Posted Thursday at 09:14 AM (edited)
I had tried to stay awake, I didn’t want the vulnerability of sleep, but I couldn’t manage it. I woke up again after only a few hours, not long after dawn, when normally I sleep like a rock for as long as anyone will let me. Everything came rushing back and I stayed still, trying to make sense of it, trying to decide if any of it had actually happened or not. The whole thing just seemed so unreal, like it just wasn’t possible. That wasn’t like him at all, people don’t just become someone else like that. People don’t spontaneously become paralyzed and then spontaneously recover for no apparent reason, either. Alcohol poisoning wouldn’t cause that, would it? I kept trying to remember if I’d ever heard of it doing that. I had heard of being frozen in terror, but I wasn’t scared when it started. I became alarmed because I couldn’t move, not the other way around. It couldn’t have been real. I wanted so badly to chalk it up to a bad dream that I almost had myself convinced that’s all it was, but then I remembered how hard he bit me. I decided if I looked and there were no marks, then nothing happened. It was just an alcohol fueled nightmare and I could go on with my life like normal. If there was anything there, then I was going to have to face that it was real and try to figure out how to deal with it. It took me awhile before I could actually do it, I didn’t want it confirmed, but of course there they were, clearly etched into my skin. I kept trying to tell myself there had to be a mistake, that it couldn’t have been the way I remembered, but it wasn’t working. Those marks and the bruising made it impossible to go completely into denial.
I stayed in bed most of the day, still feeling so wrung out, not wanting to run into anyone and staying on lock down as far as any reaction since either of them could come up at any time. If one of them did, I didn't want it to seem like I was dealing with anything more serious than a nasty hangover. I didn’t know what the response would be if I came off as anything else, if it was clear I remembered everything, but I didn’t want to risk it before I was strong enough to deal with it. I wasn’t completely alone, though. H. had this grizzled old orange tom that I’d been trying to make friends with for weeks. By his own choice, he was mainly outdoors and wanted nothing to do with people, thank you very much. He wouldn’t let anyone within ten feet of him, including me, no matter what I tried. I think animals can sense when something is really wrong though, and for one day only he made an exception. He stayed curled up with me, right next to my head for the entire day, purring and being unbelievably sweet. The others came and went at random, but he hardly left my side. Once I got up, though, that was it and it was back to business as usual. I’ve always been so grateful to the little bugger for that. It was such a small thing, but for me, at that time, it really wasn’t. It sounds silly, but that exception meant a lot.
Late that afternoon she came upstairs, saying she and James were leaving for a bit and asking if I wanted to come with them to get out of the house. Since I didn't know if Lee was home and I didn't want to be there on my own if he was, I decided to go with them. I could have just asked, but I didn't want to seem like that was why I was going if she said he was there. I was trying to do everything I could to maintain the status quo, to make sure it seemed like I really didn’t remember enough to act any differently than usual. I was so afraid of things blowing up if I scared either one of them about what had happened. Right or wrong, it was all I could think of to do to keep things calm and stay relatively safe. It seems so paranoid now, but in the moment I no longer knew who I was dealing with and I didn’t want to take any chances. Nothing made sense or seemed predictable anymore.
I was in the back seat, and at one point she turned around after she noticed how quiet I was being and tried to talk to me about the night before. She told me I shouldn't be hurt by what he did, I should be angry. It seemed like another odd thing to say, since right after it happened she'd told me it was no big deal. I didn't want to risk being drawn into contradicting what I'd already said, so I told her I was fine, that it had to be a misunderstanding, I just really wasn't feeling well. I didn't want her going back to him and saying things weren't as settled as he'd thought. It surprised me that she said anything in front of James, but I had no idea what she might have told him. He asked if I was sure after I said I was ok, I insisted I was, and that was it. I doubt I was very convincing, since even to me it sounded wooden and hollow when I was saying it, I couldn’t seem to put any emotion behind it, but I just did not feel safe saying anything else. I had nothing to worry about from them in all reality, but my survival instinct was still very much in overdrive and erring on the side of caution seemed like the best thing to do. It definitely wasn't my normal way of thinking, but then, there was nothing normal about my world right then, either. My whole sense of reality had been blown apart, and it's not like anyone trains you on how to handle something like that, how to navigate it. She let it drop, and when we got back, they went in and I stayed outside on the porch for awhile, wanting to take a minute to regroup before going inside.
