anything of value in the house, including stereo equipment, our wallets, and the dope.  By the time the one intruder had finished humiliating me, the other was ready to get out there.  On their way out, they once again threatened to kill us if we looked or tried to get up.

When it was clear they were out of the house, Garry managed to get free from his ties. He quickly got up and locked the front door.  We heard footsteps running back up the walkway.  They were coming back.  Garry then ran through the house making sure all the doors and windows were locked.  The intruders were likewise running around the outside of the house looking for a way back in.  I heard Garry pick up the phone to dial 911.  Shit. It was dead. They had cut the wire.  Finally we heard the footsteps recede and the sound of a big American motor starting.

Garry untied me first so I could go pull myself together before he helped the others.  Garry looked in Bob’s bedroom expecting to find it empty.  Bob’s bedroom had a door to the backyard, and I think we all assumed that Bob had escaped and that help was on its way.  Instead, he found Bob in bed with his head covered in blood.  Fortunately, he was conscious, but like myself, in serious shock.

While I took care of Bob, Garry climbed out the bathroom window to go to the neighbors to call the police.  While we hadn’t heard anything for a number of minutes, we had no idea what was waiting for us outside.  John and his friend were still tied up.  My hands were shaking so I was unable to untie the ties.  I had to use a knife (which was conveniently located on the floor near where I had been laying).  John protested me cutting the ties.  “My ties, my ties, my Brooks Brothers ties” he repeated over and over.  Meanwhile his stoned friend was gloating that he still had all his cash and few tabs of acid since he carried all his stuff in his front pocket, and the intruders didn’t turn them over to look in their front pockets.

I remember Bob and I sitting on the couch drinking shots out of a bottle of vodka.  Fortunately, his head wound was not as bad as it looked.  One of the intruders had pistol whipped him and Bob feigned being knocked out or dead to avoid any further damage.

The police and paramedics arrived shortly.  They checked out Bob first and suggested he go to the ER. They didn’t really look at me, but when told I had been raped, they said I needed to go so they could collect evidence.

They put Bob and I in adjoining exam rooms with just a curtain between us.  Since Bob had the head injury, they checked him out first.  Besides, the police were trying to locate a female officer to come take my statement since I took them up on their offer of a female officer.  They also seemed to be scrambling to find a rape kit.  Fortunately, Garry happened to work in that very hospital in the supply room and told them where they could get one.   My general impression was that they didn’t handle too many rapes, and seemed a bit at a loss of what to do with me.  So I waited.  At least I felt safe.

They ended up not being able to locate a female officer to take my statement, so after my exam, I was questioned by an older male officer named Officer Friendly.  No kidding.  My statement was  graphic, but not much help to the police though.  I could not give a description of my attacker – at least nothing that would help them.  From the brief flash at the door, I knew the intruders were African-American, and one was wearing rust colored Angel Flight polyester pants and they had big silver guns.  Other than that, I could tell them my attacker smelled of alcohol and something else acrid.  If they ever had a voice line-up, I could identify him with no problem. But visually, probably not.

We were at the hospital until early in the morning.  All my clothing was taken from me, and I was given a pair of scrubs, a pamphlet about victim resources, and a lab slip telling me when I should come in for my STD testing.  I took the doctor up on the offer to write me a note to excuse me from school or work for a week. And then that was that.

My life felt changed, yet no one had notified the rest of the world.  Most of my friends were Garry’s friends, guy friends.  They had no idea how to help me, so they just ignored what happened to me.  In addition to Bob’s head wound (which, fortunately, turned out to not be serious), he also got a very nice stereo system stolen.  Bob also started having panic attacks, so Bob turned out to be the clear victim who got the lion’s share of all the attention and sympathy.  Eventually he dropped out of school and went back to live with his folks.  It was a shame because he was the only one who sort of understood what happened to me since he had to listen to my whole statement while in the next exam room at the hospital.   Me, I just went back to my life, determined to not live my life in fear.

