The Big Lie

Twenty Years AgoTwenty years ago, I reported a rape that didn’t happen.

There are very few people who know this story, and none with whom I could possibly share every detail. Part of that is simply because the more I explain what happened, the less it feels like an explanation and the more it feels like an excuse for something which is clearly inexcusable. I have spent more than twenty years wanting to speak out publicly about it — to out myself and lay myself bare — but have vacillated back and forth. I have desperately wanted to come clean and take responsibility for my actions, but at the same time I have been haunted by the potential repercussions (beyond any for myself) of this kind of confession. The myth that women frequently lie about rape is inevitably falsely reinforced by one woman coming forward (in spite of statistics to the contrary). I don’t want my lie to reflect unfairly on those who have made genuine claims. It has also never been my desire to re-open old wounds for the boy I hurt and whose life I damaged.

But these things have a tendency to eat away at you when they sit unresolved, and although I wouldn’t say that I have forgiven myself for the choice I made, I do understand it more now. That understanding has made it both easier and harder — maturity has given me the emotional tools to dissect and understand the choice I made — that I felt I had to make at the time — but it has also distanced me greatly from the person that made that choice. I cannot imagine doing such a thing today, or allowing myself to be in such a vulnerable position where I felt there was no other option. This means that although I understand it, I find it hard to empathize with it.

***
THE FOOTBALL PLAYER
When the non-rape happened, I was dating a football player. I was 19 and this was the second serious relationship that I had been in after losing my virginity at 18. My first boyfriend had been sweet and caring, and unfortunately I had been a weepy emotional wreck (undiagnosed bipolar disorder, abandonment issues and puberty were a difficult mix). That relationship lasted three months, after which he dumped me (kindly?) and I was absolutely devastated. When the next relationship came along more than a year later, I grabbed on with both hands and held on tight. Very tight.

He preferred a more arm’s length approach. I was not invited to his house or to meet most of his friends. He didn’t want to meet my friends.

The majority of our relationship involved him rarely returning my calls and coming over to my parent’s house after dark to have sex, which we did mostly in the dark, and during which he never removed his baseball cap. Ever.

Looking back, I have to wonder if any of his friends even knew that he had a girlfriend (was I his girlfriend?), and there is a good chance that he was seeing other girls as well. Things came to a bit of a head when, after repeated requests for him to come to a party with me, he refused and I went on my own.

What happened next wasn’t his fault — if I wasn’t getting what I needed from the relationship I should have just ended it (that seems perfectly logical now, of course, but teenagers don’t often have the emotional maturity to go along with their sexual explorations). I was hurt and needed validation.

***
THE BOY (AKA. THE FALSELY ACCUSED)
I arrived at the party feeling severely depressed, but determined to solve that problem by spending time with my friends and consuming large quantities of alcohol. I no longer remember the exact circumstances of meeting the guy I would cheat on my boyfriend with (for reasons that will become apparent later, my memories of the event ended up being so distorted and tampered with that I blocked out a lot of it). Somehow he was there, and then he and a couple of my girlfriends and I headed to a corner store to buy some snacks, and then we returned to the party, after which he and I started fooling around). He was (in my eyes at the time) the mortal incarnation of a Greek god. He was beautiful. Tanned skin, beautiful wavy hair and muscles. But more importantly, he seemed completely blown away by the attention I was giving him and he reciprocated wholeheartedly.

This was, understandably, a pretty big boost to my self-esteem. He wanted me so much and seemed so hungry for me, and I was so wounded by rejection that I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t register with me at the time that part (or all?) of that hunger was less a function of my irresistible desirability and more a reflection of his age.

He was 15. He was a virgin.

Not only was he 15, but he had just turned 15 that week. He was in grade nine and I had already graduated from high school.

This did give me pause. Of course it did. But I made all the rationalizations that I am sure men make of underage girls who they convince themselves ‘look older’ and are ‘mature for their age.’ By law in Canada, it was legal for us to have sex. Barely.

In any case, we did not have sex that first night, nor even when we met up again the next day. I am not certain that was even my goal. It was a bit of a runaway train that, of course, he was going to ride as far as he could, and that I was feeling less certain about the more sober I was. We eventually went home to my parents house and did, finally, consummate what seemed inevitable.

