I hope this story is encouraging to trauma/abuse survivors. If you're a victim, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.
An Account About Trauma and Abuse Survival (Warning: Contains Graphic Content)
I met my date rapist nearly 15 years ago in South Los Angeles, near Coliseum and King. The neighborhood had been originally dubbed "The Jungles" because of its wild, motley, somewhat crazy collection of trees; now, by the early 2000's, it was called so because of its wild, motley, somewhat crazy collection of psychopathic individuals.
It was a normal day, in which I worked my way through strangers asking me for money to buy beer, was publicly screamed at by a bus driver, had a water balloon tossed at me by a passing car, was nearly hit by several others, then robbed at gunpoint at a liquor store, dodging a few errant bullets by a nearby drive-by before I strolled home, whistling, daydreaming about Hollywood's brooding new hunk, Travis Fimmel, and looking forward to watching the first episode of his new TV drama Tarzan.
Snapped out of a number of sweet fantasies about Mr. Fimmel, I turned to see a man standing behind me, grinning from behind a pair of sunglasses.
"S'up," I said, shaking off the infuriated dog that had chased me for several blocks off my leg and continuing on.
"What's your name?" He followed me.
"Poem," I muttered, preoccupied. "Poem Zhao."
"Real smooth. Fitting for a beauty like you."
I stopped and looked at him through narrowed eyes. He looked about my age, nineteen. Maybe a year or two older. I thought he somewhat resembled Blair Underwood, even though he wasn't quite as attractive...well, okay, he was a very far cry from it, but he had a spiffy style of dressing that I thought seemed inspired by the band Black Eyed Peas, and he carried a rough-and-tumble aura that I found irresistibly arresting; and, by his own eventual claim, I, in turn appeared to have a contrasting vulnerability that overwhelmed him with lust and attraction.
"Thank you," I told him, unable to contain my pleasure. No one had ever said anything so nice to me since...well, ever. "Do you have a name?"
"Jamal. Jamal Watson. Just call me Slippy." He extended his hand; I shyly shook it. "Nice to meet you, Poem..want some company?"
I swallowed. "Uh..."
"C'mon over to my place. Watch a movie with me."
Lonely, nineteen, my mind in tangles, I agreed.
Slippy lived in a decent bungalow about a mile from my apartment, with wood paneling on the walls, and a state-of-the-art kitchenette...quite a difference from my ramshackle little studio.
"How can you afford all this?"
He avoided my eyes, cleared his throat. "I'm a self-made entrepreneur."
"I see," I mumbled, looking at his pot garden, his kilos of cocaine, and varying knives and artillery. "So, what's it like being a crack deal...IIII, uhhh, successful business mogul?"
"Girl, I be ballin'. Unlike y'all workin'-class squares."
"Got me there." He was indeed the most charming individual I'd ever met. The place smelled strongly of doob. Pornographic photos and posters lined the walls like wallpaper; I blushed.
"Have a seat." He waved me toward the plaid sofa. I tentatively sat, surrounded by cigar-filled ash trays and beer cans.
Slippy sat with me, pouring strawberry wine into two tumblers and handing me one; I hesitated.
"Go on," he said. "A little won't hurt you."
"I'm not old enough to drink yet."
"Ain't nobody gotta know."
"I don't drink, Slippy."
"Loosen up, girl."
"And," I continued, addressing the "movie" he had playing on the dvd player, "I don't watch porn either."
"Quit actin' like such a tool."
I frowned. "Tool?" I snapped. All teenager that I was, I grabbed the tumbler.
For the first time in my life, I took a sip of liquor, (and whatever it was laced with), liking how the bubbles danced on my tongue and tickled the back of my throat just like strawberry soda, only with double the intensity. I began to enjoy how gradually relaxed, soothed, and chill I felt, how it made me forget everyone's constant disapproving stares and my customers and bosses at my job at McDonald's screaming at me and all of my exes' constant insults and screaming at me as well..and I asked for another glass. And another. Soon, I slipped into a hazy oblivion that made me settle into the cushions. My first real smile in literally months, maybe even years, crossing my face.
I sensed Slippy's lewd gaze boring into me; my head snapped up in alarm, temporarily yanking me back out of reverie. His piercing dark eyes, highly bloodshot without the sunglasses, lingered on my long dark hair, my powder-blue baby doll tee, my navy Dickies Girl slacks. My heart and stomach performed a series of interesting somersaults.
"Your eyes are like honey," he crooned. "Your skin is like beige satin. You're hot, Poem. You'se a doll."
I forced a smile. "You'd make an excellent lyricist." I sat up. "Well," I squeaked, disoriented. "I should get going."
"You just got here."
"I got work in the morning, dude."
"You can spend the night."
He was grasping my arm. Mischief twinkling in his eyes. The world was fuzzy. I was weak, groggy, barely coherent. What did he do to me? I thought, panicky.
His grip on my arm was beginning to bruise. I tried to shake free, and he refused to let go; he became increasingly touchy and feely. I lost my temper.
"Looka here, bud. This isn't a dog pound. I don't feel like taking care of any pets right now. You don't have to do any tricks for me to get a Scooby snack."
