By Dina Zirlott
Warning: Details in this story could be triggering to some readers.
I was raped when I was 17 years old. I had a baby when I was 18 years old. My baby died when I was 19 years old.
I cannot recall the color of the sky when I woke up the morning I was raped, or what I did in the hours leading up to the assault. I think of it in terms of Before and After, and I’m caught right in between the two.
Instead, I remember this: a boy from school who I thought was a friend. I invited him over to my house for a movie. His hand skimmed up my leg. When I asked him to stop, all he said was, “I don’t want to.” I thought if I got up it would diffuse the tension and surely he wouldn’t follow me in my own house. I went to the kitchen to get some water.
I remember this: Him pressing up behind me against the kitchen counter, knocking the breath out of me. His hand over my mouth that turned into a hand around my throat. The sound of a seam ripping, the ledge of the counter scraping my belly, my hands slipping against granite. Time stretching out in both directions. I struggled, tried to move away, and a miserable noise yanked out of my chest when that hand constricted until I began to pass out. I stopped fighting. Aside from one shattering bit, I went still. I was outside of myself, watching myself ― my body was bent over there and whatever was happening to it was happening without me.
I don’t remember him leaving my house. I vaguely recall kneeling down and cleaning spots of blood off the white tile of the kitchen floor. My mind was operating on some level beyond self-awareness. It never occurred to me to keep my clothes or to go and wake my mother, to call the police or seek help in any way. I was not capable of processing what had happened. I laid down in my bed, tried wrapping my arms around myself, but I could not bear to be touched ― not even by my own hand. I wondered if I was capable of drowning myself in our pool. I imagined myself sinking down, staring up from the bottom and opening my mouth.
I was an honor student in high school, a varsity cheerleader, and I sang in the show choir. I was another junior worried about her ACT scores. There were expectations I had set for myself ― an excess of possibilities I wanted to touch and explore. Within three months of the rape, my grades plummeted. I quit the cheerleader squad. I began getting sick and missing school. I lost weight. I was actively suicidal and making plans.
It was in the After, almost eight months later, when my mother found a book on recovery after rape wrapped in newspaper under my bed. She cried and apologized, recounting all the signs I had displayed over the past months. Her guilt and concern were like thick, suffocating tentacles around me. I did not want to be loved at that time. My body was filth.
When I thought it could not be any worse, that there was nothing below this, my mother took me to her gynecologist to have me tested for STIs and pregnancy. Only the pregnancy test came back positive. I was so mentally unstable in the months after my rape, my mind ripped away from my body and it never occurred to me that the sickness I had been experiencing over those months could have an origin. I was frail. My stomach was hardly swollen. My periods had always been splotchy and irregular. I was poison ― what could possibly take root in me?
The nurse looked away from me and rolled her eyes. She ticked off a box on my chart. “Do you know who the father is?” Her voice was flat.
“I was raped,” I told her as I watched the pen stop moving between her fingers.