Donut Story

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I walked into the youth chapel at the church. Something was different: there was a box of donuts on a folding table in the center of the room. All of us descended on it eagerly. There were some kids who had such strict parents that they did not get to eat sugar. They were the most deflated. I stared into the box, taking in donut after donut- glazed, creme filled, maple bar- all varieties with one common theme. A big bite had been taken from each one. Dejected, we slumped in our chairs. No one was willing to risk eating a communal donut. We had all been warned about the dangers of sharing food a million times over. We did not want herpes from a donut, no sir. We were adept at going with out. We had already gone without dancing (the prom), learning science, eating meat, reading novels, watching movies, or any of the long list of things that were not allowed.

The youth pastor finally entered the room like a Vegas magician, so proud of his show. I could tell he was really revving up for this one. He looked around the room, then focused his eyes on me. “Once you are touched, no one will want you. No one will marry you. No one wants to eat a donut that someone else already took a bite from. They throw it away.”

The other kids looked at me curiously. If they did not know, now they did. I was the donut. I was touched, I was impure, and he knew it. I was raped by someone the guy knew, and here he was telling me God thought I was a disposable tissue now in front of everyone. He went on and on about the virtues of virginity while I had that sensation of being swallowed by the floor.

His words began to melt together. I got up, and left the chapel. I did not return. I think that was the last time I went to the church.

I grew up. I met people who did not think that being a virgin was a prerequisite for being a good person. I told myself a million times that the metaphor was boring and stupid, but still, at night I would dream of it. I would feel unworthy. I would remember what he said in painful detail, and how he looked right at me in a room of teenagers to say it. It felt staged just to point out to the holy kids that I was not.

It speaks to the education on abstinence. If someone loses their hymen, we need to believe they still are worthy. Virginity as a commodity is foolish, and makes vulnerable people more so out of the shame society levels on them. Who wants to raise their hand in the chapel to say they are the donut?

Religious Counsel

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My rapist had listened to me. I had warned him I was thinking of telling on him. I was getting tired of being his rag doll. He explained very gently that no one would believe me, or if they did they would tell me it was my fault. He decided to demonstrate this. He was very sensitive this way.

He brought me to the pastor’s office on the big church campus. There were two men inside the office. The pastor, who I didn’t know, and a blond blind man, who I didn’t know. Then there was a rapist. And then there was me. Three adult men in a locked office, and a minor girl. Me. It’s good to know a room’s dynamics.

My rapist had big blue eyes that he filled with the most convincing tears. He cried about how I was making him sin. I was causing him to stray from the path, and he had raped and sodomized me, and blah blah blah cry whine poor him. I sat there silently. I mean, what a show! What should I say? Adult me wants to reach back in time and say fuck you to all the men in the room, dial 911 to report some rapes, and get child me out of there. But, alas, I had been programmed to be polite. Be nice. And I actually kind of felt sorry for my rapist at the time. I mean, he was crying! He was apologizing, kind of! Not really, but in a way!

After he was done sniveling, and was passed the tissues, all eyes turned to me. The Jezebel. They wanted me to agree to forgive this whole unfortunate event, to pray with all of them. The blind man offered that he used to be angry at god, like he could tell I was, but now he wasn’t! So see? It would be in everyone’s best interest for me to comply. Forgive and forget, and make nice with my rapist.

When I remained silent, they started to wonder if I was touched by the devil. That was why I was so alluring to this poor, helpless man. They wondered if I might need an exorcism. The rapist had seen me shake when raping me once, after all. What was that all about? Must be Satan (Sadly, I have no demonic powers. It’s epilepsy. Damn.)!

I didn’t want to have an exorcism. Everyone was praying but me, and my eyes were wide open. This was one of the most frightening events in my life. I wanted out of the room. I couldn’t breathe. He had just confessed to doing all this torture and somehow what he had always assured me was right: No matter what, it was my fault. No one would stop him, no one would help me. I was scum. He was holy; he just needed a quick touch up. “Dear Jesus, I totally raped the hell out of this underage girl. You forgive me though, right?” Of course! He was free and clear, his soul pure as a dove.

I remain soiled.

Music As Savior

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I drank tea alone from a chipped cup. I set it on the piano and began to practice. I didn’t know the names of the notes. I closed my eyes and tried to decide what sounded good toegether and what did not.

If I could only focus on the piano my pain would not be so much. The pounding in my head would lesson, the stress would shiver out of my arms, and my thighs would be clean. If I could only hear the brightness and stretch the sound into a door that only I had a key for, I would be safe.

I drank tea and I played the piano. I tried to breathe when i pressed the pedal. I tried not to cry when the door opened and I was yelled at. I was told to stop. The noise is too much.

