Don’t Doubt the Memories of a Survivor

The slant of the five o’clock October sun splashing across the parking lot as I walked from the office building to my car…the crunch of fallen leaves skittering in the faint breeze…the smell of wood burning in someone’s fire pit or fireplace.

The glue of so many envelopes sticking my fingers together. The flush of excitement after successfully preparing a fundraising mailing.

The call from him: he’s running late so why not meet at his house. The good volunteer day glow overriding the trepidation about going to his house when my rule was never to go to a man’s house unless I knew him really well.

The I-75/285 flyover suddenly reminding me why 25 years later, I hate the top end of the perimeter almost as much as 75 and as much as downtown Decatur. None of it has to do with traffic.

Listening to my friend who downplayed my trepidation. Something was off, something wasn’t right about this guy who said on our previous date, “Who would look for you first if you disappeared?”

“Go on one more date,” she advised. “You’re just putting up roadblocks to intimacy, looking for excuses not to date.”

The dizzy feeling that overcame me as I pulled in front of his house. I don’t remember what it looked like on the outside but I knew the neighborhood. I used to visit a home a few streets over for my work with pregnant and parenting teens just two years prior. Gentrification has begun.

Inside the house I remember the television: I can’t forget. It was showing an old Star Trek episode when he came up behind me, on my left side, which is why my left arm hasn’t worked since then, has a weird palsy I know is from both tendon tear and memory, the trauma deeply etched into the tissues, soft tissue damage both real and remembered.

His bedroom: white, too white. Why was it so white but the sheets dark? My black turtleneck on the floor. My Lee jeans by the door. The old-fashioned glass door sliding across the top of the old tub, the razor he must have planted above the transom.

Doors locked. His evil smile.

“The look on your face is priceless. I love it!”

My tears spilling. Beads of blood quickly washed away by the shower. Smart to leave no evidence.

Time disappeared. Five hours gone when I next glimpsed a clock.

“I’m hungry. Let’s go out.”

He said it so casually, as if we’d just worked in the garden, or cleaned the house, or done something other than the unspeakable crime he just committed. He seemed so pleased with himself. He said he was pleased with me, my ultimate submission.

I couldn’t let him move me away from this place: from somewhere came the thought. Self defense class two years prior? Criminals who move you from the scene of the crime won’t leave you alive as a witness. I remember a jolt of new fear. And then…

Crawling on the floor, groping for my clothes. Scrambling into them despite the pain and the fear. Looking up to see a gold puddle in the middle of the rumpled bed: my bracelet torn from my wrist, its words so prescient and haunting: Forget Me Not.

I grabbed it, stuffed it in my jeans pocket before he turned around.

Walking to the door, grabbing my purse like he told me. Heart racing when he unlocked the door.

I might get out.

He turned. Went back for his wallet. I went for the door.

I had a head start. Raced for my car as I dug for my keys in my purse. Found them Found the door Slammed the door hit the lock jammed the key into the ignition as he hit the window shoved my foot onto the gas pedal heart hammering getting away away away away

away

running every light praying a cop would stop me but I sailed along every road with so little traffic so little traffic looking into the rearview mirror was he following away away away got home I don’t know how hurtled into bed curled into a ball and sobbed so softly couldn’t take off my clothes couldn’t move couldn’t call for help couldn’t say anything couldn’t breathe

until oblivion

sleep.

People  questioned a witness this month, asked her how she could remember what happened so long ago. She explained how trauma memories are etched into the mind, etched by the body’s defense system: remember, remember, it writes into the mind. If you always remember these little things, you’ll never again miss them, you’ll never again be caught off guard, never again be vulnerable to another attack. It’s how the brain protects us. For a layman’s explanation of what happens and what to do about it, see Psychology Today.

On this day, October 17, 1993, these memories were etched into my brain. I was raped and assaulted over five hours. I remember. I can’t forget. I know his name. I know his face. But instead of being a victim today, I am a survivor. I remember these details but they don’t imprison me like they once did. EMDR therapy helped enormously with my PTSD (I wrote about it in 22 Years a Survivor).

If it’s happened to you, know that you, too, are a survivor.

And know that someone’s disbelief doesn’t trump your experience, can’t overwrite your truth. We are survivors and we know our truth.

I welcome you to connect with me. Know that I stand with you. I believe you. I love you.

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