Saturday, September 17, 2005

Anniversary of The Worst Day of My Life

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY PERSONAL POST. IT CONTAINS WORDS THAT SOME PEOPLE MIGHT FIND OBJECTIONABLE AND IT DESCRIBES A SEXUAL ASSAULT. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

This is what the car looked like when it pulled over to pick me up.
Thirty-five years ago on September 17, 1970 at 8:30 in the morning, I stood on the corner of Topanga Canyon and Ventura Blvd. and stuck out my thumb hitching a ride to a job I'd had for less than a week. A 1963 Chevy Impala convertible pulled over to pick me up. Before I even opened the car door I knew it would be a disastrous journey, but I dismissed the intuition and got in anyway. I was wearing blue jeans, a short-sleeved teeshirt, a blue corduroy workshirt over that. I was 18 years old, had been in California less than three months, and was carrying the book The Master Game by Robert DeRopp .
On that day in 1970, the war in VietNam was raging, and I was sincerely grappling with questions about the meaning of life. Somehow those two things led me to The Master Game. The book provided a surprisingly original organizing principle about life, a coherent description of the games that people played. Not psychological games, but the way one lived, focused, and directed his or her life. A description I found online said:

We all ask, at one time or another, "What do I want to do with my life?"
On the one hand, we all want to do something that matters in some way, that makes a difference, that is meaningful, that is fulfilling. Something that's worthwhile, something real.
On the other hand, when we phrase the question "what do I want to do with my life?" - and sit with it - it often seems like such a huge, vague, looming, slippery, cloud of fog, like trying to catch a cloud in a milk carton - a frustrating experience.
But one chap, Robert S De Ropp, has offered a few pointers, which might help us get a more sturdy handle on the matter.
When I think about it now, DeRopp was trying to balance some scientific and spiritual thinking, and it was all pretty heady stuff for me. That morning, I stood on the corner wondering: What was my game? Would I devote myself to art for the sake of beauty, or to science for knowledge? Could I be spiritual, live on an ashram? My mind was full of these contemplations when I got into the car.

The man driving the Chevy was every girl's nightmare. He was an angry sexual predator, and I sat naively next to him. The car headed up into the winding stretches of lonely canyon, where my new job in an art store was located. As soon as we left the the last few houses behind, and all that lay before us were the coastal mountains separating the valley from the Pacific, the driver violently grabbed The Master Game out of my hands and tossed it into the back seat-- I never saw the book again. And so our savage encounter began.

I have never written about the encounter, so I have to admit this is my unsatisfactory attempt at condensing the experience into a poem:

The stranger's name was
like the blade
he held against me
as he fumbled with his zipper

He screams commands for my mouth
sweet place of poems and laughter
and slams my timid smile
again and again with a rage most foul

I flee my own flesh-- la petite mort
in a flight of ear-rushing fear
retreat, inward further inward
to a place that he cannot annihilate

On a vastly beautiful fall day
I become a witness
to the state laws
he breaks with my body

(months later)

Deputy DA coaches me,
say "vagina" and "penis"
he thinks I'll trash-talk slang
even though I never do

A jury of the defendant's peers
scrutinizes me on witness stand, dismissive-
sees hippie-girl hitchhiker whore
too free for her own good

I sense they hate my serious brown face,
my smart and shamed mouth
oh yes, they too slam me unjustly
this jury is hung hung hung

So, shy victim-girl who was me
loses her laugh her song and poems
instantly displaced by a crime,
a knife, a fist, his cock his prick his dick

(a few months after that)
DA office calls, they want me back as a witness for another trial. His violence has escalated, and he has seriously injured someone else. I am ambivalent, tortured, inconsolable. They call again. He has confessed to his crimes, including the one he perpetrated against me. They won't be needing me afterall. My mother asks, will they call those jurors to tell them how wrong they were? No, they will not.

(many years later)

I realize that had I lived in another country or been of a different culture, I could have been stoned to death for bringing such shame to my family. So the suffering I experienced in this light is less by comparison.

