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!”