I’ve logged more experience than most with simplicity and the complexity you discover inside simplicity, minimalism and asocial behavior, endurance and landscape.
Here is the truth: I think some deep wisdom inside me (a) sensed the stress, (b) was terrified for me, and (c) gave me something new and hard to focus on in order to prevent me from lapsing into a despair coma — and also to keep me from having a jelly jar of wine in my hand.
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I parked the car, and as I walked toward the Exxon mini-mart, three white guys came out. One held the door for me and smiled. His teeth looked like the “before” picture in a dental ad.
“Thanks,” I said, and I made the briefest of eye contact with the door holder, who was still smiling, still staring, and I thought, This is the day I get raped.
“Have a good day,” I said, and I examined each man for birthmarks, scars, or tattoos. I wanted to record their faces so I could give the most accurate description ever to the police sketch artist.
In the mini-mart I pretended to walk the aisles, but really I was looking for the bathroom and waiting, sort of, for my rape. I’d been dreading it for so many years that I almost wanted to get it over with. I wanted it behind me so I could stop waiting.
The bathroom was in the back. Before I entered, I stepped into the center aisle, amid the Corn Nuts and bags of flavored popcorn, and looked around for the three guys, but they had left. Unless they planned on sneaking in through a bathroom window, they were not my rapists.
I first learned of rape in third grade. My best friend, who lived two houses away, asked, “Do you know what molest means?” I didn’t. She told me. And then she explained rape.
Later I asked my mother about it. She was smoking a cigarette and stirring a pot of homemade soup: something that smelled like feet and was far less appealing than a bowl of Campbell’s Chicken & Stars.
“Why are you thinking about rape?” my mother asked.
“Jenny told me about it,” I said. “But how do they get it in?”
My parents had divorced before I was born. My dad lived in San Francisco with Jerome, his boyfriend. Theirs were the only penises I’d ever seen, but I’d seen them often as they both walked around the apartment naked. I tried not to look, but by day three of a three-week summer stay, I’d forget that being naked was unusual, and I’d notice how high and round Jerome’s butt was compared to my dad’s, which was flaccid and hairy. Also Jerome’s penis was a color that didn’t match his body, whereas my dad’s was a uniform golden brown, just like the rest of him. Color aside, both their penises appeared spongy and lifeless, lying there against their fuzzy, lopsided balls. Having a penis looked as ridiculous as having a Twinkie attached to your crotch. And inserting one of those Twinkies into a vagina seemed impossible, from an engineering point of view.
“They force it in,” my mom said. “It happens more than you’d think. If anyone ever tries to rape you, just poop your pants, and they’ll stop.”
“What if I don’t have to poop?” A public pants-pooping seemed worse to me than rape, which I still couldn’t imagine. I did know where babies came from, but the way my mother had explained procreation made it seem peaceful and easy: you just lay together face-to-face, and that Twinkie snuggled close enough to release a swimmy seed.
“You can force a poop. Just do it. You don’t want to get raped. Ever.” My mother took a deep drag on her cigarette and tapped the ash into the sink.
My sister, Ellen, came into the kitchen. She was seven years older and as wiry as a greyhound, with black hair she bobby-pinned back from her face. Her dad was my mother’s first husband — a fireman who had died in a fire. Ellen asked what we were talking about.
“Gigi’s worried about rape,” my mother said.
“I’m not worried. I just don’t get what it is.”
“Women get raped all the time,” Ellen said. “All over the world. Every day. If you can make it to thirty and not get raped, you’re lucky.”
“Have you been raped?”
“No,” Ellen said, “but I’m expecting it will happen.”
“Oh, for crissakes!” My mother flicked her burning cigarette into the sink. “Be safe. Don’t go walking the streets at two in the morning alone, and you won’t get raped.” We lived in a town of three thousand people. Nothing was even open after ten, so I couldn’t imagine anyone walking the streets at two in the morning, which was apparently when the rapists came out.
“Mom, have you been raped?” I asked.
“Yes.” My mother started ladling soup into bowls.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Mom!” Ellen said. “Why are you telling us this? You’re going to scare Gigi!”
“Because I was raped,” my mom said. “But I survived, and if you get raped, you’ll survive, too.”