I often remember that when I arrived at the police station (which is quite a tale in itself) and told my story to the officers their first question to me was this:
"Did you learn your lesson?"
Shocked, I never answered them, but I will now.
No, not at first, and now yes, but not the way you would think.
I am not fearless, but I never cower.

(Today)

I am a survivor.


12 comments:

  1. I have come back to visit your blog after a couple years of absence. And stumbled on this post. It jarred me that no one commented. So I am - to acknowledge what happened to you, what you've written, and your bravery. I admire your summary: "I am not fearless, but I never cower". I think that exactly describes courage.

    Peace be with you.

    Dea

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Thank you so much for your comment. Actually, we used Haloscan for comments when this post was written, and Haloscan is no longer hosting blog comments for free. So, they gave us an opportunity to copy the comments before they were erased. There are too many to post here (I tried!), but if anyone would like to see the comments to this post, please let me know here, and I'll email them to you. They are still very touching, heartfelt, and compelling. Re-reading them was incredibly moving for me.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your courage. It's been 35 years for me, too. I did not report my experience to law enforcement, not did I speak of it to anyone for many, many years. Has it affected my life? Oh yes, probably in most ways possible. Have I become a hermit on my little piece of the rural landscape? Yes, most definitely. I was viewed as so "strong" for so much of my life, that I basically alienate everyone out of my space. Now I'm fairly accustomed to it, and not likely to attempt those changes that could very well be healing. Ah life. . . Can we ever truly understand each other's pain? And without that understanding, do we ever truly connect?]]>
    Anonymous


    A fierce, brave post.

    I'm so angry, for you and what you endured, and for all the others I know who've endured similar violence.

    Thank you for refusing to be cowed.

    Phantom Scribbler

    You have distilled this horrifying event so powerfully with your courageous and incisive poem and story. I weep for the young woman who was you, and for the pain you have carried since that time, and for all our sisters, mothers, daughters, friends who carry similar wounds, who silently mark similar "anniversaries". Thank you for giving dignity to your truth and honoring us with your remarkable bravery. As always, I am proud to be your friend and continuously surprised by what you bring to life's table!

    Kim

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  5. Men, too, can feel horrified, and digusted, and angered by this. And shamed. Such things happen every moment of every day, and it seems that humanity will never dig itself out of the slime of its worst nature.

    But your defiance is the hope we can cling to and look to. Your strength and your willingness to share show that some of the common qualities of being human are good too.

    I'd like to think that law enforcement is more enlightened in these days, but I still hear people talk of girls who were "asking for it," and I know there are miles and miles to go. I suspect that automatic, contemptuous response is really a way for some people to dismiss something they don't want to examine too closely. To categorize it so they won't be distrubed too much by it.

    Shame on them.

    I'm glad you're in this world!

    Pablo

    [{{{{RD}}}}

    No words. I'm glad you found DPR. I'm glad you're not alone. I grieve for Anonymous in the first comment here and the many women--and men--who live with such violence in their past.

    I did grand jury duty once. There was a cop accused of rape. Testimony. I said, "There's a discrepancy in the timeline." The self-appointed leader of our jury (male) shouted me down, "It doesn't matter!" How the hell would he know; he never gave me a chance to say what the discrepancy was. He said, "Why would the cop lie?" Stupid. Cop actually came in to defend himself (rare in a grand jury)--used all the textbook tricks to paint the woman as a slut, a bad mother, etc etc. Though there were many dissenting votes, the grand jury let him off.

    A few years pass. Two or three months ago, the cop was finally fired from the squad after many, many, many more complaints from women about his behavior.

    I want to find that loudmouth man and rub his face in it. How many more women suffered because I wasn't allowed to speak?

