“I have heard enough warrior stories of heroic daring.
Tell me how you crumble when you hit the wall,
the place you cannot go beyond, by the strength of your own will.
What carries you to the other side of that wall,
to the fragile beauty of your own humanness?”
~ The Dance – Oriah Mountain Dreamer ~
Have you ever walked away from a situation where you have been in a daze and found yourself rubbing the back of your head while thinking, “what the heck just happened?!!”? Yeah, me too…
In one of my previous posts, I touched very briefly about a friend of mine called Peter (which, for the sake of his privacy, isn’t his real name). But, before I attempt to share his story with you and the way that it had a profound influence on my life, I need to warn you that this post is most probably going to be very long and heavy, and it may lead to you running for the hills.
I met Peter a couple of years ago, in the midst of my online meanderings. Let’s just say that the site where we met is hosted in the Land of Queerville. You know, the place that is home to the three fairy godfathers Ed, Ned and Ted; where everyone belongs to the Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand Appreciation Club. Peter contacted me in private and our initial discussion led to our agreement to move our interactions to MSN, where we got to know a bit more about each other. He struck me as being a nice guy and we got along well. And then it happened. The following words appeared on my screen:
“I think that I was raped.”
I think that I reacted like most people would, “What?! When?! What happened?!”
I realised what I was doing and clamped my hands over my mouth, in an attempt to stop myself from subjecting him to further interrogation; to allow him to share what he felt comfortable with, and at a pace that best suited him.
He then tried to retract what he had said by saying, “Then again, I don’t know if I was, because he said that he loved me.” I was initially confused but then realised that he was in the process of opening up deep and festering wounds, and he was trying to stop himself from doing so. I assured him that he was in a safe place and that the only thing of importance to me was his wellbeing, so he wouldn’t be judged. I told him that I had heard stories that would make paint peel from the walls, so there was little risk of me being shocked (although I was when he shared about his sexual assault!). And I told him that he was free to share as much or as little as he felt comfortable with – if he had any desire to share at all. The thing of most importance was that he had two listening and non-judgmental ears that had his full attention. Peter thanked me and told me that he would like to share about his experience.
He had experienced a slight attraction to guys from the time that he had reached his teens. However, in light of his upbringing and the fact that his attraction was slight, he had chosen to ignore it and it eventually led to him getting married and fathering two kids. There were issues in his marriage and he got divorced. It was an ugly and messy divorce; he was the devil incarnate in his wife’s eyes and she would try to use their kids to hurt him. Soon after his divorce, he decided that since he was single, he would explore his attraction to men, which led to him agreeing to meet a guy that (he’d met online) at his house.
Peter then shared every minute and graphic detail about what transpired after he arrived at this guy’s house. His sharing was so in-depth that it left little to the imagination; it eventually felt like a movie that was playing minute by minute inside of my head. There were times when I wanted to cover my eyes and yell, “la-la-la-la-la-la,” to try to make it stop. What transpired was vicious and cruel and above all else, inhumane. He was in a battered, bleeding and broken heap by the time that his assault came to an end. Peter’s rapist then threw his clothes at him and told him to get out. He put his clothes on slowly and with effort because of his physical injuries, and while doing so, he asked, “why did you do this to me?”
“Because I love you so much that I just couldn’t help myself,” was his rapist’s reply.
I was outraged. But more than this, I was enraged! I was also in shock.
For Peter’s sake, I had to put my reaction aside and focus on helping him come to terms with what had taken place. What added insult to injury was the fact that, in light of his messy divorce and his ex wife hating him, his rape had taken place three years prior to our online meeting…and in an attempt to protect himself and his kids, I was the first person that he had shared this with. The fact that he had kept this a secret and carried this burden on his own for such a long period of time was soul destroying for me. It still is, to this day.
There were a few things that stood out in my mind:
The fact that he initially said that he had been raped, told me that he was aware of what had transpired, and that he was coming to a place of being ready to admit it to himself.
The fact that he then tried to retract what he had said, told me that he still wasn’t entirely ready, and that it would be a delicate process before he’d be ready to move away from being in denial. He had pretty much spent the first year convincing himself that his rape was in fact an act of love, and for the two ensuing years, there were shifts between him telling himself that this was the case, while at other times, asking himself if it wasn’t perhaps rape.
Finally, the fact that he had gone into so much detail, told me that very little (if any) healing had taken place. To be expected, with him keeping this secret to himself for such a long time.
I told him that I was with him and that I was willing to help him to process things if he wanted me to. He wanted me to.
I told him that I was going to ask him questions, which he didn’t have to answer out loud if he wasn’t comfortable doing so – the important thing was that he allowed himself to ask himself those questions, even if he didn’t have any answers right away.
It was a very slow and deliberate process that lasted a couple of hours. Pushing too hard, too soon, would have been to his detriment. Our exchange went something like this:
Me: “Did you say no?”
Me: “Did you want it to happen?”
Peter: “No…I mean, I don’t know. He said that I wanted it, so I don’t really know.”
Me: “It’s not about him, it’s about you. What do YOU say?”
Peter: “No, I didn’t want it to happen.”
Me: “Would you do something like this to someone that you love?”
And so it went.
My only intention was to put enough questions into his head so that he could reexamine his assault and allow himself to process his trauma. Unbeknownst to me, he had committed himself to the process, to the degree that his denial was gradually being eroded away. It culminated with him saying:
“I was raped.”