My mother told us all about her rape while my sister and I set the kitchen table and put out sliced bread and butter. Each detail caught in my brain like a burr on cotton: It was her high-school friend’s brother. He was home from the Army. He had blistering red acne that trailed down his neck. He told my mother she was beautiful, and that he wanted to take a picture of her. This was before my mother dyed her hair. It was long and light brown then, the color of her freckles, she said. Even though I was eight when she told me this story, I imagined she looked exactly like me.
She followed the boy into the laundry room, where he claimed he had set up a camera. There was no camera, but there was a wicker hamper full of musty-smelling clothes. He pushed her facedown over the hamper and raped her. Every time she saw him after that, he winked at her like they shared a special secret. Whenever he got close enough to her, he said things like “Maybe we should try that again.” My mother started to think she was crazy or had only imagined that what he’d done to her was rape. Why would he say those things otherwise? But it was rape. It was real, and even though she never told anyone back then, she would tell anyone who asked now, because it wasn’t something she should be ashamed of.
“But you weren’t walking the streets at two in the morning,” I said.
“You’re right.” My mother sat down, tapped out a new cigarette from the pack, and lit it while watching us eat our soup. “Just be aware. Wherever you are, be aware.”
“Why didn’t you poop your pants?” I asked.
“Why are you asking that?” Ellen said.
“Mom said if someone tries to rape you, you should poop your pants.”
“If I had known about pants-pooping, I would have done it,” my mom said. “But I didn’t know about it then. This is why I’m telling you girls. Hopefully you two will remember everything I’ve learned, and you’ll never have to go through what I’ve gone through.”
I’d been waiting for my rape, terrified of it, ever since.
That day at the mini-mart I was on my way to an artists’ colony in the Appalachian Mountains. I would be there for four weeks, sleeping in a dormitory-like room with a bathroom down the hall. I’d also have a private cabin-studio in the woods where I could paint. Thirty artists stayed there at a time, usually evenly divided by gender, though the last time I’d gone, two of the thirty were gender-nonspecific. They were the most popular people there. Artists’ colonies are the reverse of high school: the less conventional you are, the more people flock to you.
It was a long drive to the colony. Within an hour of encountering my nonrapists, I had sucked down the Coke Zero I’d bought at the mini-mart and had to pee again. There were no fast-food restaurants, gas stations, or convenience stores around. Just trees.
I’d only recently gotten my Coke Zero habit under control through a set of very specific rules: I was allowed to drink Coke Zero at weddings, at picnics, and when I was more than two hours from my apartment in Pittsburgh. The artists’ colony was three hours away, and I was looking forward to a month of unlimited Coke Zero.
In search of a place to pee, I turned off the empty highway onto an even emptier road lined with houses that were barely a step up from the corrugated shacks I’d once seen in Tijuana. I had nothing against the poor — I was one of them — but I didn’t like peeling paint and wondered why it didn’t bother these people more. I’d painted and repainted every place I’d ever lived, including my childhood home, where our mother had paid Ellen and me to paint the house and the shutters, the summer I was eleven.
I pulled over on the wrong side of the road, near two houses with no cars in the driveway. I opened both the front and back doors on the driver’s side, then pulled down my jeans, squatted between the two open doors, and peed in the gutter. The problem was, my boyfriend, John, and I had swapped cars, so I was in his high-riding SUV, and my ass was lower than the open doors. Still, I figured no one driving by would be able to see — only a person in one of the houses, if he or she was looking hard enough.
I hovered for a moment to drip-dry. That was when the German shepherd appeared, running toward me. I pulled up my pants, jumped into the front seat, and closed the door. The dog jumped into the backseat. I got out and slammed the door. He ran out the back. Screaming, I climbed onto the hood of the car, then onto the roof. The dog leaped in the air, trying to get at me, barking ferociously.
Then a man walked out of the house. He had on pants but no shirt, and socks but no shoes. He shouted something that sounded like “Halt!” and the dog stopped barking.
“You OK?” he asked, now holding the dog by the collar.
“Yeah. Sorry. I had to pee.”
“And you let him out?”
“I think he slipped out the back door.”
“But it took you so long to get here.” I was sitting on my knees, yogi-style.
“I had to find my pants.” He smiled. He had all his teeth, and they were straight.
“You put on socks, too?”
“No, I already had them on.”
“So you were naked with socks?”
The man laughed. “You’re funny.”
“Why am I funny?”
“You ask so many questions.”
“Yeah, but if a German shepherd almost killed you, wouldn’t you wonder why the owner didn’t show up sooner?”
“I guess I would. I’m sorry I didn’t show up sooner.”