    CCorax

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  6. Dear R, you have mentioned this briefly before, but I think it must have taken courage to describe it as you have here. Have you been able to before, in other settings? I think not only of all the women and girls who live with such things (including my first girlfriend, who ran away from home when she was 14, and wound up in a shelter where she was drugged and raped by a "counselor" -- I was the only person she had ever told, when we were 18, and she still hadn't figured out entirely that she was raped), but men who have been in combat, who never talk about it their entire lives, until sometimes when they are in their 50s or 60s and they finally talk to their children. My uncle was in the RAF in WWII and he was shot down 3 times. He finally started to talk about it in his 50s.

    Some time ago, I told the story of my jury service, considering the petition to be released of a man who was in the habit of raping little girls, who had been incarcerated for 15 years. There was no audience during the trial except for the court officers, but when we came in to give our verdict, there were two young women in the back of the room. That was courage indeed. What if we had let him go?

    Cervantes

    I am so sorry you went through this, and so amazed at your ability to share pain like that.
    The sexual predator brings out the darkest side of me.
    I have a completely politically incorrect solution for each and every sexual predator, and no, I don't care about anything in their past, or how they were mistreated as a child...ad nauseum.

    There is always that point...that moment when they made a decision to proceed with their vile attack.
    I'm going to stop 'cause I'm just getting pissed off...sorry.

    FC

    [RD, I weep for you, and for every woman who has had their purity ripped from them. Horrifying, the death of innocence.

    I have a completely politically incorrect solution for each and every sexual predator...

    FloridaCracker, if yours is the same as mine, first offence, they would be physically incapable of ever doing that again. Second offense - life in a cage. They say that those offenders just do not stop until they're around 60 years old.

    I hitched to work for awhile in the same year, and finally stopped when I became too creeped out, too many times. I cringe to think what could have, might have, happened. I was very lucky at the time. I've always had the conviction that girls should be trained in the martial arts from a young age, but I never managed to get my two daughters interested in it.

    And they're still saying stupid things like - "she was asking for it, look how she dresses!" Faugh!!]]

    SBGypsy

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  7. RD, I read the post, and was speechless. I had to go away and come back before I could write a few words. Words pretty much fail me still, but I do wish to extend to you my deepest sympathy for your terrible experience and also for the humiliating aftermath. It sounds like a kind of death.

    In my younger days, I did some hitchhiking on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where we went from New Orleans for our cheap spring break. We took the train and had no transportation once we arrived on the coast. My saving grace was that I was always with one or two others, or I could have had a similar experience.

    That you could go on to live a fruitful life after such a terrifying experience is much to your credit, and
    I am so pleased that you found a gentle man like the pirate to spend your life with.]

    JaneBoatler
    ]
    Thank you for surviving, Robin.

    You are loved.

    Chris Clarke


    Wordless.

    I can feel your fierce spirit jumping off my screen and into my brain.

    Wordless.

    NioBium

    anonymous-- I hope you found some comfort somewhere. I spent a good deal of time in my 20s talking to a therapist. It took much longer to undo the pain than it did to inflict it.

    Phantom-- I love that you use the word "fierce." That's such a fine word for my heart.

    Kim-- I am always struck by what is still very hard for me to share, where I still carry guilt and shame. The legal culture of the early 70s really reinforced the mindset of blame the victim. The questions they asked me on the witness stand were unbelievable. I actually walked off the stand and out of the courtroom, locked myself in the women's restroom. They had to send in someone after me, to tell me if I didn't come back I could be held in contempt of court. I was so young.

    Pablo-- I love the word defiance. It's a good strong word that helped me lose the shame they tried to instill in me. Thank you for your kind words.

    CCorax-- isn't it amazing how rapists can be set free? Some of our dearest friends are defense attorneys, but shit, there are rapists who really are f*cking guilty. They should be behind bars.

    Cervantes-- I have talked about this experience before, but I have never written about it. My family never wants to hear about it. I even had to warn my mom not to read the blog today. She did tell me though that she was proud that I had become such a tough woman.

