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Rape is an Outrageous Violation

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The dictionary says that rape is an outrageous violation.

My body was bruised from the rapist’s fists, and my vagina was raw and torn from his prolonged inability to complete his act. Yet it was not the black and blue marks covering my body that left my spirit broken by his outrageous violation—it was his words. While the bodily harm from a physical battering imparts certain degrees of pain, they are temporary. Without question, the mental battering from an event so brutal brought alive a lifetime of psychological stabs and jabs that had worn me down. Skinless!

My shame had been sheathed, like it was in a snake’s skin. So how could my rapist have known? Now, at home, his familiar, filthy words reverberated in my head, causing me to vomit again and again.

I considered the state of my body: outwardly bruised, but inwardly bleeding the bile from my history of indignity. Begging for immediate relief, I bathed in iodine. My skin was raw where I scrubbed myself with a Brillo pad to grind away all vestiges of my immersion in filth. I wrapped a raincoat around myself before choking down handfuls of Valium my mother had sent me from her stash. The Valiums were tiny little pills, yet each handful felt like shards of glass as they went down my throat.  Now, finally, it would be finished.

I didn’t think I could ever look anyone in the eye again as long as I lived. If this man knew the truth about me—that I was born a bastard and became a slut—then obviously everyone must know those things, too.  The shame currently surfacing, along with my increasing self-hatred, was more than I could bear. I absolutely believed I had deserved the rape. After all, I had accepted the date, danced, and even had fun—just like when, as a child, I had taken the candy in exchange for touching. Didn’t he, my rapist, say as much?

I went to the kitchen and lay down on the kitchen floor beneath a hissing gas stove. There was no suicide note; I had nothing to say to anyone. I was simply done. I closed my eyes and mercifully fell asleep.

Bam! All of a sudden, I woke with a start to the hissing sound of the gas the stove was emitting.  Fighting  to overcome the thick, foul smell of gas that hung in the air, I jumped up and opened a window. My lungs sucked the clean air in. The hands on the clock indicated a full hour had passed since I’d fallen asleep. My head throbbed. I turned off the gas and phoned  my husband. “Joey, Joey, I’ve done something really bad. Please come right away. Please.” Compelled by the urgency in my voice, he rushed over.

I opened the locked  door  at the  sound  of Joey’s pounding.  He walked passed me without a word. His face was tense and dark with rage. I sat back down on the couch and pulled a pillow close to my chest. Now I felt scared of him. “What the hell happened  to you?” he shouted.

“I was beaten and raped by a man tonight.”

Understandably angry that I let this happen to me, his anger at me for getting into this situation paled next to his rage at my perpetrator. Yet his commitment to preserving the family image obligated him to refuse to call the police. He was adamant that he did not want any press coverage.

Standing rigidly before me, with his hands on his hips, I felt as if he were going to hit me. “What  in the hell were you thinking,  going to sleep in front of that gas stove? You could have died, Dawn.” I weakly replied, “That was the point, Joey, that man hurt me bad.” “That’s just plain crazy talk. So what if he hurt you, you’re still alive, aren’t you? You know we can’t call the police! Do you want this to be all over the newspapers, the same way it was with Marilyn’s death?”

“I’m just a nobody, Joey, why would anyone want to write about what happened to me?”

He shouted, “God, you are so dumb. It would be all over the papers because you’re Joe DiMaggio’s daughter-in-law. No police, and that’s final! Do you understand me? I’m driving you down to your mother’s house right now. Besides, you shouldn’t have gone to that guy’s apartment. You caused this mess in the first place. Now snap out of it and get packed while I call your mother.”

In a cold, clipped voice, I overheard  him telling my mother  of the rape and my suicide attempt.  “No, no police. She’s okay, but I don’t think she should be left alone.” A long silence was followed by, “Okay, then, I’ll have her there by nightfall. Good-bye now, Veronica.” After hanging up the phone as if it weighed two hundred pounds, he looked off to the side and took some deep breaths. Then, with a blank expression on his face, he said, “Hurry up now and get your things.”

Whimpering in desperation, I tried to explain, “But Joey, I had just met him at the shoe store. We started talking about dance contests. He said he was just going to get a sport coat so we could go dancing at another club after we danced at Whiskey-A-Go-Go’s. He said he’d only be a minute  and wanted me to see some fighter fish he had just purchased.  He seemed really nice the whole evening.  Besides, I knew where he works and lives, so how could he think I wouldn’t tell the police? How could I have known he was dangerous?”

The muscles in his jaw were jumping up and down, indicating that his anger was escalating. He said, “Just shut up, Dawn! I’m driving you back home right now, so get your stuff together as fast as you can like I told you to do.”

Familiar with his look—it was the one he’d get just before putting his fist into  a wall—I shut my mouth and struggled to pack my few belongings. My head was pounding from the residual effects of booze, gas fumes, and Valium. I didn’t have the will to argue.

I had only seen my mother once since we got married. When I tried to tell her of our troubles, she got up and walked out of our apartment without a word, so now I wondered what she would say, if anything, about a suicide attempt.

I didn’t have the energy to fight my soon-to-be ex-husband and my mother, too, as they once again decided my fate. Besides, I knew that I would no longer feel safe alone in my apartment knowing that my rapist knew where I lived.

