So here we finally are.
There was a point to laying all that groundwork. I think that to get the full effect of what happened, it’s really necessary to have an idea of what came before. Though on second thought, even not knowing everything, it’s probably clear that what happened next was pretty terrible.
Well, that being the case, I’m still not going to wish away the thousands and thousands of words I’ve written leading up to my dark night of the soul. It was good to get it out.
Given what’s happened recently, it’s good to remember everything I went through. I made it from there to here, and I had far less in resources than I do now. I’ll make it through again.
So, this is what happened…
There was a day. It seemed like any other day. Get up, look for internships, spend time with my (increasingly controlling and shitty) boyfriend Frances, keep on truckin’.
One of those things that I did many times daily (as I still do now) was check my email. This particular day, I had an email from my high school best friend Elias. Elias and I were currently at the phase in our relationship cycle where we were just starting to talk again after he screamed at me on the phone for being a horrible friend, hung up on me, and then ignored me for a few months before beginning to grudgingly “take me back”, so his email was pretty succinct. It said something along the lines of “I guess you never really know people…” and then there was a link.
I clicked on the link.
The link led to an article.
The link led to an article about David, my high school teacher who had raped me.
The link led to an article about David, my high school teacher who had raped me and then went on to statutorily rape a number of young women at his next school. It seems he’d built up a little harem, which is what he called it in emails obtained by the paper. He had several young women all convinced that he was in love with him, and was going to marry them once they graduated. He got caught when he wasn’t quite discreet enough about sneaking off with one of them to have sex. They were caught by another one, who went home and told her parents. Those parents called the other young woman’s parents, and then they went to the school and it came out that there were four high schoolers aged fifteen to seventeen that he was running this insane scam with (two other young women who’d graduated later came forward to say he did it with them too, and broke up with each other them around their high school graduation).
David had been arrested and was going to trial for various charges including statutory rape. If convicted (and he was), he’d have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life (needless to say, his teaching career was over).
Reading this article was…horrific. I felt like time stopped, like I was in The Matrix and an enormous amount of data had just been dropped into my head. Because I remembered. I remembered him raping me. I remembered realizing it several years earlier and having a nervous breakdown. I remembered not saying anything to anybody, because I couldn’t deal with it.
And now, he’d moved on to even sneakier and shittier things. Having himself a little harem. Fucking underage girls after telling him that he loved them, then dumping them when they graduated.
Was this my fault? If I’d have said something sooner, could I have stopped this from happening?
That was my first coherent thought, past remembering. Did my silence cause this?
Eventually I became aware that Frances was still there, waving his hand in front of my face, asking me why I was crying and shaking. I told him some of it. Not all of it, but some of it. That my friend sent a link to an article about my high school teacher having sex with a number of young women. That he’d raped me. That I felt responsible.
I forget exactly what I said to Frances. I remember more clearly what he said to me, which was just…bizarre. After sputtering a bunch of this stuff out to him, I asked him how he felt. He said he felt angry. I asked him if he was angry at me. No, Frances said. He wasn’t angry at me. He was angry at my teacher, for the fucked up things he’d done. At this, my heart warmed. Then Frances continued:
He was angry at my teacher for the fucked up things he’d done…which had made me a completely fucked up person, and now Frances was going to have to deal with me.
Fail, Frances. You fail at relationships. You should have really stopped while you were ahead.
When Frances said that, I had the strangest reaction. On the surface, there was horror, and anger, and fear. Was I completely, hopelessly fucked up? Fucked up for life? I was only twenty-one years old, was I ruined already? How would Frances ever love me, fucked up as I was.
Deep down inside though, his words rang a bell deep in my gut. A deep, rumbling iron bell. I still remember that sound. It was the sound of healthy anger, of self-preservation, of self-love finally waking up and climbing its way out of the depths of my soul.
That night, I had my dark night of the soul. I woke up crying. Judging from my pillow, I’d been crying for hours. I felt heartsick, and terrified, and utterly unworthy of life. I wasn’t suicidal, but I didn’t see a reason why I should keep on living, fucked up person I was. I also felt like I had to pee, so I shuffled off to my bathroom to do that.
After taking care of things, my reflection in the bathroom mirror caught my attention. I looked at myself, really looked at myself, and I thought “I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I don’t want to feel fucked up, and hopeless, and like my life is over before it even really started. I don’t want that”. And something deeper inside me answered: Then don’t. Don’t feel fucked up. Don’t let someone tell you that you’re fucked up for life. Nobody gets to say what you are, other than you.
This was warming, but wasn’t enough. Had my silence harmed these poor young women? Was I partially responsible?
Only you can answer that, came the response. But there’s a lot you can do. Call the police there. Tell them what happened to you. See if it helps.
