My Mother, My Rape, And Me
When I was little, I used to sit on my parents’ bed as my mom got ready to go off to work. I’d watch her put on her earrings, slip into her high heels, and pack everything up into her shiny briefcase that smelled like new leather. As a kid with an anxiety disorder, I never wanted her to leave, but I think this was also due to how extraordinary she has always been.
My friends always say to me, “I wish my mom and I were as close as you and yours” and I quietly smile, knowing just how lucky I am. And I know that plenty of people say they have supportive mothers — but mine is special.
My mom listened when I told her I was raped and didn’t force me to talk about it when I said I wasn’t ready. When I told her that I was thinking of going through the reporting process at my university, she told me to do what was best for me, not what everyone else told me to do. When I finally did start going through that process, she answered my sobbing calls after meeting with administrators that treated me like I didn’t matter. She picked up the pieces every time they broke me apart. She drove hours to my school to sit outside of an office, waiting for me while I told my story time and time again. She held my hand tightly as we walked away from those meetings, side by side. She never once doubted my ability to keep going, no matter how much I doubted myself. Every time I choked out the words “I can’t do this anymore,” she responded with “Yes, you can,” followed by a pep talk that could save your life — it sure did save mine.
As I sat through an excruciating five-hour long hearing with my rapist, my mom sat outside at a table waiting for me. When it finished and I crumbled into a pile of what was left of me, what he hadn’t taken from me, she held me in her arms and squeezed me back together as best she could. When I found out that he had been expelled for rape and sexual assault, she was sitting right next to me, and understood when tears coursed down my face in a river of exhaustion. She understood when I ranted about people who heard and asked me if I was “happy,” she knew I hadn’t been “happy” in a long time and couldn’t even see happiness in the distance. I’d never been more grateful that my mom was a lawyer than when I received an email that wasn’t written in a kind of English I’d ever seen. She translated for me, telling me that my rapist was suing the school. After I found out that they were no longer expelling my rapist because his parents had a lot of “power,” my mom called the school out on what that really meant: money. When it never got solved, my mom hurt with me. That was all she could do.
But the most admirable thing my mom did for me? She never, ever made me comfort her or showed an ounce of pain, despite how much I know she was hurting. It was a clear-cut case of breaking and entering, except the home was my body — a body that my mom helped to build. He not only stole from me, but from everyone I love, especially my mom.
This year I’m a senior as well as an activist on campus, fighting to change the way my school handles sexual assault (or, doesn’t handle it). The other day I called my mom and I said to her, “We’re planning a sit-in around the president’s office.” I told her about it and how there should be lots of students and faculty. She said to me, “If it would be OK with you, I’d like to protest too.” That’s my mom.
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Will it feel the same when you tell me you love me over the phone? Will the peacefulness of those words still floor me from thousands of miles away?
I was conflicted. It felt like one eye was trying to look away while the other soaked it up. I felt the heat rise in my face. This was wrong. But it didn’t feel wrong.
Any nervous flyer knows the progression of descending panic: bile, sweaty palms, social awkwardness and self-induced sedation.
I know how it feels when the weight of darkness crashes down onto your chest in the middle of the night, and how you wish things would stop spinning because the axis seems tilted now. I know, love, I know.