“Thanks.” I was blushing but wasn’t sure why.
“You can come down now. He won’t hurt you.” He yanked lightly on the dog’s collar, and the dog sat.
“I’m shaking.” I held out my hand to show him.
“Stay,” he said to the dog. Then he let go of the collar and reached his arms out to me.
This man could have been my rapist, but he looked too nice. He had thick, wavy hair, like a movie star from the seventies, and a jawbone that could take out your eye. I hung my feet over the edge of the roof and let myself slide into his arms.
“Do you want to come in and use the bathroom?”
“Um . . .” I looked down at the stream of pee in the gutter. It was neon yellow from the mega B vitamins I take.
“Right. Do you want a Coke or anything? I’m not sure you should drive yet, if you’re still shaking and all.”
“Do you have Coke Zero?”
“Yeah,” he said, like everyone had Coke Zero.
“I’ll have one,” I said.
The dog was wagging his tail.
When I was in ninth grade, I got bitten on the wrist by a dog at a house where I was babysitting. It left a white rope of a scar, and I was afraid of dogs after that. My mother had no tolerance for such skittishness, so she threw a dog party and invited everyone she knew who had a dog to come to our house with their pet. She was going to Alcoholics Anonymous then, and all her friends were from AA. You can’t lump AA people into a single category. They’re like the cast of Sesame Street — all colors, abilities, ages, and orientations. But AA people do have one thing in common: they love their dogs.
The party was in our backyard. Everyone smoked cigarettes and drank coffee while Mom brought each dog over to me and insisted I pet it. She wanted me to kiss her friend Tammy’s poodle, but Tammy said, “No! She’ll bite if you put your face too close to hers.” I looked at my mom as if to say, Why would you put me in a situation where my face could be ripped apart by a poodle?
My fear of dogs didn’t end at that party. My mother’s policy from then on was if anyone who owned a dog came to our house, the dog had to come, too. Once, I got home around one in the morning, wasted on Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and undressed as I walked toward my room. All I wanted was to get in bed, shut my eyes, and not vomit. I was naked when I climbed under the covers and felt something warm and hairy against my body. I screamed and fell on the floor.
My mother got to the light switch before I did. She was in a nightgown, and there was a guy beside her in his boxers. He looked about ten years younger than my mother. On my bed was a panting, gray-haired dog. I grabbed a pillow and held it in front of my naked body.
“That’s Thelonious,” my mom said, laughing. “He likes to sleep in a bed.”
“He’s seventeen,” the guy said. “He doesn’t even have teeth.”
“Can’t he sleep with you?” I asked.
“He farts,” the guy said.
“Come on,” I said. “I don’t want him.”
“It’s just one night,” my mom said, still laughing. I didn’t argue, afraid she would smell the alcohol on my breath. She thought I didn’t drink.
The inside of the German-shepherd guy’s house was clean and fresh smelling. The walls looked newly painted, and the furniture was either Shaker or Ikea.
“Do you own this house?” I asked. We were sitting on the sofa, the dog on the floor in front of us. I held my glass of Coke Zero because I didn’t want to put it on the coffee table and leave a condensation ring.
“It’s my uncle’s. I rent from him. If it were mine, I’d paint the outside so it didn’t look like a crack house.”
“Did you paint the inside?”
“Yeah, two years ago, when I moved in. I told him I’d paint the outside for free, but he said, ‘If I let you paint it, you’ll get robbed.’ ”
“Do you believe that?”
“Maybe. Though I don’t think anyone could rob me with Junior here.” He nodded at the dog.
I asked for some vodka to put in the Coke Zero because I’d run out of things to say. Or maybe I just wanted the vodka.
“Aren’t you driving somewhere?” the guy asked, as if he were my dad.
We still hadn’t learned each other’s names. I was wondering how long it would take for one of us to ask. I had told him I was twenty-eight, and he’d said he was thirty-three. This was probably a lie. His skin was so solid and smooth, I put him at twenty-five at the most.
“You’re worried about one vodka on this road? I mean, seriously?”
“Yeah, not much traffic out here.” He had a bright-white smile, like the “after” shot for a dental ad.
“What do you do for a living?” I asked.
“I train dogs.”
I looked at the German shepherd, who had moved over to the front door. Maybe he was waiting for the mailman. It was around three — the time my mail usually came.
“So, vodka, not rum?” he asked.
“Yeah. I like vodka because you can’t really taste it. You just feel it a little.”