And take care of yourself. You’re not going to be able to help anybody if you can’t take care of yourself.
At that idea though, I felt despair. Take care of myself? Hadn’t I already failed at that? I stayed in a relationship with my rapist. I’d been in the mental hospital twice. I was taking care of myself, yes, sort of, but barely. I’d been trying to care of myself for years, but I hadn’t even entirely known what I needed, what was injured, what needed to get better.
But now I knew. And the other thing I knew was that the only person I could count on for my entire life was me. Other people could come and go, but I’d always be with me. Only I could take care of me. But would I? Why should I?
Like I told Lora, what came back to me was “Why not?”. Only I could do it. And if I was going to keep living, then I should really start to pick up the pieces are REALLY take care of myself. Find professionals who were actually competent to help me. Listen to myself and what I needed, and then do my best to give myself those things. Do it because…because why not? I was always going to have to live with me, so I might as well work on being the best me that I could.
I summed it up in my letter to Lora:
If I had a reason – I’m pretty, I’m smart, I’m physically healthy; I am working two jobs and my coworkers love me; I have to live for my cat. Those are all THINGS and they can all be taken away. Hell, as I age, they ARE all going to be taken away.
So I decided “fuck it, I’m going to take care of me”, and then set about doing it.
It wasn’t easy, or linear. It took a few months to gather up the courage, but I did dump Frances. I saw a few psychiatrists and therapists and had to learn to have the courage to dump those sorts of people when they didn’t feel like a good match. Some of them didn’t take that well, and it hurt. But I got over it, and learned to listen a bit more to my own internal judge of when I should walk away without an explanation, and close the door firmly behind me before anything else can come out to hurt me.
I did contact the police in the town where David was arrested. I eventually talked to an ADA. He was initially interested in hearing what I had to say, but once I explained the full situation and my life afterwards (being a Hooter Girl, then a go-go dancer, being committed more than once to a mental hospital), he didn’t think it would be especially helpful to their case. He offered to get put me in touch with the DA in my hometown, since that’s where charges against David because of me would have been generated from, but he had no faith that they’d have any interest in my case. He tried to be nice about it, but he basically said that my current job of being a go-go dancer made me look bad, and staying with David for months after the alleged rapes would look bad, and really, he wasn’t entirely sure that I ever had a case.
That was somewhat devastating. By then, I had a good therapist and a good psychiatrist, and they helped me through. My friends didn’t help me because I didn’t tell them. This was post-college, and the vast majority of them had moved away. After Frances’ reaction, I was deeply bruised when it came to trusting non-professionals. For awhile, I really withdrew from my college friends, though I did reconnect with many of them in the years since.
I think the most telling thing about that was how relieved they were. Many of them expressed great love for me, but also concerns that I always seemed like something was wrong. That I was a mess, even when I was keeping myself together. By the time I felt ready to see my college friends again, after a lot of therapy and work on myself, I was a different person in a lot of ways. Ways that my old friends noticed, and were really happy for me about. Beth said something along the lines of “It’s like you kept all the good and wonderful parts of yourself and somehow exercised all of your demons”.
In hindsight, I’m not totally sure how I feel about my “go it alone” attitude. I generally believe that no person is an island, and that we all need other people. But we all need healthy people. And there was a long, hard time when I didn’t know if I had any healthy people who were geographically close to me, that I could depend on, and be depended on in return. There were some friends I made along the way that I learned as I got to know them, were quite toxic, and I extricated myself from those relationships. I made other friends who weren’t toxic, but weren’t quite my tribe.
Eventually I stumbled into a really solid group of friends, the ones that I met Issi through. My world has narrowed down and away from them, in part because of my current chronic illness, but they’re generally wonderful people, and I have many wonderful memories of the times I spent with them. Things have been twisty and there have been some unhealthy paths I’ve gone down, like the one with Lora, and the one with Rachel and Jessica.
But through all of it, I’ve always kept that strong core of inner self. Even when I felt half-mad and completely miserable from the things that transpired with Lora, I still had that strong inner core inside me. It came out at the end, when I realized that there was no way for me to have a relationship with her, that we couldn’t live together, that she was too toxic. It came out late, yes. I gave her more chances than was good for my emotional health. That’s probably in part because I knew that I had something really strong in me to fall back onto, when I needed it.
That’s my story of my own dark night of the soul. In some ways, I wish I had something “better” to say, some concrete thing I could offer as what it was that got me through. But even more so than I did then, I believe that any “reason” I had could be taken away. Health fails. Jobs can be lost. Pets die. People we love die. I‘ll die. But until I do, I’m going to take care of me. Taking care of myself does mean that I have more time and energy and ability to be good to those I love; that is true. But the main reason that I’ll take care of me is because this is the only me I’ve got, and I’m going to keep myself in the best shape possible – for myself.