I‘ve been struggling for the past few weeks with several realizations. None of them were really all that new, but they came together in an instant, and like a tsunami, have overcome me. I’ve been gathering my courage to write up this post, waiting until I was ready. Today is it.
I’m nauseous as I attempt to gain some perspective by doing research on this topic, facing it head-on. I don’t know if I can do this, but I also know that I must.
“When a woman is raped by a stranger, she has to live with a frightening memory. When she is raped by her husband, she has to live with the rapist”.
So what set off this avalanche of feelings? I was still following a friend from the married days on Instagram. In between cat videos and corgis, his face popped up. Filled the goddamn frame. Sweaty. Holding a puppy. Smiling that smarmy smug smile. And I felt revolted. FURIOUS. Consumed with hate. How can he be so fucking happy. It seemed ridiculously unfair. There he is, out in the world, holding fucking puppies at a park. And here I sit all weekend, struggling to make myself eat. The urge to throw my phone across the room made me realize that this anger, fury, was out of proportion for someone who’s “over it”. That there was some unresolved knot in my psyche. Something I hadn’t quite worked out. Hands shaking, I listed my emotions like you feel for a sore tooth in your mouth…gingerly, looking for the pain.
- Hate (obvious, really, because of all that I gave up to get away from him)
- Anger that he seemed to be moving on
- Fury that he wasn’t somehow taking responsibility for what he did to me
- Anger that he didn’t even think he was wrong
- Anger that everybody else thinks he’s a “great guy”
- Betrayal, of myself, by not letting anybody know
Where did that come from.
Why does that matter? No, I don’t want to damage his reputation. I don’t want to stir the pot. I don’t want to “bring up the past”. But it’s still my present.
This realization came a little while after my mother basically asked what’s taking so long? Why are you still so heavily depressed? Maybe your therapy isn’t working. And inside I wondered what I hadn’t yet faced. Now I know.
The emotional abuse that he never took responsibility for lasted for years, and grew more and more intense as I grew more depressed, and on the heels of two suicide attempts. I’ve been abused in my life in pretty much every way imaginable, mostly by men, and for a while by a former stepmother. He was aware of my past. But of course, nothing he did to me was ever his fault.
I’d gone to Austin for SXSW, and he’d shown up for the music portion. This was planned, I knew it was going to happen. But when he arrived I grew depressed again. By his very presence he brought me down. At the Epik High concert, where he was a total bitch to my friend A, who was supplying me with water as I stood by the stage for 7 hours, he acted as if this is a competition of some sort. I had the time of my life at the concert, and nothing that happened after took that away.
The night I saw Hitchhiker, well, I should say “we”, I guess, he isolated himself from me and A, hanging out at the opposite side of the bar. I kept downing vodka sodas, trying to ignore him, not feel the irritation and anger his childish behavior was building in me. I was so tempted to tell him to fuck off, but he’d ridden a bus down to Austin, and had planned to drive back to Dallas with me. I wanted nothing to do with him, but still had to share a bed with him. So hey – drinkalot!!!
Since my last suicide attempt, which I now see as a desperate few attempts to end the psychological pain I was experiencing, I’d been drinking regularly. To pass out. To not feel. To not dream. It worked. Still does. (cheers!) I left the venue, plastered, and I think he came with me, I don’t remember. Probably. While scolding me and chiding me and making little snide remarks about my behavior.
While rape by a stranger is highly traumatic, it is typically a one-time event and is clearly understood as rape.
I remember showering in the hotel kinda vaguely. I know I went to bed. I also woke up in the dark with him attempting to penetrate me.
(a) A person commits an offense if the person:
(1) intentionally or knowingly:
(A) causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person's consent;
I remember thrusting him off of me, protesting, angry, terrified. I remember going into the bathroom to throw up. I remember wiping my face off and trying to sleep in the hotel room chair. He assured me I could come back to the bed, and I did.
On the long rainy drive back to Dallas, I gingerly approached the subject. He felt absolutely no guilt. I told him that I was too drunk, that he knew I was too drunk. He said I wanted it. Struggling to understand how we got to this point, still under the illusion of trying to make this relationship work, I mentioned that it’s illegal to have sex with a person who could not give consent, that if I was passed out drunk it was his responsibility as a person was to respect my boundaries, protect me from harm. He reiterated that I wanted it. I told him the next time it happens again I would call the police. He scoffed.