Eventually, a few months later, I started having panic symptoms myself and requested the help of Victim’s Assistance.  The case worker was disgusted with how my case had been handled.  It had been assigned to someone who retired a week after it happened.  There had been evidence found on site that linked someone to our crime scene, but it was never followed up.  At that point I didn’t really care about justice, I just wanted  the state to pay for some therapy for me, which it did.

AFTERMATH:  So much other crap happened to me during my childhood and the rest of my early 20’s, it’s hard where to place the causes for me being such a hot mess throughout my 20’s.  In some ways as a rape victim I was lucky.  No matter how much self loathing I could muster, there was no way I could blame myself for what had happened to me.  It wasn’t my house that I left open.  It wasn’t a bad choice in dates. It wasn’t something I could say I invited in the least little bit.  I couldn’t have fought even if I wanted to.  I feel proud I did not give in and tell him I liked it.  That makes me feel strong.

I was determined to not to live my life in fear, and especially not to become afraid of black people, men in particular.  After the attack, I remained living alone in my racially mixed neighborhood.  I remember the kindness of a black couple who lived across the hall from me who knew what happened to me.  When I was heading out in the evening, when they heard my door close, the husband would come out and ask me if I wanted him to wait with me at the bus stop.  And while I was determined not to change my habits, sometimes I did take him up on his offer.

Garry and I broke up within months of the attack, and I hooked up with Bob after he moved back to Berkeley. We were together for ten years.

For years there were nightmares where someone would break in through the door or window. With the help of an excellent therapist, eventually those dreams became less and less threatening, until the final one was downright comical – a bunch of nuns knocking at my door and who scatter when I open the door and say “shoo!”.

And while therapy went a long way towards healing, it was my Buddhist meditation and studies that really put it to rest.  The anger and confusion has been transformed.  While I have purified some heavy negative karma through this event, they have created the same for themselves.  And I say that not with vengeance, but with compassion.

So, it’s long over, and for the most part forgotten about.  But, every few years, on Veteran’s Days, which is also happens to be Dostoevsky’s birthday, something gets stirred up.  And attention must be paid.  Now, “shoo!”

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38 responses »

  1. By writing what has been stirred up on this anniversary, you’ve given strength to others. It’s clear you’re not asking for comfort; in fact, you’re giving where others might need it. It is a a painful story to read but such an empowering one. I am in awe of the capacity of meditation and practice to heal, and of you, for transforming the pain into compassion.

  2. makes me wonder what other untapped powers ya mite got ~ purty in tents. purification sux but then what other options are there?

  3. yeah and btw ~ it wasn’t at all emotional gakking in fact I think it defines true compassion purty whale = very clean. so if this is wonna them chunky clusters in yer emotional stew then I say break out the forks !

  4. I’m so sorry this happened to you. A rape is never easy and a rape victim is never “lucky” in any way. Rape is one of those things that get shoved under the rug because it makes everyone feel helpless and awkward. The only people that can understand what you went through are those that have gone through it themselves. It’s not ever too late to go to rape crisis counseling. Never. Even for those who feel they got through it okay, they didn’t. As you know, there are often flashbacks and nightmares and little unexpected triggers that send you right back to the scene. Sometimes it really helps when we talk about it, regardless how well we think we got through it all.

    I’m glad you spit that hairball up. It was a big one and don’t be surprised if there are little ones left, like residue of the big one. Shoot me an email if you need/want to.

    You are very strong but you are also very human. Don’t let the strong part squelch the human one!

  5. When I first “met” you, it was kilts you offered and I loved them…but this, well this writing is wonderful LB (despite the subject matter) and I am so glad to be a reader. Power to you xx

  6. I am in awe of your strength and courage. To have something like this happen to you and survive, but also to be able to share it…..you have remarkable power and reserve inside of you. Thanks for your bravery and letting us connect in a different way with you.

  7. everything the other commenters have said, about your resilience and strength, I echo.

    And I’m also angry, though. Reading this. Angry about the randomness. The injustice. This incident, did it stay with the people who did this, or did they go on to the next thing?

    It’s hard for me to conceive of how easily damage is done. It was maybe a night’s work for the attackers, but for you it was years and years of fear, anxiety, pain.