And then, silence!
Me: “Are you okay?”
Me: “Are you still with me?”
Me: “I am growing concerned, can you please let me know that you’re okay?”
As the minutes ticked steadily away, my concern turned into panic.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
My panic turned into a sense of helplessness. My heart was beating in my throat. I felt physically ill. I broke into a sweat. It felt as if he had held a loaded gun to his head and I had subsequently pulled the trigger. It was a horrible, horrible experience!!
About half an hour later, the following words appeared on my screen:
“I am crying”
And at that point, I joined him in tears. Tears of relief, but mostly pained, sorrow-filled tears. Waves of grief flowed through my body as tears streamed down my cheeks. We chatted for a little while longer, with me trying to establish where he was at and how he was feeling. Peter eventually told me that he was wiped out and that he was going to sleep, and I was comfortable with it because by then I could sense that, much as he was dealing with a lot, he was in a good emotional place to be able to cope with it. I gave him my mobile number and told him to either call or text me in the course of the following day, if he needed somebody to talk to. We exchanged our goodnights and I went to bed. My head was swimming.
I woke up the following morning feeling numb inside. I chalked it down to my exhaustion, after all, I had gone to sleep after 4am, so I had only slept for two hours. I spent the day confronted by images of Peter’s rape flashing through my mind. The more that these images flashed, the more aware I became of what had transpired, not only with our previous night’s conversation, but especially about the details concerning his rape.
By the end of that day I was completely devastated. All of this had taken place without word or warning, so I had little opportunity to distance myself emotionally from what he had shared. I was especially devastated by the thought that one human being was capable of being that vicious to another.
I was amazed when I chatted to Peter that evening. There was a lightness in his voice coupled with a hint of peace. He told me that there were periods where he broke down and cried during the day. On one occasion, an office friend asked him why he was distressed and it led to him telling her about his rape. Surprisingly enough, she then shared that at one point in her life, she too had been raped. Her admission made it possible for them to share experiences and she encouraged him to seek professional help, which he had decided to do. The amount of healing that had taken place in a timeframe of just one day was amazing.
Peter and I became friends. The days that followed led to him experiencing waves of grief, sorrow, mourning and anger, which is part of the healing process. He found a psychologist soon thereafter and started to go for therapy. He started to display freedom and happiness. It was like watching a flower unfurl under the rays of the sun. It was incredible.
On my part however, I continued to feel numb inside. My numbness led to me experiencing about a fortnight of weeping off and on. I was devastated by Peter’s rape. I was devastated that a living and feeling being was capable of being so inhumane to another living and feeling being. I struggled to reconcile myself to the fact that human beings are capable of such cruelty and, much as I try not to play the moral police, EVIL. I had a process of my own to go through.
After working myself into a number of snits, I realised it was futile for me to try to examine the conscience of another, and it wasn’t my responsibility either. I could only look at myself and bring my own conscience and life choices under scrutiny. This shift in examination allowed for me to move forward and it also allowed me to uncover one of my own personal beliefs about humanity, and especially about myself. It continues to be a standard that I set before myself and measure myself up against, especially at this time of the year:
I believe that we are better than we dream and worse than we fear,
and that we each get to choose which we will strive for.
It was an honour to bear witness to Peter’s journey towards healing and closure. About six months after our meeting, he came to me with news about his decision to move to another part of the country. He felt that he was ready to put his rape behind him and to build a new life for himself. This decision included his decision to end our friendship and cut all contact with me. I could accept the loss of our friendship but I was concerned that his decision stemmed from an attempt to run away from the past. However, I respected it because I felt that it was his therapist’s responsibility to ensure that he was doing the right thing, and I was loathe to interfere with the therapeutic process. We bade each other goodbye and I have never heard from him since.
My trip to the part of the country that he was planning to move to, about two weeks ago, has led to me thinking about him from time to time. I wonder how he is doing and if he has been able to come to a place of complete healing. I experience deep gratitude for being allowed to be a companion on the journey that he undertook, and for being allowed to bear witness to the strength and resilience of the human will. I don’t believe that there is a greater compliment that one human being can offer another.
Peter is my hero.
On the eve of RE-Birth Day, I am once again inspired by Peter’s story. I celebrate his presence in this huge and mysterious reality called life. I am humbled by the way that he filled my hands with the sacredness of his trust and vulnerability. I am challenged by his courage and commitment to giving himself a better and brighter future. I send him light, love and gratitude, and I wish him only the happiest and brightest of futures.
As this day comes to an end and I prepare myself for a night of slumber, before waking to greet RE-Birth Day, sharing Peter’s story has led to me concluding that it takes a long time to become a person – longer than I thought. I am grateful for my past because it has given me the present. I want to do well by the future.
As an aside:
My last conversation with Peter ended with him telling me that he had a confession to make:
He told me that the night of our meeting had played out differently to how he had planned. He came across the website that I was on, read my profile and felt compelled to contact me. However, he had logged online for a different reason. He was tired of being dead inside. He was tired of not experiencing any emotions, even when he was with his kids. He was tired of the weight of the burden that he was carrying inside of him. It led to his decision that he would go online that night and try to meet someone that would make him re-experience what he did on the night of his rape…and if he still didn’t feel anything afterwards, Peter had decided that he would kill himself…
…I went cold…