All I vividly remember afterward is his chipped front tooth. His prematurely receding hairline. His body pinning mine to the sofa. His triumphant smirk. Screams I didn't know were mine.
"I think I'll hold off on the pot for a while," he said the next morning...or whatever day it was. "It makes me too randy."
I looked wearily over at him. He's making excuses for himself already? I was still drowsy, my throat parched. I felt sore all over. "May I have some water, please?"
He brought me a glass, sitting on the edge of the sofa with me. "Look, you just turn me on. What did you say you were? Chinese and white? I never had a girl so exotic. I just couldn't help myself. I'm really sorry, uhhh...what was your name again?"
"Yeah. Besides, when you go alone into a stranger's house, you oughtta know what's up."
I quietly quaffed the water, thoroughly dazed. In a blur, I allowed him to escort me to the nearest bus stop, where he promised to call me. He never did.
Once I arrived home, I tossed all of my clothing into the garbage and showered for what felt like hours. For some reason, I felt as if I could never get clean enough. Whatever lingering thread of whatever it was I found attractive about Slippy flew out the window.
Afterward, I went to bed and blacked out again, whether it was from the remaining effects of whatever Slippy drugged me with or simply the sheer exhaustion and horror of it all, I don't know. I decided to go with a little of all three, and the next morning, called in sick...only to be told I was fired, as it was the third time I'd done so, "for no good reason."
My head felt as if it were caught in a hurricane. The hideous feeling of being used and then tossed in the garbage along with my dignity flooded me in a torrent, along with the barrage of unwanted memories in vivid color. I had never felt so dirty and sick in my life. I needed to talk to someone. Who better than my best buddy since the 4th grade?
"Why did you do that, Poem?" Luz scolded. "You know better than to go off alone into a stranger's house."
So that ended all ties with my best, and only, friend. That's why it was a good thing to know that if anything, I'd always have my parents in my corner.
"Good for you!" they jeered. "You deserve it. You probably liked it anyway."
So I turned to my remaining relative, my older brother, the only family member who had ever paid me any whit of attention, and who gave me far more respect and adoration than I knew anyone else ever would.
"You little slut!" he barked. "Why didn't you use protection? Now you have to worry about AIDS."
Well, I guess this is why I'm estranged from my family. I headed for the nearest police station, where I asked to speak to the most compassionate officer available.
"Well," the detective snapped, "now that you threw away all your clothes and took a shower, you have no proof, and not even an iota of physical injury, so there's not much we can do...oh, and by the way, why did you go alone into a stranger's house?"
Eventually, I visited a local clinic, where I discovered that I had indeed not only contracted the HIV virus, but gonorrhea and chlamydia as well. Oh, and that I was pregnant by Slippy. The nurse provided me medicine that wiped out the two latter diseases, but the former, she informed me, had no cure, (duh).
My other problem I had absolutely no idea what to do about. I did know I couldn't even fathom enduring the process of prosecuting Slippy after all this, much less any additional embarrassing publicity.
On arriving home, I took yet another shower, where I finally collapsed to the cold tiled floor and broke down.
Saviors didn't seem as conveniently available as in novels and movies. I had yet to find a single friend who was not at best fair weather; it occurred to me only then that it was only during times like this, that the folks who called themselves Christians and declared to love me like a sister or daughter, never seemed to be around. Of course, on occasion, some folks did show interest in me. But only when they needed something. I was in this big, huge world and I was all by myself.
I settled into the recliner in a comfortable robe, sipping from a mug of hot apple cider, my Balinese tabby Tiger Lily gently butting me with her head. She was an unwanted ragamuffin like me. The only true friend I'd ever had. Along with God, I realized, feeling His Spirit gently circumscribing me. Soothing me. Comforting me. Loving me like no one else.
I leafed through the Yellow Pages and then phoned a rape crisis line; a counselor named Lion picked up.
"Darling," he pleaded, "it's not your fault."
"But I knew better than to trust a stranger."
"It doesn't matter, Poem. Nothing gives him a right to force himself on you. I'm sorry that others have been telling you otherwise."
"But he wasn't violent...he didn't even leave any bruises."
"It still doesn't matter. Rape is rape."
I told Lion about my pregnancy and he referred me to resources that could provide counseling, prenatal care, and even financial and housing assistance, including that of Soaring Angels, a transitional housing program for young mothers age 16-25, with situations similar to mine; I was delighted, and relieved, to find that accommodations could even be made for Tiger Lily. It was located in a quiet ocean-side community in Santa Monica, not too far from the Jungles, or Slippy...but far enough.
"You have amazing fortitude, Poem Zhao," Lion continued. "I know you'll be the best mother to the life growing within you. That you've survived so much in your young life and even managed to stand alone after all that proves how incredible of a person you are. One day, you'll find a good, strong man who will love you for that, who will appreciate you for the fine work of poetry in motion you indeed truly are."