It was awkward and absolutely not horrible physically, but mentally I realized (during) that I had done a very, very stupid thing. I knew I couldn’t continue seeing him (regardless of what happened with my boyfriend) — enough time had passed that I had actually spent talking to him to realize that, while sweet, he was a child and we had nothing in common. He was beginning high school and I was going to head off to university. I had just been his first sexual experience and I had no idea how to deal with the situation in a way that wouldn’t destroy him.

So of course I pretended everything was fine and waited until he called me the next day and did it over the phone.

***

When my boyfriend found out, he was angry, but didn’t yell or hurt me in any way. He didn’t even dump me. He just insisted I tell him everything about the boy and his name. I asked him if he was going to hurt him. He said no. I told him not to. He said he wouldn’t. I didn’t believe him.

TW: Trigger Warnings for talk of rape and abuse after the fold…

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New Book!

I’m pleased to announce the soft launch of my latest book, “I’Mmoral: Poems for Unrepentant Sinners and Free Thinkers.” For the time being, the eBook is available only on lulu.com, but is being rolled out for distribution through Amazon, Kobo, NOOK, and more. Once I have approved the proofs of the paperback version, I will advise where those can be purchased as well.

cropped-immoral-image.jpegSummary: What would the war cry of a mostly introverted, mentally ill, autistic, genderqueer, physically disabled, feminist, atheist, polyamorous woman sound like? A lot like this. Using a combination of essay and free-form poetry, R.K. confronts the status quo and dissects it, inspecting its parts and discarding the bad bits. In spite of tackling some obviously serious and controversial topics, such as abortion and the anti-vaccination movement, she approaches her subjects with humour and then slaughters them with equal parts derision and kindness.

Price (eBook): $2.99 / Click here to view/buy

Thanks very much for your support!

/rk

You Probably Think This Memoir’s About You

Writing memoir doesn’t come without fallout of one kind or another. I write about myself and my feelings and experiences. And I get a lot of good feedback from objective sources for doing so. People relate to it and thank me for putting into words the things they’ve held back or buried over time. Because it’s easier, sometimes, recognizing yourself in someone else’s story when giving voice to your own can be so painful and feel so risky.

Why risky? Because when you write about your life, other people are featured in the story, and our instinct is to keep private things private.

Well, let’s not be disingenuous here — for those of us among the emotionally wounded, the PTSD sufferers, the mentally ill — privacy has usually been drilled into us from a young age. It’s that stifling environment, where expressions of discord or discussions of fears or ‘working on relationships’, were either not the status quo or were entirely verboten that helped to pack up all that emotional baggage and lock it away.

IMG_0553Memoir writing is cathartic. I mean, that’s the appeal, right? That’s what drives the writer to write; to un-cork the bottle and spill out its contents, while hopefully painting them with a careful brush into something that inspires or resonates with the audience.

But it takes courage to air your dirty laundry out for the world to see. Not so much because of the fear of letting people inside, or because you open yourself up to judgement — strangers knowing your business is actually less intimidating than you might expect — but because the ghosts from your past often aren’t content to stay ghosts.

“Men’s memoirs are about answers; women’s memoirs are about questions. Most male authors want to look good in their memoirs and have a place in posterity, while most women know that posterity is what happens when you no longer care. Women want to connect with others here and now; they couldn’t care less about legacy!” — Isabel Allende

Memoir writing tends to be (for me) a lot about emotional processing. Certainly at its root, a memoir needs to contain an event or series of events, whether unique or uniquely told, but it’s the emotional connection that differentiates memoir from autobiography. Which is not to say that memoirs aren’t based in fact; but those facts are tempered by perspective. Does this make the author an unreliable narrator? Maybe. But I would argue that reliability of the facts isn’t the most important goal: honesty of intent is.

My mantras for memoir writing are as follows:

  1. Make it YOUR story.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Be fair.

That’s it. As for as making it your story, it’s crucial to remember that the other players are really there to serve a purpose: as tools to tell your story. As such, the basis for their inclusion should always be as a means to move the story forward and/or to allow the reader to learn more about you.

“I think most memoirs, though they purport to be about this particular time or this person you met, are really about the effect that person or time had on you.” — Rosemary Mahoney

That’s not to say they don’t have value as human beings! Of course they do; but we’re talking about story-writing here, and these people probably didn’t consent or want to be written about. But I believe fundamentally that as long as I stick to the rules/mantras, I have a right to re-tell my life. Because who else has a right to tell my story if not me?

