Rusted Memories — Danger in “Little Oslo”
Not just a matter of believing, but a matter of truth
There is power in a story shared. When one woman tells her story, another will say yes, that happened to me too. I think it’s important for each of us to tell our stories to one, to many, to whomever, so that eventually we all know someone and then it won’t be a matter of believing, it will be a matter of truth.
Here is my story. I have a few vivid memories of that night, random images, faces, words spoken —“American girls have such nice asses” — the rest is a haze. For what it’s worth, this is a memory, my reality.
Mandolins, doobies and love beads. It was the free-wheeling 70’s. I was 20 years old and far away from home, spending my junior year at college abroad. I remember one night, friends and I accepting an invitation from a group of guys we had met at one of our favorite cafes. They were also students at the university, but all from Norway. It seemed very sophisticated and a little exotic. They had fancy cars and drove us to their big apartment complex outside of town — the one we had dubbed “Little Oslo.”
As the night went on, we drank beer, listened to music and got to know each other — comparing our cultures, our schools. At one point, an argument started about a fictional character from a Michener novel we were all reading at the time. Things got heated and I started to feel antsy. I decided to leave.
As I got my coat, ready for the long trek back to town, he came up and offered me a ride. Full of light — sparkling Nordic blue eyes, parenthetical dimples around an incandescent smile — he looked like the star of a toothpaste commercial. I was flattered, flabbergasted. We just had to stop next door to pick up his car keys…
As his door shut behind me, I turned my head and saw the knife. I can still see it just over my right shoulder.
Then, no more light.
My face pushed down onto the bed — I’m frozen. There was no damage from the knife, just the threat. I ended up walking home after all. My friends found me sitting in the middle of a field staring up at the starless sky. I didn’t tell them anything of what had happened. I was mortified, filled with shame, humiliation and guilt. I spent the rest of the year blotting out the memory of what had happened. I did a very good job.
Back at home, my senior year was a washout. Panic attacks — agoraphobia. Instead of going to class, I’d drive around in my car, going no place in particular. Eventually, I stopped trying to figure out what was wrong with me and adjusted to the darkness.
What happens when your most basic, most intimate boundary has been crossed, erased …and you don’t remember how? What happened with me is that, at first, all of the lines defining my personal space disappeared. Anyone could go anywhere with me — and it’s only luck that I’m not dead from that time. Then for the longest time there were nothing but boundaries — strong, tall, solid, impenetrable. I lived my life in the dark. Numb. Full of shame, guilt, fear, unworthiness.
Years later, while looking through a box of old photographs, I came across a diary from that year. There it was, a few words on a single page and everything came rushing back…
That smile… the little flowers on his duvet… my terror…
The memory was a shock of ice-cold water. It helped make sense of everything. But, by then, I was used to the dark. It was safe, familiar and comfortable to live without trust. I took care of myself. I fell in and out of love with no expectations of loyalty or fidelity and so received none.
Babies are pure light, aren’t they?
I had a choice to make — stay in the dark, alone, or come out into the light and make a life with my son. I took a leap and chose to live with windows open, shades up. Being a single parent, I took lessons in trust and joy. It’s been a slow and daunting task, learning to trust myself, trust my instincts and trust others. But it’s also life affirming and fun, and I have accomplishments. I can look a man in the eye, smile at a stranger on the street.
Each time I choose the sun, I have to let go of some dark. It’s still not easy to do. There are times I tell my story to someone I trust, only to be met with a skepticism — a questioning of my reality. That look, that hesitation is devastating.
After all this time, to see people still not believing women who come forward makes me crazy. My rape is not my shame. Come forward with your truth, and be told that you are confused, mixed-up, looking for attention. And, if it is true — suck it up and get over it because these things happen. How can this possibly have happened? I think of the years that I spent hiding, holding this secret tight, finally coming to peace with it, only to discover that when it comes to a woman having the right to her body, it’s still 1975. I’m angry and a little afraid.
I am, however, not afraid for my son or any of the young men I know. I don’t fear that they will be falsely accused of rape. Why? Well, mainly because this argument is a red herring. Research indicates that approximately 5 percent of rape allegations are false. In addition, it is estimated that up to 90% of rapes are never reported. Which means that the percentage of false rape allegations a tiny percentage of all rapes. Men and their mothers who understand this should have no fear.
While in Switzerland we toured a local Emmantaler processing plant. We learned that the number and size of the holes in Swiss cheese correlates directly with its quality. During production, carbon dioxide slowly forms bubbles that explode, blowing out the “eyes” — aka the holes. The acids released in this process give the dense, remaining cheese that sweet and nutty taste. Bigger holes equal more intense, bigger flavor.
This little piece of validated science helps me to accept that my memory — my story — has holes. Trauma blew out the “eyes” of the worst of that night. The acid of time dissolved the rusted edges of my experience. The memory that remains is dense, intensely detailed. A kaleidoscope. Shards of touch, sounds and sights…