April 6, 2011

I spoke about my rape for the first time last week.

Photo: Speculum Mundi

Bleed in the First Line.

I’m trying to learn how to write.

I recently read a list of writing tips that said you should “bleed in the first line”. Lay it bare on the page, make it personal, tell the truth, and draw your audience straight into the soul of your story.

But the same list of tips also said to just write whatever you want and then cut out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.

[Delete the first paragraph? Maybe next time.]

This will make your writing better, it said.

So if I follow both these tips, won’t I just be deleting what I really need to let flow from my heart into words? Won’t I just be creating yet another cover up for what I truly need to confront and share? So I’ll bleed in the next paragraph instead. That way it and the truth will remain even after editing.


After I was raped I began to lie.

The lies began immediately. I didn’t bother to wait at all or think the first one through; the lies came out already fully formed. After that it got steadily easier. Most times I didn’t even have to try too hard to make people believe me. It seemed almost effortless and added a sense of simplicity to my life because lying gave me the feeling of being in complete control.

The first lie came immediately after the assault. Someone must have know that something wasn’t right when I came out of that room…they asked

“What happened? Are you okay?”

And my very first line in response was,

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

Those three words are the biggest untruth I ever told. Even if you add up all the elaborate lies that followed or all the little white lies that had ever come before, that denial, those words are the most powerful thing I have ever said or done to myself. Maybe if someone would have asked again I might have answered differently. But no one ever did ask me again after that if I was okay. I certainly didn’t give them a reason to.

There are many different ways to lie. I started with the first way—perverting reality and telling others and myself the polar opposite of actual fact. Something had happened. I was not fine. But all I had to do was find the antonym and immediately I had created a perfectly balanced alternative truth. Something = nothing. Definitely = maybe. Always = never. I enjoyed the symmetry of it. If someone asked me if I had eaten dinner yet I would say “yes,” even if I was starving. I would say the exact opposite from what I really thought if someone asked my opinion on something just to see if I could. It was like being a member for the negative and debating a point of view in order to prove your intelligence. I really thought I had found a clever way to continue on living. My own mirror world.

But not everything has an exact opposite: there is not always a positive with an obvious negative to resort to. Not everything is a no where I could then choose the yes instead. So I found the next way to lie—crafting other believable substitutes to the truth. I’d tell people about the book I was reading right now when I wasn’t reading that book at all, or maybe any book at all. Asked what I had been up to on the weekend I’d mention events and parties, even though I’d been at the library or the gym. I invented friends that I was spending time with and things that we had done together. I’d say that someone had given me something as a present when I had bought it for myself.

This method of lying was limitless and liberating. I was often surprised by what came out of my mouth and congratulated myself on my own creativity. I wasn’t constricted by needing to turn fact on its head to change the truth. I was creating a whole parallel universe for myself in which anything became possible, including the lie of being okay.

Words are a useful tool for sculpting lies. They allow you to set the scene, describe the action and, if chosen well, few people will look beyond them for a deeper meaning or question their validity. From my prologue of spoken untruths I became adept at acting out my fictional role. Looking at me, others were only allowed to see the confident, independent, balanced young woman I had chosen to present to them. At times I was stunned by what I assumed to be my own strength. The more lies I propagated, the more I perpetuated my own myth. I was proud of this facade, it was after all, my very own invention. I both authored and owned it.

I am almost certain that everyone believed every lie I told. If there was ever some doubt, it was simple enough to shift it by telling the next falsehood, and then another. I was careful that no one ever found any evidence to the contrary in what I said, did, or how I acted to have a reason to suspect it might not be true. I never lied to hurt anyone. I never said anything that might do someone harm. That was the last thing I wanted when I was trying so desperately to be noticed, special, loved, human, real.

Photo: Sharkey

You can try to be someone else for a very long time, maybe even forever. But you will always be bleeding underneath and you must know that. I use the word bleed because that is a word of pain and my truth hurt more than anything else I can imagine. It is ugly, brutal, violent. It is both a wound and a scar. There was blood that night, too.

When I was telling those lies to myself and others it was because I needed a world in which I felt I could continue to exist. The world I believed in up until that night would not have put me through that. Something had been taken from me that I had not given away. Taken can never be the same as given. I wanted to make a place for myself where these two actions that are mutually exclusive could co-exist. To do that took a great deal of denial and meant excluding myself from one reality through attempting to create a new one.

I remember at the peak of my lying prowess I went to comfort a friend who was crying. She was having problems in her relationship and was feeling overwhelmed by it all. I offered some words of reassurance…but to my shock she snapped at me.

“What would you know? Your life is perfect.”

Her words sliced something open inside of me like a knife stabbing into the very center of myself. At that moment it was as if I was completely ex-communicated from the human race. I should have been able to take her comment as a compliment. Hadn’t she fully believed in the fictional being I had fabricated myself to become? Hadn’t I achieved all I had been striving for? She thought that I, who was beyond damaged, was in fact perfect. Hadn’t I hidden my true self from the world so well!

I can’t say that from that moment I began to tell the truth, because that would be a lie in itself. But I did gradually begin to give myself permission to bleed. That inhuman act had taken me to a place so far from the world I wanted to be in that it was not an easy journey to come back. It still isn’t. When you have spent so long being an actor it takes time and courage to deviate from the script you have written for yourself. I had to learn to improvise my life from the heart, from a place of authenticity, no matter how painful it may be. I’ve always been good at writing stories. Now I understand it’s just not worth it to be constantly writing one for yourself. Not if you want to connect, to take part in and to be fully present in life.

I spoke about my rape for the first time last week. In fact, that was the first time I had so much as even admitted it to anybody. Suddenly through a new friendship with an incredible woman I felt ready enough to speak. While I didn’t describe the details or even use the word “rape” it felt so right to finally share with someone who I knew would be able to handle this truth and accept it as part of me without judgment or analysis. The fact that this happened to me and that I attempted to cope with it in this way doesn’t make me any more or less human. But acknowledging it now, in real time, does bring me to a place far more peaceful than when I was trying to keep it suppressed.

Something happened to me. It was not my fault. It still hurts and probably always will. I could not and cannot change it no matter how deliberately I tried to distort the past and the present. I know now that I can be honest with myself and others and it doesn’t change who I am. I don’t need to artificially construct who I am, nor is there anything wrong with who I was or have ever been. At last I can just be.

I have a heading cut from a literary magazine stuck above my desk. It says,

“Do I Really Have to Write About What Seems Most Scary?”

It seemed an interesting question to ponder. I guess I have answered it by writing this. But at the same time, I’m not entirely sure why I have written this. Maybe it is because I think it will be cathartic. Maybe because some things just eventually need to be said and there’s a statute of limitations on how long you can keep them inside. I don’t even know who my audience is other than myself. Who else would want to read this anyway? It’s not like I could give any real advice to someone who has been the victim of a similar experience. After all, I hardly coped well. Right at the time when I thought I was so completely in charge I was in fact so broken, so missing, so out of control. How on earth would I know what to say to anyone who finds themselves in the same situation and so dangerously lost as I was?

But then again, perhaps I do know what to say. Perhaps I have already said it here.

Bleed in the first line.

[Last paragraph deleted]

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