Paranoid, I know, but I was stuck in that house for at least one more day and I was afraid that they wouldn't let me leave if I didn't act like everything was fine. I was stuck. I hadn't been there long enough to give anyone directions, I didn't really know the area, I didn't have a car, I couldn't suddenly ask to leave or break routine without arousing suspicion, I was still incredibly weak and drained physically, and everyone else I knew was at least twenty minutes away in the next city over. If I really wasn't being over cautious and something did happen, there would be no one who could get to me in time if I needed help. I just was not willing to take any chances. I really thought the safest bet was to just maintain the status quo as best I could for the rest of the day, stay in my room and avoid contact as much as possible under the guise of recuperating from all the alcohol, and then leave as planned the next morning. I knew I'd be able to get out then without a problem, that I'd be free and clear if I could just do that and hang on for a little bit longer.
Lee came out after I'd been standing there a few minutes, and my heart stopped when the screen door opened. I'd been standing at the corner of the railing, but I moved over by the stairs as soon as I saw him. I wanted somewhere to go if I needed to. I thought he might be apologetic because of what I'd seen as we passed by his room, but I was also prepared that he might be aggressive, threatening, that he'd drop the act now that I knew better about him, but he didn't do either of those things. He'd gone right back to his old, harmless-seeming, friendly self, the same person I'd gotten so close to, acting like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Only hours before he'd been boiling with so much rage and hatred towards me that I'd thought he was going to beat me to death, and now suddenly he was fine again, right back to the same old Lee that had hung out in my room with me so many times after work. It was summer, it was so hot out, but I remember suddenly feeling cold, like my blood turned to ice water.
It was creepy and disconcerting that he could do something like that and then be absolutely fine the next day, I didn't see how it was possible, and for a split second I thought maybe he really had snapped that badly last night and honestly didn't remember what had happened. He'd heard me say no over and over, I know he heard me screaming, so how could he possibly be acting like nothing was wrong if he remembered all that? As soon as he started talking I knew that wasn't it. I don't remember exactly what he said, but it made it clear he remembered just fine. My head was buzzing with fear and confusion, trying to get a bead on him. Whatever it was, his being able to be so nonchalant after the night before only scared me more and made him appear even more dangerous. It reinforced my need to be cautious and my gut still said to just play dumb, to act like I didn't remember enough about what happened to be a threat.
I tried to say very little, I let him lead the conversation, and I remember he didn't go straight into what happened. I had thought that if he was going to try to act like his old self that he would ask about my reaction off the bat, or at least ask why I'd started screaming. The version of himself he wanted me to believe he was would have shown concern that I'd gotten that upset, whatever the reason. It would have been the first thing he brought up and he would have shown some degree of care simply as a friend. I was planning to say I didn't remember doing it, but he never brought any of that up at all. Instead, he immediately started trying to see how much I remembered from earlier, which honestly wasn't much.
After the initial shock, I noticed he still wasn't quite acting like himself though. It was like the mask wasn't quite all the way back up and there was still some of last night showing through the veneer, or maybe it was just because I knew that person wasn't real now. He kept standing too close, almost over me, and it didn't feel like it was in a friendly way, regardless of how he was talking to me. Every time I tried to step back he'd close the distance until I was almost back in the corner, and he was between me and the stairs almost before I knew what happened. I finally perched on the railing just to stop moving. I was already feeling dizzy and having to look up at him was making it worse.
Once he did get to what happened, I continued playing dumb, like I only remembered little flashes, telling him that I was really out of it and wasn't clear on anything. I didn't expect him to flat out admit anything, but since he wasn't being aggressive, I thought maybe what I'd seen last night really was remorse. I expected he'd use some halfway apologetic excuse, like maybe "I didn't realize how drunk you were", or something similar. We'd have both known he was lying to cover his ass, but I could have worked with that for the sake of being able to walk away. I gave him way too much room. Instead, he essentially blamed me, saying he thought I was fine with it because I hadn't said no or done anything to get him to stop. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. If he had taken even a modicum of responsibility or expressed even a shred of regret about what he did to me, I could have kept going along with what he was saying, but that was too much for me. He had drawn blood, he had terrorized me to make sure I couldn't move, and hearing him use the fact that I couldn't stop him to justify why he went ahead was more than I could take. As if he didn't know. As if he hadn't gone out of his way to ensure I wasn't able to say a word or raise a hand in my own defense. I didn't want to challenge him too much, but that pissed me off and I wanted him to account for something in all this, even if it was only within the context of his own lie. I didn't dare mention the teeth marks I woke up with, I was trying to tread lightly, so instead I said something about how I could see how that could confuse him, but then I asked how the fact that I wasn't moving at all didn't clue him in that there might be something wrong, that that didn't strike him as odd. Stupid move.