    FloridaCracker-- I wondered how you might respond to this post, given that you have teenage daughters. One of the toughest moments for me was when the police called my father to come and pick me up at the station. When he arrived they told him quite graphically what had been done to me. It was a moment I shall never forget. My father was a lovely, gentle, and exceedingly quiet and shy man. He told the police if they ever found the guy to just call him, so he could kill him with his bare hands.
    I agree with you-- these criminals need to be dealt with harshly and quickly. A deftly swung sword comes to mind.

    SBGypsy-- I always find some comfort in knowing that other young women hitchhiked, that I wasn't the only unsuspecting soul on the planet. I agree about the martial arts idea. I've had the same thought. But what does that say about what we accept to be true about our culture?

    janeboatler-- When I was hitchhiking I almost always was picked up by other cool hippies. It was the Woodstock generation rolling on the highways. So it was a horrible dose of reality when I learned that predators took advantage of our free spirits.

    And yes, I am utterly grateful to have found such a lovely and loving partner as the pirate.

    Robin Andrea (formerly called Rexroth's Daughter- RD)

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  8. oh.... so sad, how many of us have a tale to tell like yours. while living at tahoe 30 years back, i jumped out of a moving car, to avoid such an assault. it haunts me on a regular basis.
    i am rushing to do family things today, but wanted to tell you two that i too lived in santa cruz county, and had all 3 of my kids there! we lived in aptos, mostly. left the area in 1993, because it was no longer familiar. i sense a few cool similarities in you guys, and wanted to say so.
    blessings, rd-you really are a survivor.

    annie

    Chris-- Love undoes the scars left by madmen.

    Nio-- From my fierce spirit to yours, thank you.]

    Robin Andrea


    Thank you for sharing, again, a personal story and in such an authentic way. I'm so glad that you are keeping this blog.

    Is it surprising or not that we are each shocked and horrified anew by every rape story each of us is able to bring herself to tell, and yet each of us, every woman I know, has one?

    Rosewood

    This was a hard story to read, especially being about a person we, you loyal readers, feel we have gotten in a way to know.
    My wife Kay used to pick up hitchhikers long after the 60s were over. She had no hesitation in picking us guys. I used to encourage her not to do that, but I had little room to speak, because I would give rides to homeless-looking guys well into the 1980s, I think. Fortunately, Kay never came to any harm that way. (Nor did I.)
    I don't know how hard for you it was to write that experience down and put it on your blog, but I think it was brave of you to do it.
    I think from reading your blog that, even though you may have lost a youthful sense of invunerability, you were not overcome by it, and a survivor-belief in the potential for human goodness shines through the words of your blog every day.

    Jim McCulloch

    You're a strong woman, RD. An unhappy anniversary, but a part of you I'm honored to know

    KathyR

    Annie-- It is a sad tale that we have. Even jumping out of the car before the assault leaves its scars. I do not think of it everyday, but it is always with me.

    Rosewood-- So many women have these stories. Some fall victim to family members, some to acquaintances and "friends." A stranger rape is as frightening as it gets. A special hell for these perps.

    Huitzil-- It was hard to write the poem. I am still uncomfortable with articulating the graphic nature of the assault, the words he said to me. But, I wanted to share something that is really not so uncommon, but so often not discussed.
    I picked up female hitchhikers for many years just to tell them this story. I would never pick up men, and I have even stopped picking up women.
    I do believe in the potential for human goodness, although lately it is sorely tried.

    KathyR-- I am so glad you stopped by. Thanks for your kind words.]

    Robin Andrea

    Injury upon injury. Dear, dear RD. I am so sorry you were treated so inhumanly. I wish I had more words. On this day I will celebrate the truly incredible woman you are. I love you.

    jsk

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  9. Thanks for bearing witness then and now, and for all the courage that implies. I have the feeling that in most ways you still are that woman you described at the beginning of the post, only more beautiful for having overcome.

    dave

    Rexroth's Daughter - I feel such anger at the b*stard that did that to you. I'm glad you didn't let it turn you into a scared person. Too many women/girls go through such an experience. Too many times, the culprit gets away with it. I am so sorry that you had that experience. My heart goes out to you.

