Friend played a key role in processing date rape


As some of you may know from reading my column, I was raped in Febru­ary 2010. In case you didn’t know that, I’m sincerely sorry for dropping such heavy news out of nowhere.

For the Creative Writing Non-Fiction class in which I’m currently enrolled, I wrote a short memoir—that is, a personal essay focusing on a specific memory. Without hesitation, I chose to write about my first semester in recovery from the attack, the semester Becky Steketee happened to be interning in Chicago.

Below is an excerpt from the memoir. I had to cut a few chunks for length—including the parts where I introduce Becky as an incredible human being. But if you’d like to read the entire piece, e-mail me at abigailhumber@gmail.com and I’ll happily send you the full document.

Becky had only been living in the city for a week or so when my life began to spiral out of my control. Date rape. Date rape. The words literally weren’t even in my vocabulary until they consumed my life. I knew him from a class but didn’t even want to go to his stupid party in the first place. Date rape.

Becky was one of the first people I told. The night I came to her apartment to explain what had happened, we were eating heart-shaped tortellini leftover from Valentine’s Day. I considered the irony of that as I explained what had happened. Date rape. When I was done, she responded, “I thought you might say that.”

Overwhelmed with emotion and now quite confused, I managed to mutter a dumbfounded, “Excuse me?” She replied, “I mean, I knew there would be something. The minute I got here, I put my bags down and looked around my apartment. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, ‘It’s good that I’m here.’”

“Whoa,” was all I could say.

She continued: “Yeah. I was like, ‘What is that? What does that even mean?’ I didn’t know where the thought came from.” But Becky just knew. She always “just knows.”

I felt the need to tell my close NPU friends what had happened but it never felt right. Each time I told someone, I felt that my trauma was reflected back on me in some weird way, rather than released by speaking it aloud. It was like my news so affected my friends that I had to quickly pull myself together and comfort them. “No, no, it’s OK!” I’d quickly say, not wanting sweet “Mama” Helen to turn the tables in McDonald’s in a fit of righteous rage. “I’m getting it all taken care of! Sit and eat your fries! It’s OK!”

So that was what I started telling everyone. “It’s OK. It’s OK.” I wasn’t trying to lie, but it was easier to operate on autopilot than constantly grapple for words to describe feelings I couldn’t name. Plus, people weren’t asking how I was because they were prepared to listen to me blubber on about the time when, at first, I couldn’t find my right shoe but then I found it next to those freaking gummy bears that reminded me of him, so I sat on my bed for an hour unable to think anything.

No, that seemingly concerned, “Ohhh, how are you doing?” arm-on-the-shoulder-pity-in-the-eyes came across much more like, “I’m on my way to the library right now, but oh! Poor Abi! You were raped. I should check up on you to make sure you’re OK You’re OK, right?” Despite the fire in my belly, I felt obliged to constantly confess: “Yeah, everything’s OK.”

I couldn’t fathom a time when “OK” would be the word I’d use to describe my life, but I didn’t know how to explain the way my whole body tingled and froze when I thought of him.

The beautiful thing about being with Becky was she never once made me feel like I owed her that “It’s OK.” I felt comfortable around her, and she gave me her undivided attention the time I tearfully explained that his brother had brought me gummy bears as a weird peace offering the time he came to my dorm to cover up the whole ordeal.

“He says it didn’t happen, so what are you trying to pull? Do you really think we would do something like this? We’re good people, Abi. Gummy bear?”

Her physical presence itself brought me great comfort. She’d come over to my teensy dorm room and read while I did homework or watched Jesse McCartney YouTube videos. Sometimes we’d talk about it. Usually we wouldn’t. Finally, someone I didn’t have to explain the nuances and complexities to.

As empathetic as Becky is, I never had to comfort her as she felt the weight of what had happened. It was what it was, and we lived together in that heaviness. She embraced my stupid circular thinking as I desperately sought to organize my thoughts, but she also embraced my silence, and the sadness it held. She understood that life just sucks sometimes, even when you don’t have the words to articulate why.

Becky’s friendship was an island of familiarity and comfort amidst that ocean of hurt and bitter confusion. The semester’s deep personal loss was significantly lessened when I realized I had gained Becky as my truest friend.

In the moments where I truly did feel hopeful and happy, Becky let me act like things were OK. She never encouraged denial but gave me room to heal naturally, understanding that moments of heartache come and go like the tide.

We ended up having a lot of fun that semester, after all, but I don’t remember most of it. I know that’s weird, but those four months are a big blur, peppered with small snapshots. I’ve either blocked out the good along with the bad, or I was too wrapped up in my emotional distress to be fully present and retain clear memories.

Either way, I remember that the Loop was our halfway point, and every Wednesday after my counseling sessions we’d meet at Chipotle. I trained her bland, Kansan taste buds to appreciate more than just cheese on a taco as we sat on bar stools that awkwardly face Michigan Avenue and made faces at tourists. We’d also meet at the beach and eat strawberries and Nutella, dangling our feet over the waves and throwing the stems to scavenging seagulls.

Like most memories I hold dear, I can’t remember how this first began. I just know we always forgot to bring a knife and left with messy, chocolatey hands.


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