Honesty is one of those things you will undoubtedly be challenged on. In disseminating life events for my readers I ultimately let them decide for themselves: When I have objective facts or markers, I say so; when I am making assumptions or interpretations, I say so; and I temper everything with reminders that my recollections are subjective at best. That’s the nature of the beast. My reality may not be the reality, but it is mine. About that there is no deception.

As for fairness, the things above are part of that, but it’s also about representing all the players in a balanced way. I try to keep #1 in mind in the retelling of every interaction. I keep it about me. And I don’t mean that in an egotistical way, but rather that the goal isn’t to tell anyone else’s truth — it’s about telling your own. And doing that fairly means a) being honest about what you know, b) being truthful about what actually happened, c) being honest about what you don’t know, d) being honest about perspective and how that influences your recollection, and e) acknowledging that the people around you are human and are going through their own shit.

That last one is pretty important. If you feel it’s necessary to represent someone else on paper in order to tell your story, you have a responsibility to treat them like a multi-faceted, fallible human being. You need to cut them some slack. Even if they hurt you or did a crummy thing, you need to avoid crucifying them. For one thing, it’s pretty doubtful that anyone is 100% evil.  Or even evil at all. I’m damaged and I’ve hurt people because of that. Ergo the people who’ve hurt me were probably hurt themselves.

If you’re going to tell about the bad things a person did to you, you have to also tell about the good things. If you don’t, you’re a shitty person; because that’s not fair. You’re also a shitty writer; because this isn’t a fairy tale where  you’re the hero and everyone else is the bad guy. Which is why, to be fair, you need to lay out your demons as well. Because what is the point of writing memoir over fiction if you’re not going to at least try to be honest?

Unfortunately, whether you’re ethical about it or not, people probably aren’t going to thank you for writing about them. So why do it? Why put yourself out there and open yourself up to criticism or recrimination from the people from your past?

For me, there are a few different motivations. Firstly I should point out that writing about my relationships was a last resort. When you try for years to mend fences (or at least try to figure out why they’re broken) and you continually run up against a brick wall, it’s not very satisfying emotionally. Those feelings need to go somewhere. I needed resolution and I wasn’t getting any. Also, it was about breaking unhealthy patterns: I grew up in a family where a) we didn’t talk about our emotions and b) because I was mentally ill, a lot of the conflict was blamed on my mental instability. Those two in combination do a number on your self-esteem.

Memoir isn’t the only writing I’ve done. I’ve written a novel and a book of poetry, and there are other books in progress. But it’s the stories of my past that keep forcing their way to the surface. I can’t move on until those are dealt with and filed away.

Which explains my need to write and to process, but why make things public?

Well… I’m a writer, not a diarist. It’s what I do and has always felt essential to my existence (emo but also true), and a crucial part of being a writer is the interaction between writer and reader. I also really truly believe that I have a responsibility to speak up and out because not everyone feels similarly able. For those who for whatever reason, be it personal or professional, can’t face the risk of exposing themselves, it’s important that there are beacons of light that shine in the darkness to let them know that they’re not alone. When you’ve suffered abuse or neglect, when you’ve suffered depression or loneliness, it helps to know that you’re not alone.

Sharing stories has long been society’s collective coping mechanism. We feel an inherent need to connect and understand. Sharing experiences helps us heal emotionally, and when we read about the experiences of others, it gives us insight into our own.

So I’ll keep writing about my life, even if it risks alienating the people from my past. Because the reality is that those people removed themselves from my life long before I started writing, and holding up the writing as the reason is dishonest and re-writing history.

Re-writing history isn’t what I intend to do. I want to write about it, attempt to understand it, and then tuck it away where it can’t hurt me anymore.

/rk

Good and Evil

mother gooseNo formal blog post today — I’m a mom and I get the weekend off for Mother’s Day (since my boss – me – says so). But I do have a kind of neat photo essay I created over at Medium.com to share, entitled:  In the Eye of the Beholder: Good and Evil.  It’s the first of my experiments with the format; although I hope to do more.

Have a great weekend!