But the silence is too much. The loneliness is much much too much. The blaring sense of shame is too loud without the piano to blur the lines of wrong and right. I hear sermons on repeat in my head. I know that I should already be dead. A virgin has value. An unmarried girl with no hymen has no value. None at all. No one will want me. This lonliness will continue forever and ever, with the only breaks being admonishments from people who managed to remain pure.

I tried to be pure. I remembered too much. There was nothing of me to save, not after. I was not a virgin when I didn’t even know what virgin was. Now I know and it is too late. I can not take back what happened then, and I can’t stop what happens now. I can only close my eyes, and try to sink into  a note so far. Under a sea of sound I am nothing. I mean nothing. There is only this sound and this note, over and over, hammering into me the colours of pale thread my grandmother’s favorite quilt is stitched with, and then past that, further back, to when the thread was being made on a loom, and then to the sheep that didn’t know how it contributed to me being violated. It did not know what I could focus on, focus on so completely I could be gone.

Telling

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For years I looked back at the year I started telling as a breaking point. It was when I started to really fall apart, resulting in all kinds of terrible things. I thought telling was what destroyed me. I was wrong. It was not about me telling, it was about society’s response to it. It was part of the culture of rape that makes people assume that if you are raped, you are now a weak person, or somehow responsible for your abuser’s crimes.

Before I told, I heard all kinds of stupid sayings like the truth will set you free, everything happens for a reason, and the stupidest part of all was the lie that someone who is being habitually raped can simply tell a helpful adult and they will make it all go away. All the inappropriate touches, all the times I found myself wondering if the bleeding would ever stop, all the times I had to find out resourceful ways to make the blood stains disappear. Stopped by the magical power of words.

I told a lot of people. I was desperate. I had been raped repeatedly for years, and I needed it to stop. I was sixteen. My society failed me because they were concerned with what the neighbors would think. I was accused of trying to tear apart families. It became an examination of every thing I was ever wearing while playing. It was the fact that somehow, I found a way to play, and that was a sign that something horrible was happening had to be a lie.

It is so much more convenient for these things to be untrue. Or to divorce them into something that could never happen to you, if you are good, if you hold your car keys between your fingers in a car garage, if you never ever get drunk at a party, if you aren’t born into the wrong family. I found a community that had boundless sympathy for rapists because they were driven to sin by the look of my legs. They needed to protect these people because they were not simple one dimensional monsters. The rapists are deacons, they come from the best families, they are good men, good boys, they are friends of the family first and foremost.

I became what they called me. Dramatic- I was blamed because my waist length hair turned the rapists on. I shaved my head. I tried to destroy every aspect of myself that they found appealing. That next year I found myself in a court room with a stalker, shaved head and all. I had been advised, of course, not to turn this person in. I was told it would only make it worse, the telling, and even law enforcement let me know I was not injured enough when I showed them hand prints around my neck. The experience of prosecuting that man is one of things I am the most proud of. I never regret it. I never regret telling, despite the continued demand for my silence.

It always shocks me how when I would share so many women and men around me had had this experience to some degree. Maybe they didn’t shave their head but I guarantee they felt marked just the same. Many people did not want any one else to know. They didn’t want all the stigma that goes along with being a victim of this crime.

Don’t tell. It’s repeated so many times it becomes like a mantra. The abusers told me not to tell. Then it was members of my family, then my friends. As recently as this week, I was advised I should not tell unless I had the proper team of therapists around me. I’ve been told by people that it’s too traumatic. It reopens wounds. These wounds are not going to close without proper attention. Proper attention is not protecting the abuser by shaming survivors into not telling.

No one who is raped is really marked. It is a terrible myth of our culture. We are not dirty; we are not crazy; there is no purity that we lost. By shaming people who come forward, we create a society that is afraid to come forward lest they be shamed, and this ultimately only protects the rapists. Telling the truth about my life is not going to hurt me. Not telling creates a continued chain of victims who are being hurt every day. In America, every two minutes a woman is raped. We have to focus on stopping the rapists. We have to change the whole dialogue from telling our daughters to not get raped to telling our sons not to rape.

This is about how we extend our lies. If I am lying, we don’t have to be uncomfortable. We don’t ever have to give up on that friend who is so good at fixing cars, because he is a rapist. We don’t have to get a new Bible school teacher. We don’t have to deal with any of it at all. We don’t have to admit our own faults.

But I did tell. And even though it lead to my darkest times, it brought me out. The only way to change these deeply ingrained assumptions in our culture is to repeatedly challenge them. I will continue to do this. Loudly. I imagine a time when a victim will say they have been raped, and the focus is on justice- not the length of her skirt. I imagine a time when the silence will be cut off in the earliest of stages, with everyone rising up to stop the nonsense of shame.