Monday, May 7, 2012
I Am A Mom
May 7th marks the eleven year anniversary of the day that I was raped. When I was 19 I was assaulted by two men, acquaintances, while a third watched but rather than "take his turn," released me. I suppose this is shocking news to some, and maybe some readers wonder why I would celebrate such an event.
More than any other event in my life, this one changed me in moments. I am literally a different Andrea than I was on May 6, 2001 and I have never had another experience like that. Even childbirth doesn't compare. Though I've heard it said that everything changes the moment your child is born, I had loved and longed for children, for a son, for so long that the moment he was born wasn't earth shattering because a part of me always knew he was on his way and would arrive someday.
While a person was lost the day I was raped, a new woman was created. I have written about the rape in graphic detail, and found it theraputic, but I don't see a reason to reccount that today. I'm not ashamed of what happened, I just don't think about it as much as I used to. And THAT has taken years to achieve.
I celebrate, though, because it is an event that has molded me into a woman that I believe is strong and capable and self-sufficient. Some people say it could have broken me but I just don't think that's true. The fact is, 1 in 4 women in the United States will be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and if we venture outside of the first world I suspect the number jumps exponentially. It doesn't really break us, it is incredibly common and something we should all be aware of. Men, if you have a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a mother chances are one of them will experience sexual assault. And considering the number of unreported rapes, you may never know if someone close to you has been effected.
Because of the shame associated with rape, I have made it a point to never be ashamed of mine. Though my perpetrators walk the streets, at the very least I can say that they have not convinced me that what happened was my fault, that it wasn't real, and that it wasn't a terrible wrong. They haven't broken me.
We hear it said that we have a choice, whether we will be victims or survivors. I think that notion robs a woman of her pain. Sure, we'd like to lift the pain of rape victims, but we can't. The pain is real and it must be experienced. I did that, for a long time. I never really drank heavily or with regularity until May 7, 2001. I had never gone to counseling. I never had the dream that I have a handful of times a year, the one that occurs in a variety of settings, but always involves me running with heavy feet, knowing my aggressors are behind me and what will happen if they catch me.
But something else happened that night. That night the little voice inside of me, my instinct, woke up. That night a resilient woman was born, one dedicated to never, NEVER experiencing such a thing again. Two years after the rape when I turned 21 I became a bartender, and I am asked often if I am ever afraid in my job. I would bet if a survey of women bartenders were performed, one would find a number of them have been raped or assaulted, and their instincts have become more astute as a result. No, I am not afraid when I am at work. I know I am always listening to my gut, picking apart the scene in my mind, and anticipating what could happen next. I am no longer a 19 year old girl pinned to a couch. I am a fighter.
I am a better lawyer because of what happened. Though my decision to focus on criminal defense may seem strange or even a betrayal of what happened, my ability to look at a rape case file with objectivity, to not see my own rapist in every man accused of rape, is a source of pride for me. If we are going to convinct a person of, arguably, the most heinous of crimes, we'd better be sure we prove it. I also find my ability to read clients and my ability to empathize with their situation stems largely from the understanding that sometimes our circumstances lead us to do really, really stupid things.
I experienced the gamut of emotions and poor decision making that rape victims/surivors typically experience, and eventually learned to put the event on a shelf as just another thing that happened. I think it may have been about that time that I decided I wanted my first born child to be a boy. I wanted to raise a boy who would become a man who would love and respect women, who would never harm them, who would stand up for them, and remember that every woman could be somebody;s mother, and every woman is somebody's daugher. My son, my child, would only know love.
It wasn't until I became pregnant with Gabriel that I could say I really put the rape behind me. Of course, Gabriel changed everything so it is only natural he should change this too.
When I was carrying Gabriel, I finally felt that my body was something to embrace. I no longer felt that I had to guard it, hide it, privately loathe it. I finally felt like my body had a purpose, one that was good and natural. I finally felt fortunte to live inside of it. I was carrying my child, a baby boy who, as it turned out, would only know love and would only bring love. I never felt healthier, more beautiful, or more full of purpose.
Today the nightmares are fewer and farther between. I have faced both of my perpetrators, served them drinks even when they have happened into the bar and stared at me either as they don't even know me, or as if they never did anything wrong. As much as their depravity infuriates me, it also makes me sad - How did they become so cold?
More importantly though, I consider that although I commemorate May 7 as a day when I was forever changed, I am no longer just a rape victim or even a rape survivor. I am a mom now. My children are my beginning. They are my end. They are my world. And I am grateful to every event, however painful, that made me the mother that I am.