The Starbucks I tell people is on 7Th Ave South but is really on Grove Street in The Village is where I was when I found out my friend was raped. I hate that it was here, because it’s the Starbucks where shitty kids steal earned belongings from half-decent people like me when we ask the neighboring table to keep an eye on them. So now, not only am I grieving for my friend, I have to keep my eyes clear enough to see these thieves.
Fuck it, I figure, let the tears come.
My friend was raped in the front seat of a car by a boy she trusted enough to give her a ride home from the movie they watched and laughed at together. I could have taken the 1 uptown, walked a couple blocks, hopped on the D, and been at her door within two hours, but I could only sit there and think about what must have been going through her head when she grew tired of fighting back and finally figured it was better to let him finish so he could kiss her goodnight and not understand where her tears came from. He didn’t understand. He thought they were born in joy.
After all, she did accept the ride home, and she did flirt back, and she did kiss him, and you know how women are always playing hard to get. She wanted it, right? These tears are joyful tears. I imagine she played the conversations with her best friends and parents and cops and doctors over and over in her head, and after she spoke, they would all ask the same question, “So what did you do to cause it?” or “You should have known better.” In each scenario in her head, she takes the fall.
I kept reading with tight fists, wishing she knew to find him now. She goes on in her story about her life after him. I’m waiting for part where she brings in the cops. I’m reading faster because I need to get to the part where she tells her father. I imagine me as the father of a daughter who’s been raped. I imagine there being no known force to remove my fingers from inside the rapists’ chest. I have a son, and I would do the same for him if he’s raped, but that fear doesn’t come into my everyday thoughts. I read on, never finding satisfaction.
She kept living because she didn’t know how not to. She kept breathing, and showing up at practice, and attempting to trust and love and kiss boys who she’d never tell about what happened that night. She didn’t know what else to do but go on.
In the years that followed that story, more friends have shared their stories with me. Strangers have come and sat with me, inboxed me, and simply stopped me on the street to talk about what happened to them. Rape happened to them. A society that asks women to keep the semen in their vaginas and on their pencil skirts and in their hair until the police eventually arrive happened to them.
Sexism happened too, and it’s being fed and nurtured by the crusaders against racism. It’s tricky that way.
Last week I stopped at a little bookstore in Burlington, VT and bought my first work by Pearl Cleage, “Deals With The Devil. And Other Reasons To Riot.” I fucked up and should have left it where I found it. She writes about her days on the Hilltop at Howard, having her feet and hands tied by a boyfriend who promised to never let another man have her since he couldn’t. I didn’t flinch, because I know that story. I’m trying now to save a former friend from an pre-physically abusive relationship, but she won’t speak to me. I’m still trying. I did throw the book across the room when Cleage recalls the chorus of Black men singing out their objections to Black women authors’ versions of Black relationships. How opposed those men were to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls, but how silent they were when Black male violence in real life was being condoned, taught, glamorized then ignored.
I hated how I felt standing in that bookstore on Church St. unable to imagine how painful it must be to want someone to fight you, knowing the culture is not set up for that. To see something so clear that you begin believing you’re crazy when others don’t see it too. Cleage ended a paragraph with “I wonder how much good all those poems about beautiful African queens can do in the face of a backhand slap across the mouth and a merciless rape in the bedroom of your own house.” Welcome to the house. I threw the book.
With deep side eyes, I’m looking at my friends who surprised me with their apologist behaviors. The only women who were ever raped are the women they know personally; all others are liars. So easy it was for them to believe their friends from college and that cousin from the north, but they somehow manage to find the strangers’ stories too complex; too difficult.
“He didn’t rape her,” they say. “Why would she wait twenty years to say anything?” Perhaps she went on living. Perhaps she didn’t wait 20 years and told those she knew would help her get through it, not those who would make her relive it over and over and over and then do nothing to help her cleanse her spirit of that night.
“They knew what they went over there for,” they say. “Who shows up at man’s house at midnight, drunk, knowing drugs were present.” And I think about the times I found myself in a drug den in Beverly Hills after midnight with questionable characters and what could have happened. I think about my friends who are spewing this ignorance and the situations in which they’ve found themselves. Are they insane? Do they realize the number of times they could have opened their eyes to someone thrusting away on top of them?
My friend thinks Bill isn’t a rapist. He also has no idea why his fiancé, also my friend, has trust issues with men. I know because she told me. She’s scared to tell him now. She’s scared he’ll call her a liar. Or worse, he’ll console her and make her wonder if it’s genuine, especially after all he’s said about the women like her.
“He’s a cheater and a sociopath and a pervert and a obviously disturbed, but he didn’t rape those women,” they say. “They’re just trying to make a dollar while bringing greatness down.”
On the phone he told the woman to tell her mother about the orgasm the woman never knew she had.
There are the women who have never been raped, or don’t know they were raped because definitions in their household are blurred, that say, “If I was raped, I wouldn’t wait so long. I would speak out immediately and bring him down.” I point them in the direction of:
- 1. The women who spoke out immediately and watched nothing happen to their rapists.
- 2. The many thousands of women in the military who report it knowing nothing will happen to their rapists because nothing has ever happened to a rapist in the military.
- 3. My friends who’ve been raped and are speaking out about their thoughts on rape before they were raped and their thoughts on rape after they were raped.
But they still don’t listen.
I’m afraid I have friends who don’t know where the line is drawn. I’m afraid I have more friends that have been raped but haven’t spoken up because they’re not sure how to say, “I went over to have sex, and get high, and drink, but before I could consent to the sex part, I couldn’t feel my feet, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up.” I’m afraid I have friends who have entered women who said “no” repeatedly, but though it was a part of the “game she was playing.”
And I’m afraid the definition of rape changed without anyone’s consent. Too many men and women are looking for the woman crying in the shower, skin bleeding from scrubbing, still in ripped panties and a black eye. There are photos knocked over in the living room, a lock has been popped, and a door has been kicked in. To them, this is what rape really is, and nothing more.
Meanwhile, they work hard to make a liar of the woman in flawless makeup in a classroom waiting for her students to enter because teaching them about French Literature is the only thing getting her through the day.
And here I am, just writing because I don’t know what else to do. Write and teach my son and his friends and my cousins what is right and what isn’t. Writing because I’m tired of Charles Davis being the exception and not the rule when speaking out about Black male responsibility without pigeonholing or dealing in respectability politics. Maybe even a part of me believes that by sharing facts with my “rapey” friends who, like Dana Scully, will find every excuse to ignore truth because it means everything must now be questioned, even their own actions, saying “rape culture” won’t stop further discourse. “They weren’t raped. What he did wasn’t rape,” leaves women with less adequate words to describe a situation to themselves and anyone who asks. I suspect after hearing this for so long, I’d not come forward either until I was able.
And should I have a daughter before society is better, I’ll teach her to set herself on fire when men come to speak.