“Why not? I’ve got nothing to do for the rest of the day.”
As he walked away, I studied his body. His back was like an anatomy drawing: you could see where muscles met and tendons connected. The sight made me crave the vodka even more.
My mother decided she was an alcoholic the summer I turned twelve. The evening after her first AA meeting, she told Ellen and me things we’d never known: All the times she’d driven drunk with us in the car. The day she’d peed herself while grocery shopping drunk. That she couldn’t remember how many people she’d slept with since my dad had left, but she thought it was more than a hundred. I didn’t like knowing these things, but I couldn’t stop her from talking.
“Take my advice,” she said. “You can skip all the humiliation, all the shame, and all the nights trying to clean the vomit out of your sheets by simply never having a drink.”
“OK,” Ellen said. “I won’t ever drink.”
“Say it, Gigi,” my mother said. “Say you won’t ever drink either.”
“What? I’m twelve.”
“Say it!” Ellen pushed my shoulder.
“I won’t ever drink either,” I said.
About an hour later, while our mother was in her room talking to her sponsor on the phone, Ellen went outside and rescued the booze. Our mother hadn’t poured it down the drain or broken the bottles. She’d just placed it all in a paper bag and put it beside the trash can. I stood by my mom’s closed bedroom door and listened to make sure she was still talking while Ellen transferred the bottles to the back of her closet. The phone conversation went on for so long that Ellen had time to go to the kitchen, dish out two bowls of chocolate ice cream, take them up to her room, pour in vodka, and then return to the kitchen with the bowls. We sat at the table and stirred our ice cream until it looked like soft-serve from Dairy Queen. I’d once had a couple of sips of my dad’s beer and hadn’t liked the taste, but vodka in ice cream was delicious. It made my head feel fuzzy in the best way. It made me forget about the fact that my mother had once peed herself in the grocery store.
The guy returned with a liter of Coke Zero and a bottle of vodka so big it had a handle. He placed both on the table and said, “Feel free.”
I opened the vodka and poured enough in his glass that there were only a few inches left for the soda. Then I did the same to mine. I topped off each glass with Coke Zero, and lifted mine to toast.
“To not getting mauled by your dog,” I said.
“To new friends,” he said, and we clinked glasses.
Six months earlier, when John and I had moved in together, I’d devised a rule about fooling around with other people: I could only do it if I was near-blackout drunk. I’d never explained this rule to John, because what kind of person would agree to that? John was an investment banker and played on his company’s softball team. He was the kind of guy who never remarked on how a woman looked, even if she was half naked or ridiculously beautiful. For him the polite thing was to pretend you hadn’t noticed. In an effort to be faithful, I had tried not to drink. And I’d succeeded most of the time. But it was like sugar. When someone puts a sheet cake in front of you, you start by just picking off the corner frosting and telling yourself, I am limited to corner frosting. There are only four corners on a cake, so there’s only so far you can go. But when the corner frosting is gone, you say, I’ll just eat pink frosting, which means the flowers. Eventually you move on to white frosting, and then you’re shoving whole chunks of cake into your mouth.
That day would have been my ninetieth without a drink, and I was committed to having only one. There wasn’t time for more if I wanted to arrive at the colony in time for dinner, which was always some kind of meat in a pan, plus a vegan option. But when I got down to the ice in my glass, the German-shepherd guy poured me another.
“Why aren’t you wearing a shirt?” I asked.
“Why are you wearing one?” he replied.
With a shrug, I peeled off my T-shirt and bra. Then I sat back on the couch and took another sip, feeling like I was my dad in his nudist apartment.
I saw on the guy’s face how happy he was, though he was acting cool, not making a move or anything.
“What if your dog bit my nipples and I had to have nipple-replacement surgery?” I asked.
“What if I bit your nipples?” he asked.
I looked at him blankly, trying not to have a reaction. Another of my fidelity rules was that I couldn’t be the instigator.
The German-shepherd guy had an air mattress. As we rolled around on it, the mattress made squeaking noises, like a thumb rubbing against a balloon. Once, we tumbled off, and the dog lunged at us but then backed away after the guy grunted at him. I didn’t take off the guy’s pants, in accordance with the no-instigation rule. So he stood up, wobbling on the mattress, and slid them off himself. Hovering over me like that, his dick looked like a weapon. I changed my mind.
“Shit,” I said as I crab-walked away from it. “That’s too big.”