As soon as I said that, that switch of his flipped. Up until then I had been avoiding any hint of even implying he did anything wrong for fear of pissing him off, but I slipped when I said that and it let him know I remembered way too much. I'd been aiming for "misunderstanding" and had been trying to match his tone like we were just clearing the air, but I definitely said the wrong thing there and set him off anyway. Everything about him just seemed to darken, I don't know how else to describe it. That friendly facade I'd been talking to vanished in an eyeblink and he instantly became the person I'd been so afraid of the night before. He wasn't quite in my face, but it was close enough to force eye contact and his voice dropped. I was still sitting on the railing and if I had tried to move back this time I'd have gone over backward. Those damn eyes of his. I remember being struck by how intense they were when I first met him, but now they were cold and flat, just like they had been the night before. I swear he could pin you in place with them, make you afraid to look away. He was speaking very quietly, like he didn't want to be overheard, but he still managed to sound just as menacing as if he'd been yelling. He said it didn't matter because I had consented earlier whether I remembered it or not, that he hadn't raped me and not to try to say he did. His words, not mine. I swear it came out more like an order, like a threat, like I'd better go along with it, rather than a statement of fact. I was shocked that he had jumped straight to that, especially since I purposely hadn't gone anywhere near that word. That was a huge escalation from the tone we'd both been maintaining up until this point. He hadn't said one word about actual consent before this, either, only that I hadn't said no. He probably had been counting one me not remembering anything, but now that I'd shown I did he was taking what I'd said and using it as cover. His sudden anger scared me and I didn't have the nerve to push him any further. All I could see was that look on his face when he bit me. I just stammered out something about how I knew he wouldn't do that, that I was just trying to understand everything.
As soon as I backed down he was fine again, like that flash of aggression never happened. I could feel myself finally starting to unravel. That jolt of fear I'd felt was too much, I'd been keeping a death grip on my composure since I had been with her last night and now it was slipping fast. I didn't want to let him see me lose it. I said I still felt sick, that I needed to lie down and he let me past him to the door. As soon as I got to my room, it all hit. I just could not hold it back a second longer. I started half hyperventilating, half sobbing, finally just letting it all go, but within minutes I heard someone coming up after me. I pulled it together one last time, trying to calm down, and it was him, still with that creepy friendliness he'd switched back to. I knew it was obvious I'd come undone as soon as I was away from him, I hadn't had enough time to cover it completely before he came into the room, but he ignored it and kept up the act. We both knew the score by that point, regardless. We'd both shown our hands minutes before. I knew he was acting, and he knew I was scared out of my mind. The last thing he ever said to me was to make me promise not to tell Shana, the friend of mine that I thought he'd moved on to, what had happened. I told him what he wanted to hear and he left me alone after that, but I knew I had no intention of keeping that promise. There was no way I was going to leave her to be caught unawares like I was.
Everything had happened on Saturday, and I'd been stuck there through Monday morning when James took me took to my brother's as planned. I had known he was going to be near Robert's place that day and I'd asked if he could drop me at his apartment several days beforehand. I knew I was safe there, but I didn't want Robert to know what had happened. I didn't want to say anything until I got a handle on it myself, so all I said about why I was there was that H. and I had a falling out and I needed a place to stay for a while. There were too many blanks in my memory and too much I was afraid of to want to involve him. I could already see what would happen if I did. I knew Rob would go after him, and he'd either get hurt if they got into a fight or Lee would convince him that I had in fact consented, that I remembered wrong because I was so drunk. What if Rob believed him and turned on me? Worse, what if he really wasn't lying and I got them into it over something that was my own fault? I just couldn't take the chance either way.
