Times I Wasn't Raped

I’m not going to tell you about my cousin’s and my rape. He was an asshole, but he came by it honestly.

His mother, my aunt, killed herself when he was a baby. His father was in prison for life on murder charges. Florida’s CPS had placed him with our grandfather, as my sister and I were placed with our grandmother when we were taken away from our own dysfunctional parents. Our grandfather was abusive, so he ran away. He moved in with us when he was 12 and I was 14. He’d already been in and out of Boot Camp and Juvenile Detention for dealing drugs and petty theft. He proceeded to use my body as a punching bag to vent his anger over all the injustice he’d suffered in his life.

I was once sitting at the living room table our grandmother had painted a delusional yellow in one of the chairs with the lurid, smiling sun backs. I said something to piss him off and he threw an unsharpened pencil across the room carefully aimed to miss my head by an inch. It hit the chair I was sitting on and broke it in two. I remember knowing he could kill me. I remember knowing he knew that he could kill me. But what that made me feel was rage, not fear. Rage that he was stronger than me, that I could not protect myself. So I provoked him, over and over, trying to prove to myself that I could survive.

Once, just once, I won.

I was 17. It was early morning before school and it was still dark. We were both seated at the garish yellow table. I don’t remember what the argument was about this time, but I do remember there was a six pack of Coke on the table in front of us. I took one and opened it. Then I reached over, and I dumped it over my cousin’s head. And then I ran like hell. I made it to my old Chevy Caprice Classic, slammed the door, and peeled out of the driveway just as his retaliatory can came shooting towards me. It hit my driver’s side door and caved it half-in, but I was off, and I had won!

I made it to school, and about twenty minutes later the band teacher came in and asked me if maybe I’d left my keys in my car? I went out to the parking lot. Not only had I left my keys in the car, but I had also left the car running, the headlights blazing, and the driver’s side door wide open. That’s how charged I was and shaken.

Our rape came some time after that. I honestly don’t remember the details—like so many of my memories from that grimy log cabin in the Southwest Florida swamp, I see it as though through ancient, yellowed glass. I never told. He was not “caught”—for that, at least. Even at the time, I shut it in a dark corner of my mind—and had migraines every day for a year and a half that no one could discover the cause of but that mysteriously vanished the second he went back to Juvie.

I was legally emancipated when I turned 18, and I ran. He didn’t last much longer. A year after I left, he got high and tried to rob a liquor store while naked. The police came. They say he fired two rounds of blanks on them and then turned a real bullet on himself. While high. And naked. While holding a case of liquor. I have thoughts about that story. He was only 17.

Still, rape stories are a dime a dozen, even if I could see all the hard edges clearly, even if I felt like painting them. But I sometimes wonder what the pervasive narrative that women are waiting victims does to our psyches. Do we really have to choose between a sense of self and a sense of safety? In a world where the reality is that most women will face some form of violence at the hands of men during their lives, must we always weigh our shoulders down with fear? Or can we hold that knowledge some other way? Are we as vulnerable as we think? And is it worth carrying that fear with us at all times, even if we are vulnerable?