He didn’t say anything. He dropped to his knees, got on top of me, and tried to fuck me. I pushed him away and rolled off the air mattress, but the dog was there, growling at me. I jumped back, and the guy was there, poking at me. This went on for a while. It was like I was in a short, narrow tunnel with the dog at one end and the guy at the other. I tried telling him that I needed him to get off me and the dog to get away from me, but nothing came out right, and he didn’t seem to hear.
It was a war of attrition.
When I finally let him in, it felt good, even as big as it was. It felt great actually. He was wearing a condom, though I hadn’t seen him put it on.
Driving in Appalachia in the dark is harder than you’d think. There aren’t any lights on the roads, so you don’t know you’re going to hit a turn until you do. After I skidded onto the dirt shoulder and grazed the branches of a tree, I decided to pull over. I was probably only forty-five minutes from the colony, but it seemed wise to wait an hour or two, maybe try to sleep off the drinks.
I pulled the lever and let the seat go back until it was flat. The sunroof was open, and the stars were so thick they looked like a sheet of gauze. Just as I was falling asleep, I jolted awake with the urge to vomit. I got out and threw up behind the car. I was still puking as I pulled down my pants and peed on the road. Everything was coming out of me at once. My throat was scraped and raspy. My vagina was scraped and raspy. When I was done peeing, I put my fingers down there to see if I was ripped or bleeding or what. It burned and felt swollen. When I lifted my fingers to my face I couldn’t see blood. I dipped my fingers again, examined them. No blood. I was just battered.
I stood and pulled up my pants. I reviewed everything that had happened with the guy from the moment I’d taken off my shirt. I could remember most of it. I specifically remembered that I’d told him no. I’d tried to leave the bed but had been deterred by the dog. I’d told him no again.
Had this been my rape?
Back in the car, I raised the seat upright and called my mom. Her outgoing message was her singing the seventies song “Telephone Line.” I couldn’t bear to listen to it and hung up before the beep. Then I tried my dad and Jerome.
Jerome answered. I surprised myself by crying.
“Gigi?” he asked. They had neither caller ID nor call waiting on their landline. Guests at their apartment were asked to deposit their cellphones in a handwoven African basket on an antique table by the front door. Jerome and my father considered cellphones, like clothes, unnecessary indoors.
“Jerome,” I croaked, “I think I was raped.”
“Where are you?” Jerome was a professor and articulated each word as if he were teaching a lesson.
“In Appalachia. On my way to that art colony.”
“Did you call the police?”
“No, I’m calling you.”
I could hear Jerome say to my dad, It’s Gigi. She thinks she’s been raped.
I heard my father say, How does one think one has been raped? Either you’ve been raped or you haven’t.
“Why do you think you’ve been raped?” Jerome asked me.
“Because a guy just stuck his penis in my vagina, and I didn’t want him to.” I remembered my mother explaining rape to me in third grade. I remembered how impossible it had seemed.
“Did you tell him no?” Jerome asked.
“Yes, I told him. And he did it anyway. That’s why I think I was raped.”
“If you were really raped, you should call the police right now. And go to the hospital and have them do a rape kit.”
“He used a condom. Can they do a rape kit if he used a condom?”
“There are other things to look at. And he might have started without a condom. There might be traces of semen in you.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” The last thing I wanted to do was waste three hours in some Appalachian emergency room having a nurse try to pull pre-cum semen from my swollen, raspy vagina. And a police station? They’re bastions of inefficiency. What should be a simple exchange turns into hours of paperwork.
“Do you want me to call the police and send them to you? Are you harmed in any other way?” Jerome was such a nice guy. He thought the best of everyone. Even me.
“Can I talk to my dad?”
They exchanged the phone.
“Gigi, honey, are you OK?”
“I think I was raped,” I said, but I was losing my enthusiasm for it. I was more tired than angry and knew that, other than to my father and Jerome, I wouldn’t be reporting the crime.
“How did it happen?” my dad asked.
“I got drunk with some guy, and we fooled around.”
“Are you still with John?”
“Yes. Please don’t tell him, OK?”
He said to Jerome, She was fooling around with the guy. The rapist.
“So then what happened?” he asked.
“When it came to actually having intercourse, I changed my mind.”
“And you specifically said that to him?”
“But he did it anyway?”
“And there was time for him to put on a condom?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess. I just remember noticing he had one on.”
“Did you fight him?”
“Kind of. . . . It felt pretty great once he got it in.”