Those first few weeks were brutal. I had shut down hard after that last conversation and I hadn’t loosened my hold on it since. I’m not sure how long it was, but the first time Rob was out of the house for any length of time after I’d gotten there I thought I could finally let everything out, that I could finally let it hit me and deal with it, but nothing happened. It was like it was just gone. I wasn't exactly numb, I was still hurt and confused and scared, but that overwhelming crush of emotion I'd been expecting never came. I didn’t know that wasn’t a good thing, that it didn’t mean what I thought it did and that it wasn’t really gone at all.
I had the worst time sleeping at first because I couldn't close my eyes without seeing him. I found that it didn’t happen as long as I wasn't lying down, so I ended up sleeping sitting up, propped against the wall. After a few hours I'd usually wake up to find I'd worked my way down during the night, but I'd have to reposition to go back out. More than once I woke up in tears when that happened. I just could not tolerate being in that position, even if I was already asleep when I went into it. I refused to let any of it out when I was awake, I was still trying to maintain the status quo at home, so it was coming out at night, in my sleep.
G.N. was a good friend of mine, the DJ at the club we worked in. He had been giving me rides into work, and that first day back he could tell something was wrong. I hadn't intended to say anything, but when he showed concern and pushed a little I completely broke down. I made him promise not to do anything and to keep it between us, and then the whole story tumbled out. Talking to him was different. This was a friend, not my brother, so it was easier to tell him the worst parts, including that Lee had said I consented. I was so sure I hadn't, but becasue there were some parts I didn't fully remember and others I didn't remember at all, I felt I had to at least mention it and acknowledge the possibility.
Once I got through the whole thing, he said it sounded like I could have been drugged, but neither of us could figure out what it could have been. His exact words were that it was "something like date rape", but I still didn't want to attach that word to it in any capacity. Date rape was a relatively new term at the time and I remember saying no, it couldn't have been that because I wasn't dating him.
Regardless, I'd seen a very frightening side of him and I did try to warn Shana the first chance I got. There was still that rage I had seen, the bite mark, the callousness of him being willing to go ahead even with me in that condition. I knew it would piss him off if it got back to him, but there was no way I was leaving her at his mercy if I could help it. I could not get her to take it as seriously as I'd hoped. I was only able to catch a spare moment before work to pull her aside and give her a rundown, so all I had time for was the basics of what happened. I at least wanted to let her know not to let him get her alone, and certainly not to drink around him and why. I was so afraid she'd wind up getting hurt the way I had. As soon as I mentioned alcohol being involved, I don't think she really heard anything else I was saying. She seemed convinced that there had to have been a miscommunication between us somewhere in there and she just couldn't believe it was malicious on his part. She advised me to just be an adult about it, to talk to him and straighten the whole thing out, that something similar had happened with a guy friend of hers one night and they had worked it out that way. She was sure that if I just let him explain his side, it would all get cleared up and I'd see I had blown it all out of proportion.
My god, we were all so screwed up in our thinking back then. This was the second female I’d had since it happened telling me that it happened to them too and that it was no big deal. I told her some of the conversation we had and what he said, but she seemed to think it just proved her point. I still pleaded with her to be careful around him, but she just could not imagine that he'd hurt me or anyone else intentionally. He had her just as fooled as he'd had me up until a few days before. She and I ended up switching clubs very shortly after that, so it wound up not mattering anyway. I ran into her years later and she said she never saw him again after she left SD, so at least I know she still came out unscathed.
Things got even more confusing after I talked to H. later in the week. After that talk with G.N, I approached H. absolutely the wrong way trying to find out what she knew. I wanted to know what, if anything, he had given me. I wanted to know why I hadn't been able to stop him. Her attitude towards me was completely different, not at all like it had been that night and the day after. She seemed hostile and annoyed. I thought she was being evasive, that she knew more than she was admitting, and as soon as I mentioned possibly reporting it if that was what it took to find out what happened, she said I couldn’t because I’d consented. My first reaction was anger and frustration, asking if that was what he told her, that he had tried to tell me the same thing and no, I didn't, that neither of them said a word to me before she left. She said that, yes, they had, and when I asked her exactly when that had happened and what I had said, she told me I had laughed and said “Sure, just don’t get me pregnant.” Her saying that stopped me cold. She meant that conversation when I had that second of panic, trying to decide if I needed to correct what I'd said or not. So that was what did it. That didn't sound like something I'd say no matter how drunk I was, but it was still way too close to what I remembered about mentioning protection and he had used a condom, so I thought maybe she was right and that was what she was asking. Maybe all he did was wait until he knew I wouldn't be able to take it back and that was why he didn't act on it immediately. He had to know I would if my head cleared enough to register what was going on and he didn't want to take the chance. Technically he still had permission as long as I didn't say no, so... It still didn't make it right, but after talking to her I was glad I hadn't given a name to what had happened when I talked to G.N.