    Hate that.

    Hate it.

  8. Thank you.
    Though I do not know your face, your words have moved me to sit at my computer and hold your spirit in my arms.
    It is the work of the Wounded to become Healers.
    Know that you have just accomplished this.

  9. A strong piece honoring your strength. As Amuirin said, I hate that this stuff happens, but you showed yourself as a resilient spirit. It is a brave statement to the many others faced with similar horrors in their past.

  10. I don’t think there’s anything I can add to what everyone else has said. I, too, admire your strength and resilience. Like Amuirin, I felt anger at the randomness and injustice. The fact that you transformed your anger and confusion is an amazing work of courage and compassion.

  11. Hi LB

    To use your words: That was some story; I don’t have anything that parallels that.

    Of course, Shantideva was right. Suffering has good qualities. I honestly believe you and I are in many ways better off because of these experiences. And we’re very lucky to have come across Buddhism. The thing is, it’s clear that dharma doesn’t work for everyone. Most people simply don’t derive enough benefit to stick around long enough for it to transform their minds and their lives. So you and I are really landed with our bums in the butter.

    Since the festival, I have a renewed motivation. I am going to be really applying myself to my practice now. I’m going to be taking the next step up. I think I was fortunate to come across dharma at the perfect time. There are no circumstances stopping me, and I have a lifetime of experiences to show me that there aren’t really any better options out there for me.

  12. I can only say that you must be a strong person, and of that I think we are all envious. We don’t know how we will react when we find ourselves in a crisis, until we are in that crisis.

    I hope I can emulate your strength if ever I find myself in a situation that calls for it.

  13. Wow. Thank you all for your kind words and support. I didn’t really expect this. I was expecting an awkward silence, you know the kind you hear after someone gives you just a bit too much information.

    Like I mentioned before, this has not been a dark festering secret wound. It’s just something I don’t mention much because there isn’t much call for recounting a horrific rape during everyday polite conversation.

    What happened is a part of my history, and has helped make me who I am, but it does not define me. The only residual effects are a slight case of hypervigilance, and an exaggerated startle reaction.

    If telling my story helps anyone in anyway, I am happy. Human beings are incredibly resiliant creatures. As the cliche goes, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. I don’t think I did anything all that unusual. I coped as best as I could, and wasn’t afraid to ask for help. I’m also a big believer in not holding on to secrets. I did nothing wrong and I have nothing to be ashamed about. Others have suffered as I have. Only by naming that which hurts us, or has harmed us, can we connect with others with the same pain. Whether that pain comes from physical abuse, or mental illness, just say the words: Rape. Depression. Molestation. It may sting at first, but you never know who else is out there suffering just as you have. You never know who you can help, or who can help you.

    Thank you again. I really have some wonderful friends and readers.

  14. I add to the thank yous.

    I agree that silence and secrets are what wind up hurting the most. By sharing your story honestly, you’re letting others know that it can be done, besides paying attention to what’s needed for yourself.

    I think that’s why some of us blog.

    again, thanks.

  15. I don’t think I did anything all that unusual. I coped as best as I could, and wasn’t afraid to ask for help. I’m also a big believer in not holding on to secrets.

    Not being afraid to ask for help, and not internalizing violence, are both more unusual than you may realize.

    You never know who may find this, and start to understand that healing is possible, even from the most horrifically unjust and cruel suffering. Many people do not know that advocating for their own healing is an option. Thank you for providing an example of how to do that.

  16. It was a very brave post to write. But you gave the game away some time ago, I think, in a roundabout way. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when I read that this had happened to you. However, I think the fact that you have not held onto a victim mindset is likely to be very inspiring to others – if you ever did have such a mindset, you clearly no longer do. And I’m sure that the dharma helped to clarify things in your mind. That, of course, is the genius of dharma.

  17. eye m still trying to figger out how to work the topic of ‘rape’ into polite conversation ~ ~ ~ ~ so speaking of poly tics did I ever tell u about my rape? ~ ~ ~ these over ripe avocados remind me of the time I was raped ~ ~ the way those guys played that sonata was like being raped, and I should know ~ would you rather have dinner with the Chenney’s or get raped?

    yeah yer rite – thairs no polite way to do it.