Upon ending the call, I thought Lion sounded just as dashing as both Blair Underwood and Travis Fimmel. I decided I might as well toss in a little of Bruce Springsteen as well. For a moment, I thought of even calling Lion back and asking him if he were married but grudgingly chose to behave myself. Nevertheless, I felt that it was only because of what Lion gave me that I had already defeated Slippy. Defeated everyone.
The next several months were busy, but productive. Although I was out of a job, I was able to collect a grant from a compassionate charity that provided enough funding to cover my moving expenses to Soaring Angels. Eventually, I located a job development program that helped me to utilize my skills in painting and sketching. My art business expanded rapidly as my pregnancy continued to progress well.
When I was eight months along, I sat alone in my new apartment at Soaring Angels, where I'd already become fast friends with several other wounded yet strong young girls. By now, I'd already long since forgotten Slippy, and had even found it in my heart to forgive him. Not before I had taken the time to drop him a note, which I'd had professionally formatted at a local print center, using my artistic flairs to make it appear additionally authentic, before I mailed it off.
"Congratulations, Mr. Watson!" the envelope read. "You just won..."
The enclosed letter proceeded with:
"..$10,000 for participating in our online nationwide survey regarding your opinion about male enhancement products!
Mr. Watson, we are pleased to inform you that you have been randomly selected to receive a check for $10,000 along with a three-month supply of our line of topnotch male enhancement supplements. It's our way of thanking you for providing your candid opinion about the poor life quality that can result from a condition that men like you experience.
In fact, this emasculating private humiliation is among the top 5 reasons men age 18-26 on a global scale commit suicide!
As you well know, having marginal and/or miniscule male endowment can take a massive toll on a man's social and love life, as well as his overall self-image. It's why we urge you to join the millions who have benefited greatly from using our supplements, which are designed to work synergistically and harmoniously with your natural reproductive compositions in order to produce lasting, near-miraculous results to the fullest extent possible (no pun intended), without surgery or other drastic measures.
Mr. Watson, take a moment to browse through our catalogue and read the glowing testimonials by our extremely pleased customers (pun intended on that one). If I were physically available to have the pleasure of meeting you in person, I would show up on your door step and smilingly hand you a 90-day supply, ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!!!
I guarantee that after 90 days, you would literally burst into tears, crying uncontrollably, pumping my hand up and down in heartfelt gratitude, thanking me effusively. You would jump up and down and embrace me and nearly knock me down on the pavement. You would make moronic attempts to perform cartwheels, back flips, and the splits, then execute your embarrassingly clumsy versions of the Butterfly, the Cabbage Patch, the Running Man, and other outdated dances; whereupon I would hold you away at arm's length, chuckling nervously at neighbors and passers-by, while my wife reluctantly emerges from our car to hand you a box of Kleenex and a package of Depend.
We skulk away in a clandestine effort to escape as you strut down the street with a boombox propped on your shoulder and blaring Staying Alive by the Bee Gees, then shriek as we suddenly shake you off our legs, recoiling in horror and disgust.
We hurry into the car as I floor the accelerator, the tires creating an ear-piercing screech on the asphalt as we high-tail it out of there, then sink into the upholstery, breathing sighs of relief.
Certain we've lost you, we peer into the rear view mirror, and then gasp to see a pair of big, goofy, bulging eyes accompanied by an even goofier smile. Turning in our seats, we see you chasing us on the roadway. "I just want to kiss you good-bye!" you cheerfully explain.
My wife interlaces her fingers against her forehead, eyes shut, lips silently moving as I teeth-clenchedly swerve to avoid hitting a dog, a crossing guard, and an old lady, one of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider's soundtracks, Elevation by U2, playing from seemingly out of nowhere as you continue to pursue us in a desperate, arm-pinwheeling manner with great, galloping strides, utterly unaware of how incredibly retarded you appear. Realizing the music is actually coming from the radio, I shut it off, annoyed.
As we plunge into a field filled with grazing cattle, an infuriated bull digs its front hoof into the earth, nostrils distended, head lowered, and charges us. From behind, we hear the ominous 'Mmmmmmmmmm.....' preliminary to an impending kiss.
'I vote we keep going,' my wife says.
Oh, yes, your money. So if you would like to claim it, and, if you're ready to go from this:
[My personal artistic rendering of a deplorable 'before' picture]
[Another of a successful 'after' result, by my idealized standards]
Or PERHAPS even to:
[Well...let's just not go there.]
...Call 1-866-LIL-WILLY or visit us at www.weewee-wee.com.
Jason Singleton, C.E.O."
I stood before a young woman dressed in a satin, cream-colored nightgown that complemented her bright butternut complexion. Her eyes were like droplets of dark amber on almonds. Her hair a dark nimbus flaring within the first strands of moonlight. She was an angel. She'd just had her wings unceremoniously ripped off, that was all. An angel maimed but tough. It took me a moment to realize the angel was a mirrored reflection of me.
I watched her tenderly pat and embrace whoever was growing within her, Tiger Lily purring against the swelling bump, both of us feeling the new little gem leap for joy, and knowing that he or she would be beautiful. I watched a smile cross the angel's lovely face and knew that somehow, in some way, with or without wings, no matter what she had gone through and would continue to go through, she would one day soar, and soar very high.