Years later when I spoke to her again, I would find out that I was right the first time and I didn't consent at all. Those claims were made out of panic because I mentioned going to the police, but I had no way of knowing that at the time. A few months ago I decided I was ready to finish resolving all of this once and for all and got back in touch with her. I asked her about what she said, and she told me that while she didn't remember telling me that, if she did then it was "because she was afraid she'd be implicated", not because she'd actually heard me say anything of the kind in regard to Lee. Enough time had passed that she was willing to be a lot more open, so was I, and I finally got her side of the story. Unbeknownst to me, G.N. had broken my confidence, told her what I'd said and let her know how pissed he was that she let it happen, so by the time I started asking her questions, she knew I thought she might have been involved and was covering for Lee. She told me that after she talked to G.N. but before she spoke to me, she confronted Lee and asked him what exactly happened after she left the room. He is the one that told her I consented, saying we had talked about it while she was out of the room the first time. That conversation after she came back in that I was so worried about had nothing to do with anything. He didn't even try to use it. He knew she'd know better since she was there at the time, so he had to go with something she wasn't present for. I know for an absolute certainty it did not happen when he told her it did, so he definitely lied and I never consented at all. He never even tried to obtain it. When I talked to her later and jumped off at her the way I did, I scared her and so she said she'd heard me herself. Basically she took what I said out of context and used it out of self protection.
I didn't know any of that back then, of course, and her backing him up cemented all the self doubt and self blame that had started when he said it. It did what it was intended to do and got me to back off. It was why I never, ever referred to what happened as rape and I never mentioned either of them by name to anyone who wasn't there in the beginning and didn't already know who I was talking about. I was always careful to mention that they both had said I consented, if I was really comfortable with the person I would tell them exactly what H. had quoted me as saying, but I was too ashamed and too unclear to admit that I remembered saying anything close to that. All I would do was admit that I couldn't remember everything and acknowledge that it was possible I said something that caused a misunderstanding. It was all so disjointed I didn't know how to put it into words, but I knew how convenient it would seem that while I could remember exactly what he did, when it came to what I may have said that made him think it was ok, I was fuzzy? I knew they were trying to use it, but I didn't know if it was because they really had taken it as consent or if it was simply something I said that could be used for a convenient cover now that they needed it to function that way. I wanted to be honest, but I didn’t want to invite the judgement I knew it would bring if it wasn’t actually relevant and they were lying about the context, so I split the difference and said it was possible without going into detail.
When it was happening I'd been so sure of what it was, so sure that I thought he was going to kill me to keep me quiet, but what if I was wrong? If I could just remember what I'd said that in answer to then I'd know one way or the other. If I gave him permission even inadvertantly, then that was on me. The thoughts I had about wanting her to leave and then that moment of panic certainly seemed to imply I had. God knows I was in and out, not tracking well at all, so maybe I really did. I had thought he could have been lying when it was just him, and while it was in my mind that they'd had a week to get their stories straight, having both of them say it was too much and the turmoil it touched off sent me down a rabbit hole that took me over twenty years to climb out of. I shut up about it for the most part after that and I certainly didn't report it. If they were telling the truth, then there was no crime, and if they were lying, then it was clear they were going to back each other up to the police. Nothing would get done, I might end up facing charges myself if I wasn't believed, and then what? Now I'd really pissed him off and I knew what that temper looked like. If he was willing to do what he did with little to no provocation, I didn't want to think about how he'd react if I went to the authorities and got him questioned.
I tried again and again and again to look at things from different angles, trying to see how it might have looked from his perspective, from H.’s. I went through it so many times in my head and I kept going back and forth. He had a point, I hadn’t said no and I hadn’t resisted. He obviously knew I couldn’t, but did that even matter if I had given consent earlier? Did that override everything else? If I really had caused a misunderstanding and then physically couldn’t say “no” later when I was more aware, could it really be considered as being against my will if I wasn’t able to fully express what my will was when it mattered?