There was silence. I sensed my dad was mouthing something to Jerome.
“I’m not sure if that’s rape, sweetie,” my dad said.
“Cause it felt good?”
“Yeah, I just don’t know.”
“But isn’t that how it is for sexually abused kids: they’re messed up because it sort of feels good, even though they know it’s wrong?”
“You’re almost thirty years old.”
“Yeah. But. I said no.”
“I don’t know, honey. Maybe you should call your mom or Ellen. They’ll be better with this.”
I started crying again, not because of the rape but because something about hearing my dad say, “your mom or Ellen,” made me think about how far away they all were.
“Oh, sweetheart,” my dad said. “You want me to buy you a plane ticket to come out here?”
“No.” I sniffed.
“I think Jerome and I just don’t get it because we’re men. I’ll bet you were raped. Call Ellen, honey. Your sister is good with this stuff.”
Ellen worked in Oakland at a nonprofit for runaway kids. She’d been sober since graduate school, was married to a woman, had a kid, and, as far as I knew, had never been raped. I avoided Ellen as much as possible. Unlike my mother’s happy sobriety, my sister’s felt watchful, pointed. She knew me as well as she knew herself, and to spend time with her was to look into a mirror at a self I didn’t want to see.
That night, when I finally made it to my dorm at the colony, I was jangled and wide-awake. I felt like I’d been electrocuted, and every hair on my body was standing on end. I hadn’t called Ellen. Or my mom. Or any of my close friends back in Pittsburgh. I definitely hadn’t called John. The longer I didn’t talk about it, the more my rape only sort of existed, like an e-mail in the cloud or a dream you half remember.
By two in the morning, I knew that to fall asleep I’d need to masturbate. I had been doing this since I was eleven, and it had never failed to work. I reached down. Everything was still tender and engorged, like a sore inside your mouth that feels ten times bigger than it looks in the mirror. I flipped through the usual scenarios in my mind — many of them involving John — but nothing worked. Then I thought about the German-shepherd guy and how good it had felt when he was finally deep inside me. Nausea washed through me as I came.
The most popular person at the colony that month was a Syrian poet named Siba who’d once been in a refugee camp. She was beautiful and sexy and had a mole on her nose that looked like a piercing. Two days before she left, she did a reading for the group, in the common room where we watched TV and played Scrabble and Bananagrams. All the poems she read were about being raped in the refugee camp and how it had been awful and had terrorized her more than a bomb exploding outside her bedroom window. She could still barely sleep at night. One poem was about lying awake in her dorm room at the colony, watchful and wary. Another was a letter to her rapists. She shouted every line, her voice strained and quivering. The last poem she read was a fantasy narrative about tracking down one of her rapists and then killing him with a long, serrated bread knife. As she read the final couplet, she pulled a serrated bread knife from behind a couch cushion. Some people laughed nervously, but I cried. Siba handed me the knife the way you might hand someone a glass of wine.
“You get it,” she said.
I didn’t know if she was saying, You get the knife, or if she meant I got what it was like to be raped. I held on to the knife and nodded, because I did get what it was like to be raped.
What I didn’t get was me.
That night I masturbated three times to the thought of being fucked by my rapist. When I woke the next morning, my hand was still between my legs. I’d had a perfect, motionless sleep.
The drive home from the colony always seemed quicker than the drive there. I was happy. Content. Siba’s serrated bread knife was in the glove box: a souvenir. Even better were the three bottles of Coke Zero on the seat beside me and the three finished paintings in the back of John’s SUV. I’d gone the whole thirty days without drinking any alcohol or fucking anyone. I still wasn’t sure if I’d been raped, but I’d decided that, if so, it had been a mild rape, like getting a sore throat instead of full-blown strep. And I could survive a mild rape. Maybe it would help build my immunity and prevent me from having a more violent rape like Siba’s, or my mother’s.
My conversations with John that month had been brief and infrequent, partly because I’d been busy painting, and partly because of the limited cellphone service at the colony. No matter what carrier you used, you had to walk out to a field behind the dining hall and stand on a rock near a splintering, moss-covered Adirondack chair. Sometimes the reception was good enough that you could talk while sitting in the chair.
About twenty minutes after I drove away from the colony, my cellphone service returned, and I called John to chat. Before we hung up, he said, “Hey, I’m really thinking we should get married. Let’s go find you a ring.”