    OldWhiteLady

    jsk-- Yes, injury upon injury. The jury inflicted much pain, different from the assault, but leaving me distrustful and utterly failed. Your love is always part of the healing.

    dave-- I am very much like the young woman in the beginning of the post, and becoming more like her everyday. Retirement has been good for my spirit, and in this freedom I have been renewed.

    oldwhitelady-- Thank you for your outrage and your heartfelt sympathy. I did let the experience turn me into a scared person for many years, but therapy and love helped to heal the wounds.]

    Robin Andrea

    [Powerful stuff RD. Sorry this happened to you. Wish I could hug you in person!

    I wonder if the policemen would be any different nowdays...

    Rurality

    [Namaste...

    My best hope for whatever happens to us in the next life is that whatever karma we created in this life catches up to us. Those who commit such crimes ought to know how their victims feel. And may those who commit the worst crimes then be sent to oblivion, forever.

    But, we have to live in this life, and survive what happens to us. I'm glad you are a survivor.

    To anonymous, we understand your pain, we connect with you, just from your few words here. Namaste, and peace.

    Woodka

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  10. Rurality-- Your words do fine in conveying that hug. I am quite appreciative.
    I'm not sure policemen would be any different these days. They have to deal with some of the most difficult elements in our culture. They often have very standard stereotypical ideas about people and situations.

    Donna-- Thank you. I'm glad to have survived and have the wherewithal to write about it. I don't know about karma, but I do hope that in some life, if not this one, that person has his moment of reckoning.

    Robin Andrea

    RD: You are a brave and strong woman. I admire you, and I thank you for sharing this personal story. I wish I could take it away, but I know, as you said, that the love of the pirate heals the wounds. I hope my daughters grow up to be strong women like you.

    Yankee Transplant

    [I was away for a few days and was thrilled to be greeted by the photos of the cedar waxwings. Ah, what a treat!

    Then I scrolled down to this post . . .

    Tears well up in me. I'm reminded about the humiliation and fear I felt when I lost my virginity to one of the guys in our gang. I was fourteen when he took me behind a row of hedges and forced himself upon me. Immediately word got out that I was "easy". I was so naive, that I hadn't realized that I had been raped. I had thought only that I was a "bad girl".

    Thankfully, I was able to perform well in school and with a career, but for many years maintained the "bad girl" side by night. Eventually, I wound up in a protracted abusive relationship.

    I was thirtyish and married to my sweetheart before I broke free of my "shadow". My hubby was sweet enough and persistent enough to show me that I was ok. I am now 45 and feel that I am a source of love and hope to my family and friends.

    Back to our "hope vs cynicism" chat from a couple of days ago. Can true compassion be felt if you haven't had to pull yourself out of despair and helplessness? Could one cherish as deeply as you do the love, beauty, and goodness of the world, if you hadn't seen it's dark side?

    But as a mama, I strive to protect my kids from this kind of pain. I fully understand how your father responded as he did

    SoccerMom

    [YT-- I've seen photos of your daughters, they look well on their way to being the strong and grounded women you'd like them to be.

    soccer mom-- there are too many stories like yours. They are heartbreaking, each and every one of them. I find it so sad how much we internalize the cultural message that says our victimization was our fault. Heaped upon the original pain, it cuts as deeply.

    It's a good question you ask about pulling ourselves out of despair. It is an experience, an education-- and in that way it does provide us with more information about the world. And yes, maybe it does enrich the goodness a bit more. I do think that there are empathetic people who feel the pain as deeply without having to have been the victim of a crime, and therefore also appreciate the love, beauty, and goodness of the world.

    Robin Andrea

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  11. RD -- this is the first time I've visited your site, and got here via corndog or Phantom Scribbler. I've also enjoyed your posts at PS's on Wednesdays.

    I just wanted to say that I scrolled down to this post, and was absolutely shellshocked. I have no words to give to you -- nothing ever makes such hell better -- but I have suffered as you have. As a fellow "victim no more", I just want to hold your virtual hand for a little while, and be, in peace.

