I’ve told the story of my first marriage dozens of times.
I was a 23-year-old salesperson burning to tackle the world. I was a runner—in every sense of the word. Usually I got away, with my autumn-green eyes sparkling and my long blonde hair flying.
My husband was a 29-year old farmer who looked like Ron Howard and reminded me of Opie, with his boyish hopes. He played volleyball. He owned four apartment buildings. He wore a toolbelt when he climbed down from a roof and introduced himself to me and my girlfriends. We were in Champaign, IL for a summer sales job with Southwestern Publishing.
I tell about leaving him after one short year of marriage and running back to the southwest. I freely paint myself as hurtful.
I add in the part about the therapist, who told me: “Look, you’re going to leave or you’re not. If you leave, you’ll break your husband’s heart and it will be up to him how he deals with it. Or, you’ll stay and dull your dreams and you’ll have to live with that.”
I immediately booked a U-Haul and convinced some “It can’t be done” guy to install a tow bar on my Honda CRX so I could move to Arizona.
As I packed, Ron Howard played Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on the stereo. He said he’d help me do anything, but he wouldn’t help me leave him.
Fair enough. I was so giddy for my freedom, I’d carry my own damn boxes!
Actually, my friend Kevin Lentz came and helped me load the heavy stuff. Whatever I owned then filled a 5 x 8 U-Haul.
I fled the Illinois winter, oblivious to the treachery, wide-eyed and white-knuckling black ice across Oklahoma.
I was free!
That’s my story. There’s not much to a one year of marriage to a good man by a rebellious, ambitious, independent runner.
I was 24 when I married grown-up Opie. I’m now 54. I no longer call myself a runner.
I’ve invested countless hours and dollars in therapy. I paid for perspective. Looking back, I see the broader landscape.
I recognize my MeToo experience shattered something inside me. My boss raped me and that night I returned home to a man who knew only good.
I buried the secret I didn’t think he could handle, which made me feel I no longer belonged there. I didn’t belong with him.
In survival mode with the adrenaline of youth and the denial of the intimate violence against my young body, mind, and soul, I turned off feelings and ignited will power.
Now, in the context of the MeToo Movement, I see being raped as the internal landscape from which I functioned, and the elephant in the room I never mentioned—to anyone.
Keeping secrets is hard. When the truth is unbearable, we can even keep it from ourselves.
We can get up in the morning, make coffee, shower, dress, strengthen ourselves, strut into our boss’ office—the same one in which we were raped the night before—and declare ourselves invincible, to our rapist.
It’s like I took a magic eraser to his “error” of raping me. I soldiered on.
Isn’t that what guys do after their injuries?
I’m an American girl and I wanted to be the hero of my own story. I didn’t want to be the victim.
I wasn’t ready to be vulnerable, even though vulnerability proved mine when I was physically overpowered by a man I trusted.
In the face of my rape, I refused to give up my identity as strong, independent, unbreakable.
I was my mother’s daughter and she was a warrior.
Looking back, I’d been skipping on love’s path with my soon-to-be husband when I met a sales manager who would intrigue, irritate, befriend, teach, mentor, manipulate, and rape me.
That’s not how we think of our rapists. They’re not kind, helpful, smart, successful, family men. They don’t smile like our friends.
He did. No wonder I walked into the situation blindly. I’d been groomed.
I chose to walk out of the white picket fence life I briefly entertained because the truth would’ve made a worse mess than the divorce, which I came out of quick and clean.
I’m sorry for the pain I caused my first husband. I honestly believe leaving him hurt less than learning I’d been raped would’ve.
Men like to be heroes and fix things. Too late. There’s not a fix for being raped any more than for a loved one’s death. There’s only navigation.
On the night I was raped, a schism shook me into full protection mode.
As an American girl in the late 80s, I wore a suit and heels as armor. My Wonder Woman tights were panty hose. I carried a briefcase. A smile was my sharpest tool, cutting me on the inside.
How much does being raped impact a woman? Each is different, but every rape is like a head-on collision. The damage varies in degree, sometimes irreparable and not always visible.
When we see cars on the street, we have no idea how much work has been done on them. The same is true of women. And marriages.
See, it’s not just the women affected by rape; it’s also the men who love them.