That fractured memory I had of mentioning protection and expecting her to leave haunted me. I felt so guilty over not correcting what I'd said. This whole thing could have been avoided if I had just spoken up when I still could, but instead I had given him the excuse. I had given him something he could use to justify what he'd done. Hell, even I was unclear on what I'd agreed to there for a few minutes. I based my decision not to retract it on their lack of reaction to what I'd said, thinking it meant I hadn't said anything I needed to worry about, but clearly I made the wrong call. Nothing in his demeanor said he thought I was a willing participant, I know he knew I wasn't, but if he could claim I said anything like that then while what he did and the way he did it was still viscous, it didn't matter. I should have spoken up.
I kept trying to logic it to death, to convince myself that I was overreacting and what happened wasn't that bad. It wasn’t violent, there were no weapons, he didn’t threaten me, there was no physical force involved, so I kept trying to tell myself I really was making too much of it. If he was getting back at me for what I'd said in the kitchen that day or because I wouldn't go out with him or whatever the hell it was I'd done to push him to that point, then he'd done it, we were even, and that was the end of it. Logic wasn’t working, though, and I was still very much afraid of him. I’d seen all that rage he had and how quickly he could change, and I couldn’t get the way he'd looked at me out of my head. No amount of trying to rationalize things made it feel any less vicious, and I still couldn’t sleep well. I’d started being able to sleep in a normal position again, but there were times when I’d start to drift off and out of nowhere, I’d jerk awake with the sense of the physical memory, the feeling of him... "with" me. I know that sounds odd, but I don’t really know how else to describe it.
After about three weeks, once it became clear there wouldn’t be any after effects, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said the hell with it, firmly decided I’d overreacted, minimized the entire thing and went into full blown denial, bite marks or not. It's hard to put the headspace I was in at the time into words. It wasn't that I felt nothing, far from it, but I still hadn't broken down the way I'd started to after we talked. I kept expecting to, I kept waiting for it to hit the way it had before, but it never did. I thought maybe that meant I wasn't as torn up as I'd thought, that maybe it really wasn't that bad, that my initial reaction was just from how scared I'd been and now that some time had passed my response was more reasoned. I decided I was fine and that it was time I was over it. I told myself that as frightening as it had been, at the end of the day I wasn’t really hurt, I was lucky it wasn’t worse, and I should just forget about it and move on. I couldn’t even figure out what it was because I couldn’t settle the issue of consent, so all I was doing was going in circles and getting nowhere anyway.
Trying to out-stubborn it like that and make it go away through sheer force of will really wasn’t the best idea, but I had made up my mind that this was a non-issue and that there was nothing there to deal with. It was just a bad night, nothing more. The problem is that while you can deny it intellectually and try to suppress it all you want, you can't fool your emotions and it doesn't leave you any less traumatized in the long run. If anything, it makes it worse, and it always catches up with you eventually. It would come back periodically, but I was always able to push it back down when it did.
I did wind up going to a crisis center about a year and a half in, when H. started working at the club I'd moved to. Seeing her every day made it impossible to keep everything in check the way I had been, and a good friend convinced me to at least try it. I was half afraid, half hoping that once I explained what happened and what he and H. had said that they'd tell me I was right, that it was an awful experience but it wasn't actually rape and I didn't belong there, that I wasn't a victim of anything but my own bad judgement, but they didn't. They were great to me, some of the kindest people I've ever known who did their damndest to get me to see reason, but no matter what they said it still felt wrong to be there and accept their help. I could not get past the claims that I'd consented, that, if true, meant I'd brought it on myself. They disagreed, telling me how common it is for perpetrators to say that and that H. clearly had her own motivations for wanting to convince me of the same thing. They tried to tell me that even if I did it didn't matter, that I wasn't in my right mind at the time and he knew that, but I just wasn't ready to face it and it wasn't long before I just stopped going back. Every time I went, I felt guilty and fraudulent for using a resource that was supposed to be for people who had really been hurt, real victims of a violent predator, not some girl who had too much to drink one night and trusted the wrong person. I just could not put what happened to me on a par with what happened to them. It wasn't the same thing at all in my mind and I didn't want to trivialize what happened to them by equating the two. Besides, believing anything else was just too painful. Denial was easier than trying to force myself to walk into that wall of knives. H. left the club shortly thereafter, and I was able to lock everything down again.