  18. LB, add my support to all of the others.

    I don’t mention this to imply it is in anyway comparable. It isn’t — but I was assaulted and knifed once. A very large man ran up behind me (I assumed a jogger) and hit me hard enough to send me flying into a parked car; as I bounced back he knifed my thigh, then mugged me. I’d hit the car hard enough to scrape paint onto my glasses, and blacked out briefly.

    My only ambulance ride ever; taped to a board so I couldn’t move my head. Again, nothing like what you went through, yet for months afterward I reacted subconsciously to situations.

    Sitting on a bus, a large man would come down the aisle and I’d think ‘he could slam me in the face with his forearm now, and there’s nothing I can do.’

    Thoughts like that recurred for a long time. Repeatedly, day after day, slowly receding over the years.

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to deal with what happened to you; you’ve done very well, and you should be proud.

  19. “What happened is a part of my history, and has helped make me who I am, but it does not define me.”

    Word.

    The fact that you are an exceptional person, whether you feel like it or not, is amply evidenced by the above statement. I can only echo the respect and admiration already expressed by everyone else.

    *Hugs LB and then punches fist in air with triumphal joy at such glorious over-coming*

  20. *joins truce in a big hug for Omsbud*

    Ombuds – What happened to you was horrible. And while different from my situation, I think it’s every bit as traumatic. We go through our lives pretty oblivious and trusting that people aren’t going to burst into our houses and harm us or attack us when we are out for a nice jog. Sure, we know bad things happen, but we never really suspect it is going to happen to us, and particularly not when we’re just going about our business like usual. In addition to whatever physical harm they may have done to us, the most lasting harm is the damage to our sense of security in the world.

    I completely understand that fear that follows such an attack. In fact, it was on a bus or BART that I would often get triggered. Maybe it’s the sense of being trapped with all nature of humanity, some of whom you probably wouldn’t choose to spend time with. I don’t know if you ever got treatment for PTSD, but I know it helped me to have a health professional tell me I wasn’t crazy and that my reactions were quite normal.

    And to everyone else, again, thank you for your kind words and thoughts. Your support means more to me than you’ll know. Perhaps it is easier to tell the tale online and it is easier for people to react. I mentioned to the boyfriend today that I told my story on my blog. “Oh. OK. Uh, did it make you feel better? Oh look! $1.99 gas, let’s fill up there!”

  21. For me the net is like being in the dark telling stories, when it is late and you are all relaxed and comfortable, and almost asleep, and you can tell things you couldn’t because you can’t see the person’s face — and they can’t see yours.

    There are people who use that freedom to lie, yes, but most of us, when we find our safe places, our safe people, use the freedom of darkness to take off a little bit of the weight we carry. It’s a Good Thing, and it makes the dark a little safer for everybody.

  22. okay, I’m all for staying here in the nice dark, just so long as its not me who has to check under the bed and in the cupboard for monsters, k?

    😉

  23. LB, I appreciate you and respect your for your situation. I was raped twice in my 20’s — once in CA by a pressure-weirded ‘neighbor’ who had been stalking me and growing progressively more scary, and the 2nd time a year or so later on the east coast by a fellow I was newly dating. The first time I tried to tell people I counted on (including the ex-hub), and got all the worst types of responses (from ‘you must have done SOMETHING that made him do that’ to [from the ex-hub] ‘does this mean you won’t have sex anymore?’ So when the 2nd occurrence happened, a date rape, all I could think of was getting him out of the apartment before my little kid woke up — and then very few ever heard me mention it again because I didn’t need any more bad voices in my head.

    I finally grew up enough (took a couple more decades) to parent myself and absolve the ‘blame’ others had suggested for me. I, too, had the nightmares, but I also lost a good bit of trust in people.

    I so admire the realization with which you worked through things, and I am SO sorry you had that life-altering experience.

    But we march on, eh?

    With hugs,
    Shu

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