Stumbling down the front stairs, she clutched her sweatshirt to her chest and pulled the car door open. The creak of the door was abnormally loud in the moment, and so was his voice behind her. She heard him asking how she was, knew the rise in his tone was more panic than concern. It seemed so warm outside. Her hair clung to the back of her neck, and sweat ran warm down her back.

As she gripped the wheel one palm slipped, and her unsteady fingers nearly dropped the keys. He was coming closer. Her stomach cramped, as if someone plunged their hands inside of her and twisted her intestines out like a wet washcloth. Yet, it felt like she swallowed a bucket filled with rocks. She couldn’t move.

He stood closer now.

Bile rose, a quick rush, forcing her to double over briefly with the fear of vomiting.

“Jen, wait, don’t go.”

Don’t let him touch me.

“Stay back.”

“Are you okay? Where are you going?”

Pressing her fingers to her damp face, Jen turned away. She refused to look at him. She hated that she still felt him. The hurt was there, the pressure, and the knowledge that he violated her.

“Jen? Are you okay?”

Blinking, she pulled her head around.

Don’t let him get away with this. He doesn’t even get it.

“You assaulted me. I need to leave. You assaulted me,” She found herself repeating it over and over as if he couldn’t understand it or saying it would help her believe the reality of it.

He said something else, but she didn’t hear it. She couldn’t remember putting on her seat-belt, shutting the door or pulling down the driveway.

The gravel pushed out from beneath the tires as Jen took to the pavement and drove the familiar stretch of straightaways and turns. A creek ran alongside the road. Farther out, farmlands and thick patches of green trees made a pleasant drive. She saw none of it.

It was a half-hour before her follow-up appointment with her primary provider. She decided she was going there now. She didn’t know where else to go. Today was supposed to be as normal as any day could be. They planned to trade in the two vehicles they owned together. Since they were splitting up, she needed a reliable one for driving.

Over a month before, she ended their eight year relationship. Three of those years together they were married. He hadn’t taken it with grace, though she didn’t expect he would. For their son, for themselves, they were getting along though. She would never consider him capable of hurting her that way.

Doubt settled in. Could it truly be considered rape? Would someone believe her? They were still married. Who was going to believe that your husband could rape you? Did she just go to the doctor and follow through with her appointment, pretend like nothing happened? Or should she say something?

Tears threatened again, and though she struggled against them, she couldn’t stop them from coming. It didn’t seem possible that a person could burn up and freeze all at once.

“Why? I don’t understand. Why?” Her own voice sounded like the echo of a horn through a long tunnel: far away and tiny.

When she pulled into the hospital parking garage, Jen sat in the car for a long while before getting out. Few people were within walking distance, but it felt like every eye was on her. It felt like her clothing was torn from her body. Her skin stung like a thousand needles pricked her simultaneously; in that second, her mind believed everyone knew. Rubbing her arms in defense as she hurried in, she was startled to find them clammy when the rest of her suddenly lit with the heat of embarrassment.

Tucking herself into the corner of the waiting room, she experienced relief to hear her name called quickly. The wait in the exam room took longer. She pulled at her clothing, sat down, stood up, tried to read a magazine, read a poster on the wall, and finally sat down again. When her Physician’s Assistant (PA) came in, all the composure she thought she gained dissolved.

Tears attacked her with no mercy. The PA handed Jen a tissue, and she could see concern in the the other’s own pretty face.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

Words stuttered out. “My husband raped me.”

“Oh my God.” The PA touched her arm. “That is not okay. That is not okay at all.” The provider said more that Jen couldn’t remember, but at the end of it she found herself agreeing to go to the emergency department.

The PA called to make certain Jen could get into the emergency department through a back way: Jen called her sister. Her provider encouraged her to have someone there with her. The sister she called answered immediately and said she would call Jen’s other sister; they would both be there as soon as they could.

So much of the transition from the PA’s office to the emergency department blurred together. The nurse was gentle, talking Jen through the process. In the bathroom, she removed her clothing by standing on a paper bag and thought irrationally that she would never see her favorite jeans again.

Do you really want them?

No; no she didn’t. Her only thought could be that her mind wanted to bring some kind of normalcy to a situation that seemed so unreal her motions felt like the directions of a puppet master.

They scraped from beneath her fingernails. They swabbed her mouth. Through the small things, all she could think was that she shoved at him, she pleaded with him to stop, she struggled to keep her clothing on, but she didn’t think to scratch him. When he dragged her to the bedroom, she didn’t consider biting him. A strong part of her thought the person she knew would not do it if she told him to stop.

Once she was able to put on a hospital gown, she climbed onto the gurney and shivered. It was cold in the emergency department. Her sisters sat next to her, and she appreciated their company. Curling up beneath the warm blankets the nurse brought, she turned the TV on and saw nothing that flashed across the screen. The doctor would be in soon to do the pelvic examination.

It hurt. It was humiliating. But she knew it needed to be done. The doctor said little. No words of encouragement, no condolences. Jen thought she probably appreciated that more than anything at this moment.

Then the doctor made a joke.

Her first reaction was to stare at the nurse. The look on the nurse’s face so mirrored her own thoughts that she looked back at the doctor and simply stared. So much filtered through her mind to say, but she was exhausted and in disbelief and sometimes silence said it best.

When the doctor was done, the sheriff came in. He was a younger deputy, serious about his work, but kind and informative. Though the questions made her re-live the rape, she reminded herself again that this was an important part of all of it. He also asked about bruising and found one to take a picture of on her inner thigh that she was unaware existed.

Pressure from a thumb.

An advocate came and left her a packet. Since she was waiting for clothing to wear home, she read the first page. It listed all the signs of an abuser. Every single one pertained to the man who raped her. Things she didn’t know were abuse. All of it there all along.

Numbness settled in. Her sister drove her to their home. She showered for half an hour. The water was warm. It felt nice on her skin, but it couldn’t touch her core.

Laying on her bed, she stared at the white of the wall and let her mind wander. There were a lot of things that could come of this. She thought about her son, she thought about how they were starting over with their life. She thought about circumstance and why people did what they did.

Whatever came of this, whatever she felt tomorrow, she promised herself it would not define her. This rape would not make her who she was. It would not change who she was. He stole nothing from her. Whatever he thought he took, he couldn’t take it if she didn’t let him.

She would not hate him. She would not hold on to the pain and the anger and the distress. This man was sick and maybe evil, and because of it, she would forgive him. She would forgive him and she would forgive herself. There was nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to feel responsible for.

Nothing could hold her down. Nothing could hold her back. And of guilt and blame, she would be free.

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