/rk

Punching Bag

I grew up as an object of ridicule and scorn to the male members of my family.  I am still not at a place of perfect understanding for the reasons behind this, and it has taken a lifetime to come to the realization that there is a good possibility that I am not, in spite of what they have led me to believe, worthless.

My brother and I are estranged.  If you asked him why (if he even admitted there was a problem), he would probably suggest it had something to do with the events surrounding the death of my father.  Which might even make a certain amount of sense if our estrangement represented a change in the status quo, and it doesn’t.  My brother seemed to have been born hating me.

reenabootsThat’s not to say there weren’t moments in our childhood where we played together or tolerated each other.  It’s hard to keep that kind of resentment going and we only had each other to play with a great deal of the time.  But there was an underlying tension for me, always.  He was prone to regular acts of cruelty for no other apparent reason than that I wanted to do something or go somewhere.  When quite young, he would bar my way to going upstairs and bite me if I tried to get past him.  He would go into my room when I was out and take things.  I remember being particularly devastated to discover he had stolen my penny collection (I had collected pennies from every year going back to the 1800s).  In our teens, he held a knife to me because I decided to eat the last mini pizzas.  In the struggle to defend myself, he nearly sliced through my finger.  The amount of blood scared the hell out of him, I think.

I was angry at him too.  But my overwhelming emotion was hurt.  I did not retaliate.  I didn’t do things to antagonize him.  If anything, I tried to avoid him because I thought maybe he would just calm down and stop resenting me so much in my absence.  I decided maybe he resented the attention I received for my accomplishments:  I was a mostly A student; whereas he struggled in school.  So I stopped over-achieving.  And it seemed to work:  He started to thrive at school.  He was now the good child.  I was the black sheep.

But even though he got more attention, he still seemed to hate me.

The stress of his constant personal attacks and his relentless anger pushed me to the breaking point not long after the knife episode.  I was severely depressed and anxious.  In a fit of nervous exhaustion I ended up at the hospital ER.  I saw a child psychologist who listened to my recounting of my mood issues and the conflicts with my brother.  They said they couldn’t do anything for me and sent me home.

As we got older and moved out on our own, he ended up moving to Toronto and spending more time with my father.  And they seemed to feed off each other in their disdain of me.  I’d hear about conversations behind my back.  I’d come across snarky references about me on Facebook.  Together or alone, neither of them could be in a room with me without ridiculing me or criticizing me and making sarcastic remarks.

I stopped talking in my father’s presence much, because he would always find some way to twist anything I’d say.  I remember visiting him once with my second husband and my son and getting caught in this dialogue:

Him:  “So are you still working for pennies at home?
Me:  “Actually I had an interview at the hospital last week.  It would be full-time, probably at the hospital, but they might let me work from home.”
“They’ll never let you do that.”
“Well actually, they do have a number of work-at-home positions.”
“It probably won’t pay much.”
“Actually it pays XX dollars.”
“Even if you do get it, you’ll probably just get pregnant and have to quit.”
“Uh… If I did get pregnant, that would be by choice, not by accident, and it would be my choice.”
“Well don’t expect your mother or I to support you.”
“Um, I didn’t ask you to.  You did just meet my husband, right?”
“It’s not like that will last.”

I got up and left the room.  We cut our visit short by a day and went back to Ottawa.  I found out later that he called my mum and told her we left early because he wouldn’t give me any money.  Since we had paid our own way the entire visit and in fact turned down his offer of cash when we were headed out to the museum one day, I have no idea what version of reality he was operating under.

It took a long time as an adult to realize that I didn’t need to accept the abuse.  It wasn’t until I had my nervous breakdown that I started speaking up for myself about it and being very clear to both of them, that it was not okay.  That they would have to treat me with respect or not speak to me at all.

My dad chose to ignore my requests, so I had to mostly stop interacting with him, because it was too painful and too destructive to my psyche.

My brother chose to stop speaking to me.  I’ve tried on many occasions to reach out to him to figure out where the resentment comes from and even to apologize for whatever it is I’ve done, to no avail.

There is loss from having to cut people out of your life.  Even toxic ones.  Because you always hold on to that part of them in your brain that is the person you wish they could have been.  But part of my coming to grips with reality and my struggle for mental health has been accepting that I cannot control what other people bring to our relationship.  I can be open and understanding, and do my best to mend fences, but ultimately I have to take a stand against forces that serve only to do me harm.

/rk