Marriage had always seemed restrictive to me, something people do when they’re scared to be creative or afraid they’ll never have a baby. But I did love John. And I loved being with John. And I loved the idea of spending my life with John. I’d have cars that always ran, a house that never needed to be painted, and someone I trusted by my side to remind me I wasn’t a piece of untethered debris drifting through oblivion.
Right after I hung up with John, the phone rang again. It was my dad.
He was, as always, happy to hear my voice, and happy to hear about the paintings I’d done. I told him I was going to marry John, and he said, “That’s wonderful, honey. That’ll be real good for your soul.”
“Yeah,” I said, and I wondered what he thought the state of my soul was like if it needed someone stable and sensible like John.
“You know, honey,” my dad said, “since you called on your drive up, Jerome and I have been thinking, and we agree that you were raped. It’s awful, but it’s true.”
The way my dad said this made me feel wobbly. Like I often did whenever I spoke to my sister.
Just as I was hanging up the phone, I spotted the sign for the road where the German-shepherd guy lived. I’d been so trashed the night of my rape that I’d thought I wouldn’t recognize it. Then I remembered that I’d been completely sober when I’d pulled over in front of the guy’s house. The start of my rape had nothing to do with alcohol.
I was about to drive past, but at the last second I swerved across the empty oncoming lane to take the turn.
The house looked the same as it had a month ago. Again there was no car in the driveway. I killed the engine and rolled down the window. I could hear the German shepherd barking inside the house. There were thumping sounds, too, like the dog might have been throwing himself at the door.
I scooted the seat back so I could stretch my legs.
And I waited.
Jessica Anya Blau
After reading Jessica Anya Blau’s story “Waiting for My Rape,” I wondered: Is rape something all women think about as they go through their lives, not knowing who is watching or lurking around the next corner? Men may not realize what women go through, and it’s good to see a woman bring awareness to this.
I believe in women’s rights and equality and am glad more women are standing up for themselves in the #MeToo movement.
I was disheartened to see some readers criticize Jessica Anya Blau’s story “Waiting for My Rape” [August 2018]. Speaking from experience, I know rape can occur in unexpected ways: consenting to sex but not oral sex; within a marriage; with a friend. It took me time to acknowledge I’d been raped. Rape can be confusing and is often more nuanced than most people are comfortable with.
I hope Blau’s critics will challenge their antiquated beliefs about consent. The story doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes; it helps to broaden the conversation.
Jessica Anya Blau’s short story “Waiting for My Rape” was a downright straight-shot gut punch — not because it was so well written that it slyly crept up on you, but because it frankly addressed the insanity of alcoholism. Her description of the twisted mental hell of uncontrolled drinking took me back to a time in my life when no one liked me, not even myself. It also gave me a new way to look at my nearly twenty years of sobriety.
Jessica Anya Blau is a talented writer, but “Waiting for My Rape” does not have enough redeeming qualities to distinguish it from pornography. The protagonist’s predictable decision to return to the rapist’s house at the end of the story perpetuates stereotypes about victims of sexual abuse who secretly crave the experience. At this moment in history, does The Sun want to be associated with that message?
“Nausea washed through me as I came.” This sentence in Jessica Anya Blau’s “Waiting for My Rape” [August 2018] exposed something hidden in me and left me blinking and dazed as a newborn. I am no stranger to the realities of sexual abuse and all the ways it infiltrates a life, and I’m only beginning to see that compassion is my most powerful tool. What a gift to have writers like Blau to help light the way.
Let’s be real: the narrator of Jessica Anya Blau’s short story “Waiting for My Rape” [August 2018] laid herself out on a platter for a creepy man in the Appalachian woods. The world where a woman can get naked and drunk with a strange man and not run a huge risk of getting raped does not exist.
She did get raped, but that is not the most important question the story raises. Many of us have suffered violations in situations that are less obviously self-destructive. Blau’s narrator should ask herself: Why did I put myself out there like that, and how can I better love and protect myself in the future?
As a victim of rape and sexual assault — and in light of the current #MeToo movement — I was appalled by Jessica Anya Blau’s story “Waiting for My Rape.” I consider myself liberal minded and welcome others’ views about difficult topics, but publishing this story was a mistake, mostly because it lends credence to the argument that rape victims were “asking for it.”
I greatly appreciate any person who takes the time to read my work and reply with a thoughtful response. To those who had a strong reaction to the end of the story, I’d like to point out that there is a serrated bread knife in the glove box of the car.