What 9/11 Means to Me

Posted: September 11, 2011 in anxiety, healing, rape, trauma
Tags: , , ,

This time of year is always emotional for me. September 11, 2001, impacted me in the same way it did many Americans – it shook my sense of security, made me nervous about my personal safety, and made me wonder if things would ever feel “normal” again. I wrote an article on patriotism for my high school newspaper and fully embraced my pride in my country. A few months after it happened, I watched the first images of the Iraq invasion on the news and knew the world had changed. Not too long after that, my only brother joined the Army National Guard and moved to Georgia for boot camp. I got to see him three more times before he shipped off to Iraq in 2004. He came home safe, but deeply troubled. It took a long time for us to start rebuilding that bridge.

But in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t what 9/11 means to me. It was more personal; a deeply painful and harshly transformative moment. It happened, I survived, and life went on, but nothing was ever the same.

In August of 2001, I met a boy. He was the singer in a band, and I was supposed to play bass on some demo tracks they were working on. Instead, he wrecked a car. Instead of playing the bass I ended up driving him into town to call a tow truck. Instead of starting my senior year excited about going to college, I started it wracked with anxiety about a relationship that everyone (including this boy) said was bad for me. But I was in love with a boy who knew exactly what to say to keep me coming back to him, even when I knew it would hurt.

This boy and I were total opposites. He drank; I didn’t. He did drugs; I refused to try them. He smoked cigarettes; I pretended to. He stole; I felt guilty and looked the other way. He went to jail; I accepted his collect calls and promised to do anything for him.

I bailed this boy out of jail. With $1’s and $5’s collected over the course of months working nights as a waitress. He disappeared. I waited through weeks of unanswered phone calls and rumors floating around school that he was seeing other girls.

Then one night I ran into him on my way home from work. We went back to his house. It was late. We kissed and he swore he loved me. He took my car keys and cell phone and gave them to a friend, and took me down the street to an old abandoned limousine that was a favored location for getting high, and where, I assumed, we’d make out some more before I went home. Which we did, for a while.

Then he pulled up my dress and he raped me.

I begged him to stop.

He didn’t.

He slammed my face into a window so hard it cracked my teeth.

He pinned me down, and raped me again. And again.

When I was too tired to cry anymore, he told me to put my clothes on and took me inside, to his room, reminded me that his friend would have my car until the next day, and went to sleep next to me like nothing had happened.

The next morning, I got up and wandered into the living room where his mom and her boyfriend were watching TV. The first plane had just hit the twin towers, and I stood and stared, numb.

I spent the day in San Francisco, waiting while this boy bought drugs. The streets were empty, like a ghost town. I felt on the inside the way they looked – dirty, and damaged. Late in the afternoon, he led me down inside a crypt in the middle of an old cemetery and I watched water dripping down the walls while he did meth with a friend. I wondered briefly if he planned on leaving me there. When we got back to his house later that night, my car was there – my purse and cell phone on the seat. He told me to go home like nothing had happened and watched me drive away. I remember the glow of his cigarette standing out against the charcoal gray of a foggy California sky.

I went home.

My parents barely looked up from the news when I came in; paid little attention when I spent two hours in the bathroom, washing away the blood caked between my legs with dirty, lukewarm water. A few days later I finally worked up the energy to take myself to the doctor, where I learned I had Chlamydia. The nurse handed me a prescription and a brown paper bag filled with an assortment of condoms in shiny red and orange wrappers and told me to be more careful next time. It didn’t really occur to me then that what had happened wasn’t my fault, so I nodded and left.

That’s what 9/11 means to me. The end of something – innocence; a belief that I deserved to be treated with respect.

When a teacher finally figured out something was wrong and convinced me to go to the police, almost two months had passed. In that two months, even though I had told my parents what had happened, I don’t remember a single word of comfort. I don’t remember being told it was going to be okay. Ever. I holed up in my room and focused on my homework. I cleaned the house. And I cried a lot, alone.

The police detective in charge of my case eventually called my mom and insisted that she come down to the police station after work one day. She did, but she wasn’t happy about it. At home that night, my dad insisted that going to court was a bad idea – it would be my word against a boy’s, and no one was going to believe me. That was the closest thing to comfort I ever got.

A few days later, I learned from a mutual acquaintance that just before he’d raped me, this boy had had sex with another girl, who had since tested positive for full blown AIDS. I vowed then that if I survived, I’d get the hell out of California. I signed up for the SAT’s a week before the final deadline, worked feverishly on college applications, and waited for the results of my blood work to come back.

In April, I turned 18. I learned I didn’t have HIV. I accepted an offer for an out of state school, enrolled in early admission with no idea how I was going to pay for it, packed up my car even though I was absolutely terrified to leave, and watched California disappear in my rear view mirror.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years.

Months of therapy finally helped me see that what happened then doesn’t have to define me now. I’ve survived, and I’ve grown.

In some ways, it still feels like yesterday.

Like a few months ago, when, during a particularly intense fight with my brother, he insisted I’d never been through anything “that difficult” in my life. I reminded him that at 17, I was raped. One of the ultimate violations.

“Yeah,” he responded after a second of consideration. “But you deserved that. You put yourself in that position.”

I cried all the way home.

A few months later, my brother finally started seeing a therapist. I doubt he’ll ever say he’s sorry.

Ten years.

I’m a few months away from earning a PhD. I owe $100,000 in student loans, but I have a life that’s worlds away from what I knew in California. No matter how things turn out, I don’t ever have to go back to that place where nothing feels safe. I’m still learning how to be happy with me, but at least I’m learning.

The boy who raped me still lives in California. I don’t wonder what he’s doing now very often. I don’t need to, because that doesn’t define me anymore. It helped me grow. It made me stronger. It pushed me to get out. But it isn’t who I am.

I mean more than that.

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Comments
  1. Lady Pants says:

    Lady… this totally breaks my heart to read this but I’m glad you found me so that the next 10 years of our lives can be the best we make them!

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