I don’t know why. But of all the rapes that came before, and those that followed; this one has always hurt the most…
I was 19 and I had a summer job at a small festival with a uni friend. It was long days and hard work in a hot kitchen. We’d sleep during the post lunch lull and party all night, fuelled by vodka and as much free coffee as we could drink. My favourite part was the early mornings, walking to work barefoot through the grass. Still drunk, I’d get an ice cold coke and sip it on the bench outside the kitchen. I’ve always loved watching the sunrise and seeing the world waking up.
There were always going to be men. Holiday flings. One night things. That goes without saying. It was me, after all.
So when Andy started talking to me that afternoon on my break, I knew it was likely to end up in his tent later that night. I’d taken my shoes off and was sat on the floor trying to massage the pain of standing up all morning out of my feet. He told me he was 26 and in the military, and that he’d see me later. From where I was sitting he looked about 8ft tall, and he was the TV kind of handsome. But something didn’t feel right. Something about him scared me and I couldn’t explain what, but the feeling passed and I forgot all about it.
I didn’t see him again until that evening. We were a couple of staff members down and an hour behind and trying to serve evening meals to a huge queue of people. I was on the till that night and exhausted. It had been a 16 hour shift. Suddenly Andy appeared at the front of the queue holding a glass of vodka and coke. He said I looked like I needed a drink, and I smiled at him and took it. An hour later, kitchen closed and I went next door to thank him. He was by the bar waiting for me, with more drinks, which I gladly knocked back. My feet hurt all the way up to my knees, and I hadn’t eaten since yesterday. And I couldn’t imagine why a handsome solider would be in the least bit interested in a teenager like me who smelled like chips.
He didn’t want to dance, or talk, or sit, or drink. He said he’d take me for a ride in his car and buy me a kebab. I can’t remember if we made it to the kebab shop now, but I remember the drive. I’d never been in a car as expensive and spotlessly clean as his. He put the music on loud and his foot down to the floor and drove us out into the dark British countryside. The roads were narrow and twisted and turned through lanes with high hedges and hills. Everything passed by in a blur. I sneaked a look at his speedometer saw we were going 90mph. I expect to crash and die at any moment.
We stoped because I told him I was going to be sick. He kept the engine running while I threw up bile and vodka and coke at the pavement. A voice inside told me to not get back in, to run,…but it was 1am and I didn’t know where I was, and all I had with me was a 10pack of cigarettes. I didn’t even have shoes on my feet.
I got back in the car. And we raced through the countryside some more. Then suddenly we were back at the festival, and I could hear music and laughing. I started walking, my legs wobbly, towards the big marquee where my friends and coworkers would be dancing. I was dizzy and sick and confused and I thought I’d find my friends and sleep in a corner somewhere. But Andy took my arm and pulled me towards the tent field instead. Inside screamed at me to run but I didn’t and I don’t know why. I think perhaps I thought I’d led him on and owed him something, and that I could just give him a quick blow job or something before making my excuses and getting away from him.
We arrived at the a tiny 2 man tent, which he unzipped and told me to get inside. I thought it would be ok if I just went along with it and made him orgasm quickly. I’d had lots of one night stands and I know how things go; you get each other off, and you go your separate ways. Nobody gets hurt. But there was no talking, no shared giggling, no smiling, no kissing. What there was, I suddenly realised, was just me – naked, and confined in a tiny space in pitch black darkness, with a man I barely knew but I am starting to think might actually hate me.
He pushed me face down onto the floor, put his hands around my throat and forced his penis inside me.
He meant it to hurt.
He did it like I was the filthiest piece of scum he’d ever set eyes upon and it was his mission to annihilate me.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t speak to say no. Nobody would of heard me anyway. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t fight. His entire weight was on top of me, holding me down. I just froze. It was as though I didn’t really exist in my body anymore, I existed only in a tiny little space deep inside my brain.
And inside that little part of my brain was a voice that sounded like my own, telling me “this is rape”. And it was familiar. I knew this. It had happened before, only I didn’t remember it yet. And some part of me that knew how to survive this took over. She made the body loose like a rag doll. When he loosened his grip on our throat, she turned her head to find air.
When he was finished, he just got up and left. The relief that it was over and that I was still alive was soon replaced with terror that he might be going to come back any moment. I desperately started to feel around in the dark for my clothes and my cigarettes. I don’t know why, but even though I wanted to run away I couldn’t bear for any of my things to be left behind in the tent.
When I ran, I ran to the bathroom because I was bleeding and I wanted to clean his smell off me. To get there I had to pass through the bar. I’d assumed it would be empty but when I opened the door he was standing there with a group of his friends.
I was scratched and bruised and had blood running down my legs and tears running down my face, my clothes were torn and my hair had been pulled out of its braids.
They looked at me and they laughed.
And even though it was so long ago, and I’ve told this story out loud, the memory of their laughter still makes me feel so ashamed I wish the floor would open up and swallow me.
I stayed in the bathroom a long time. I clean up the blood and I re-braided my hair, and when I was sure they were gone I ran to the trailer of someone I thought was my friend and I knocked on his door and told him I’d been raped. He told me to go away.
But I didn’t really have anywhere to go. My tent didn’t feel safe, and everyone was asleep. So I went into an out building on the festival site and crawled underneath some tables at the back were I nobody would find me, and I waited for the sun to rise.
I didn’t plan to tell anyone, but the next day I couldn’t stop being sick and I was burning the bacon butties and I couldn’t stop crying and everyone was angry with me, so I eventually told my boss. She asked me if I’d said no? Had I fought back? Told him to stop? Had I been drinking? wearing a short skirt? Flirting? Was I sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding? Was I sure it was really rape?
When she asked me if I wanted to go to the police I said no. Because she was right; I had been drunk and I did willingly get into his tent, and I was wearing a short dress, and I hadn’t been able to say “no” or “stop” because he had his hands round my throat. So who would believe me? And maybe she was right and it wasn’t really rape anyway?
I phoned my mum and asked her to come and get me and take me home.
My mum, because my rape quickly became HER trauma and not mine, told everyone I knew about what had happened to me. But nobody ever asked me if I was ok, or if I needed anything. Nobody knew what to say, so nobody said anything at all.
Someone bought me flowers. Yellow and orange ones, like sunflowers. I can still picture them in the vase I shoved them in; loud and bright and clashing with the kitchen wallpaper, and it still makes me want to cry.
There was an excruciatingly embarrassing to my mums male GP, followed by a trip to the hospital to check for STDs and to collect evidence in case I changed my mind, and then a visit to the rape crisis centre because my mother insisted I should talk about it and get over it.
Then a week later there was nothing, and no one.
Just deep burning shame.
It’s almost 20 years later and I still want to crawl under a rock whenever I think about it.
And as another anniversary of my rape comes around, all I want to do, just like every year on this date, is cry and cry and cry. But I won’t. I never do.
I wonder if anyone else remembers. I wonder if my mum thinks about it. I wonder if my rapist does…
I’d like to go back to the field where it happened and put some flowers on the ground. White roses maybe. Something beautiful, tied with a ribbon.
I say that every year.
Maybe one day I will.