    I know, too, the devestation a single minute can cause. My life, too, was ripped apart by a man who took what he wanted by force. You know the pain and the guilt when people don't believe you. I can only say to you, thank you. Thank you for facing down the demon, and for having the courage to not be a victim, but a survivor. You words have helped another.

    KLee

    RD,
    a stone in my stomach and tears in my eyes

    Tara Dharma

    [KLee-- It is so touching to me how many people have come by and shared their private misery. So many women have had their lives altered by one person, so quickly. I thank you for your hand and the peace you brought it.

    Tara-- Thank you.

    Robin Andrea

    "But as a mama, I strive to protect my kids from this kind of pain. "

    Oh, soccer mom, I know. I was unable to protect my then 15 year old daughter this pain. She had the additional pain of not telling me for many months because of her internalized guilt, and just wanted to blot out that it ever happened. How I ached for her (and still do) and reprimanded myself for not keeping her safe from this human piece of garbage. Tho I know there wasn't anything I could have done...nor she. When a knife's in your back, you work on staying alive. Thank G*d she IS alive, and doing well, thank you.

    Both my sisters were raped and beaten (as teenagers); most of my women friends have been. It's true yet so unbelievable! I keep thinking I've dodged a bullet, yet there is still time...

    Tara Dharma

    Oh Tara-- I forgot about your sweet daughter. Oh god. I now remember her pain. And your sisters. This silent war against women in our country is so brutal. The toll is astonishing. Truly. I weep.

    Robin Andrea

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  12. Hello RD,

    You sure do write about difficult, painful subjects at times. I have been trying to catch up on two weeks of blogs but yours stopped me in my tracks. What can one say? And then the comments...so many with similar stories. How can we, as a society, continue to ignore? How can we live with ourselves? And yes, some cultures add insult, injury, and even death to the victims. And how can we ever forgive the police of our part of the world? I have no answers. I can only feel a tiny bit of your pain and that of other commenters that have "shared" your kind of experience, but if those of us who can will each share a bit of the pain, perhaps little bits of it can leave you and others who have been victims.

    Before becoming a teacher, I spent eight years working with "emotionally disturbed" children. Many were "disturbed" for the same reasons as you and at very young ages by the people who brought them into this world. I had to leave the profession as the pain of listening to their stories was too much for me and I was just a listener. I am often ashamed of being male simply because there are so many males that are so sick. It is an illness that goes beyond my understanding.

    Thank you for sharing your story and being a much braver survivor than I think I could be. May peace and love look for a place in you and find it!

    Dean (Ontario Wanderer)

    Dean-- Thank you for such a kind, thoughtful and heartfelt comment. I thought long and hard about writing this post. I thought it was important to write from a place of strength. It has been many years. I've shed many tears for my young self and the pain that I endured. I think the damage can be undone, but it takes much work and commitment.
    In one of my women's studies class in college, we learned that part of our culture is based on the premise that there are men whose job it is to protect women from other men. I don't know how I feel about that anymore, but it certainly crystallized a kind of jaded certainty about what we accept in male behaviors.
    Your words mean a lot to me. I can't imagine what it must have been like to have to listen to stories like mine for eight long years, especially stories from children. I admire your desire to try.

    Robin Andrea

    you are indeed a survivor. i can only imagine how twistedly horrible that act must feel, and how contextually hateful and damaging an act otherwise reserved for love could be. you are certainly not alone in experiencing life's cruelty. i am glad you have come so far, and scars can be beautiful in time. thanks for your courage

    Dr. Charles

    [Hi RD, for couple of hours I was reading your blog in silence(I came your blog through at earthhomegarden). But, when I red this one, I couldn't sit on my chair. Tears came up in my eyes, I'm crying for you, for the women in Iraqi and the women all over the world. I'm especially crying because of the woman are called "slut". I wonder how we could be sluts when there was no man in the world? Is it matter of a man mentality? No, of course it is not so but I'm so hopeless sometimes.

    Birsen Sahin

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