That worked for well over another decade, bringing me to roughly 12 years after it happened. I sealed it off and buried it, and only rarely did the lid weaken. I settled, I got married and had a son during that time, I was happy and living a normal life. I got to the point that I thought it was gone, I thought I’d all but forgotten it, at least until the next major emotional blow blew it wide open and I found it hadn’t gone away at all. I never realized what a stabilizing force Tom was until he was gone, but his death was devastating. I couldn’t stop moving. I stayed frenetically active for days, helping with his apartment, making phone calls, anything to keep from being still because I knew once I stopped, the shock would wear off and the pain would be unbearable. My husband was great, he was so supportive, and I got through it, but by the end of it I was left without the emotional strength to maintain the hold I’d had on everything else. All hell broke loose a few months after Tom’s passing, and I found it had all sat there waiting, perfectly preserved, until I was finally forced to deal with it. If anything, it had gotten stronger as it languished in that box all those years.
It wasn’t going away this time, it was worse than it had ever been, and I could not regain control of it. I didn’t sleep a lot, and when I did I had nightmares. Some had to do with him, some were just in general. When I was awake I was jumpy and anxious, and my thoughts would go in a hundred different directions. If I was at work or out running errands, I was constantly watchful, I couldn’t relax. If someone resembled him in the slightest or even appeared to take a little too much notice of me, I’d move aisles or wait to get out of the car until they moved on. It was like a dam had burst. I had spent so long avoiding thinking about it, and now I couldn’t stop my thoughts from demanding my attention. If someone rang the bell or knocked on the door when I wasn’t expecting anyone, if I broke a dish or the dog started barking, it was enough to make my heart start pounding and my chest tighten from being startled. It got so bad that one day I grabbed a ladder and pulled the wires out to disable the bell after it triggered a particularly severe panic attack. It was just so over the top and it dragged on like that for months.
I didn’t know what was going on, but I kept trying to tell myself that it would stop if I just gave it long enough. I’d always been able to get a handle on it the few times when it tried to flare up before, but this time was different. Instead, it just kept getting worse. The harder I tried to push it aside and tell myself I was overreacting, the harder it pushed back. That overwhelming crush of emotion I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it finally hit. I can't tell you how many times I wound up in the bathroom in the middle of the night dealing with it, trying not to wake my son or my husband. S. knew some of what was going on because when I finally decided to go into therapy I kind of had to explain why and he was unbelievably supportive as usual, but I knew this was already hard on him as it was and I didn't want to worry him by letting him know how bad it had really gotten. I never did tell him about the doorbell.
At the same time, I was researching. Once I started having the panic attacks and anxiety, I found that actively trying to find answers helped. It gave me somewhere to channel that energy, and I discovered that if I could catch an impending attack early enough, I could head it off by grabbing my computer and trying to resolve all the questions I'd been left with-- what had caused the paralysis, the alleged hallucinations, what could raise my heart rate but have the opposite effect on my breathing, why my eyes seemed to be the only thing left unaffected, the voice and the presence I'd felt, the involuntary screaming, all of it. I wanted to know what the hell had happened to me that night. I would sit there for hours until I was too exhausted to stay awake, much less fall apart. It was how I coped to a large degree before I started seeing Nancy, and with each answer I found, I felt a little more sane, a little more in control. In a weird way, it felt like I was regaining parts of what he took that night by figuring out the things I was never supposed to know about.
The more I understood about what had happened and why, the less frightening certain aspects seemed and the more they lost their power. The problem was that while each time I resolved something the anxiety would diminish for a day or two and I’d think I was ok, it would always come right back. You can only keep that pattern up for so long, I was exhausted, and I knew it was hitting a point where I couldn’t handle it on my own anymore. I was not going to be able to tough it out this time. Even so, so much of what happened that night sounded so farfetched, even to myself, that I was always afraid people would think I was either crazy or flat out making it up, so there was no way I was going to go into a therapist’s office until I had solid explanations for as much as possible. I was too afraid some of it could sound like a psychotic break. Once I knew for sure that it wasn’t all in my head, that something chemical and very much beyond my control really had been what caused it all, then and only then was I willing to start seeking outside help.