Whoever, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or in a Federal prison, or in any prison, institution, or facility in which persons are held in custody by direction of or pursuant to a contract or agreement with the head of any Federal department or agency, knowingly - (1) causes another person to engage in a sexual act by threatening or placing that other person in fear (other than by threatening or placing that other person in fear that any person will be subjected to death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping); or (2) engages in a sexual act with another person if that other person is - (A) incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct; or (B) physically incapable of declining participation in, or communicating unwillingness to engage in, that sexual act; or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
Turns out he was right. I never called the police. Not even the second time.
Marital rape may occur as part of an abusive relationship. Trauma from the rape adds to the effect of other abusive acts or abusive and demeaning talk. Furthermore, marital rape is rarely a one-time event, but a repeated if not frequent occurrence. Whether it takes place once or is part of an established pattern of domestic violence, trauma from rape has serious long term consequences for victims regardless of whether the assault is prosecuted or not.
Unlike in other forms of rape, where the victim can remove themselves from the company of the rapist and never interact with them again, in the case of marital rape the victim often has no choice but to continue living with their spouse: in many parts of the world divorce is very difficult to obtain and is also highly stigmatized.
When we returned to Dallas, I moved into the spare room, determined to redefine my physical space, and to feel safe while I’m sleeping, as I try to figure out what the fuck is going on. I still drank like a fish, falling asleep on the couch on the regular, and prepared for my first trip to New York.
One of those nights, which one, I don’t remember, I passed out on the couch, and woke up in my room, door closed. But…a woman knows when she’s had sex the night before sometimes. We hadn’t had sex in about four years up to the time in Austin. I wasn’t exercising those muscles, feeling those parts of me regularly, and so I immediately knew something had happened. There was also…evidence.
Keep in mind that during this time I was not on birth control. No need to pay the expense or have unnecessary chemicals affecting my already fragile moods because, well, we weren’t having sex. But this sealed the deal. I had to get out. And I was terrified with a cold rod of iron in my stomach, that I might somehow be pregnant. This was the end for me, beyond the joint therapy session where he said he refused to “do this anymore” and I told him outright that I wanted a divorce.
Of course there was a confrontation. He said the same types of things, that I wanted it, that I was “amazing”, that he couldn’t be expected to hold himself back when I was like that.
Like what? I can’t even imagine having gotten off the couch, much less seduced anybody. How sexy is that, a slurred-speech, tear-streaked pile of unwashed misery.
NOW THAT’S HOT.
So…how is it not my fault?
Aside from the legal definitions of rape and consent, there’s also the fact that both times I was with someone I’d married. Trusted. Yes, even after the first time. Because I’d cleared it up; that’s rape, don’t do that, I don’t want that.
But I’d forgotten that rape is never about sex, or desire, or attractiveness. It’s never the victim’s fault. It’s a choice by the rapist to take power over their victims, by any means, especially when needing to prove something. Our marriage was dissolving like a sandcastle at high tide, and above all he didn’t want that. He wanted me to get with the program. It wasn’t because he wanted to be married to me, to love me. He just wanted to keep his neat checklist.
In the case of rape by a spouse or long term sexual partner, the history of the relationship affects the victim’s reactions. There is research showing that marital rape can be more emotionally and physically damaging than rape by a stranger.
What is my fault?
Not admitting the truth to myself, that I had been complicit in the suppression of this information. I didn’t need to broadcast it, and I didn’t need to tell everyone in the world. But when I saw his smug fucking face in that photo I realized I’d been protecting him. “Us”. The family that we had been. I was still programmed. It was deeply inculcated in me, as the Good Wife to a Chinese Husband that these things are never admitted, never discussed. Especially because he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Probably still doesn’t.
But I’ve been carrying this burden alone. Accepting that it’s my burden to bear. Accepting that it is all on me. Accepting his judgment, his rules, his code of conduct. And I’m ashamed of myself for the very thing I hated him for – not standing up for me, and not protecting me.
So I’ll work through that now, to learn to forgive myself for it, to rebuild my own values and beliefs as an independent being. I’ve still got a lot of the Chinese influence on my psyche where it comes to relationships – that’s me now. It’s not bad. But the parts where he and I are somehow a unit, of any kind, the idea that anything he says or does matters to me…that’s done.