After gathering  my few belongings and closing up my apartment, I followed Joey to the car. I knew I was justly liable for the drunken stupidity that had allowed me to ultimately bend to Joey’s anger. I blamed myself, compounding my culpable position. Physically weak and emotionally defeated, I obeyed this demand to pack up and move back to my mother’s house.

Joey’s refusal to call the police was like a knife in my heart. I felt hurt and angry that my being brutally attacked would come second to maintaining the reputable status of his family name.

Our Volkswagen had never seemed as small as it felt now with the suffocating silence between us. Joey’s face remained frozen in repressed fury for the entire  trip as we drove to San Diego. I recalled this exact feeling in the car a year and a half earlier, when we drove to Los Angeles after our wedding. His silence on that day, just like today, had caused my insides to shrivel. I wondered why the isolation and silence felt so punishing to me. I knew that one word from me would unleash an explosion. Whether rigid silence blanketed the atmosphere with my mother or with Joey, that feeling of cold distance brought feelings of panic and abandon.  I tried holding my breath in an attempt to reduce these emotions. I shrank into my seat.

Once again, as Joey dropped me off at the curb in front of my mother’s house, I felt like a bundle of dirty laundry.  I wanted to die when he left me standing there with only a dismissive wave of his hand. A cold feeling went through me, as if ice water were flowing through my veins. Alone once again, I watched his car fade out of sight.

Tears were flowing down my cheeks; I was sure I would never see him  again. I would  miss him intensely.  I would miss his laugh, his humor, and his words—but not his anger. Oh, how I loved to string his words on that imaginary clothesline  in my mind, hanging up one glorious phrase after another.  His brilliance mesmerized me. It had been a long time since we had kissed, but the thought of never feeling his soft lips again, the kisses that once melted my knees, now broke my heart. My Joey was gone. How could everything in my life have gone so terribly wrong? Why couldn’t I belong somewhere?

“Please God, why won’t you just let me die? I hate you! I hate you!” Filled with anguish, so breathless I was gasping, I slowly picked up my suitcase and turned toward the house.

Heartsick, I thought about having come full circle just before entering the home I’d fought so hard to leave. I remember thinking as I opened the front door,  “What  happened  to that feisty seventeen-year old girl who oozed such gumption? The part of me that fought for values as if they mattered, as if I mattered?”

Where had she gone? Now I felt as blank as if I had merged with an old white sheet blowing aimlessly in the wind. Had it really been only eight  hours  since I sought permanent relief beneath the hissing gas stove? Had I broken yet another commandment, “Thou  shall not kill?” Who cares anyway?  I lamented.  I’m done with you, God! Do you hear me? I’m finished with you and your empty promises! Finished!

I no longer wanted to please my beloved prince or even the king of kings. My promiscuity was meant to overcome my obsession with retribution, but in the end, I became what my mockers knew I was all along—soiled, tainted, and discarded, without any means of redemption. I doubted that my prince would ever know the murder of my soul that his words had imposed. I was on my own, alone, done.

***

Closing the front door took enormous effort; it felt like demons were pushing and pulling between me and the door. I met my mother’s eyes as she looked up from the television. Weighing  about two hundred pounds now that she rarely left the couch—and dressed in one of her brightly colored muumuus—she turned her Valium-coated eyes toward me. Her empty eyes rarely strayed from the television set, yet I thought I detected something resembling compassion, or maybe pity, because her eyes were looking at me in an uncharacteristically soft, almost loving, way.

Her words were softly simple, “Hi, how was the drive from Los Angeles?”

“Fine,” I said with sudden exhaustion as I dropped my suitcase on the floor and sank down into the old plastic chair.

My grandmother, holding her Bible in one hand and her cigarette in the other, asked, “Where’s Joey?”

Knowing how much they both loved Joey, and not wanting to hurt their feelings, I mumbled, “He had to get right back to Los Angeles.”

“Oh!” they both said in unison. After what seemed like an eternity of familiar silence, I said wearily “I’m tired now. I’m going to lie down.” “Okay, dear,” they said simultaneously.  Briefly, the thought crossed my mind that my mother and grandmother had lived together for so long, they were now like Siamese twins in their thoughts and words.

Neither my mother  nor my grandmother asked why I had wanted to die. At the time, I thought they lacked concern.  Now I understand how they must have choked on their terror—especially my grandmother, for while she had never been physically affectionate, I was her main source of sunshine. In this family, there was no protocol for airing feelings. In fact, that was dangerous territory; it was best to just smile and forget. I realize now that it was not for lack of love or concern, it was just the proven  means by which to get through. It was the getting through life’s trials that both triumphed and trumped all other survival endeavors.

Without the knowledge of soothing  words to offer me in that distress, my mother and grandmother instead allowed the comforting arms of sleep to wrap themselves around my weary body for three whole days. At various times during those days of darkness, I overheard them say to my younger brother, Russell, “Hush, your sister is resting.” This seemingly tender reverence toward me did bring comfort. Allowing me to sleep was the most priceless gift Mother and Grandmother had to offer.

As if resurrected, I woke on the third day with new determination. Devising another plan of escape, I would fulfill a lifelong dream and become  a stewardess, moving as far away as I could from those who knew my truth—the truth that seemed to be branded on my forehead. I may be soiled, I may be damaged goods, but, by God, I was determined.

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